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A wink from Amtrak

“I’m sorry, Ma’am,” the overly officious clerk told Sabra, “but I can’t let you on the train with that ID.” The train was the Southwest Chief, run by Amtrak between Chicago and Los Angeles.
We’ve taken Amtrak several times before, mostly from Mt. Pleasant to Denver. The big plus for a train is price: a round trip is $160 while it costs nearly $400 by airplane. It’s also fun and relaxing. I like to get a seat in the club car, play solitaire and chat up people. The scenery is another plus; you see things from a train that you miss from a jet or a Ford. The vistas of the New Mexico desert were especially appealing on this last trip, for example. Yet another advantage is that you can haul just about whatever with you and there’s no extra charge.
We took advantage of this last benefit. Not only did we have generous-sized carry-ons but also a suitcase and two sets of golf clubs, which I had bound together and placed in a big green bag designed to hold one set. Someday we plan to buy a second golf club travel bag but for now we make do with one.
The down side is time: it takes about 14 hours to get to Denver from Iowa, but only an hour and half by plane. Too often, I’m a little sad to say, we opt for expense and speed over thrift and leisure. On this particular trip, however, our means of transportation were decided for us as Sabra was under a do-not-fly order from her doctors during her recovery from a stroke.
While planning the trip we agreed that I would pay the extra $100 to get a ticket for a Superliner Roomette. On a previous trip we tried one. It’s not as fancy as it sounds but it is clever. Two seats fold into one tiny bed and a second tiny bed folds down from overhead. Sabra had to take the upper, as there was no way in Helsinki I was going to get up into it. She felt like she was going to be flung out of it so eventually she moved to a standard seat to curl up in and sleep. I, on the other hand, actually enjoyed the rocking about. So we opted to get accommodations apart and meet in the club car.
That’s how we found ourselves a few weeks ago at the depot in Ft. Madison with the clerk with a power complex. The eagle-eyed ticket puncher noticed that Sabra’s driver’s license would expire while on the trip. Going above and beyond the call of duty, she objected to letting her on the train because she wouldn’t have a valid ID on the return. After some go around we got her to change her stance when we assured her that we could have her valid passport sent to us while away and ready for the trip back. “Well, okay,” she said reluctantly.
Next she saw the big green bag with two sets of golf clubs. “That can’t go on the train,” she decreed but had to back down when it weighed in a couple of ounces under the 60-pound limit. She did get out a tape, however, and after several measurements and a lot of calculations declared that we owed $10 extra for oversized luggage.
Then she looked at our tickets.
“Do you realize sir,” the clerk asked loud enough for everyone in the station to hear, “that you have a bed while you’re wife has only a seat?” I assured her that, over her disapproving scowl, we had planned the trip that way. “Well, I never,” she replied and proceeded to make us both swear that we would not try to see each other while on the train. We assured her that there would be no conjugal visits (although I still hope to join the “Amtrak Club” with Sabra someday). As we walked away a women elbowed her husband and said, “you better not try that with me, buster.”
After settling in and having the porter bring a second bottle of complimentary water (a perk of the Roomette) I sauntered down to the club car. As luck would have it, the only table available was already partially occupied by “buster” and his indignant spouse. I sat down and they got up and left, with the women giving a “hrrrumph.”
A little later Sabra came down and joined me. When it came time to leave I asked the club car attendant if it was okay if she accompanied me back to my room. “What happens on the train stays on the train,” he said with a wink.