The Amtrak USA Rail Pass sort of worked. I was heading from Los Angeles to Chicago, when I received a text message. The Chicago to Seattle train, the Empire Builders, had been canceled. Worries about stranded passengers, in light of talks about an upcoming rail strike, forced Amtrak to cancel long haul train travel. My trip was one of the first to go. I quickly booked a hotel room for the evening (a mistake) and regrouped the next day.
The hotel, if you can really call it that, was in the Hyde Park area of Chicago. The lobby was in one building and the hotel was next door to that. To be fair, it was more of a motel than hotel. There were two buildings, with a small parking lot between them. One building was smoking and the other non smoking. Each had four or five separate units. The smoking side had two floors with four rooms per unit and the non smoking side had three floors with six.
The Internet would only work if I sat, outside of my room, on the stairs. The telephone in my room also didn’t work. I had to use my personal phone to call the front desk. The error messages on my iPhone stated that the Internet was being shared and the router needed to be reset. That information led to “Crickets” from the front desk staff. If there really were two hotels, on that property, I clearly picked the wrong one. The saving grace of it all was a nearby Whole Foods. After train food, for four or five days, I wanted sushi and a good salad.
The next morning, I arrived back to Union Station and purchased a day pass for the Metropolitan Lounge. It was going to be a long day. My train route choices were now slim. I purchased a ticket from Chicago to the Canadian Border and then on to Toronto. The train was at 9:30 pm and would be the last one out. The first leg was an overnight to Buffalo. From there, the train to Niagara Falls changed from Amtrak to Via Rail at the border. I was soon on my way to Toronto.
I picked a cheap hostel for the night. The next day, I hopped a train from Tornado to Windsor. I needed to see the Detroit River. During slavery, Detroit was codenamed “Midnight,” on the Underground Railroad. Crossing that river was one of the last “stops” before attaining freedom in Canada. I was born and raised in Detroit. I grew up on the Detroit side of the river, looking out onto Canada, planning my own escape. As a kid, I wondered what it would feel like to stand on the Windsor side. I made a promise, to one day leave Detroit and do just that. On March 12, 1975, I left Detroit.
From Windsor, I headed back to Toronto. It was time to tick a bucket item off my list. In 2016, I took the Empire Builder, from Chicago to Vancouver. I slept overnight, at my favorite hotel, The Fairmont Vancouver Airport. The next morning, I took the tram to the Pacific Terminal and took a Via Train to Toronto. Next, I flew to Montreal, for a few days, and then caught a flight back to North Carolina. Had I more time, I would have kept on going, from Montreal to Halifax. One day, I said to myself.
And so, while waiting to hear about the proposed rail strike, I decided to complete my 2016 rail trip across Canada. I set out early morning from Windsor. I had a short wait in Toronto and then I was off to Montreal. At long last, I was on The Ocean. It’s the oldest “named” passenger train in North America. With the busy tourist season over, everyone in my car managed to have both seats to themselves. Two older passengers, in the car, didn’t have credit cards. Via Rail does not accept cash payments for food or drinks. I joined two other people purchasing items for our fellow travelers.
In a way, I liked coach better than the berth car I booked, back in 2016. For starters, I certainly slept better. There’s no door to lock, in a Via Rail sleeping berth. I just found it odd to only have a string between my bed and passengers walking up and down the car all evening. And, although coach doesn’t provide you with the opportunity to chat and make friends, while having three meals a day in the dining car, passengers in my coach car looked out for each other.
So, the strike never happened. I was out of pocket for hotels, train travel in Canada, and my flight to Chicago from Halifax. For all the extra time and money, I’m still happy that the “non” strike sent me on a different travel direction. I was able to crossed The Ocean off my bucket list.
And …. Even if the promise was made to yourself, a promise is still a promise! xoxo — GGT