I Hear the Train A-Comin’

The morning that Bill and I departed on the California Zephyr heading west to San Francisco, the train pulled into Union Station at exactly 8:05, as scheduled. We were promptly shown to our sleeping room – a spacious berth with room for our luggage, plenty of space in which to move around, and, of course, an ensuite toilette. We made our way to the dining car, where Hercule Poirot sat with a silver coffee service on his table. He nodded coolly to us as we passed, on our way to our table for two, covered in a white tablecloth and furnished with china plates and crystal glassware. We dined on Eggs Benedict and poured coffee from our own silver coffee service.

Of course, none of the above is true. But then we didn’t expect anything beyond what we got – and enjoyed our experience immensely.

It didn’t help that the evening before our early morning departure, as I bent down to wash my face, my back – which had given me trouble the week before but had seemingly settled down – gave a silent TWANG, and sent me down for the count. I wish I could say that my back went out as I lifted 20 lb. weights, one in each hand. But no; it simply took umbrage at my leaning over the sink. I hobbled to bed, hoping for the best.

Around midnight, I got out of bed, and, in great anguish, made my way to the bathroom. I knew I was in trouble when I was unable to stand up following my toilette. Bill awakened upon hearing groaning that sounded like childbirth.

As he helped me back to bed, I thought to myself, there is no way I’m going to be able to even get out of bed tomorrow morning, much less board a train upon which I will ride for 33 hours. So I did what any God-fearing potential traveler who is in pain would do: I began praying fervently for a miracle and took a Percocet.

The next morning, the miracle happened. While I was still very sore, I was able to be ambulatory enough to hobble to Union Station……

Bill had been keeping track of our train since it left Chicago, and knew that it was running two hours late. We boarded the California Zephyr at 10:30 a.m.

Our steward introduced himself as Alfredo (as in the fettucine) and showed us to our sleeping car. It was small – large enough for two chairs facing one another with a small pull-down table in between. That was it. Even our luggage had to be placed elsewhere. Nevertheless, I loved it immediately. It was private and we could move around enough to avoid getting blood clots. Best of all, we were steps away from both the bathroom and the dining car. I’m pretty sure the difference between riding a train as a simple passenger and riding a train as a sleeping car passenger is as different as day and night. Despite the smallness of the berth, having a steward makes all the difference in the world……

The window is immediately to Bill’s right, and the door is immediately to his left.

For the next 33 hours, we clickity-clacked along the tracks with scarcely a problem. Well, there was the small matter of the car that pulled out in front of the train somewhere in Nevada, requiring the train to come to a screeching halt and delaying us while they checked the train for damage and emptied the conductor’s shorts.

At night, you summon the steward to prepare your room. What this means is that Alfredo came in and pulled down the two chairs that made into a bed that is reasonably comfortable, but narrower than a twin bed. He also pulled down the bunk that rests from the ceiling to provide sleeping space for the second passenger. As long as the second passenger is a chimpanzee. Because, you see, there is no ladder provided to the passenger who drew the short straw and is supposed to sleep in this bunk that is – quite literally – no further from the ceiling than three feet with no window to provide relief from imminent claustrophobia.

Nevertheless, I tried. I managed to get into the bunk, and Bill crawled into the bed below. I laid there for a couple of hours, wide awake, concerned that I would (a) slide onto the floor as the train made a quick turn; (b) hyperventilate from claustrophobia that I never would have known I have had I not been stuffed into a bunk bed with three feet of head room; or (c) never be able to get out of the bed given the fact that – as you might recall – I threw my back out 24 hours previously.

C turned out to be the most realistic fear. Around 2 a.m., I could no longer deny the fact that I had to go to the bathroom. Bill, I whispered, to no avail. Bill, I said out loud, again to no avail. Bill, I nearly yelled, and he awoke. I explained my situation, and for the next 20 minutes, we worked on me successfully getting out of the bunk. The bunk to which I never returned. We spent the next couple of hours scrunched together in the narrow bed, and arose long before the crack of dawn to take a shower (which was obviously deserted) and await the breakfast bell.

The food? It was fine. Hercule Poirot would have been discontented, but we managed to find something to eat at each meal. Well, until our final meal, which was lunch that next day. As we all optimistically looked at our menus, the server came in and said, “Put down the menus because they’re useless. We have exactly four things available at this point – a hamburger, the hot dog and the mac and cheese from the kids menu, and the black bean burger. We’re out of everything else.”

