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27 September, 2005

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We had many a toilet failure by nightfall.


The extremely cramped Amtrak "roomette." The bed is to the left, the door is to the right. You're looking at all the floor space.


Looking out at New Mexico from the lounge car.


I think this may well be some of the most spectacular of the scenery we'll witness on the whole trip.


The Interstate runs parallel to the tracks. And they're going faster.


A pit stop in Albuquerque.


This is where the train gets refueled.


And this is the truck that refuels it.


Everyone is able to get out here and wander around for a little while.


Not like the merchants of Russia but it still brings back some memories. Here it's all about arts and crafts, not food.


It's the hustle and bustle of Albuquerque.


Some of it, anyway.


The Southwest Chief is really the major attraction of the day at this station.


Unlike the trains overseas, there are no steep ladders to climb up and down. In fact, even the one step is given a little help.


This is the mystery car all the way at the back of the train.


Whatever it is, it claims to be satellite controlled.


This is always good advice when dealing with train cars.


I'm not sure what the difference between a transition sleeper and a sleeper car is. But we're all in the sleeper cars.


A look inside the baggage car. A lot emptier than I thought it would be.


The mountains of New Mexico.


And guess where this is? A little town known as Las Vegas. New Mexico.


And the proverbial pile of old vehicles.

27 September, 2005

Day 74. I cannot fucking believe this. My initial assessment of the setup here proved to be all too correct. I was being whipped around like crazy in the few hours I tried to get some sleep. If I got half an hour total I'm lucky. The violent force with which you get flung from your bed is utterly insane. How fucking stupid are these people? You can't set up beds this way. You can't run trains on tracks like this. And you certainly can't charge people the amount of money Amtrak charges for this kind of abuse. Do I have to survive on no sleep for the next three days? It's literally so bad that you can get whiplash just lying in bed. That's no exaggeration even though it must surely sound like one.

I moved to the upper bunk in the hopes that it might be better. It still might be but I had no way of checking because the asshole kids across the hall started screaming nonstop at 6:00 a.m. Of course the mother does nothing except occasionally hit one of them. I should have stayed in the coach seat.

I knew Amtrak wouldn't be up to world standards but I never expected crap like this. When you pay a huge amount of money for a sleeper, you should get something halfway conducive to sleep. I can only imagine the shape I'll be in if this keeps up. I already feel like killing someone.

Again I want to emphasize that the people here are all very nice and they do their best to make everyone comfortable. But they can't fix the tracks or make the beds face the right way. It's a travesty that this is the material they're given to work with. This rail network could be a really good thing. There's no reason in the world that a "Trans-American Express" can't be something that draws tourists from all around the world. But the people in charge have to care enough to get the very basics right. And I learned today that this is most definitely not the case.

On top of the no sleep and the screaming idiots who have now taken to banging on my door, I was also being harassed by frequent loud announcements reminding everyone when breakfast ended. Half-announcements actually since there's something wrong with the PA system here which makes it cut out much of the time. Well, I clearly wasn't going to be getting any more sleep under these conditions so I might as well get something out of this. So I stumbled over to the dining car and was seated with a mother and daughter from New Hampshire and Rhode Island respectively. They were heading back from a wedding in California and had made this trip several times. Neither liked to fly. The daughter was a retired nurse who had taken care of her father in his last days, was helping her husband get over a stroke, and was taking care of her son who was in the final stages of Lou Gehrig's Disease. She had certainly chosen the right profession. And somehow she didn't seem in the slightest bit depressed by all of the misery she had witnessed. In a way it seemed to have strengthened her.

After lunch, I tried to do some writing and take my mind off my pissed off state. I wasn't sure where I was getting the energy to even make it through the day. Hopefully conditions will improve tonight so I won't feel like a total zombie tomorrow.

