What a whirlwind. I need a nap!
After one full day of mostly walking around Buffalo looking for WiFi so that I could find hosting in Ann Arbor (and publish my previous blog post), my Warmshowers host Tyler was kind enough to drive me the eight miles to the train station in Depew for my “midnight train” (12:39 am) to Chicago.
While I was in the park in the late afternoon publishing that last post, I took a picture of the very striking armory building with the sun hiding behind it. There were many beautiful buildings in Buffalo, and I’m glad I got to see a few of them.
I arrived at the train station with my familiar anxiety about my ability to talk my way onto the train with all my stuff. What if they refused me? What on earth could be my backup plan, at midnight, if I were told I could not board that train that needed to take me all the way to Chicago?
But what I’m finding on this journey is that there seems to be an odd, inverse relationship between how much trouble station agents and conductors give me about whether I’ll be able to board, and how difficult it actually is to board.
When I’m sitting in a station and an agent approaches me disapprovingly, saying something like, “You’re not taking all that on the train,” I find that after I go through a careful song and dance (persistent, but never crossing the line into rudeness or entitlement) I find that when I actually board that train, it is easy-peasy, and I always kind of roll my eyes at the overprotectiveness of those staff.
Conversely, when I get to a station where it seems like it might actually be rather tricky to board, I find that often no one bats an eye. Multiple staff members look right at the rig, and say nothing. They don’t even look concerned. And yet when I then actually try to board, sometimes it is a nightmare.
Such was the case in Buffalo. I even approached the staffer at the desk to ask him how I should prepare my items for boarding. (I knew that both Depew and Chicago Union Station would require loading and unloading things up and down that steep narrow staircase I’ve come to know so well… and this time I had a sleeper car, which on a single-level train requires maneuvering around multiple tight corners.) He said they would not check my things onto the baggage car because Chicago was not my final destination, and to just carry everything on. He appeared supremely relaxed.
On the platform, I passed a conductor, who glanced at the rig and seemed similarly unconcerned. I asked him which way the sleeper cars were, and he pointed me toward them.
Once I did reach the sleeper car, the car attendant did show a bit of alarm when I said I would need a bit of time to load everything. She said she didn’t know where I could put all those things. I said, “Isn’t there a baggage rack, or area?” She said no.
Then I started to feel some alarm. Where was I going to put all of this stuff?
She said I would have to put it into my roomette, “and it is tiny.”
Oh, I knew it was tiny. I couldn’t imagine any way I could possibly squeeze all my stuff in there. Furthermore, to get to it, I would have to turn three sharp, narrow corners, and walk down two extremely narrow corridors.
But at least I was on the train. She closed the door. One way or another, we were all going to Chicago.
As I started to pick up the first item to try to squeeze down the hallway—without waking up the “neighbors”—that attendant did something for which I immediately felt eternally grateful. She opened up a door right before the first turn, right in front of us. She said it was the conductors’ room, but that I could squeeze the bike and trailer up against the wall in there.
Hallelujah!! Thank you!! (I was so glad I had made a point of going back into the co-op earlier that day to make sure I had the right cash on hand to leave a good tip for her.)
I put those bulky items in there, as snugly as I could against the wall, and then proceeded down the hall to my roomette with just my two backpacks. Totally manageable.
She had already made up my bed, so I quickly climbed into it, and let the rolling of the rails rock me to sleep.
The next morning, I awakened in Indiana, and we passed some pretty scenery in the next few hours before arriving in Chicago.
My layover there was only a couple of hours. I went to the first-class lounge, using a coupon my wonderful Charlotte host Pam had gifted me. (My first-class privileges from the trip I had just taken expired when I stepped off the train, I believe, and my connecting train to Ann Arbor was a coach seat.)
I used the coupon to stash the trailer in their parcel check, so that I wouldn’t have to lug it around while out finding lunch.
My Happycow app showed me that one of my favorite vegan spots I had discovered in New York, Plant Junkie, also had a location in The Loop! It was only about a ten-minute bike ride, and I got the Sri Lankan bowl again, which was every bit as delicious as I had recalled.
I got back to the station just in time to board a new-to-me train, the Wolverine, from Chicago to Ann Arbor. The scenery was pretty along that way, too.
One thing that did take me aback, when I went to the café car to enjoy my signature Amtrak cocktail, was that only three tables remained in the modified café car. One half of the car had been made into a small business-class section, and the other half was split between tables and bike racks.
I was glad to see that there was space for people with non-folding bikes to take them on board, but I was dismayed that rather than putting them in a baggage car or other designated bike car, like some Amtrak trains and several commuter-rail lines around the country do, they were taking up space that could otherwise have provided passengers on this completely booked train to relax and socialize with others. Given that the pandemic is still going strong, that is probably for the best these days, public-health-wise. But I would like to see a full bike car, as well as a full café car, in the future. I don’t know if I will.
We pulled into Ann Arbor at about 8:00 pm. I had dozed a bit on the train. When I got off, and began the slow process of reconfiguring my rig, I was surprised when the station attendant asked me to move several yards away, behind the yellow line, because the train platform was going to recede!
Sure enough, I moved away, and when the train pulled away, the platform pulled itself back from where it had been. I’m not sure what purpose that serves, but I’m sure there is one, and I was kind of delighted by the ingenuity.
My first Ann Arbor Warmshowers hosts, Gaia and Beth, lived just a few blocks away from the station, so it was easy to get to their house. Gaia had set aside a handmade burrito for me—he had made them for the residents of his adjoining community house—but I was full from snacking, so I saved it until breakfast.
This morning, I went out to the huge annual art fair that happened to be starting today. It will span at least three days, and draw tens of thousands of visitors to Ann Arbor. It takes over the whole downtown.
I met up there with a Servas couple who live in a suburb about 15 miles out of town. They had declined to host me since they had just returned to town from a trip to Texas, and will be leaving on another trip in the next few days, but they indicated that we could meet at the Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP) booth to see a powerful art exhibition of prisoners from the UK, called We Bear.
We did meet up there, and talked about our various experiences working on prison issues and prison reform over the years, while we snaked around block after block of artists and their wares. The fair was very cool, but overwhelming: we walked for well over an hour, and didn’t even cover half of the artists’ booths.
After we parted ways, I wanted to go to the Brompton-certified bike shop in town—the only one in the whole state of Michigan, from what I could see—Sic Transit Cycles. I wanted to have a mechanic take a look at the bike and see if there was anything that needed fixing or adjusting, especially the left-hand shifter that had given me trouble after the big rainstorm the other day.
The mechanic was cheerful and available to immediately put the bike up on the stand to take a look. His diagnosis? I just needed to lube the chain. This was a bit embarrassing, but a big relief. He did it for me, and also tweaked the rear shifter/internal hub a bit, since he said he noticed it was a bit off. Otherwise, he gave the bike a clean bill of health. The cost was $10, and it was well worth it for my peace of mind. I may be doing my first 50-mile day in a few days, from Kalamazoo to Grand Rapids, so it’s good to know the bike is in good shape.
After that I stopped at the local co-op and picked up a few items.
Then I went back to the house, said goodbye to Beth, and packed up to head a few miles south to my new hosts, Emma and Benny. They welcomed me with a homecooked meal of tofu and sautéed veggies (and even some vegan Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food!) and we talked about bikes and travel.
Tomorrow I may check out the neighboring town of Ypsilanti; we’ll see how my energy holds up!
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