Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

August 10, 2008


The rest of the story about our trip on the Amtrak train


          I need to tell the rest of the story about our recent train ride. I left out two important elements last week. One, the fun my wife had watching me crawl up on the top bunk in our roomette. Two, the joy we shared in getting to know some of the wonderful people who served us on the train.

          There is no way I can match my wife Dean’s gift of telling the story of the top bunk. I should just list our phone number and let you call her. She has had some of our friends in stitches as she described the scene. But I will give it a try anyway.

          Robert Wilson was our gracious porter during our night journey from Birmingham to Washington DC. Robert was a jewel. Though we were novices in riding trains, he never talked down to us. Not once did he make us feel stupid when our ignorance was transparent. Robert is a member of the Amtrak crew based in New Orleans. They serve the Crescent on its continuing run from New Orleans to New York and return.

          I have written to Amtrak’s Customer Relations to commend Robert for his courteous and professional service to us. Though Robert is a 28-year veteran, he has not lost the personal touch that means so much. His attitude was a special bonus and frankly an unexpected surprise.

          None of the other porters who served us was unkind. They did their job. And we were grateful for their assistance. But somehow Robert made us glad we were on “his” train. It was fun to observe a man who had found his niche and was having fun doing his job.

          It was about ten o’clock when Robert finished making our beds. We thanked him, closed the sliding glass door, and pulled the curtain on the inside of the door. That’s when I realized that I was slightly bigger than the space between the beds and the door. I was facing the beds. To my left was a commode. Above it was a shelf just above the wash basin.

          Unable to turn and face the commode, I managed to get my 76-year-old left foot up on the commode, and minutes later my right foot. Now I was standing on the commode but still uncertain how to maneuver my body up into the bunk. All this time the train was rocking and rolling, the horn blowing loudly at every crossing, as I stood transfixed on the commode, wondering how to get my huge body into that bed without killing myself.

          Convinced I had no other choice, I started pulling and grunting, my blood pressure rising. The space was so small that I narrowly missed kicking my wife in the head as I made my move upward. Since there was not enough room to turn over, I had to get onto the bed on my back. I simply cannot sleep on my stomach. Finally, gasping for breath, I landed like a whale on the bunk, exhausted.

          What I did not know until later was that my wife, watching me, had buried her head in her pillow. She was praying that, since I cannot hear well, I could not hear her laughing. She was having convulsions at the pitiful sight of her obese companion trying to catapult off a commode into the upper berth.

          Since our return home Dean has embellished the story and brought forth gales of laughter every time she tells it. Next thing I know the story will be published in Reader’s Digest under the caption, “The Strangest Sight I Ever Witnessed.” She swears the sight was worth the cost of the trip. I hope she can remember it because it was a sight she will never see again.

          After a six-hour layover in Washington DC we boarded another train headed to Chicago. Our destination was Pittsburgh. Before our departure Jake, our grandson, reported that he had left a new pair of $120 shoes on the other train.

          We shared our distress with our porter who immediately called to report our loss. Soon a kind, distinguished gentleman appeared at our roomette. His name was Phil Ryan, an Amtrak executive who had good news about Jake’s shoes. He had talked with Robert, our porter on the previous train, and he had found the shoes.

          Phil assured us he would FedEx the shoes to us at the New York address where we were staying for a week. For some reason the shoes did not arrive before we departed New York but I fully expect they will reach us soon. Phil seemed like the kind of guy who will keep his word and get the shoes to us. Like Robert, Phil made us feel that Amtrak really cared about us.

          So there you have the rest of the Amtrak story. But despite the fun and the wonderful people like Robert and Phil, the bottom line remains the same. No more train rides. + + +