My friend, also named Eric like me, took Amtrak this past week, but had different destinations. We boarded the Southwest Chief in Flagstaff early last Thursday morning and I was bound for Kansas City and he for Chicago. We travel extensively together, mostly for attending symphonies and church music events. This time, I was going to a jazz concert. Musically, it all worked out well, and it seems Amtrak has also, for the most part.
Our sleeper attendant was Jesus, who for many years worked for the Pullman company in Mexico. He has twelve years with Amtrak and is one of the better sleeper attendants I've encountered in recent years. A fine gentleman who was always helpful and friendly.. Both directions we have had substantial delays, but most, if not all of them were not the fault of Amtrak. ( It's the locomotive failures that are irritating. ) We were stopped in Winslow for over half an hour while EMS removed an ill passenger, then stuck behind a freight in emergency, which later resulted in being held up by the Rail Runner north of Albuquerque, so we became about two hours late. Jackie was in charge of the dining car, who I have met on previous trips. She was very cheerful and considerate. The topic of Amtrak food has been discussed here ad nauseum, and I dislike the cheap nickel and dime cuts and the spartan table settings. But all was not bad at all and most of the food quality was decent. I had one of the pasta dishes for dinner, which wasn't great, but passable, but I do want to remark that the " vegetable medley " ( a tacky term IMHO ) has improved from the tasteless mush to more crisp mixed vegetables of green beans and carrots and a few other ingredients. Their " signature dessert " which is a cake with a pecan-date sauce was so tasty I had it in both directions. It seems the food situation is looking up to some degree after some tweaking. It should, because when I came back in coach on the return, the bill for dinner made my eyes pop. I would have thought that the dining car was a high class establishment, for which it does not qualify for that term. I realize dining cars are not profitable and they are trying to cover expenses to appease the bureaucrats in DC, but eating on Amtrak is not a great value money wise.
Anyway, arrival in the beautiful Kansas City Union Station was two hours late, which was fine with me, as it enabled me to have a more leisurely breakfast. My friend continued in coach to Chicago. I stayed two nights in downtown, and heard jazz in two different establishments, visited the Jazz Museum ( and the attached Negro Baseball Museum ) and went to church at Grace and Holy Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, which is right up my alley. The primary reason for this trip was to hear one of my favorite jazz pianists, Cyrus Chestnut, who I heard play in jazz clubs in New York City and New Jersey many years ago. His appearance this night was at the restored Folly Theater with his trio, and featured Warren Wolf, vibraphonist. Excellent evening!
On Sunday after church I prowled the exhibits in Union Station and had a very fine dinner at Pierpont's, the upscale restaurant in the station, and proceeded to watch Netflix afterwards in the waiting room ( at one time the drugstore ) while I waited for my train, which arrived on time. I had balked at paying the sleeper fare quoted a few months ago, so elected to use miles to ride coach on the return trip, which turned out to be fairly tolerable. This was partly due to having a light load of coach passengers who were well behaved. My main fault with this trip was that the rest rooms were in shabby condition and are showing their age. I also felt the two ladies who were coach attendants could have done a better job stocking the car with towels and paper cups. The rest rooms were not horrible, however, and I'm not saying they were dirty, and the plumbing worked. I missed the majority of stops crossing Kansas, only being aware of the stops at Lawrence and Newton, with my trusty CPAP plugged in, preventing me from aggravating the rest of the car with grizzly bear snoring.
Our train was on time at La Junta, but then we proceeded at only 40 mph instead of 79, the restriction placed on us due to high winds, all 80 miles to Trinidad, losing about 45 minutes. We encountered further delays with a signal problem in New Mexico at the time of meeting the eastbound 4, and then were delayed twice by the New Mexico Rail Runner, since we were outside their " window. " They seem to be a big haughty about giving their trains priority. For dinner I had the cod dinner with a baked potato and those mixed vegetables. Not the greatest dinner I've ever had, but it satisfied. Our server was Fabian, a young man with eight years on Amtrak. He has been a cook, and this was only his first week as a server and he did a good job, apologizing that he wasn't aware that he should have poured my wine for me. The dinner companions were delightful folks, certainly one of the joys of train travel. It was clear sailing past Albuquerque and arrival Flagstaff was at 12:30 am, over two and a half hours late. Not too bad.
Meanwhile, my friend got caught up, leaving from Chicago a day after me, in the tornado situation in Missouri, which seems to have derailed a freight train on the main west of La Plata, He finally called me today as his train approached Lamar and said it had been a pretty interesting night. He is due in Flagstaff after 2 am tonight. I will pick him up and then he will drive himself to him home 80 miles south of here in the small burg of Pine. He has kind words for an Amtrak policewoman who assisted him in Chicago. In conclusion, pretty good shows on Amtrak, with no locomotive failures.