We made a long stop in Albuquerque and there was enough time to walk around a bit. So that's what I did, taking pictures of all sorts of things in the station area. I headed back to my cubicle and a few minutes later someone came to my door saying she was a police officer and she wanted to search my bags. I was so drained that I didn't have the energy to challenge this. She explained that lots of drugs get smuggled from Mexico and wind up on the train here since they had absolutely no security at the station. I have no idea why she was telling me this. She seemed sincere enough and I watched everything she did. It's gotten so crazy in this country that most people don't know what they can and can't refuse. And I think I'm about as confused as everyone else at this point. I have to wonder if I was targeted because I dared to take pictures in a train station. I noticed she left the train car right after searching me.

Even more good news. Another family got on here and took the bigger room next door to mine. These kids specialize in hitting each other and they were screaming and crying within a couple of minutes of their arrival. Their mother seems to bellow at them after every five incidents. At least this has managed to quiet down the original screaming kids. They're either in shock or taking notes.

It was lunchtime and I was joined by a couple on their way to New York City. The husband was a retired NYPD cop from the 1960s who had spent most of his life on the Lower East Side. Now they lived in California and were heading back to New York for a month to visit. This guy had all sorts of stories to tell. He talked about the times he had to use his gun and how he killed two people in his career. He told how Internal Affairs demanded to know why he didn't kill a guy who was coming at him with a knife and why he only wounded him in the shoulder. I heard how he reacted when he learned that his African American partner had been killed in action while he was on vacation. It was really interesting just living this guy's story through his eyes with the occasional references to places we both knew. We shared a love and passion for New York. And obviously we didn't share the whole police culture thing. But why must I feel obligated to make that an issue? Why is there a part of me saying that I have to be confrontational about everything I disagree with concerning the NYPD? After all, these were the guys who arrested me without cause last year. Was keeping quiet about that somehow a betrayal to all of those who have suffered at their hands? I think it's sad that so many of us can't just open our ears and listen to what someone has to say about their life and their perspective. This guy didn't know anything about me and he didn't have to. I was interested in hearing his way of thinking and what it was like to actually be a cop. From there I was able to find some common ground but even if I hadn't been able to, I still would have wanted to hear his stories. And I think that's what we need to do more of. Just listen. Judge later.

We seem to be making good time and I hear occasionally that we're arriving early at certain stations, enabling us to actually get out and walk around for a spell. We did that at La Junta, Colorado for about a half hour.

I was dismayed to find that last week's "Off The Hook" didn't download properly so I wouldn't have a chance to hear the show before arriving in Chicago. There still may be enough time for me to actually download and listen to the show before tomorrow's edition goes on. That would be nice since I really don't know what was discussed due to the shitty satellite reception. I'm told that since I paid so much for these Amtrak tickets that I qualify for "first class" treatment, hence the free food. But apparently I can also use their lounge in Chicago where they claim to have Internet access and Ethernet for my laptop. Hopefully my laptop will survive another night of being banged around in this cabin. It already has been thrown off my seat once. These fuckers will pay if there's a single sector out of place.

I was practically passing out when dinnertime came around but I was entitled to it so I wasn't going to let it go. Plus the evening screaming sessions were in full swing by all the junior hooligans next to my cubicle. I sat with a guy who was an ex-Marine on his way back to Chicago from California where he had been visiting his mother. Every year he makes the trip in early September when his birthday is and leaves at the end of the month when his mother's is. He hasn't flown since 1994 when his plane had to make an emergency landing in Dallas. I find it interesting how many people here refuse to fly for one reason or another. What I learned from this guy is how the rails have deteriorated with rising costs and fewer passengers. It's sad really. There is such potential here and if done properly this could be a really enjoyable way of getting around. Of course there is still hope, especially if gas prices continue to soar. But you have to wonder about Amtrak's business plan. Their response to the high cost of driving was to raise their prices as well and alienate any new customers they may have gotten. You could write a book on the bad business decisions these people have made over the years.

Tonight I'll try the top bunk. I'll be in one hell of a state tomorrow if it goes like last night.