I can’t explain how this happens, but apparently running out of food is commonplace on trains. Had our train been running hours and hours late (as is also commonplace), we would have had no food. The word on the street (or on the train, as it were) is that Amtrak has a stash of Dinty Moore beef stew that they hand out in these situations. Thank the good Lord, I can neither confirm nor deny.

All-in-all, we enjoyed our experience. The question everyone asks is would we do it again. The answer is a most emphatic YES, but no time soon. Like childbirth, you need a bit of time to forget.

First Time

When was the last time you did something for the first time?
Yeah, let yourself go, follow that feeling
Maybe something new is what you’re needing
Like a real life, let your hair down, feel alive
When was the last time you did something for the first time? – Darius Rucker

Before we even got back to Colorado, I had begun thinking about my summer. I decided that I was going to issue two edicts to myself when we returned to Denver. The first was that I was going to make my summer work easy. My days of pulling hoses around the yard are over, as I tripped over the hose too many times last year.  This meant that I changed the foliage in our front yard to drought-friendly plants. My flowering plants now are in the back yard where they are easier to manage.

The second edict I issued to myself was to take the words of Darius Rucker’s song to heart: When was the last time I did something for the first time.

I don’t know exactly what this means, but – as they say – I’ll know it when I see it. As a matter of fact, we’ve already started. A couple of weeks ago, we got tickets to see a comedian at the Comedy Works. Bill and I both like comedy. Bill, in particular, loves watching good comedy specials on television or via Netflix. Netflix, in fact, is where we came across the comic we saw – Nate Bargatze. By the way, should he visit a comedy club near you, get tickets. He’s family friendly and funny as hell. We both literally laughed until our sides hurt.

We also have arranged to do something in which we have been interested for some time. In July, we are boarding an Amtrak train and taking the California Zephyr to San Francisco, where we will meet up with Dave and Jll and the kids who, as you know, are driving around the western United States in an RV. I am always eagerly optimistic about train travel, never failing to picture Hercule Poirot in a tux in the dining car. My limited U.S. train experience thus far hasn’t met those expectations. Still, it may happen this time. We have a sleeping car arranged, which includes our meals in the dining car. We won’t go so far as to put on a tux or a gown, but we nevertheless have high expectations.

We are tentatively planning on traveling with the McLains from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe, and will board an airplane to return to Denver. By the way, the McLains are unaware of any of this, so if they are reading my blog, well….. Their itinerary may change!

I can count the number of big concerts I have attended in my life on two hands (maybe one, sigh). But a few months ago, Jen called me and said, “Would you and Bill like to go see Keith Urban at Fiddler’s Green in July?”

It only took a few beats before I said, “Hell to the yes!” I am packing my flat vodka pack and Bic lighters as soon as I finish this blog.

Finally, as you read this blog post, I am busily doing what is perhaps the kookiest thing I will do all summer. Jen and I are flying today to Tulsa, Oklahoma – where the wind comes sweeping down the plain – and getting in a rental car to drive to Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Tomorrow morning, we will drive to Pawhuska, Oklahoma, where The Pioneer Woman lives, films her Food Network television show, and operates her store called The Merc. We will spend the day shopping at The Merc, taking a tour of The Lodge, from where her TV show is filmed, and being all-around cowgirls-for-a-day. We will return to Colorado Thursday night.

When I question my sanity, I remind myself about doing something for the first time.

Stay tuned for stories about our adventures. In the meantime, Nana’s Whimsies will not be posted for a couple of days. See you on Friday.

And ask yourself, when was the last time you did something for the first time.

Thursday Thoughts

Better Not Be in a Hurry
My blog post yesterday in which I waxed eloquently about train travel might have been somewhat premature. When Bill checked the status of our train yesterday morning, he learned that it was going to be nearly four hours late getting into Glenwood. The good news is we weren’t in a hurry. We whiled away the day doing this and that. Looking at the flowers, for example…..


Our hotel – located directly across the street from the train station and, as such, used to working with stranded passengers — couldn’t have been nicer. They had to kick us out of our room, but they were helpful in every other way, providing water and use of bathrooms and comfortable places to sit and charge up our electronic equipment. We boarded at 4 o’clock and arrived Union Station in Denver at 11:30 p.m. instead of 6:38 as planned. We walked into our house at 12:30 this morning. Train travel doesn’t seem quite as romantic when you’re hours and hours late.

