Memory Monday

Last week I shared a story capturing some of the wonderful features of Portage, Wisconsin. From their vacant houses, child mannequins, and local lunatics, what more could you ask for? Well I didn’t even get around to mentioning the prized gem of the city: its train station. Here’s a story about my first experience riding an Amtrak.


Christmas in Nowhere-

I was so psyched to take the train to visit my boyfriend’s parents in southern Illinois. The last thing I wanted to do is make that eleven hour drive ourselves. I would certainly trade that nightmare for a six hour train ride of alternating naps, snacking, and watching the snowy countryside blur past.

I have had experiences riding subways in New York and taking the high-speed TGV in France, but I had never taken a train stateside. I knew it wouldn’t be like the hustling bustling  train stations in Paris or Grand Central Station in New York, but Portage never ceases to amaze me in just how low the standards can go.

The Portage Amtrak Station, if it can even be called that, consists solely of an enclosed waiting room less than the size of a two car garage. There is no attendant. There are no bathrooms. There is nothing except for some claustrophobically close benches arranged in a square. This way you can stare down your fellow travelers as you suffocate on each other’s BO.

Jake and I saw the waiting accommodations a decided it might be best to wait in the car until we saw the train come in. With the passing of each cargo train, I became more and more impatient for the arrival of our passenger train. Hours passed as Jake and I continued our seemingly eternal watch for the mythical train that would whisk us away from our cramped, automotive prison.  We hadn’t even boarded the train yet, and we were already tired, cold, and hungry.  I had started eating my snacks after the train was two hours late, and finished all of them by hour four. I ran out of water when the train was six hours tardy, and by hour nine my bladder was about to explode. Given that there was no bathroom at the “station,” Jake and I were forced to drive to the nearest gas station to relieve ourselves.

This felt like the best decision of my life. One finally chance to utilize actual plumbing before being forced upon a vessel with bathrooms that more resemble a port-a-potty than an actual restroom, and an opportunity to restock on munchies before our long journey. Yes, this was a brilliant idea, or at least I thought so before we heard train whistles from the gas station parking lot.

Trust me, there is no greater terror in this world than the possibility of missing a train that you have waited ten hours for.

Jake and I scrambled back into my car, and drove as quickly as the slushy street would let us. As we pulled into the station parking lot, the train was already crawling away from the station. I leapt out of the still moving vehicle to chase down the train, while Jake parked the car and dragged our bags. I ran beside the train waving my arms wildly desperately trying to capture someone, anyone’s  attention. I had all, but given up when a crew member stuck his head out the door.

As he routinely surveyed the platform, he simultaneously announced into his walkie talkie, “ALL CLEAR!” He had hardly finished his declaration when his eyes spied me still running and weakly waving as I raced the train to the end of the platform. His eyes first squinted in agitation, but then softened into pity as he raised his walkie talkie again to say, “Strike that call, we have a couple of late ones.”

To my absolute amazement, the brakes on the train squealed it to a halt.

I caught up with the man and thank him profusely for stopping the train. “Okaaay..” He said skeptically, “then why don’t you get on the train?”

“Well my boyfriend is coming with our bags.”

With the mention of extra luggage it became undeniably apparent that the crew member regretted his decision to save me.

Not two minutes later Jake joined me with the luggage and we boarded the train. Much to the joy of the extremely pissed off passengers, the train resumed its Southward motion. However, one such passenger decided that she just couldn’t contain her rage that we had delayed this already extremely late train by just five more minutes. “Really? You showed up ten hours late for your train and still thought you could make it? You’re darn lucky. I would have left you two in the dust.”

All the seats on the train were full, except for those in the observation car. Jake and I snagged a bench seat in front of a huge window that flashed white and gray as the wintry wonderland whizzed by. Heads fell to shoulders as we attempted to rest after such a stressful ordeal. I thanked Jake for grabbing both our bags and joining us so speedily. I got an exhausted ummm…hmmmm in reply.

“But Jake?” I asked, “Did you remember to bring the gift for your parents?”



Photo Credit: Cheryl Labeots



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