Amtrak Ride Leg 3: Food and Beverages

Amtrak train travel, especially compared to airline travel, gives you a great deal of freedoms. You can bring most anything legal onboard. This includes food and beverages, pillows and blankets. The above bags were filled with goodies of all sorts!

First, I want to tell you that you can search online for any information you may want regarding menus, snacks, drinks, dining times, etc. It is all on the Amtrak.com website also.

You really can go whole hog. I saw families with coolers containing juice bags, fruits and who knows what kind of sandwiches. If you plan right, you wouldn’t have to purchase a thing from the train.

Now, personally, I wanted to “be on vacation” so part of the fun for me was eating and drinking. I brought a couple of snacks for emergency hunger issues (of which there were none). My overall best snack was this:

It was crunchy, sweet, salty and had enough fat to satiate a quickie hunger pain. I still had half a bag when the trip was done.

The only other thing I wish I had brought more of was water bottles. You can buy them but, boy, when they are six for a buck at the dollar store, well, yeah. Should have brought more.

But get this! You can get cups of free ice in the cafe car just for the asking! I thought that was very generous if you were going to pour your own pop over Amtrak’s gratis ice. Nice touch, Amtrak.

So in the cafe car, which is open really early and stays open late, you can get drinks, snacks, and microwaveable anything. Believe it or not, their microwave hamburger was quite satisfying. Seriously!

If you want to eat in the dining car, you need to make a reservation. This is not because you are suddenly all La De Da; it is because the whole train isn’t going to fit in the dining car at the same time. Sleeping car passengers get first pick, and what’s more, their food is included in their ticket price. The dining car meals are pretty pricey, so this makes purchasing the sleeping car a better deal for a lot of people.

So in the dining car you will be eating with other people; there are four to a table. This for most people is part of the fun. (If you are an introvert who deplores time with strangers, may I again suggest that microwave pizza and a coke in your coach seat? Something for everyone!) I actually met a woman who lives in Alpine and gave great testimony about the Marfa Lights. (Now totally on my To Do list.) I met educators, single moms, even a belly dancer! The dining car experience is not to be missed. Make sure you go at least one time during your trip.

Next up: Interesting people!

Posted in Beverages, Bucket List, Coach, Coastal Starlight, Food, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Amtrak Train Ride Leg Two: The Staff

So…where was I? Oh, yes. First night on the train. It was a long one.

The Sunset Limited arrives in San Antonio in the wee hours. As bad luck would have it, this particular night was lengthened by some engine trouble. However, we were underway before sunrise, and I arose to some beautiful West Texas scenery.

This route goes through Del Rio, Alpine, El Paso, and Tucson on its way to Los Angeles. It was very beautiful and much more visually interesting than I anticipated. My brother-in-law suggested a trip to Alpine, getting off here, driving a short distance to Marfa for the famous Marfa Lights, and then heading back to Houston. Now that I know what he was talking about, I agree this might be the ideal “baby trip” to make before heading across the country. A trip to Alpine on the train is now On My List!

So I guess I should answer some of the many questions my readers have regarding Amtrak train travel. I will try to be succinct. (No one laugh. I know my tendencies to the contrary.)

Here you go…an easy one. How fast does the train go? According to one of the staff members, 79 mph is the top speed. I am sure we never got near that speed. A time or two we went faster than the cars on the highways next to us. So I figured probably 60-65 mph tops.

And since I just mentioned staff, I just have to say a few words on that subject.

First, I have to state that much of the reason I had enough nerve to undertake this trip was because I have a friend who takes the train herself a lot, and she has a relative who works for Amtrak. Between my friend and her relative, virtually all my wild questions about train travel were answered before I ever left the station. I sincerely appreciated this information.

My first interaction from an onboard staff member was John who works in the cafe of the observation car. He works the Houston to Los Angeles run, and it is a long one. He was exceedingly pleasant, clever and cordial. Somehow he made a microwave pizza taste like a gourmet dish. He really was that pleasant. With delays and whatnot, this man and the other staff members worked equally exceedingly long hours. And stayed upbeat, courteous and cordial to the very end of the trip. I doubt my demeanor would have stayed so on target.

