The story you are about to read is an actual first-hand account of a family vacation we took many years ago complete with multiple disasters around every corner that make a flat tire look like sitting in first class. The characters, situations and places are real and no names have been changed to protect anyone. Attempting to tell this debacle of an adventure on one page is an absolute impossibility. Therefore, our story will be told in several entertaining parts sure to make you say; “you’ve got to be shi**ing me?” Buckle up, hop on board and get ready for the ride of your life!
“Memories of a Slamtrak Vacation”
Throughout your life, you’ll go on vacations that when recalled years later will bring back wonderful, beautiful and fond memories that cause you to smile. However, yes, there is always a however . . . the possibility exists that you may also endure a vacation that when remembered, causes you to break out in a sweat accompanied by hives, nausea and a headache. They’re definitely not the memories you set out to make, but boy oh boy, do they make great stories to tell as conversation breakers or to reminisce about at family gatherings . . . or maybe even get published in “Readers Digest, Women’s World or Tales from the Dark Side.”
This is the tale of one such vacation . . . our family vacation . . . taken a little more than twenty five years ago . . . but forever embedded in the dark, little, corner of my memory vault. It’s the story of a well-intentioned, exciting, trip and the chaos that ensued, so unbelievable, so mind boggling that you can’t make this stuff up! I’m sure there are other families out there who have had similar vacations and can relate to one or two of our experiences, but then again . . . maybe not.
When my eldest daughter was almost three years old, my wife and I planned a vacation to Florida to see one of our life long, best friends, who had moved down there and bought a house. He had always said that after he graduated college and saved up enough money, he was moving down to Florida as he had had enough of the long, frigid and snowy, winters up here in the northeast and needed to live someplace warm and tropical. And even though we would miss him dearly, we would always have a place to escape to for a respite from the bitter winters and he always had a place to stay up north when he came home for a visit. Sadly, he passed away about ten years ago at a very young age. We are blessed to have such great memories of our times together both growing up and vacationing. We still miss him terribly and think about him all the time, but the memories we forged will be with us forever.
So, my wife and I made a decision that we were going to try a different form of transportation to get us down to Florida because she didn’t feel like flying with a three year old and she definitely didn’t feel like driving from Massachusetts to Florida because she was pregnant with our second daughter. It would have taken us two days to get there or twenty four hours if we drove straight through. I can’t even imagine how many bathroom/pee-pee stops we would have had to make had we driven down to Florida . . . wait a minute. I have three daughters . . . yes I can! There was only one thing left to do now that our decision was made, and that was; “make our reservations on Amtrak!” That’s right my friends, we were going to take a train . . . a long, twenty four hour train ride with a three year old and a pregnant wife. Now that’s what I call a vacation!
We opted for a regular train car with a block of three seats instead of getting a sleeper car as it was not that much bigger than our regular seats and it was way less expensive. Both my wife and I were very excited as neither of us had ever taken a long distance train ride before and we “thought” it was going to be fun. Fun isn’t the first or most accurate word I would use to describe either our train ride down to “Florida” or our return trip back to “Massachusetts.” Nope, not at all. If I had to describe it in five words or less . . . I’d say with confidence and accuracy that; “It was Hell on Earth!” Ironically, only one of the several mishaps (and I use that term loosely) was the fault of Amtrak while the others were, well, from an outside source. Let me explain . . .
The morning of our departure was your typical vacation stressed morning, especially since we had a three year old little girl to entertain on a train for twenty four hours. I’m pretty sure we had a suitcase filled to max expansion with toys, books and anything else we thought she might need and that’s not including the duffle bag of snacks and juice boxes we packed for the trip either. My wife’s uncle picked us up right on time and we made it to the train station without any hassles whatsoever. So far so good. We were directed to our first train which we would have to get off and switch to another (more comfortable) train when we reached New York City. Everything went accordingly to plan and my daughter was surprisingly content and happy just staring out the window watching the world outside quickly roll by her.
We made several stops after NYC, but the trouble didn’t start until we reached “Washington D.C.” Imagine that, trouble in Washington D.C. “Who’d have thought, huh?” That should have been our first clue that everything was going to go downhill from there . . . and it did! We had been just sitting there at the station in D.C. for what seemed to be an excessively long time and looking at my watch I realized we were already an hour behind schedule. I had just said to my wife that I was going to ask one of the conductors what the holdup was when a conductor with a painfully forced smile plastered on his face entered the train and announced to the ever growing, impatient, (my wife and I included) passengers, that they had accidentally left some passengers behind when they departed NYC and were presently waiting for them to arrive by a chauffeured car arranged for by Amtrak. They must have been some very important people or had friends in politically high places to force the hundreds of other frustrated, paying, ordinary, passengers to just sit there and wait because the late arrivals couldn’t tell time and missed the damn train.
