Touring America? Avoid Amtrak

The stories of travelling in American cannot be complete even in the age of supersonic jets without the railroad. The history of its development dates to the 1870s according to Wikipedia although the group agreed that passenger travel has seen better days.

In buying a single flight ticket to Denver, I was hoping to rail through the distance from Denver to Milwaukee. From Milwaukee, I foresaw two possibilities – another rail trip back to Ottawa through Toronto or a boat cruise to Montreal. If anything convinced me that cruises are not in my horizon, it would probably be the tour of USS Little Rock in Buffalo,NY which happened, thanks to the inefficiency of Amtrak.

Before I hit buffalo, I bought a Milwaukee ticket in Denver with a scheduled stop-over in Chicago. It was supposed to take off at 7:10pm. I left home to arrive the Union Amtrak Station at least one hour before the expected arrival of the train. On arrival, I was advised to take another three hours as the train is delayed. Not one to give up exploring the city of Denver, I immediately jumped on the free mall ride to the very end of 16th Street.

I was in luck as the city’s food and music carnival was in its last day. I quickly disappeared I the colourful glitz of the occasion and though most stands were about closing, I was able to buy a ticket for my first tequila ever. It was a little cold and I was hoping the spirit would warm me up because I was not thinking of buying a jacket. Soon, I was moving from bandstands to the first free performance of what I initially thought was a mild form of martial arts performing to music and singing. I later learnt it was a Capoeira performance with its origins in Africa. I couldn’t resist its drumbeats, choral singing and the acrobatics even though I had no clue of its origins. Drums would always attract me.

By the time I glanced at my watch, It announced I better start moving towards the station if I was not to miss was my train. My special friend had advertised a particular street drummer and I was eager to check him out. I found him right at the major intersection with his set of drums and a paint bucket. The melody oozing out of the odd combination and the artistry he put into it was captivating. So, I settled down to capture him on video. He politely asked me to put that on DowntownDenver website so he could see himself perform for the first time. I promised I would try.

I hurried back to the station but at 10pm, the train was not on its tracks. It did not come until a few minutes after midnight. There was anger and frustration written on the faces of passengers as we each looked for a spot and settled in. I found a spot beside a pretty Venezuelan and settled for the ride to the Windy City – Chicago.

The historic ride I envisaged turned out to be a nightmare. For the next day, we were on a seemingly endless journey. Our train took puffing stops for smokers and towards the end even managed to clip the rear of a vehicle further delaying us for nearly an hour and a half while traffic police and the train owners had to guarantee that the train was safe to continue its journey. All through, the doors were locked shut even though food and drink supply on board had virtually depleted. By the time the train we arrived Chicago, the last train to Milwaukee had left.

Unkempt and unwashed for a whole night, I hauled my bag to the information centre where a lady was trying to chorale a long line of passengers to their next destination. I and four other passengers had Milwaukee as our destination. We were shepherded into a waiting luxury bus. We arrived the Greyhound Station, Milwaukee exactly 2:30 am for a journey scheduled to have ended 5:30pm the day before. I was not expecting to wake anybody at such an ungodly hour.

Those with better knowledge warned me never to take a train ride except I had nothing doing. I have always loved the train. Three days later, I was back at the Milwaukee terminus booking another Amtrak ride to Toronto. Informed that my train would leave Milwaukee at 5:30 pm but that I was free to take the ride to Chicago at any moment on the day of departure, I was fired up for more adventure. When I checked the schedule, I was to have at least five hours of downtime in the Windy City before my final lap home to Canada.

I took the morning Ride to Chicago and and took a boat tour of the Windy City before the lap to Buffalo. Here again, there was a delay of nearly two hours. To kill time, I went on a tour of USS Little Rock and visited the premises of Elies College and the old Post Office. By the time I was back, the train had finally whirled into the small station for my final lap.

The trip from Chicago to Toronto was no difference even with the customs formalities between the borders of Canada and the US. By the time we arrived Toronto there were no trains going to Ottawa.

Here is my advice – unless you have no appointments, avoid the trains in the US.
Will I still do the rail in the US? You betcha. I met great people on the train one of who generously offset part of the bill for a miserable continental breakfast and the legendary tips even for bad service. But, you don’t have to be like me.



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