Chicago to Salt Lake City … On the Zephyr!

SALT LAKE CITY — Isn’t it funny how things can suddenly turn around. I woke up in my Chicago hotel room on Tuesday morning fully prepared to have breakfast, go on line and find the cheapest flight to Salt Lake City, and head on out to O’Hare.

But then, in one last what-the-hell moment, and knowing for sure it would be a waste of time, I called Amtrak’s Customer Relations just to see if by any chance there had been a last-minute cancellation of something in a sleeping car on that afternoon’s Zephyr. 

After working my way past Julie, Amtrak’s automated reservationist, I ended up with a very nice lady in Customer Relations, who sounded genuinely distressed at my Lake Shore experience. She even asked if I had had any further news about the poor guy back there in Erie who deliberately drove his pickup in front of our locomotive. (I have been able to find nothing on line.)

After lots of tap-tapping on her keyboard, she announced that there was indeed a roomette available, that she had booked it for me, and that there would be no additional charge. (I’m most grateful for that since I have no doubt that Amtrak’s heartless computer had put a premium price on this suddenly-available and highy-coveted roomette.)

Several of my fellow passengers from the previous day’s debacle were also on the Zephyr Tuesday afternoon. Some had wisely built in an overnight just-in-case stay in Chicago, but others had settled for an Amtrak voucher and coach seats on this train. 

And so, at two o’clock on the dot, the California Zephyr departed Chicago’s Union Station … and came to an abrupt stop literally ten seconds later. Of course, I feared the worst, but a conductor cracked the PA moments later and informed us that the Lake Shore Limited had just arrived — a mere 4:15 late — and there were almost 50 passengers on that train who had space booked on ours. You may be sure that not one of us who had been aboard the Lake Shore the previous day uttered one syllable of complaint.

Twenty-eight minutes later (and, therefore, already 28 minutes late), the California Zephyr departed Chicago. We had lost an additional hour by the time we reach Fort Morgan, Colorado, just before dawn the next morning, but the miracles kept coming. Our scheduled arrival time in Salt Lake City was 11:05 p.m. We actually came to a stop at 11:31, just 26 minutes behind schedule. 

And so, let the annual Fall meeting of the National Association of Railroad Passengers begin. Well … first a hot shower, a good night’s sleep, and a nice breakfast.