Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Planes, Trains, Boats, Buses and Motorhomes

I was at the Columbia, South Carolina train station in the middle of the night last spring. I was dropping off my traveling friend who had spent a few weeks in my little old motorhome careening around with me. My old sailing buddy (we met in the Caribbean over 20 years ago) needed to reunite with  car  and sailboat, which were left down in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. 

The train station was rather safe at that odd hour. I did meet a hilarious person I suspect was homeless, pretending to wait on the train. When it arrived, he made up excuses why he wasn't boarding. I imagine if the homeless person didn't pretend to wait on the train, they would have to shuffle along. It's a chronic problem for the homeless people, they need to sleep now and then, like the rest of the world. Finding a safe place to do that can be difficult. The train station, even at that odd hour,  seemed like a safe enough place, another reason I think the funny guy was there, he wanted to feel safe too.

Train timing is never convenient unless you live in a perfect area and I'm not sure where that is. But the seating is wonderful and roomy, nothing cramped like  airplanes.

Planes, Trains, Boats, Buses and Motorhomes by Dear Miss Mermaid
I took this picture last March while waiting at the Orlando, Florida Train station to pick up my sailing buddy. Weeks later, I deposited him at the Columbia, South Carolina train station for a return trip.

I had super uber fun back in the early 1980's taking the train from Greenville, South Carolina to New Orleans, Lousiana for a very long weekend, the scenery was awesome and the trip fun. A female friend of mine who owned a restaurant in Greenville, had never been to New Orleans, though I had made numerous trips by car. I convinced her that as a restaurant and bar owner, she just had to visit the French Quarter for continuing education in her field. We did the 12 or 13 hour trip in coach seats, but we hung out in the club car often. We bought coffee or a wine split (a tiny bottle). We asked the staff if we could play cards and hang out, they said we could unless it got crowded in that case, we had to share the table or leave. When you dine in the dining car or drink in the club car, they will put others at your table as they fill up. We actually enjoyed this for 1 or 2 meals, as we chatted up the other folks sitting at our table.

Many people brought their own food and ate in their coach seat as I don't think they let you use their dining or club tables with your own food. Some coaches had tables, but it seemed families were already sitting at those for the duration of the train trip.

Another time I rode the train on a lengthy round trip from Columbia to Fort Lauderdale to charter a boat for two weeks with some other friends, in the mid 1980's before I moved to the Caribbean. We were planning  to sail to the Bahamas, but ended up in the Keys instead. One lady in our group was seriously ill but claiming to be in remission. She changed her mind about sailing to the Bahamas, so we changed course for the Florida Keys since this was her birthday trip. 

On a sad note, she passed away right after we arrived back home. She was not in remission at all, but she lied because she was sick and tired of being sick and tired. She simply quit all treatments, told everyone including her husband she was cured because she wanted to go sailing, feel the wind in her face, sand in her toes and warm sunshine tanning her skin. Every time she mentioned a trip, well meaning doctors, family and folks around her would claim she was too sick to go.  So she lied. 

I can still hear her voice in my head as many times she said "This is the best birthday ever!" We foolishly toasted her remission as well. Little did we know.

The Florida Keys are a coral cay archipelago beginning at the southeastern tip of the Florida peninsula. The islands divide the Atlantic Ocean to the east from the Gulf of Mexico to the west. The southern tip of Key West is just 90 miles from Cuba.

There used to be a train rail through the Keys, but it was plagued with disasters, hurricanes, deaths, spirits and ghosts finally being destroyed in a 1935 hurricane and never rebuilt.

Now US 1 runs the length of the Keys, matter of fact, US 1 runs all the way up the East Coast to Maine.

Personally I don't think the private rooms on the trains are worth it unless you can afford the largest. On the boat trip, one couple had a room while the rest of us did coach seating. We went to see their tiny cramped room and we were all so glad we didn't bother with one.

The coach seating was roomy with foot and head rests, so it was pretty comfy to doze in.  It's not easy walking up and down a moving train, but you get used to it, so I managed to tour the entire train both directions. Of course everyone looks up to watch you go by...  Many folks never leave their seat. But well, you know me... I want to see it all.

Another time I went on a day long sightseeing train trip to see the fabulous fall colors in the Blue Ridge mountains. It ended in semi-disaster. Our train was fine, but a coal train derailed right after our train had turned to head back "home". Our train had permission to use these old coal tracks that cut through some awesome scenery.  We were in a very remote part of the mountains. They chartered buses to come get us and overloaded them. We had to hike a long ways to meet up with them. The buses hadn't been cleaned, some coming with garbage in the aisles and a very stinky bathrooms. For the scenic train ride, we were told to bring our own cooler and picnic on the train, so you can imagine a zillion coolers, picnic baskets and all the crap people brought for  a day trip. They overloaded the buses, wanting adults to put all the children big and small,  on their laps. Needless to say, many folks were pretty grumpy not seeing the humor in the latest adventure.

We happened to be the last to board a bus, as they showed up randomly throughout the evening and night. Our train car was selected as last to board. I think we were supposed to get home at 9pm (by train) but we got home by bus at 9 or 10 the next morning. The scenic train company went out of business after that. I don't think they had insurance to cover the bus costs. I am sure they paid a fortune to round them up for charter on such short notice. Some of the bus drivers looked like they were pretty exhausted too.

But I still remember that beautiful gorgeous day full of incredible blazing autumn fall colors as the trees and leaves did their annual magic. We had paid extra to be in a first class train car that had unique swivel seats to face the windows, so we were treated to fantastic views in armchair comfort. Now that I think about it, that mountain trip was in the mid to late 1970's.  But it seems like only yesterday.
Many, many thanks from Dear Miss Mermaid


  1. I've made several round trips from the East Coast to Sacramento CA and got the roomette. Coach is comfortable, but it is easier to sleep in the roomette when they make it up into a bed. My last trip was terrible - delays galore because the freight trains own the rails and always have right of way, and the service has gotten terrible on the trains. It used to be so nice but I had some really ugly staff to deal with - in my car as well as the dining room. I don't think I would ever spend that much money on it again.

  2. Ouch, sorry to hear that. 'Have been conceptualizing an Amtrak ride to places and friends I should revisit after being in the Caribbean for a couple of decades. 'May put that on the back burner now unless my trip is a short one, and in that case, I may wind up driving. Sailing your own boat was always an easier decision.


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