Flying High
One of the things we did to kill time was to take the tram up to the top of a mountain where there is a very fun Adventure Park….

Fun, that is, if you’re NUTS! There is a roller coaster up there that juts out over the canyon and a rocking swing that not only flies you into the air, but flies you into the air over the canyon. We watched but we’re not even remotely tempted…..

Brave Hearts
Our grandkids, however, are much braver than are we, as they actually did fly over Glenwood Canyon on those self same amusement park rides last year, and lived to tell about it. And I got an email from Kaiya while we were in Glenwood Springs after they returned from their California trip. She sent me this photo of Kaiya, Mylee, and her father on some sort of death defying ride at Sea World…..

I would no sooner choose this attraction than I would choose to feed the whales out of my hand. Have they all lost their minds?

Father’s Day
We had a kind of low key Father’s Day, but cooked burgers on the grill for Bill’s two sons and their families. The weather was perfect and the food tasted good. The kids were momentarily discombobulated when the sprinklers went on about 8 o’clock, but quickly recovered and were soon soaking wet but happy. Here is a photo of Bill with two of his three kids and four of his nine grandkids….



Choo Choo

The bottom line is that there is no easy, one step way to get to Montpelier, VT, the smallest state capital in these United States. Some variation of trains, planes, and automobiles is required. Over the years, we’ve tried several options. Once we flew into Boston, via Milwaukee, hopped on a three-hour bus ride that took us to Hanover, NH, where Heather picked us up and drove us the hour or so to her home. No bueno.

We once flew into Manchester, NH, via – of all places – Orlando, FL. That time we rented a car and drove an hour and a half or so to Montpelier. Yet another time we flew into Burlington, VT, where Heather and Lauren picked us up to take us home. That time was fun because we went to a busker festival and saw Bernie Sanders casually walking down the street with no one paying him a bit of attention.

So this time we did something a bit different. We flew to NYC via Chicago, and spent the night in the city that never sleeps. Our overnight allowed us the chance to rest a bit and dine at one of my favorite restaurants – Becco’s. The next morning we walked the block or so to Penn Station where we boarded the Amtrak Vermonter, a passenger train that originates in Washington, DC, and concludes in St. Albans,VT, just short of Canada, making about ten thousand stops along the way. One of the stops is Montpelier, where this was awaiting for us…..


…and this……


From the time we stepped on the train until we stepped off in the rain to the glad greetings of Heather, Joseph, and Micah, eight-and-a-half hours had passed. I will admit it. I had envisioned seeing Hercule Poirot at a white-cloth-covered table in the dining car, eating escargot and drinking champagne by candlelight and wearing black tie. What I saw instead was a microwave, plastic forks, and a crabby food server who took frequent cigarette breaks in what was optimistically called the Club Car. Hercule was no where to be seen.

Having said that, I found about seven hours of the trip to be quite pleasant. The train moved along at a perky pace, and the stops, while frequent, were short. I had thought I might sleep because I knew I wouldn’t feel compelled to stay awake to keep the vehicle safe in the way that I do when I fly. Instead, however, I found myself hypnotically enjoying the pretty scenery and the smooth movement of the train. I didn’t even open my book. I watched the countryside of New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont fly by.

I will, however, admit that by the last hour or so, I was ready to be done. It had started to rain, the train was going right through a wooded area, hereby preventing any sort of view beyond trees, trees, and more trees. I have nothing against trees; I just missed the expansive scenic views.

And I was hungry. I ate a soggy microwaved sandwich for lunch, but simply couldn’t do one for dinner. I texted our Montpelier folks and requested a pizza stop upon arrival. Having the McLain pizza-loving genes, they were more than happy to oblige. In fact, Joseph – a growing 7-year old – ate two big slices of pepperoni pizza despite having eaten a full dinner shortly before.

We have enjoyed our several days here so far. Micah has been in school, but we have spent much time with Joseph, and what a treat that has been.

Well, except for the near miss at breakfast yesterday morning that had trained staff running toward us ready to perform the Heimlich on Joseph. No worries. It was unnecessary. No harm; no foul.

As you can see (in the world’s worst selfie) shortly after the crisis was averted…..