On the Coastal Starlight, we had Johnny who was in the cafe, and was also very helpful and pleasant on the trip. This leg of the trip seemed to have more eaters and drinkers, and he also kept up with the demands. From the dining car to the conductors, the staff were all stellar.

I guess what impressed me most was the conductor on the Starlight. There was a passenger who was quite elderly and impaired, and the conductor himself helped the man downstairs, asked what he wanted to eat, helped him order it and delivered it to his table. Airlines, you might take note of what defines customer service.

Overall, the staff could not have been more helpful and inviting. Even with the delays we were kept informed, and treated with every courtesy.

Next up: cafe food and the dining car!

Posted in Amtrak, Bucket List, Coastal Starlight, conductors, Goals, mountains, Staff, Sunset Limited, Trains, Uncategorized, YOLO | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Amtrak Cross-Country Train Ride Gets Grade A

I dislike the term “bucket list” because I don’t plan to kick one anytime soon. But I am a fan of keeping a “goals list” because I do believe we can speak things into being. So…one of my long time goals has been to take a cross-county train trip. And so at the tender age of 58, last week I did just that.

The last time I took a train trip of any distance, I was probably 6 or 7 years old. From adulthood, I have longed to board a train and see some scenery…a LOT of scenery.  

I took the Amtrak train from Houston to Los Angeles, and another from Los Angeles to Seattle. These routes are called the Sunset Limited and the Coastal Starlight, and encompass some of America’s premier visuals in panoramic scenery. All total, I was about 75 hours on the train. It was long, but so very worth it.

For those who don’t care for the details of which I shall shortly regale, here is the skinny on why I give an overall grade for Amtrak of an A. Everything was great, much better than expected many times. The only reason for less than an A+ was because there were many delays. For the most part they were unavoidable. I was very forgiving because, frankly, if you are on a super tight schedule, you probably aren’t taking the train. So here are some pretty pictures, then I will get into the meat of the matter.

So I guess my first surprise was just how engaging every aspect of the experience was for me. I expected to do a lot of reading, writing, (like, serious writing such as blogging, poetry, recently born narratives, etc) and perhaps some idle chatter. But from the moment I arrived at the Houston station, I was enthralled by the experience of people, motion, visuals and general novelty. I could not concentrate in any way. I was like an ADD jack rabbit without my meds.

So here are my contributions to Life Aboard a Train, USA style.

I first arrived at the Houston Amtrak station about 2 1/2 hours early. It is not necessary to arrive more than 30-40 minutes, unlike the airport. You check in at the window, show an ID, and you’re done. Nothing checked or searched. It was quite liberating. Interestingly, there were a half dozen Homeland Security folks hanging around the area. I don’t know if this is normal or not. But I liked to think if there were bad guys/gals around, they might have passed on by with the presence of the Feds. When the train arrives, you get in line as follows: handi-capped and seniors, then a regular line, and finally those in sleeper cars. You are given an assigned seat if you are riding in coach, which I was. I was SO excited as I boarded that train!

I was lucky; on this train the very next car from mine was the observation car, which has the cafe in the lower level. I marched on down, got a drink from John, a most pleasant and cordial host, and sat at a table in the obs car as we pulled out of Houston. I watched the sun go down somewhere far west of the city. For you geography buffs, we followed old Highway 90 for much of the trip, even out into far west Texas.

So this post is turning into a rather unweildy process. I shall end this here and I ask you to read the next installment of the series. I’m not being coy, just practical in blogging management. Please read on!

Posted in Amtrak, Coastal Starlight, Sunset Limited, Traveling, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Five Days and Counting

In a short five days I will be embarking on a three day, three night trip on Amtrak.

I plan to blog and share pictures of the experience. I will be leaving Houston at 6:55 pm Wednesday and arriving Los Angeles at 5:30 am Friday. From LA I will take the train north to Seattle and will arrive around 8:15 Saturday evening. And my precious daughter will be there to greet me!

So here is my first blog ever done from an IPad. Hopefully, the mistakes will be minimal. Thanks to Amtrak for the picture.

