The following is a faithful narrative of the peculiar intrigue that I witnessed on a certain Amtrak train ride....be afraid, be very afraid! (This actually occurred in July and I started writing it on 7/22/09, but it took me this long to finish it...pitiful, I know, but I feel that it warrants being posted now anyway =)
Last week the kiddos and I hopped a train (for the first time ever) from Temple to Longview for our annual attendence of Vacation Bible School at Meemaw and Peepaw's church. As with most of our family adventures, there was, of course, drama involved. Do let me relate the whole saga in its original, uncut version. Go ahead, settle in because this is gonna take a while....
It all began on a pretty nice, sunny day two Saturdays ago. We were on our way to the train station and we were even gonna be a bit early. (Go us!) We got a little ways down the road when it dawned on me that we had left the Mobywrap behind, all alone, in our motor home. Anxiety levels rose and panic made itself all nice and cozy. Hysteria crept in and threatened to take completely over. What to do, what to do? Do we hope that the train is late like it was when Sam rode it many moons ago and go ahead and turn back to go retrieve the beloved Moby or do we go on without it and hope my sanity stays in tact? Yeah, that was a no brainer.... we turned back. You see it wasn't just a question of it being the key to a successful train ride. (Think getting all kids plus luggage on and off of the train not to mention potty breaks and possibly the dining car and observation deck. It is a 7-hour train ride after all.) It was also the constant for soothing Ailey Grace's fussiness at certain times of the day. As Meemaw pointed out while we were there, she craves it and it calms her right down. Super amazing this moby wrap. Anyway, it just so happened that the train was actually on time and we missed it by a good 20+ minutes. Thankfully, there is a train going the same way on the same schedule on Sundays as well, so I just called Amtrak and switched our reservation to the next day.
Sam was supposed to go fishing later that afternoon and just assumed he wouldn't get to go, but to his amazement, Super Wife (that's me in disguise, if you were wondering) showed up with a great attitude and a willing heart and forced him to go have a good time. Cuz I'm cool like that, yo. ;p Well, the kids and I had a pretty relaxing evening because we were already packed and I just went with the flow. Hey, I had the Moby so all was right in my world again.
The next day dawned bright with hope and the promise of successfully making it to the train station on time with moby in hand, or rather on as was the case. (In case you haven't noticed from either knowing me personally or from other hints of it in posts past, I'm a little on-time challenged. Its a disability, a handicap, if you will. Mostly for other people when they come into contact with having to get me and the kiddos somewhere in a timely manner. To all of those who have been crippled by my chronic plight, especially my alway-on-time-which-means-at-least-15 minutes-early-everywhere-he-goes husband, my sincerest apologies! I just don't foresee a cure any time soon...so be armed with that knowledge.) We even were able to go to church beforehand, for which I was truly grateful. I really love our church. Its Christian Life Church, if anyone is interested. Afterward, we got in our already packed up van and headed to the train station in Temple about 25 minutes away. We got there and the train hadn't pulled in yet and we were getting hungry, so we decided to take a chance and go to Dairy Queen which was down the road in sight of the station. Now don't get me wrong. I really like DQ food, but fast it is not. I've been to many a DQ hoping that I might get my food a little faster, but to no avail. They just flat out take their own time.
So as we were sitting there waiting on our food to come out of the tiny drive-thru window, we hear a train horn. Our train was there and early to boot. About that time our food come out and we make a break for it to the station. When we get there, people are already boarding the train, so the ice cream cones the boys and I got as well as the slushee drinks we had gotten were casualties of circumstance and were left behind. Let's face it, I was not going to try and manage drinks and melting ice cream on top of all the other mess I had to take with me! We get up to the conductor, give him our names and lo and behold, we are NOT on the list. I had to explain what had happened the day before and right about then the "all aboard" rang out and he just said go ahead and get on the train and he would call and find out about the whole situation.
We were directed where to go and instead of going up to the second level like I expected, we got put in the lower level area. From what I understand, this is where they put people with disabilities or those of a more elderly age who don't do well going up and down stairs. This area is separated from the rest of the train by a door and has only 12 seats in staggered pairs of two on either side of the aisle. Getting the baggage stowed was interesting, but I did manage to get it all put up in one location right inside the door to the cabin area. When we walked in there were only five ladies in there. We got seated in the last row and Braden sat across the aisle in the outside seat next one of the ladies.
