Friday, June 29, 2007

Mad Dash

Well the short story is – we made it!

The long story is much more involved.

At lunch the rumor mill was suggesting that the engineer had somehow made up for lost time and we would somehow get into Chicago in time for everyone to make their connections. I was planning on visiting with my cousin Ralph, who works in Chicago for perhaps a bite to eat – at least a little visit. Ralph had met me in Chicago last year when I traveled by Amtrak to attend a convention. He was eager to meet the train and give me a brief tour before I had to be on the Empire Builder departing at 2:15 pm. According to the schedule there should have been a four and a half hour layover.

As the morning progressed and we determined we were four and then five hours late, I called Ralph to alert him that there were several possibilities: 1) we would arrive in just enough time for me to get to the next connecting train, 2) we would somehow get in in-time for a very brief visit, and 3) I would miss my connecting train and be shanghaied in Chicago for at least 24 hours.

I think Ralph hoped for number three and would settle for number two. Number one was what happened.

When we got to Gary, IN, I knew we were about 30 minutes outside of Union Station. I called Ralph again and told him the situation and headed for the station. I had my bags all packed and as the train came to a stop at 1:55, I was the first one off the train and making the mad dash toward the gate. Several Amtrak employees directed my travel to the awaiting train located on Track B at, you guessed it, the other end of the station.

Scanning left and right as I moved quickly through the crowd I did not see Cousin Ralph anywhere. I climbed into my sleeping compartment #9 at 2:02; the Empire Builder left nineteen minutes later at 2:21 pm. I called Ralph to apologize for the mad dash. He was sympathetic and we hope to connect on the return leg of my trip.

A little more than 90 minutes later and we are in Milwaukee, the home of Miller High Life. I take a picture of world headquarters and wonder if they have an Arnold Brandt wing.

Milwaukee still looks a little tired – I was here 25 years ago, but there is a fair amount of construction and the word is Chicagoans are heading there en masse for the lower rents.

Dinner tonight is at 5:30 for me. We were required to have a reservation for a particular seating – a good idea. I am seated with a Judge from Minnesota, a Black woman from Harlem, and a grandmother from central Illinois. We talk about the weather and Brooklyn, and rents, and our destinations. The judge is the surprise. I would never have guessed his occupation. He looks a little like the actor William Hurt and I keep thinking I know him. He has five daughters and six grandchildren and he looks to be about my age. He tells us that we are in for a treat as the Empire builder would soon find the Mississippi River and Judge John is right.

Some place north of Wisconsin Dells we cross the river and then follow the western bank for a couple of hours. The scenery gets better and better with river boats and pleasure craft and many camps and McMansions along the shore line. One can only figure property in this locale is at a premium since some of the camps appear to cling to a very thin strip of land between the rails and the water.

The towns along this stretch are interesting and appear vibrant. There is the Fastnail Company in Winona that seems to be doing well.

The sun is setting and I get some great shots of the river and the orange sky. Soon it is too dark to see the river and can only see the lights of the towns ahead dotting the shoreline. I look forward to the return trip and seeing more of this locale in daylight.

I settle in to my room and watch The Untouchables on DVD. It seems fitting, having just left Chicago, to view this movie and I’ll probably dream about gangsters and prohibition.

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