Approaching Orlando

As we approach Orlando, it’s time to wrap up some loose ends from the trip. First of all, in case you are wondering, the streak continues for my second cross country trip – I had a hot dog and beer for lunch.

And now a couple of taboo and/or controversial subjects:

1). Bathrooms. The bathrooms on Amtrak are similar to the bathrooms on an RV – after a long trip, you can only do one thing: Deal with it. As for a sleeper car bathroom tip, here’s one from Jason, a Canadian on a North American rail pass who was in the sleeper across from me. Always use the downstairs bathroom next to the shower. Most people use the one upstairs first. As for the downstairs bathrooms, people seem to use the ones across from the shower not knowing that there is also one between the shower and the handicap room. Here’s one thing I’ll add to Jason’s tip: the toilets in the bathrooms across from the shower (and upstairs) are perpendicular to (and facing) the door. In the bathroom next to the shower, the toilet faces a wall 90 degrees from the door. Granted, I didn’t use a tape measure, but I believe there is slightly more leg room in this bathroom configuration.

2). Smoking. During this trip, several announcements were made about the fact that smoking on Amtrak will result in banishment from the train. Despite this warning, several individuals chose to light up in obvious and not so obvious places. Being in a sleeper car, I never smelled any smoke, but a couple of passengers said that they had. I never saw anyone light up, but on a couple of occasions, I saw lighters change hands in the lounge car during long stretches without a smoke break. What’s the solution? Good question. Amtrak can’t afford cameras or undercover employees posing as passengers. I guess all they can really do is to continue to banish those who are actually caught smoking.

(On a side note, to my knowledge, only one person was removed from the train. On Friday night, a passenger was forced to leave the train in Palm Springs, California. Earlier that night, I saw the passenger making a scene in the dinning car; the next day, a couple of passengers said they heard he had used a bad credit card, in addition to being a problem in the dining car.)

We just left the station in Sanford – where we discharged the dining car crew, for some reason – and we are now 3:38 behind schedule. With Orlando – and midnight – approaching, that’s all for tonight. I’ll update things tomorrow.

Me and My Big Mouth

Note to self: The next time you are on a train and you don’t understand what the engineer is doing, keep it to yourself. While backing out of the Jacksonville station, we make a stop and from my GPS, it appears we start going northwest. In my sleeper car with the door and curtain open, I say to nobody in particular: “What the f— are we doing?” At that exact moment, the conductor walks by and shoots me a glance over his shoulder. Whoops. Naturally, after going west for a matter of seconds, we hit a switch and start going south – making a classic U-turn. Talk about putting your foot in your mouth.

Props for Jacksonville

Having been to Jacksonville, Florida several times for college football bowl games, I usually consider it my least favorite city in the Seminole state. However, I may have to reconsider due to their Amtrak station. I’m not talking about its size or the way it is constructed. Rather, small but important things that come in handy while you’re waiting on a train or running into the station while your train is making a stop: An ATM machine, a hot dog vendor and a couple of vending machines. Nice touch, Jacksonville. As we leave my favorite station so far in Florida, we are 3:08 behind schedule.

Future of Sunset Limited

While eating dinner – a pretty good New York Strip coated with peppercorns – we stop briefly in Lake City, Florida. The conversation during the meal turns to the future of Amtrak. It turns out a gentleman at the table and I both chose the Sunset Limited due in part to the fact that we had never ridden the route before and wanted to do so in case it is dropped during the impending budget cut. On that note, here is the perfect segue: We again lose time and are now running 3:27 behind.

E-mail from Houston

I received an e-mail from Mike, a rider who got off the train in Houston. Mike sent a clarification about my post “Service in San Antonio” concerning repairs of the refrigeration unit in the Lounge Car. Mike also sent some accompanying photos. Later, I may either post the pictures – if I get his permission – or link to his travelogue, if he decides to do one. Here is part of Mike’s e-mail:

Two repair men did all the work on the refrigeration unit of the Lounge Car while George sat in his shorts and T-shirt inside the car. George would try to turn it on when they yelled to him. So when I heard George’s announcement, he made it sound like he crawled into the belly of the car behind the refrigerated cases and fixed it himself – like a true salesman.