Now the one Braden sat next to was getting off at Ft. Worth. The other three ladies were headed to Chicago, I believe and had come from Tucson, AZ. The really nice thing about where we were sitting was that there was a large space left open behind Braden's row and so I was able to have a place to change diapers and the kids got back there and used the fold down tables on the back of the seats to draw and mess around. We were also in view of the bathrooms, so after the first time of showing Braden where it was, he was able to go by himself. Its very interesting that the frequency of potty trips increased on the train. I mean how could they not? There was a button to push to make the cabin door open and the toilet area was a novelty......:) What more could a five-year old ask for?
The ride from Temple to Ft. Worth was really very pleasant. Ailey Grace slept most of the time there. Zekey was so excited about being on a train that he couldn't stop saying, "TRAIN, Momma, TRAIN! Looking out the window occupied his attention for quite some time. Braden was quite busy engaging the lady beside him in a rather lengthy, on-going conversation. She was very gracious and didn't mind at all. We also ate our lunch during this time and one of the ladies in front of us offered us some trail mix type stuff with some little m & m s mixed in. Braden ate lots of his and Zekey picked out all the little candies and ate them. ;p I think that is mostly how it went all the way to Ft. Worth. Right before we got to Ft. Worth, the three ladies from Tucson went up to eat lunch in the dining car. At Ft. Worth, the lady sitting with Braden got off and two other ladies got on. Each one had trouble walking really well and both were carrying their full size pillows with them. One took up the entire row on one side at the front and the other took up the entire row on the other side at the front. (I travel with my pillow, too, but it was packed in the luggage. ;)
At this point, I think its very important to make the seating arrangement very clear. The two ladies that had just gotten on were taking up the front rows on either side of the aisle. The next two rows had the three ladies from Tucson, two on the right side in front of mine and Zekey's seats and one on the left side in front of Braden and the recently vacated seat. Now, when the two ladies got on at Ft. Worth, the ladies from Tucson were up in the dining car. The two in front of us had quite a bit of stuff in and around their seats. The other lady had a travel pillow and blanket in her seat and a duffel bag on the floor in front of it. She was sitting next to the window.
From there, the train made its way to Dallas. Here's where it gets very interesting. At Dallas, a ton of people got on the train. There was much confusion, too. First, a man in a motorized wheel chair. He was a veteran. Wanna know how I could tell? I knew you would. On the back of his chair he had a full size American flag on a flag pole. He had a jacket with a HUGE embroidered Army seal. It was a leather jacket and he had it laying across the chair with the back facing up .... in July.... in Texas. There was also a large selection of other military related items decorating his wheelchair and person...in case you missed the flag and the jacket..... He also had an army of people trying to help him get settled in. Apparently, the reason that the front row on the right had not been occupied was because it was reserved for this man. His wheel chair was parked on the right up in the front just inside the door. There was a huge space up there just for this purpose. (Now before anyone gets a bee up....somewhere.....ahem... do let me let you in on a little morsel of info. I served six years in the Air Force and am myself a disabled vet. Thankfully, I was not in combat and didn't get injured due to war related events. Thank you merciful Father!!! My dad is also a disabled vet and I happen to know quite a few of all ages who served in different branches of the military and were disabled due to a variety of reasons. Having said that, please understand that I have the utmost respect for men and women who died or were injured or didn't get injured having served this country. I will tell you, though, that with the exception of a very few, the majority don't parade it around in front and back of them for that matter to make sure everyone around them KNOWS they served and may have been injured, to elicit sympathy and servitude from others. Okay, moving on...) Now, because that front right set of seats had been saved for this man, the woman (- I am now changing the term from lady to woman because of subsequent behavior, in case you are wondering. The following was in no way lady-like behavior-) had to find another place to sit. The options, seemingly, were to sit with the lady in the row across from her on the aisle seat, sit in the outside seat in the row behind that one because, remember, the lady from Tucsan had her bag, pillow and blanket marking her window seat, or she could sit by the window in Braden's row. Which one did she choose? None of them, or I should say one and then some. How could that be, you ask? Oh, do let me enlighten you... Instead of just being okay that she had to share a seat, she decided she would just move the lady's bag, pillow and blanket, from the second row to the row where Braden was sitting. That's right folks, she wanted a row to herself! Now, as everyone was trying to figure out where to sit, I stated out loud two different times that there was a lady sitting there and that the other two ladies were in the row in front of me. The porter was even in there and heard me. As the woman was moving the other lady's things to Braden's row, she looked straight at me and said, "We'll just say that the conductor moved me to this row." Ah, it begins...the tangled web. I looked at her with an expression of, "You are so gonna regret doing that!"
