Thursday, July 2, 2009

The California Zephyr or a late train only gets later

When we road the Capital Limited years ago (that was a fun trip too!) the car attendant told us the old adage "A late train only gets later." That has stuck in my mind. And the California Zephyr proved how true that adage was.

It was only about 10 minutes late arriving in Sacramento. I got a good video of it arriving and sent it to the kids so they could see that we really had a train and were coming home. We missed our kids but we were having a blast traveling across the country. Penny and I were really enjoying the "our" time. It was good for us. We hadn't grown apart nor were we struggling in our relationship. But it was still good to be able to spend time just the two of us. Every marriage relationship needs that time to reconnect and rejuvenate in order to stay fresh and exciting. This trip really helped ours.

At the outset, we realized the Zephyr was going to be different from the Empire Builder and the Coast Starlight. The car attendant wasn't at the door greeting us as we got ready to board. We stood there for a few minutes waiting for him but he never showed. The man in front of us finally said, "I guess we should go ahead and get on board." At that moment we should have known - but we didn't.

The car was a little older than the others we had been in which would show itself as we went through the mountains. The toilets wouldn't flush regularly at the altitudes that we were at. The attendant had to reset them before they would work. That is just an inconvenience that we would put up with. We didn't have that problem on the others but that is just the way it was.

There are two things about the Zephyr that come to mind. First, the staff was not nearly as good as on the other trains. The dining car staff was inefficient. Meals took much longer than they should have. The food was good but Melissa was sooooo slow. Getting drinks was a challenge. Taking our orders was slow. And she was even slower getting them back to us. Our car attendant wasn't that available. There were times we had no idea where he was. It was good that we didn't need him much but still, after Gary on the Empire Builder, this really showed a lack of attention.

The second thing I can say about the Zephyr is "WOW!" The scenery was spectacular. The Builder and the Starlight had some great scenery. But most of the trip was just a trip. On the Zephyr, from the time we left the valley and started into the Sierra Nevadas, it was great. All the way from there to Denver was breathtaking. Maybe that is why the staff didn't try so hard. They knew that people would be watching the scenery. There were canyons that were beyond description they were so amazing. We followed the Colorado River for 125 wonderful miles. I tried to capture it on film and on video (my phone, so I didn't have a video camera). The video was good. I will wait and see how the pictures come out. Boy, oh boy, was it amazing. All I can say is that God did an amazing job when He created that part of the world. OK, the rest of the world is amazing too but the views, wow, what can I say. It is something you need to experience to believe.

Yet a late train only gets later. We had slow orders through the mountains (which gave us more time to enjoy the views) and every time the train tried to gain back some of the time that it lost, Union Pacific would slow it down for track work. We were doing all right, only an hour late until we came out of the Moffat Tunnel on the east side of the Rockies. We stopped on the side of the mountain because UP had pulled a rail and was replacing it. A train can't go without rails so we sat there. 30 minutes passed and the conductor told us that it would be another 30 minutes. The sun was setting. The time was ticking and the train was getting later. Finally we began to roll again. Passing that point of rail replacement at a crawl slowed us further. And then we were passed it. We arrived at Denver in the dark and 2 hours late.

Going to bed after we left Denver, we hoped the run across Nebraska would gain time but when we woke in Lincoln, we realized that wasn't the case. We were still running late. No time had been gained. Still, Iowa could give us time. But as slow order after slow order came in, we got later and later. Calling the kids, we talked with them and made a decision. Rather than have them drive into Chicago to pick us up late (with the Taste of Chicago going on as well), we decided they should change direction and head to Galesburg. It would be easier driving, less traffic and we would get off the train sooner.

So we pulled into Galesburg, IL at 4:00 p.m. (our arrival at Chicago was to be 3:50 p.m.) and there we saw Rach, Matthew and Brandon watching for us. It was good to see the kids (plus one). Getting our stuff, and we had more than when we left, we disembarked the California Zephyr, a late train that was going to be later getting into Chicago.

With the two whistles to say that it was leaving, we said good-bye to the Zephyr and to our train trip. It was great. When the kids asked if it was worth it, Penny and I said at the same time, "YES!" It truly was worth the trip.

Thanks Penny for making it a wonderful trip. I greatly enjoyed the train travel, the time spend with you, and the sights and sounds of rail travel. I hope we can do some sort of trip again. Happy anniversary Penny Anne. Thanks for 25 great years. And thanks for the last couple weeks.

If you want to travel by rail, I recommend it. It is a a relaxing way to travel. We read, dozed, ate, watched out the windows, took pictures, and then did it all over again. It was a very relaxing trip. I came back refreshed, ready for getting back into things. And I came back more in love with my wife than I thought was possible. Has it really been 25 years? No way. It has been great but will only get better. Is that possible? The Lord alone knows what is in store for us but I am sure that we are just getting started on our relationship. The best is yet to come!

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