Heading East On The Cardinal.
It’s a full half hour before our scheduled 5:45 departure time as about a dozen of us sleeping car passengers are led to the platform where the Cardinal awaits us. Two interesting things immediately catch my notice.
First, there is a second sleeping car on this train and that means that, as far as Amtrak is concerned, we’re officially in the summer season. The rest of the year, the Cardinal operates with just one sleeper. And second, this consist is sporting not one, but two brand new shiny Viewliner baggage cars … one in the usual position, immediately behind he locomotive, the other one is bringing up the rear of the consist. These days, given the lack of financial support for Amtrak in Congress, any new equipment causes a stir.
You can almost always tell within the first few minutes if you’ve got a good car attendant. In theory, every sleeping car passenger is supposed to get an orientation from the attendant as soon as you board: what switches control which lights, where the towels are stored, and how to work the call button. (This isn’t as simple as it sounds. On some trains, you push the button, but on others, you pull it. Please don’t ask me why.)
Tonight I’ve drawn Tyrone (“Just call me T”) and he’s a good one. He doesn’t take my word for it and makes sure I really do know where everything is in my roomette. He confirms my destination, tells me that the dining car will begin serving at 6:30, and asks if I’d like my berth made up while I’m at dinner. He also asks if I want the upper or the lower berth made up. In Viewliner sleeping cars, many veteran travelers prefer to sleep in the upper berth and he has already sized me up as someone familiar with overnight train travel. There is more clearance between the upper berth and the ceiling than in the bi-level Superliners and upper berths in the Viewliner roomettes also have a window. Plus, sleeping in the upper berth means a lot more space down below for changing clothes.
The Cardinal is a small train and, as such, does not rate a full-on dining car. The car immediately in front of mine is half diner, half lounge car and, while the salads are nice and fresh, most of the main courses have been prepared elsewhere and are microwaved on board.
Also at tonight’s dinner, I learned of a scam perpetrated by unscrupulous passengers on dining car personnel: For most of the Cardinal’s journey, it’s passing through areas where wifi is not available. If there is no internet connection, the dining car steward has no way of knowing if the credit card he’s just swiped has expired or has been stolen. Trust the crooks to figure that out!
By morning, we’ve lost some time and are now running more than an hour behind schedule. The ride is relaxing, however, and for more than three hours we follow the Ohio River, then the New River. There’s heavy overcast and it’s raining when we finally arrive in Charlottesville. Tomorrow I’m going to visit Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello. A report to follow.