Now, the next stop was about 15 mins later. I can't remember the name of the town, but more people got on and another bout of craziness ensued. A rather large woman using a cane and her son got on, along with another larger woman and her grandson. If you have been keeping count, there are now more people than seats trying to sit in this section. The man in the wheelchair was laying across the two seats in his row, but probably could have used only one if necessary...maybe....well, he wasn't offering at this point. Everyone started asking who was sitting where and all that, so AGAIN, I explain about the ladies in the row in front of me, and the one who was moved into Braden's row. Oh, yes, I must also inform you that there are boarding passes placed above the seats you are sitting in telling how many people are sitting there and what the destination is. Also, at this point, Braden was behind his seat in the empty space playing on the trays that fold out of the back of the seat.
SO, the larger woman with the cane and the son tried to sit in Braden's row and I told her they were taken, but she didn't care and sat in the window seat. I repeated that the seat next to her was my son's as her son tried to sit in it. I had to explain that I had paid for three seats and that Braden was in a paid seat. It was pretty ridiculous. There was a whole lot of complaining from this point. The son kept saying he didn't know where he was gonna sit and the mother was fussing that she couldn't possibly make it up the stair to the upper deck. (I'm inclined to agree with her. I don't think her girth would have allowed it, not to mention her knees v. the stairs. More on this in a bit.)
Okay, next the woman with the grandson started fussing about how she needed two seats. She was looking at the woman who had moved the lady's things in the second row as she was saying this since her pillow and a leg happened to be occupying the seat next to her. Finally, she reluctantly admitted that the seat was vacant and said the grandson could sit there. At this time, I repeated again that the ladies from Tucson were up in the dining car and I mentioned the lady's boarding pass. Well, the woman with the grandson, took the Tucson lady's boarding pass down and threw it up in the luggage rack above the seats! Yeah. I was having a hard time believing my eyes! I was in definite shock. So that left the son of the woman in Braden's row. They seriously tried to talk me out of Braden's seat! It was amazing the technique that was employed as well, talking loudly with each other wondering where the son (who was at least ten years older than me with nothing wrong with him disability-wise) was going to sit. At this time the porter came in and was in general being no help whatsoever, but yet AGAIN (are you seeing a pattern yet?!) I mentioned about the ladies and then told him that the lady's boarding pass got thrown up in the luggage compartment. He heard every word I said, but didn't do anything about it. Amazing, right? Now, the son would go up to the top deck and come back down to report about the seating situation and up and down. Basically, as long as Braden wasn't in his seat, he would come down and sit in it to talk to his mother and make sure she was okay. They were going all the way to Chicago, so I did let them know that we were going to be getting off after about two hours and then our seats would be free. That seemed to help. Also, the woman who had originally moved the lady's things stated she would be getting off in an hour. So, after a while, everything calmed down.
The woman seated next to Braden actually sat partially in his seat, too. The lady's pillow from the second row had been placed in Braden's seat and the woman decided she was going to use it to rest her hand on. I mean that she picked the pillow up, pulled it to her and half stuffed it under the outside of her bum and rested her hand on it. Yep. It couldn't have been mistaken for one of Amtrak's courtesy pillows either. It was the kind you get at walmart, one of those travel pillows.
At this point, all that kept running through my mind was, "I really hope those ladies don't come back down for a bit because the proverbial poo would definitely hit the fan!" Well, all of a sudden I looked up toward the front because there was a bit of commotion. The ladies had returned...... The one whose things had been moved was looking at the second fully occupied row and trying to figure out what was going on. She was looking on the ground searching for her things and right at that moment an Amtrak employee came down with the menu for dinner.
