Friday, July 20, 2007

This Trip Has Got to Get Better Because . . .

. . . well, just because!

[Posted from the St Louis Public Library, St Louis, Missouri]--So just after I completed the last post from Kansas City Union Station, Amtrak announced it was time to board the train for St Louis. Except that this day, it wouldn't be a train, it would be a bus! Why? An Amtrak spokesman explained, "There's just too much freight on the line today. A passenger train would run four or five hours late. So we put on a bus."

For those who don't know, America's railroad infrastructure is owned by companies who move freight, not passengers. Amtrak uses the lines by the grace of those companies and freight has priority. An Amtrak train can be ordered to stop and allow freight trains to pass. That's the main reason that Amtrak runs late. An Amtrak employee told me that on one occasion going into Los Angeles aboard the Sunset Limited, the train sat near Palm Springs, California for eleven hours because "those freights just wouldn't let us in."

In any event, Amtrak thought is was doing us a favor by using a bus instead of a train between Kansas City and St Louis. After all, as they pointed out, the bus would actually arrive an hour and half earlier than the scheduled arrival time for the train.

So 65 St Louis-bound passengers boarded a bus hired by Amtrak.

I must say that this bus was a unique form of torture. Forget Guantanamo, let's have Congress investigate Amtrak's bus contractors! The seats were smaller than economy-class airline seats and the over head storage bins were as roomy as a residential mailbox. I sat holding some of my luggage on my lap for four and a half hours. And there was no room to get up and stretch your legs during the trip.

About thirty miles outside Kansas City, a monsoon struck. It rained so hard and the visibility was so bad that cars were sliding off I-70. Others simply pulled to the side and stopped. The bus kept on going.

The bus detoured off of I-70 to stop first at Kirkwood, Missouri. This added about thirty minutes time to our confinement. Then in St Louis, the bus driver bypassed St Louis Union Station. Why? Because the train station isn't in Union Station.

The St Louis Amtrak station is located a permanent shack of sorts several blocks from Union Station. Twenty years ago when I first visited St Louis by train, this location was described to me as "temporary." Oh, well. There is a freeway overpass just in front of the station. Since the rain was still falling in build-an-ark proportions, the bus driver and Amtrak personnel aboard the bus decided it would be best not to have people disembark in the unsheltered area near the station door, but under the relatively protected overpass. What they didn't count on was the fact that the area under the overpass had flooded and passengers stepped off the bus into ankle-high rushing water.

I had spied a lone cab sitting under the overpass. The GeneaBlogie staff photographer (more about this person later) lept off the bus, jumped ahead of a family with young children and commandeered the cab. [She felt bad about this, but as she pointed out, there were too many of them to fit in just one cab].

Once in the cab, we set off for our destination. [The cab driver opined that the Amtrak station was not a railroad station as much as simply a railroad track]. As we came off the freeway, the cab hit an area of deep standing water and the engine began to sputter. Miraculously, it kept going. But every time we came to a stoplight, we were uncertain as to whether the journey was going to end right then and there.

Well, we made it and after a good night's rest, I'm here in the St Louis Public Library, which has free wireless Internet service and a huge History/Genealogy section which I'm about to dig into. Tomorrow we're headed to Prairie du Rocher, Illinois, which figured prominently in the series on the French Negroes of Illinois.

So it's got to get better!


Becky said...

It will get better. It will get better. It will get better. Next thing you know you'll be telling us about that brick wall you broke through!

The footnoteMaven said...

OMG Craig!

At least you still sound sane.