Friday, September 28, 2012

Chooo Chooo Amtrak Silver Meteor Jacksonville, Florida to The Big Apple, but no Mike

It's 9:06am, Friday, and I should be on that train just two hours out of Union Station and New York City jammin with all my friends in The Big Apple (Photo Wikipedia)

Chooo Chooo Amtrak Silver Meteor Jacksonville, Florida to The Big Apple, but no Mike

by Mike Marcellino

I was thrilled again, just as a child riding in coach, and even once in a compartment on the Sanfa Fe El Captian from Chicago to Los Angeles. Happy as a 7-year old can be, while getting creamed in games of gin rummy with my Dad, Tony.

I had set out to the Amtrak station on the outskirts of Jacksonville, amazed that I had packed in time. I always over pack, so this time I just downsized, making Governor Romney quite proud of me.

Outside the station on a not too warm Thursday, September 28, I took a smoke break, Army style, feeling it's great to be alive, after Vietnam, that is. Then I noticed that everyone was already in line inside. They check you in at the car door in my experience in most places, even Washington, DC.

When I made my reservations on the Silver Meteor, I requested a window seat, explaining I was a combat veteran of the Vietnam War and being in the isle seat is very discomforting for someone with "'a classic case" of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) the docs told me at the Center for Stress Recover at the VA Medial Center in Cleveland. The Amtrak reservation folks were quite considerate and said they would make a note and see what they could do, but it would be up to the Amtrak border person.

Walking inside, I say the long line of folks of all sorts, with lots of kids waiting in line.

"Oh, do I need to get at the end of the line?" I asked the Amtrak man, sheepishly.

"Yes, end of the line for you," the Amtrak man said to me.

"Well," I said, "End of the line for me," I added, borrowing Captain Willard's line when he got his "mission" to go out and kill one of his brothers-in-arms' cause he'd used the same tactics as the enemy.

By the way, I'm typing this story in the Business center of the Charleston, South Carolina, not New York City, and red on and you'll see why.

I happily step up to the boarding lady and her Amtrak man. Gosh, they were nice. I told her I was a disabled combat U.S. Army veteran and had asked for a window seat. She didn't reply, looking at her seating chart.

Wahoo! I go t my window seat, No 39 and the car wasn't very crowded. Since I'm a notorious slow and bad packer (in the Army I was strack but I think "too many missions, too many helicopter rides, jet strikes, in a man-made sandy new firebase in or near Cambodia. (Whoops, sorry, we weren't supposed to be in Cambodian then but that was where the enemy got away to every day.

I was famished. Walked to the dining car after a Bud and asked if I could have dinner. I waited for a while and finally someone noticed me. I was told I had to have a reservation so I made one for 8:15pm, which I later learned was "last call."

Well, after a quick smoke break in, I think Jessup. Yes, I remember now, as a young woman had said something to me and explained she had never been out of Georgia and was afraid to travel on the train. "You'll be fine," I said, smiling. "Riding Amtrak is wonderful. You've be fine." I think I calmed her down, she smiled and walked away.

I got back aboard eager for dinner as a musician headed for New York told me he had some great Maryland crab cakes (I'm a Baltimore boy). But, I was told there were only two items left on the menu - a steak somewhere over thirty bucks, and pasta that didn't sound very appealing.

Well, I guess it's a hot dog for me, but it was Kosher.

Now is where the real drama begins. I had spent my time in the lounge car, relaxing and fixin' to play some solitaire and hearing this most unique shrilling loud but cheerful laugh from a young graphic designer from Savannah.

I turned, thinking about the hot dog and crab cakes I missed. I bet the first class folks had crab cake, but for me at the tail end they called "last call" but I didn't know that.

"How come there's very little food left in the dining car," I asked an Amtrak man who, unfortunately turned out to be the conductor. Every Amtraker had been so friendly and nice so far but that was to end in a nightmare for me.

