It wasn’t the trip from hell – it was from Chicago, actually. But I might not have hopped aboard Amtrak’s California Zephyr last Wednesday had I been able to “Flash Forward” and see the future. It left a bit late, around 2:15 p.m. And although it continued to fall further behind schedule, I still enjoyed the ride, nursing a Cabernet in the observation car watching the scenery pass by as daylight faded.
But at about 3 a.m. – a half hour after my originally scheduled arrival time – I was awakened by a mild lurch, and found myself in an eerie scene that had Stephen King all over it. I was apparently the only one awake in my train car – numerous snores confirmed that others were unaware of what had happened. The power went off, leaving only minimal auxiliary lighting and absolute silence, save the wind howling around the stopped train. No conductors. No announcements. No visible movement or light outside – simply a dark, snowy landscape. The scene that would pop into your mind when the words “middle of nowhere” are spoken.
Lost? Well, not literally, of course, but it sure felt that way.
Several hours later, at first light, we were able to finally get coffee and details, both of which were in great demand by that time. We were stuck in a snowdrift outside Hastings, Nebraska – a couple hours short of my destination. It would be many more hours before freight engines were brought in to tow us backward for ten miles, reposition in front of us, and attempt to lead us forward again, through the danger zone.
Those hours were filled with the unpleasant rantings of self-important mad men (and women) who were simply too important to face such helplessness. Even I, though much better behaved, longed for the sound of Jack Bauer screaming at someone to “get this train out of here NOW!!!” In the end, my trip –scheduled to take 12 hours — easily topped “24” – taking 27 1/2 hours in all.
The snowdrifts were reportedly two stories high, and looked it to me. Now, how a train can drive into one is a bit of a mystery. But the truth is, had we simply stopped short of it, the results wouldn’t have been that much better. There IS no real alternate route.
But the suddenly forced inactivity provided prime time for thinking, from the minutia of your to-do list to more cosmic thoughts about man vs. nature, and suddenly very obvious character flaws exhibited by your fellow travelers.
So big deal. We got there. We made news. We had an adventure. And I was scolded by a train crewman for taking a picture out a window he himself had opened moments before. (An attempt at PR management, I presume?)
Sure, I could have just driven (if my car had not been sitting disabled in a small gas station in East Lansing at the time). And I could have used one of my “free” frequent flier tickets (were it not for the over $200 it would have cost me to do so on short notice). So for me it was trains, but no planes or automobiles.
I’m just glad I didn’t have to drag a trunk full of shower curtain rings through miles of snowy fields to get to the bus line. And if you don’t get that last reference, don’t tell me about it. You’re messin’ with the wrong guy.