The train to Miami

3/27/22

Well, I’ve made it to Miami! The train ride lasted about 20 hours, including an overnight, and it had its ups and downs.

I bade a fond farewell to my aunt and uncle Saturday evening after an early dinner, and my uncle drove me to the train station in Raleigh.

Once again, at the station I had to haggle with Amtrak staff about my rig. This time might have been the trickiest situation yet, and ended up costing me an extra $20 to roll the bike, unfolded, onto the baggage car. (There was no space for it in my roomette, and they wouldn’t allow me to check it as regular baggage without a box, which would have cost me $25.) The trailer had to be disassembled again as well. But, we all made it onto the train.

This was a longer-than-usual train set, made up of Amtrak’s eastern-US style of Viewliner cars. There were five sleeper cars, which was probably more than twice what I have ever experienced before on Amtrak. Usually, on the western lines, they have just two sleeper cars, with 15-20 bedrooms and roomettes each. It was amazing that this one had five. In fact, the train was so long that I had to wait on the platform with my bike and the assistant conductor for about 15 minutes before boarding, because they needed to pull the train up to accommodate all the cars; the platform wasn’t long enough for the whole length of the train.

My roomette was in one of the traditional Viewliner cars (blue color scheme) but two of the other cars were Viewliner IIs (burgundy.) The Viewliner II cars had bathrooms at the end of the hall that we could all use if we preferred, rather than the sink and toilet in each of our private compartments. I appreciated this, because I don’t like using the sink and toilet directly next to the bed. The sink, in particular, tends to splash all over the bed. (Although I also read that apparently this design flaw was improved in the Viewliner II roomette sinks; perhaps I’ll get a chance to experience that firsthand someday.)

I had a very pleasant surprise shortly after boarding, when I looked at the menu for the “modified dining car” on this train, and discovered vegan enchiladas on the lunch-and-dinner portion. Wow! Of all the dining cars I’ve experienced on this trip so far, this was the first one with a vegan option on the dinner menu. It was after 9:00 pm when I boarded, so I opted not to order dinner, but was excited to try the enchiladas for lunch the following day.

So imagine my utter deflation when my room attendant told me, before lunch today, that the dining car had sold out of this item. When I made it clear that I was not willing to order any non-vegan items, he offered that he could put in an order for three salads, for my lunch. Some of you will recall, seeing this sad photo, that this is pretty much exactly what Amtrak had in place for vegans seven years ago, when I ran a triumphant Change.org campaign to get vegan items on dining-car menus system wide. It felt crushing when I realized, within the past year or so, that the vegan options I had worked so hard for—and had enjoyed so much after winning them—were no longer available on most of these menus. But to have my hopes raised and then dashed today, in such a visually familiar fashion… ugh.

The sort-of good news was that (unbeknownst to my room attendant, who steadfastly maintained that this item was not available in the café car) the café car did have in stock the vegan tamale that I have eaten before. The bad news was that unlike dining-car meals, which are included in the price of sleeper-car tickets, I had to pay out of pocket for the tamale. Insult to injury.

I was dismayed on many levels, but chose to accept the situation and make the best of it.

I spent most of my time on the train reading, writing, snacking, dozing, and glancing out the window as the vegetation turned lush and green.

We arrived in Miami only ten minutes late, at 6:45 pm, and my Warmshowers host Ruben had helpfully suggested how I could take the city’s Metrorail train from near the station to near his place. Still, it took some time and effort to gather up all my checked baggage and reassemble it. The Amtrak station closed at 7:00, and I walked out the door at about 6:59. I had spent at least five minutes trying to reattach the trailer hitch, which was suddenly challenging because staff in Raleigh had apparently covered the metal with a weird protective tape that was hard to remove and that made the connection impossible until I did remove most of it.

I finally got out the door, and pedaled about a mile to the Metrorail station, just in time to catch a beautiful sunset above some train tracks that I crossed along the way.

Ruben met me with his bike at the station nearest his high-rise condo, and accompanied me for that last leg of the journey, which was very helpful. We even hit up the Whole Foods about a block away, to get some deli items for a snack before bed.

Ruben himself was just arriving home today—from Dallas last night—having flown in from a three-week humanitarian medical mission near the Ukrainian border. I am continually amazed at the caliber of people in the Warmshowers network, and also how flexible many of these folks are about hosting others, even when they are coming in and out of their own travels at the same time.

We are on the 34th floor here, and Miami seems unlike any other city I’ve visited! High rises all around, rooftop pools, a loud electronic music festival just wrapping up at 10:00 tonight, with throngs of attendees and a laser light show… I think these next few days will be interesting! Ruben says he will take me on a bike tour of the city tomorrow.

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