All this happened, more or less...

My name is G and these are the true stories of my adventures.

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Anti-Climax

Just a quick note on the rest of the weekend, and a Chicago story I can't resist telling you...


We spent most of the day Saturday on the phone trying to convince people they wanted to go out Saturday night, all to no avail. An epidemic of lameness was sweeping across the entire city.

Just when all hope seemed lost, we got one taker and went out to meet him. Now, I give him major props for coming out at all, but unfortunately, he showed up in a baggy t-shirt, long shorts, and gym shoes. I would never judge a man by his fashion sense, but evidently every bouncer in Chicago would. Even with two hot chickies like us in tow, he couldn't get in anywhere. We walked for ages 'til finally one semi-polite bouncer at "Shenanigans" (which I'm told is a great place) sent us around the corner to somewhere with "a more... relaxed dress code." Thank you, bouncer. Thank you for nothing.

The place he referred us to was McFadden's, a pseudo-Irish pub. I once went to O'Hagans Irish pub (corner of Clark and Roscoe) and rather enjoyed the fact that 1) the barman was actually Irish, 2) it was full of actual Irish guys with names like "Patty" and "Colm", and 3) they were watching rugby on the tele. McFadden's was the polar opposite in an incredibly disappointing way. I could go on for hours, but I'll spare you. To sum up: it was full of douchebags. Definition of douchebag: those guys who are not attractive or interesting in any way but were "cool" in high school and haven't grown out of it. The bottom line: you should never go into a bar where they play "Livin' on a Prayer," but you should especially never go into a bar where they play "Livin' on a Prayer" and, in a terrifying karaoke-from-hell-esque scenario, eighty-seven douchebags burst into song. We were compelled to escape and ran (literally) out the door and down the street laughing.

Because we are awesome and were equipped with witty intellects and comfortable shoes, we still had a good time, but it was nowhere near the caliber of Friday night. Moral of the story: it really is who you know.

I was supposed to stay in Chicago another night, but things were so dead, I actually came home early. This shall go down in history as the least climactic weekend of my young adult life.


* * * *

Before I sign off, I've got to share a little tidbit with you about the last time I ventured over to Chicago...

Whoever Said "Getting There is Half the Fun" Never Rode Amtrak

When I lived in Omihachiman, Japan, I rode my bike fifteen minutes to the train station every morning, hopped on the Biwako 9:16, got off twenty minutes later in Kusatsu, and walked five minutes to my office. After I moved to Yamashina, I had to walk out the door at 8:50, catch the 8:53 subway from Ono, change at Yamashina Eki for the 9:05, arrive in Kusatsu fourteen minutes later, and walk five minutes to the office. Five days a week -- about $100 per month. And you could set your watch by the trains.

Imagine my dismay, then, when I rode the Amtrak this weekend. Of course, the Amtrak is a long-distance passenger train, not a commuter train, and the weather was poor, and there were other complications, and excuses, excuses. But honestly, folks, this was over the top.

I'd been told that the trains often run late (typically an hour or so by the time they've gone from Detroit to Chicago on this particular line), so when we departed thirty-five minutes behind schedule, I wasn't too fussed. I settled in next to a U of M student on his way home from Ann Arbor for the weekend, and we both listened happily to our iPods 'til he hopped off (an hour behind schedule) in Kalamazoo. A student from Western got on there and took his seat next to me -- headed home to Chicago to take his girlfriend out for a late Valentine's.

Here comes the good part. We stopped in Niles, Michigan, to let out, what? One passenger? After we'd been sitting there several minutes, the conductor announced that we'd be sitting a few minutes more. A freight train had, for some undisclosed reason, been unable to complete its trip to Chicago that night, and we were going to take some cars containing certain important "equipment" from that train and haul them the rest of the way. This little switcheroo would take approximately thirty minutes "if everything goes as planned." Ah, the great, all-powerful "IF." So hundreds of passengers (ie, people/customers/etc) sat and twiddled their thumbs so that some mysterious stuff (that is, not people/customers/etc) could get to Chicago.

Time ticked by. The fellow next to me produced three packs of Pez candy from some pocket and began pondering aloud how long one could survive on nothing but three packs of Pez candy. (On a side note, he ate them straight out of the wrapper, which I think is the first time I've seen someone eat Pez without an official Pez dispenser. I found it strangely barbaric.) Two college students behind me carried on an intense and endless discussion of their favorite films and television shows -- the longest amount of time I've heard two people talk without mentioning a single real life occurrence. They literally must have dropped two hundred names without once mentioning a person they actually know. Amazing. I was beginning to think they were from some alternate dimension in which unreality is the only reality...

Two hours after we arrived in Niles, the conductor informed us that there was a slight delay. (In case, perhaps, there was someone deaf, blind, and dead on the train who hadn't yet noticed.) The transfer of the freight cars had gone smoothly enough, but they were now experiencing some difficulty with the air compressor that controlled that rather crucial locomotive element -- the brakes. Brilliant. If we didn't get moving "shortly" (however long "shortly" might be), he assured us there were buses on the way to pick us up and take us the rest of the way to Chicago. This announcement was met with a groan from the whole assembly -- obviously, if we wanted to ride on a bus we'd have saved ourselves the money and done that in the first place.

An hour after that, there were still no buses, there was nothing to eat or drink that didn't cost you an organ, everybody who wasn't asleep was bored senseless, and worse yet, everybody's iPod batteries were in the red. Things were getting desperate. Pez boy was out of sugar, and even Siskel and Ebert behind us were groping tragically for something to talk about. Just when all hope seemed lost, the train lurched forward -- now a mere four and a half hours behind schedule, in case you weren't doing the math.

I slept fitfully the rest of the way to Chicago, but all that added weight must have slowed us down. We arrived in Chicago at 3:30 am, Central Time -- five and a half hours late. Union Station was deserted -- no commuter trains, no buses, no taxis. Those unlucky enough to not have a car waiting for them or a taxi company number in their cell phone were, as the French say, "s.o.l." and spent the remainder of the night sleeping in the station.

All told, my four-hour train ride lasted NINE HOURS and was definitely not half the fun of my weekend in Chicago. It wasn't even one one-thousandth of the fun. In fact, you could safely say it was no frickin' fun at all.

Truly, the beauty of capitalism is that a company can't do this to its customers in a civilized society. They'd be exposing their jugular directly to their competition's blade. But somehow in America, capitalism has failed in the locomotive business on a massive scale. Amtrak has no competition, and so, no blade to fear, no consequences for stopping whatever train wherever for however long for whatever reason and making no apologies about it. Welcome to Amtrack -- We do whatever we feel like 'cuz there's no other train for you to ride. Well, Amtrak, I don't care how expensive parking is -- next time, I'm just going to bloody drive.

train pulling off at a shiga station

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What you have to understand is it is not Amtrak's fault.

Outside the Northeast Corridor (NEC) between Boston and Washington, DC. Amtrak does not own any of those tracks out there in Chicago etc.
Its long distance trains are at the mercy of private freight railroads.

Much of the delays Amtrak gets is because of the freight railroads.

It is a large problem.

However if you come out to the NEC between boston and washington, DC, AMTRAK actually owns those tracks and no freight trains run on them, on the NEC they have 50% of the market competing with the Airlines.
And trains there are remarkably on time, the NEC is also where America's only bullet train the Acela Express runs on.

The government simply for whatever in its wisdom does not want to fund Amtrak so it can own more tracks so people don't get delayed by freight railroads like out where you were.

If you want to know more or help expand the US rail system, contact the national association of railway passengers