ABOARD AMTRAK'S EMPIRE BUILDER -- The return trip from Chicago to Spokane is well under way. We chugged out of the historic Union Station about 3:15 p.m. on Thursday, only an hour later than scheduled.
But first, an anecdote from the Metra train that I took from suburban New Lenox to the Loop and Union Station. The ticket taker began collecting our tickets shortly after the train left the station. He asked an older woman sitting two rows ahead of me for her ticket. She said, "I'll give it to you when I am finished on the phone." A confrontation ensued. He asked her several times to produce her ticket. They argued and she stubbornly refused to comply with the simple request.
The passenger called the ticket taker rude. He said he had never encountered such behavior from a passenger. The drama continued as she kept talking on the phone. Others observing the scene were incredulous, but the train employee was powerless. He said he had called the Metra police, but it seemed merely an empty threat. The standoff finally ended after about 10 minutes when she finished her phone conversation and produced a ticket. And so it goes.
Union Station has a private lounge for passengers who have tickets for sleeper cars. It was a pleasant treat before embarking on the 37-hour return trip. The lounge has a small but free bar of fresh vegetables and assorted cheeses, along with an ample choice of soda, fruit drinks, coffee and tea.
Union Station, of course, is considerably larger than Spokane's station. There's a food court, newsstand, a couple of bars and storage lockers. Forgive me a brief interlude to share a near-catastrophic anecdote. I had checked my luggage into one of the storage lockers. About an hour before our departure, I went to retrieve my two bags and winter coat. Imagine by panic when I couldn't recall the correct security code to unlock my valuables. My immediate challenge was to decide if I should board without my luggage or delay my return in order to solve the luggage snafu. Fortunately, an AMTRAK employee and my savior, directed me to an obscure help desk phone and I was able to reach an attendant who came to my rescue with a master key. Praise Jebus.
We came through the Wisconsin Dells about an hour ago. Sadly, it was pitch dark, so we couldn't partake of the scenery. With any luck, we'll make up for that if we hit the Glacier National Park region during daylight hours on Friday. We are due to arrive in Spokane at 1:40 a.m. Saturday. Stay tuned for more travel adventures.