First Timers Complain the Loudest.

Once in a while, I run across some Facebook posts that are very critical of Amtrak. Usually the complaint comes from someone who is an infrequent Amtrak traveler and is upset because his train ran late. Veteran travelers take that in stride . . . plan for it, in fact.

The other day there was post from a lady asking for advice about tipping on long-distance trains. That triggered a rant from some guy who portrayed himself as a veteran train traveler, although I have my doubts.
The car attendants are all lazy, he said; they’re always off hiding in the dorm car when you need something; they can’t be fired because they all belong to a union; and—I’m sure this was what really drove his hostility—he said, “they all make more money thanI do!”
I suppose the most common complaint is about the restrooms and, of course, the car attendant gets the blame if there’s any kind of a mess at any time during the journey. But consider: a Superliner coach can accommodate as many as 74 passengers and there are five bathrooms. In other words, that works out to 14 people sharing each lavatory.
The reality is that there are bound to be a couple of passengers whose—how can I say this tactfully?—personal sanitary standards are somewhat less than fastidious. As you can imagine, it can be a constant battle for attendants in the coaches to keep all the restrooms clean all the time.

Probably the most persnickety car attendant I’ve ever had in a sleeper was on the Empire Builder this past summer. This is the hand-written notice he posted in the upper level lavatory of my sleeper. Good advice, carefully phrased . . . but just a little bit weird, all the same. There is no possible way this guy could work as a car attendant in coach. (That’s not a criticism; I couldn’t either!)
The problem, I think, is that many first time travelers on Amtrak’s long-distance trains have expectations that reality simply cannot meet. Amtrak’s advertising, which understandably portrays an idyllic experience, is partly to blame. But too many rookie travelers focus on all the wrong stuff. Forget about the fact that you didn’t care for the quesadillas you ordered at lunch. Look out the damn window! That’s Donner Lake down there and you’re missing it! Talk to the people sitting across from you in the dining car. I promise you there’s something interesting about them. And quit your damn bellyaching about the train being four hours late! You’re getting four additional hours of train ride at no extra cost. That’s a helluva deal!