keeping track of amtrak

I’ve been riding Amtrak between Washington, D.C. and points north (primarily New York, New York and Stamford, Connecticut) since my college days. I took the train to Stamford last Monday. Service is much better than when I first started. The trains were often late. I remember standing to stretch my legs at Thanksgiving and looking out at a sea of textbooks, pages outlined in pink and yellow marker, sometimes the entire page, which of course defeated the purpose. Now, service is relatively reliable. Better than flying. Instead of textbooks, you see mainly laptop screens.

My biggest consistent complaint with Amtrak is that the cars often get too cold, summer and winter. One ride last year felt like a scene from Dr. Zhivago. The door was jammed open and the snow and ice from the vestibule spilled into the car.

Last week's trip started off well. I didn’t have to share my seat with anyone. I curled up and ploughed through three magazines (Vanity Fair, Town & Country, National Geographic Traveler) and then started the memoir This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff. My only distraction were the chatty passengers, several sets of exceedingly gossipy work colleagues. My maternal grandmother would have said they’d been vaccinated with a phonograph needle. At some point after we’d crossed the Susquehanna, in Maryland, near Havre de Grace, I felt thirsty. I went to the café car. Sitting on the counter was a box of ginger ale. Perfect! That would hit the spot. I ordered one. The man said he could not sell me the ginger ale. It was for business class. Excuse me? I asked. I cannot purchase a ginger ale? No. What sort of bizarre calculus is that? I was annoyed. I ordered some lemony lime soda and slunk back to my seat.

At Penn Station, the conductor designated my car the Quiet Car. And for probably the first time in my life I was annoyed by the prospect of quiet. I recently bought a cell phone and I wanted to be able to call my mother from the train. My annoyance quickly abated, as I realized I could call from the vestibule or even the next car. Not bad, these two minor annoyances. The ginger ale was an odd one.

Now I’d love to win a trip on a luxury train. This one, The Deccan Odyssey, in India, looks divine. Of course, there’s the Orient Express.

Alas, no luck. I did find one for a trip to Colonial Williamsburg, two nights at the Lodge, plus some meals and tickets to attractions. That would be fun.

To enter, click HERE. The deadline is November 20.