To Toronto on The Maple Leaf.
The Hotel Pennsylvania is directly across the street from Penn Station and I’ve stayed there several times in the past because of its location. Some of its 1700 rooms have been renovated, but if you don’t get one of those, you’ll end up in one like room 902: small, dingy, awful bed, an ancient TV the size of a small dog house, and a phone that doesn’t work. (The hotel’s phone number is PEnnsylvania 6-5000. You have to be of a certain age to get that reference.)
Once inside Penn Station–also pretty bad–I approached a female Amtrak employee who was checking to be sure all passengers on the Maple Leaf had passports. I frequently chat with Amtrak employees to see if they know anything about NARP and did so with this woman. She had no clue, so I explained that we’re advocates for passenger rail and had just been in Washington trying to get more funding for Amtrak.
“Then get us a 401!”, she snapped. I started to respond, but there was no stopping her. “Everyone has a 401,” she said, face flushing, volume increasing. “My dentist has a 401. Little companies have 401’s, but . . . this?” She gestured contemptuously at the general surroundings. I know when to hold and when to fold, so I scuttled off to find the line of people waiting to board the Maple Leaf.
I had bought a Business Class ticket for the ride to Toronto and that landed me in the rear half of the café car, which featured big leather-covered seats in 2-and-1 configuration. It also meant free non-alcoholic beverages. But no newspaper.
For a 13-hour journey, the food offered is really well below-minimum standards–packaged sandwiches, snacks and various bottled drinks. For the record, the Jimmy Dean Breakfast Sandwich starts out pretty bad–a scrambled egg and a sausage paddy on an untoasted facsimile of an English muffin–but the microwaving doesn’t help. Whether cold or hot, awful is still awful.
When the Maple Leaf crosses into Canada, it becomes VIA Rail train #98 and is turned over to a Canadian crew: two engineers, three attendants (one for the cafe car) and, instead of conductors, a service manager. Some 20 years ago, VIA did away with conductors, leaving the train-running two the two engineers and putting the service manager in charge of all the on-board service employees.
While we were going through Customs and Immigration, the café car was restocked by the incoming VIA car attendant. In the two hours from the border to Toronto’s Union Station, the café car sold one bag of chips and a beer (both to me), plus a candy bar and one bottle of Mountain Dew. I asked the attendant why VIA bothers and he said he supposed it was because food service should always be available to passengers on long-distance trains.
Yo! Did you get that, Congressman Mica?