The "conductor" who I guess runs the train, though I always thought it was the engineer who really ran the train. The conductor looked up and said something about the matter of little food for regular folk like me. "It's Amtrak policy out of ..." I think he said Miami.

"Well, I replied, smiling, I think Amtrak should change it's policy.

And then I got the look form him I will never forget, and not many minutes later I found out the whole story.

I returned to my seat to find a huge man taking up both my seat and the one next to him.

I walked back down the isle and told an Amtrak man that a big man was in my seat taking up a seat and a half. I said I can't do this, I have PTSD.

The Amtrak man was nice and he moved me to number fifty somethin' at the front of the car facing a blank wall. I could put my boots up. Trouble is my frostbite on my toes from that winter in Germany guarding the Czech border from the Russians. (I knew they weren't going to do anything because the Five K Zone was peaceful with nobody around and I know that 'cause me and the colonel's driver drove right into the "no man's land" without a scratch.)

Then the conductor lowered the boom on me. Suddenly he was in front of me with another Amtrak man looking quite threatening.

"What happened?" he asked abruptly and unkindly.

"Nothing happened," I said, now scared of the Amtrak man more than the enemy in Vietnam.

Well, they left, but a few minutes later in the darkened car, a bunch of Amtrak men suddenly stood in front of me as we pulled into the station.

The conductor said he had two complaints from passengers about me.

He gave me no chance to say a word, in my defense or otherwise.

"Your are off the train," the conductor said.

"These guys mean business," I thought, now resolved to my fate.

After I made my way from the Silver Meteor I was greeted by a bunch of local police. Fortunately they were nice and respectful.

"Am I charged with something. Under arrest?"

"No, we have nothing to charge you for," the officer said.

So there I was alone as alone can be in the dark at the Amtrak station in North Charleston, South Carolina.

I took a cab, but to the airport as I was told by the cab driver that the bus station was closed for the night.

"Well, it's the airport for me," to myself.

And, here I am typing way on the PC in the Business Center of the Charleston airport.

Funny thing, now I recall that everyone I talked with from the cab driver to the really nice folks at the airport seemed to understand what happened to me, like it was par for the course for the Silver Meteor.

Then I realized by mistake.

I had chatted with a woman and her baby boy on and off. She told me she was the wife of the train engineer. "Wow I thought, wouldn't it be cool to get into the engineer and add that to my series of stories about reliving my Santa Fe days.

You see my mistake was being honest. I told her I was a journalist doing a story on riding Amtrak on my coast to coaster Wetland to Badlands tour zig zaggng American on the choo choo. "I was hoping to do a good story about Amtrak, now it's looking bad."

And that's when Mike, host of "Notebook Writer," "the best of" Blog Talk Radio, got booted into Charleston and a $22 cab fare and no way to get out of Charleston.

Now the screech of the iron wheels on The Silver Meteor smells more than a bit stinky.

And now I recall watching a man pulled off the train in just about the same fashion. I wonder what he did to deserve being trapped on the out shirts of Charleston, in North Charleston or something. Now, I too know what "Chooo, Chooo, Amtrak Silver Meteor, but no Mike feels like.

It's 8:10am Think I'll go out and take a smoke break and see the sun rise. I had called Amtrak in the middle of the night and they said no one there could help me and to call customer service after they open at 8pm. The Amtrak man on the phone didn't miss a beat, like this stuff happens all the time.

Now I wonder just how many passengers get kicked off the government trains in the middle of the night in no where's ville.

At some point I will call Amtrak media relations and asked them some questions, but right now I'm light by $16 dollars to the airport Business Center.

The people at the airport are so nice and sympathetic. They look at me nod there heads and smile in a supportive, caring way. They know what it's all about.

To me it smacks of dictatorship. I never go ta chance to say a word or hear a charge.....

Choo Choo Amtrak Silver Meteor Jacksonville to the Big Apple, but no Mike.

copyright Mike Marcellino, 2012 Choo Choo Amtrak Silver Meteor Jacksonvile, Florida to the Big Apple, but no Mike

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