From Maui to Los Angeles to Buffalo with Mini-Adventures Along the Way.
I don’t know why, but I always seem to get a Russian taxi driver in Los Angeles. This time, en route from my airport hotel to the magnificent railway station in downtown LA, was no exception. My taxi driver did not command a feeing of confidence. He was a fragile old man who spoke almost no English. He wore thick glasses, through which he peered at me blankly when I asked to the taken to Los Angeles Union Station. He stare never wavered.
Clearly, he didn’t understand me. I tried “the Amtrak station” without success, then “railroad station.” Still nothing.
But “train station!” , spoken at greater than normal volume, seemed to produce a flicker of recognition and he turned and began tapping tentatively on the screen of a GPS device mounted on the dashboard. After a pause, and with a demeanor that was not reassuring, he started the engine and away we went.
It took a while, and a half dozen times I heard the female voice from the GPS saying she was “recalibrating … “, but we eventually arrived at the station. Without the GPS, however, I’m quite sure I would have been fortunate to end up in Cucamonga.
The Southwest Chief departed on time and an hour later I was enjoying an excellent steak and a half-bottle of merlot in the dining car. My companions that night were a father and his 30-something daughter on their way to see the Grand Canyon and a young man in his early 20s going to Chicago for a visit with a friend. He was traveling in a sleeping car which I thought a bit unusual at the time since most people his age opt for seats in coach.
It was pitch black outside when I awoke the next morning. The Chief was stopped in the station at Flagstaff, Arizona, and it was obviously very cold out there with several inches of new snow on the ground. A group of some 50 people were boarding — a group tour, as I later learned, returning to Chicago after spending four days at the Chicago Cubs Spring Training site in nearby Mesa.
The State Police boarded our train later that day when we stopped in Las Vegas, New Mexico. They removed a young man from the train, along with his suitcase which apparently was stuffed with something other than clothing. I watched from the window of my roomette as he was helped into the rear seat of the police car. He had a sullen, defiant look on his face which is why I didn’t recognize him right away as the same young man who had been sitting next to me the previous night for dinner in the Southwest Chief’s dining car.