Posted in Amtrak, Bucket List, Coach, Trains, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

My Village People: A Tribute to the Cullimores

In family parlance, there are those who say it takes a village to raise a child. I wholeheartedly concur. Through the wonders of social media, I have recently been in contact with a family who, through their shear benevolence, helped shape me into the person I became, and the parent I continue to be. It is my purpose here to at last say “Thank you. You have no idea how important you were.”

I was parented by a fabulous, devoted, sacrificing, smart, and driven single, school-teaching mom. She was relentless in her devotion to my sister and me. And early in the process her sister came along and we added the equally awesome Aunt Marcella to our nuclear mix.

But I must acknowledge some people who played immeasurable roles in who I turned out to be. And that would have to start with the Cullimores.

Arriving from deep Appalachia to Pasadena, Texas in 1966, nothing could have prepared me for the culture shock. New climate, new people, new schools, new everything. But nary a friend. Until a little girl in the second or third grade reached out to me, and my life was blessed with De’ann Cullimore. But with De’Ann I got so much more than a friend. Because she shared her wondrous family with me.

And sharing is the word for the Cullimore family. They scooped me up and took me places I literally didn’t know existed. They took me berry picking. And then let me help them eat the cobbler Mrs. Cullimore prepared. So many Firsts with this family. They took me to see fireworks at Pasadena Plaza. We sat on the back of a giant car and I experienced the awestruck power of a million chips of color and light. They invited me to sleepovers and family dinners served with warmth and cheerful banter.

And Mr. Cullimore taught me to fly a kite! Oh, how I will never forget the first feel of a kite pulling strongly at my fingers. And it wasn’t just the flying part. Mr. Cullimore taught me everything. How to construct the kite. How to put on a proper, functioning kite tail. How to let your string out at just the right time. How to bring one back, and even what to do when a kite got treed.

And, oh! The swimming! Mr. Cullimore was a chiropractic student and their nearby school had…count them…THREE swimming pools their students and families could use! Because I was clearly the luckiest kid in the world, the Cullimores took me swimming many times. And again, Mr. Cullimore taught me so many things. I was savagely afraid of opening my eyes under water. He was so patient, yet so convincing in his argument as to why I should face the fear and open my eyes. And I did! And the bubbles were beautiful! And he was right again!

But even more than the experiences they allowed me to join them in, the Cullimores taught me what a functioning mom/dad/kids dynamic looked like. When I would ask De’Ann if she could do thus and so, she would say, “Well, I must ask my dad.” And Dad would respond, “Well, it’s okay with me, but you must ask your mother.” Wow. What a concept to little lost me. Two parents. Collaborating. Like friends.

Needless to say, I owe much of my own functioning family dynamics to the shared teaching and behavior modeled for me by this family. Our kids are grown and off to college now, but through the years I never forgot how to strive to behave like a family someone would want to be a part of. There have been many kids who have wandered through our doors. And those doors were worth wandering through in large part because of the Cullimores.

Share your family love. Be a part of the village. And maybe you will be the Cullimores to somebody’s kids someday.

To the Cullimore family, my deepest thanks.

 

Save

Save

Save

Posted in Children, Divorce, Family, Friendship, Fun, Motherhood, Teaching, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Mrs. Hagan’s Allegory

So as I am teaching my lively 7th graders about allegories today, this idea arrived. Mrs.HagansAllegory

Posted in Allegory, Badgers, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Poems for Because

Poems for sorrow
Poems for joy
Poems that somehow must employ
Words that matter
Rhymes that zip
Cadences that roll off lips.

Poems for laughter
Poems for mirth
Poems that make you question worth
Of putting words
In certain form
To harken back to “Nevermore.”

Dare you say it
Dare you try
To put out meanings for all and I
Find challenges
In all such things
Dare to see what joy it brings.

Go to bed now
Sleep must come
Must be ready for then and some
Renewal days
And weeks and months
Careful to avoid the slumps.

Dorothy Hagan
March 20, 2017

Save

Posted in cadences, edgar allen poe, Emily Dickinson, Female Poets, Poems, Poetry, Uncategorized | Leave a comment