It was almost two hours later when we finally pulled out of the station in D.C. and it was a good thing too because had we waited much longer, the scene was going to get ugly . . . and rightfully so. What made it worse was that Amtrak never even offered free coffee, soda, drinks or snacks to the five hundred extremely angry, agitated, people stuck inside the stationary train. As a matter of fact, we never even got a formal or informal apology for the absurd delay forced upon us by “Amtrak.” Luckily, my daughter fell asleep and napped through this whole nightmare because had she been awake, crying and agitated from boredom, there’s a good chance someone from Amtrak would have gotten hurt.
Once we left D.C. a strange, tense, sort of calmness fell over the train and people started settling in as they psychologically prepared themselves for a much, much, longer ride than first anticipated. My wife and I were no different, but realized our anger was not going to get us there any faster. It was a time before cell phones so there was absolutely no way of getting in touch with our friend in Florida to tell him about the major delay we were experiencing and that our arrival time was pushed up by about four hours. Neither of us panicked as he was highly intelligent and we were pretty sure that he had enough common sense to call Amtrak’s automated line to check on the status of our train and what time it was expected to arrive. Man, was he going to be surprised . . . and pissed!
After leaving D.C. it appeared that we were back on track, (no pun intended, oh hell, yes it was!) Anyway, it was pretty obvious that we couldn’t make up four hours of time unless Amtrak had some super, secret, plasma, little engine that could, hiding up their sleeve so all we could do is accept we were going to be late and try to enjoy the rest of the trip. Seriously, right now I am sarcastically, chuckling like hell at that last remark . . .
We went for an uneventful dinner in the dining car, returned to our seats, entertained our daughter for a little while and then got ourselves ready for some peaceful, shut eye. We wouldn’t be arriving in the morning as planned, but hey, at least the seats reclined and were comfortable. It wasn’t long before exhaustion took us over and we were all sound asleep.
The sudden, abrupt, stopping of the train immediately woke me and just about everyone else up on the train. Still half asleep and just a tad bit confused I quickly gazed out the window and found myself staring into complete darkness and a brief glimpse of my own reflection that briefly startled me. I turned and looked out the window on the other side, as did my wife and all we could see were a few streetlights in the distance and what looked to be spotlights above the doors of a couple of houses. We couldn’t tell for sure because they looked like they were far away and also because we were still groggy from being jolted awake.
We definitely hadn’t stopped at a scheduled train station as there was no train station on either side of us and suddenly I found myself trying to process a multitude of scenarios that were jogging through my head like a stampede of wild animals. The lights inside the train were still off and just as my wife turned to me and said; “Where the hell are we?” all the lights on the train came on and lit it up like some tacky Christmas display. Everyone on the train groaned and in unison covered their eyes from the sudden burst of light that just pierced their retinas. A loud crackle came over the speaker system making everyone jump in their seats as well as waking up my daughter up who had slept right through everything else up to that point.
It became eerily quiet as everyone stopped talking, moaning and groaning long enough to search out where this phantom voice was coming from. My wife and I looked at each other and I could see in her eyes that she was nervous even though none of us knew what was going on. The phantom voice came over the speaker again, but this time we heard him loud and clear. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is (can’t remember his name) at this time I’m very sorry to have to ask you this, but everyone must please immediately exit the train in an orderly fashion. Members of our staff will be at the exit doors waiting to direct you from there. Again, everyone must evacuate the train at this time.” I looked at my wife who was now scared shitless and in a voice that was a little bit too loud said; “What the fuck is going on now?” That probably wasn’t the most appropriate thing to say to put her mind at ease, but I knew she was thinking the same exact thing, I just vocalized it.
I picked up my daughter who had no idea what was happening and grabbed her jacket, blanket and diaper bag as my wife tossed her pocketbook over her shoulder and we quickly headed for the exit still wondering what was going on. Was there a fire, did the train break down, did all the workers decide to go on strike? An Amtrak staff member guided us down the stairs where another staff member ushered out orders to please follow everyone in an orderly fashion . . .
Stay Tuned For Part 2
“Where The Hell Are We?”