The Tucson lady said that she had been sitting there and that her things were gone. The Amtrak lady asked her if she was sure she was in the right compartment. The Tucson lady replied that of course she was. Right about here is where the porter re-entered the scene. Not wanting her to think she was going crazy, I got her attention and pointed to where her things were. Her bag had actually gotten moved over where you put your feet in front of Braden's things along with her blanket. The pillow was still being used. Mmmm-hmmm. She looked back up at me and said, "How did my stuff get there?" I replied, feeling the tense atmosphere of the very silent compartment at that particular moment, "They were moved." .... silence... She said, "Who moved them?" (Intensity of the moment increases!!!!) I looked down for a moment hoping that the woman who moved them would speak up before I had to be the one to point her out. All of a sudden, the guilty party spoke up and said, "We moved them." The Tucson lady replied, "Who's we?" (Her tone has remained even the whole time, but my, oh, my looks could kill! ;) The now-found-out woman replied, "Well, I moved them because I needed a place to sit." and proceeded to try talking her way out by way of explaining about the man in the wheel chair.
The Tucson lady was standing next to me during this exchange and the woman in the seat next to Braden looked over at me with an alarmed expression and said, "I thought this was your son's things!" "No." I replied. "I said several times that those belonged to one of the ladies still up in the dining car." (Its funny to me here because she assumed that the pillow belonged to Braden, but still decided to use it without even bothering to ask me. Interesting, eh?) After that exchange, the Tucson lady asked where her boarding pass went and I told her where it was and the porter went straight to it and pulled it back out. (See, I told ya he had heard me, but chose to ignore me.....mmmm-hhhmmm.)
The lady asked why it had gotten taken down and who did it, but no one fessed up. I was relieved that she was not directing her inquiry at me, but I was watching the back of the woman who had taken it down and thrown it up there so that her grandson could sit there and her shoulders tensed up, though she didn't say a word. The porter was trying to explain that he let the found-out woman sit there because he knew she would be getting off soon. (I was pretty curious how that was a solution to any of this, but he had apparently not expected this little scene to arise out of all of this.)
The Tucson lady wasn't having any of this and kept asking why her things were moved. Finally, the found-out woman said she could have her seat back and the Tucson lady looked right at her and replied, "No, I'm sure you got just exactly what you wanted." Hello, dagger right to the core issue! Wow! The woman offered the seat again and the Tuscon lady waved her off and sat down in Braden's seat. After a moment she turned and looked at me and asked, "Isn't this your son's seat?" Right at that moment Braden came and stood by me and she asked him, "This is your seat, isn't it?" Braden nodded his head and I said, "Yes, it is, but we are good at sharing and its just fine if you sit there." I felt so bad for her.
The guilt was obviously gnawing at the found-out woman because she again offered up her seat and right about then the veteran guy in the front right row offered, in a very put out way with frustration lacing his voice, to let the Tucson lady sit in one of his seats. She looked at him and said, "Thank you, but we knew when we got on that you would be sitting there and were told not to sit in those seats. I'm sure she got exactly what she wanted." And the found-out woman said in response to the veteran man, "Anyone who has served our country the way you have deserves to stay right where you are and keep your seats." (Not exact words, but same idea.)
Anyway, at this point there was much uncomfortable filling up the silence with chatter and settling. The lady now sitting across from me in Braden's seat and I started chatting a bit. Braden, of course, paid no attention to the conflict still churning in the atmosphere about him and continued to play and draw. Zekey, was just hangin' out watching a movie on the dvd player and Ailey was again sleeping, if I remember correctly. There were no more "incidents" after that and when the found-out woman got off, the lady who had been cast out of her seat, reclaimed it. Braden sat in his seat again for a little bit, but pretty soon after, it was our turn to get off of the train.
I managed to collect all of our mess together and get it to the door before handing the kids out to Meemaw who, to my utter relief, was waiting right there at the door for us. Hooray, Meemaw!!!
I want to point out that I, again, received no help in getting off of the train by an Amtrak employee. The bitterness is slowly, but surely dying off....;)
Thank you for sticking with my version of "As the Train Runs". I hope you enjoyed the immense amount of drama arising from the coming together of a vastly diverse group of people in a very small space. Until the next train ride.....