“The Long Ride Home!”
I sincerely don’t think I can ever remember when ten days had gone by so fast. Before I knew it our friend was dropping us off at the train station where we would board our new, least favorite means of transportation. I assumed that all the tears from saying goodbye had been shed at the house before we left, but apparently I was wrong. However, what can only be described as perfect timing for a large dose of comic relief to lighten up the moment came when my daughter saw the train docked in the terminal and vehemently shaking her head side to side loudly yelled out; “Daddy, please don’t make me get back on the train, I don’t want to go on that ride again!”
Out of the mouths of babes, but in all honesty, she said what we were thinking even though neither of us wanted to admit it. We boarded the train, found our seats and set up camp for “The long ride home.” Six hours into our return trip and so far it was smooth sailing, or should I say rolling? Looking around the train, I noticed a few familiar faces from our hellish ride down and I had to wonder if they were as . . . what’s the word . . . “concerned” as we were about our return ride home? I should have known better than to think that everything was going to be fine because shortly after I checked my watch at the six hour mark and without any warning at all . . . the brakes on the train locked up and we came to a screeching halt!
When I say that we came to a screeching halt, I mean like everyone slid out of their seats kind of halt and people had to hang on to anything they could just to keep themselves from tumbling over. My first reaction was to throw my arm across my wife and daughter as my other arm grabbed the seat rest so I wouldn’t fall. I dug both my heels into the floor and tightened my leg muscles. Naturally, the suddenness of it made people panic, scream and curse. For just one moment the train went completely silent as everyone assessed the situation and made sure that no one was hurt.
My daughter’s eyes were open wider than I had ever seen them before and she appeared to be in some sort of catatonic state. The profanities that ran through my head at that moment, would have made Satan blush and I had all but made up my mind that I was going to take my family off the train, call a taxi, drive to the nearest airport and fly home. Like magic, a staff member appeared at the front of the train and asked for our attention.
If the number of apologies given to us on the trip down and our newest “we’re sorry for the delay” were gold, well then, I guess that would make me Midas. What was the reason for our sudden stop this time? Did we hit a deer, were we being hijacked, what now? The staff member informed us that some snot nose, little brat kid, had pulled the emergency stop button, cord, whatever it was, causing us to come to an unexpected, forceful, abrupt, halt. My first thought was; “Where’s the kids parents, I want to smack them both so hard they’ll end up in next week!”
Thankfully, this little set back only delayed us by about a half hour from beginning to end, but given what had happened to us on the way down, my blood pressure at the present moment was most likely in the; “danger of having a stroke zone”. I sincerely had to wonder if every train ride, every day, was filled with calamities like the ones that we were experiencing. I’m sorry to be so blunt, but; “This was just fucking ridiculous, wrong and intolerable!” Because of both our latest delay and how pissed off I was, in my head I had already written a vicious complaint letter to anybody at “Amtrak” asking for a partial or full refund of my money for the Hell my family and I had to go through in what was supposed to be a relaxing, enjoyable experience.
The train came to life again and soon we were picking up speed heading down the tracks. This latest event in conjunction with the memory of the crazy events that happened on the way down made it very, difficult, well, almost impossible to fully relax and enjoy the ride. In the back of my mind I was already thinking about what was going to happen next and I refused to let my guard down because of it. The next several hours went by without any trouble or a hint of one to come and then again, several more hours of incident free riding were behind us. Could this be the way a train ride is really supposed to be? Maybe it wasn’t so bad after all.
Late evening was approaching and the three of us were getting pretty tired so my wife took my daughter to the bathroom, got her washed up, teeth brushed and changed into something more comfortable to sleep in. The train car was quiet as mostly everyone closed their eyes and waited for the Sandman to escort them into dreamland and take them to far away, unknown places. I guess I really hadn’t noticed how tired I actually was because I fell asleep in a matter of seconds hoping that the rest of our trip home would bless us without another calamity. My wife had fallen asleep about ten minutes before I did after telling me that she wasn’t tired in the least bit and that she was going to read for a while. I can’t remember how long we had been sleeping for, but I clearly remember feeling that strange thump sound and hearing glass shattering accompanied by the crunching of metal. Subconsciously, my mind was telling me that I was having some sort of flashback dream, but consciously, I just knew the proverbial “shit had hit the fan” again.
I felt that old familiar tug as the brakes locked up and the train came to that abrupt halt we all had all grown so accustomed to. Forcing myself to open my eyes, frightened at what I was going to see, I suddenly realized that everyone on our train was jolted awake too and looking around for answers. Something grabbed my hand causing me to jump until I realized it was my wife whose grimaced expression let me know exactly how she was feeling. Now it was her turn to cuss; “What in fucking hell is going on with this goddamn train?” she said blushing after it occurred to her what she had just said . . . out loud! It takes a lot to get my wife to that point of swearing so I knew right away that she was pissed beyond belief without even knowing what happened and why we were stopped.
I exited my seat and crawled over my wife and daughter so I could stare out the window of darkness to see what could be the cause of our sudden and unscheduled stop. If I hadn’t seen it with my own two bugged out eyes I would have never believed it in a thousand years. I am not a brilliant mathematician, but I’d be willing to bet that the odds of what just caused the train to stop combined with my family being there to experience this occurrence not once, nope, but twice, are astronomical. Again, I saw the “Amtrak” staff members all walking around outside and in the distance I could see and hear the ever so familiar red, blue and yellow lights of emergency vehicles racing towards us with their sirens blasting. It was pretty obvious something was going on, but what?
Our journey on “Amtrak” had already been filled with a plethora of disasters and both my wife and I felt as though we were experiencing Deja-vu. The emergency vehicles finally arrived and set up a light system as if they were preparing for a concert or something, but as soon as the lights came on and lit up the area like a UFO hovering above us, we saw what made us stop so suddenly. Just a little south of us we saw another twisted heap of metal that both my wife and I said appeared to once be a car. “Shit!” I thought to myself, “There is no way in hell someone could have survived that, now were going to be stuck here while they conduct an investigation because someone died. This could take hours!” I personally don’t think that there are enough words in the English language to thoroughly describe what I was feeling at that moment. I can only imagine what my blood-pressure was, it was probably in the “stroke” zone.
The intercom system crackled to life again and an anonymous voice rang out apologizing for the delay and that we would be on our way again as soon as possible. The people who I recognized that were on our train during our trip from hell down to Florida all appeared to be shell-shocked just like us. I watched as a young guy got up and left through the front doors of the train. He didn’t look happy at all. He returned a few minutes later and stopped in front of our seat. In a controlled voice he said that he remembered us from the trip down and then said; “you’re not going to believe what happened again.” Without waiting for a response from us, he kept on speaking. “A woman decided she was going to commit suicide by parking her car across the tracks just like that guy did on the way down. She’s a little banged up and a lot of drunk! This must be the designated Amtrak suicide area. They’re hoisting her into the ambulance right now so hopefully we’ll get going soon.” We thanked him profusely for the Intel he managed to give us and I sat there thinking to myself; “absolutely no one is going to believe this story, but you can’t make this shit up!”
I looked over at my wife expecting her to be in an “I’m going to kill you mood,” and she started giggling. Of course, that in turn got me giggling and it wasn’t very long before we were trying to stop ourselves from laughing as though we were on the verge of hysteria. Our daughter was just staring at us with a big, ear to ear smile asking us what was so funny. My stomach hurt and I couldn’t catch my breath . . . I couldn’t even look at my wife without bursting into laughter. It took us a little while, but we finally calmed down enough to have a conversation without looking like we belonged in the funny farm. We sat there recapping all the mishaps we had been through both down and back and felt as though “Amtrak” owed us a free vacation somewhere for the complete and total misery we suffered. As soon as we got home, we were both going to write complaint letters to their headquarters. (If we ever get home!)
It seemed like an eternity since we came to a dead stop, but in reality it had only been about forty five minutes. It was probably because we couldn’t wait to get home and we were both pretty frustrated that made it seem so long. An old familiar voice filled our ears and statically proclaimed that we would be taking off shortly and how very sorry they were for the unexpected delay. I’m not sure what possessed me to do this, but I lifted my hand, pointed it toward the speaker and proceeded to give it the proverbial “fuck you” with my middle finger. Seeing what I was doing, my wife burst out laughing again, which of course triggered an immediate belly laugh from me . . . and in seconds we picked up where we left off in our hysterical laughing fit. “Oh my God” I thought, “They’re going to have us committed to the psyche ward at our next stop!” The tears were pouring down my cheeks and I could barely breathe I was laughing so hard. Luckily the jerking of the train forward helped to snap us out of our spastic laughing fit and a minute later we were picking up some serious speed as our journey home continued.
The last part of our strained and unpredictable train ride home was beautifully uneventful, but unfortunately neither of us could relax as we sat there waiting for the next mishap to screw up our trip home. Unfortunately, that’s what we had been conditioned to expect from the very start of our “Slamtrak” vacation. Wouldn’t you? Hours later we finally pulled into the train station in Boston – exhausted, spiritually broken and vowing to never, ever, take another train ride for as long as we live! On the drive home, we recanted the story to our family friend who picked us up at the station and the words; “Jesus Christ” and “what the hell” were perfectly executed by him many, many, times on our forty five minute drive home. Well, as it turned out, we never wrote our letters of complaint to “Amtrak.” After getting a good night’s sleep and rationally sitting down reflecting on all the “events” that destroyed our trip, we realized it really wasn’t “Amtrak’s” fault. Yes, the first incident was their fault, but everyone after that was at the hands of some other entity that could not have been anticipated.
It’s hard to believe that trip was almost twenty five years ago as it seems like only yesterday we were boarding that train with our four year old daughter. Fast forward and our daughter is grown now and we have two beautiful grandchildren we love more than life itself. I’m sincerely thankful to be able to write about this family adventure as two years ago, at the age of fifty two, my wife was sadly diagnosed with “Alzheimer’s disease” and it breaks my heart that they’ll come a day when she won’t remember anything about that vacation and it will be erased from her memory forever. (Cue the tears running down my cheeks as I write this) I will remember though . . . and I’ll make damn sure my daughter holds this memory close to her heart so she can tell her children the story of her “Slamtrak” vacation with Nana and Papa.
I would like to thank everyone for taking the time to read my memoirs of a “Slamtrak” vacation and sincerely hope you enjoyed reading about our train ride from hell. I humbly wish, with all my heart, that all of you may be blessed with a memory that lives in your heart for an eternity.
If you’ve missed parts 1-3, please check them out here;