Amtrak Travelogue by Steve Grande
Note: This rail travelogue was accidentally deleted and lost for many years. We managed to
recover it in late 2010 from archives and re-post it to TrainWeb.com. These are some of my
earliest rail travels and travel writings. My experience and understanding of Amtrak and
other rail operations was quite a bit less than today and my writing style may have been a
bit less experienced back then. So please pardon any problems that you might find in these
earlier rail travel reports. A number of these earlier reports also have few or no photos
or very small photos which was intentional to reduce download time during the early days of
the web when almost everyone had slow dial-up connections to the internet!
Steve's Spring 1997 Rail Journey
Air Travel To New York City
Friday, March 21, 1997
Steve's Spring 1997 Rail Journey - First Segment:
Air Travel to New York City and Hotel Pennsylvania.
Friday, 10:48 P.M. (Eastern Time), 03/21/97, New York City
Is the end of March really considered Spring? I have to assume so since my
children have just started their spring vacation. I can't tell from the
temperature. It was in over 90 degrees Farenheight when I left Los Angeles
and was 45 degrees Farenheight when I arrived in New York City!
I usually like to upload my travelogue to the web from each hotel along my
journey so that I can make this as close to a "live" broadcast as I can get
for those of you that like to follow along the way. Unfortunately, that
won't be possible on this first night. The phone system in this hotel is
so old that everything is hard wired! There are no phone jacks! I used to
run into this problem often years ago when modems were a new concept. I
had a special device that I would take with me that allowed me to plug my
modem into the handset slot instead of the wall jack. Since most hotels
now have wall jacks and many even have built-in data ports, I haven't
needed that device in years! Thus, I won't be able to plug in my modem
tonight to upload my web pages nor to read my e-mail. Let's hope for better
luck in New Orleans for Sunday night.
Today was the last day of school for my children for 3 weeks. They are in
a year-round school program where they get 3 weeks off every 8 weeks and
then only 5 weeks off in the summer instead of 3 months off. I've arranged
all my rail travel for this year to be during one week of each of the 3
week periods that my children have off from school. In that way, my wife
doesn't have the burden of trying to get the kids off to school all by
herself which is what would happen if I took these trips during a school
I would love to take my kids and/or my wife with me on these trips,
but by now it has become quite evident that they don't share my enthusiasm
for train travel. They can get excited about a train trip, but a week long
trip is something they could tolerate no more than once every year or maybe
every other year. I think they are just happy that I have reduced my rail
journeys to only one week every 3 months.
My father-in-law, who is at the tail end of a two week visit to us from
Florida, gave me a ride this morning to the Fullerton Amtrak Station. I
arrived at about 8:30 in the morning. I went to the window to pick up a
pair of tickets that I had purchased from Amtrak through the Internet,
the first time I had ever used Amtrak's on-line reservation system. The
reservation number was 248518 and it was for $14 for round-trip tickets
between Fullerton and Los Angeles. I wasn't able to use by Auto Club
discount because I saw no instructions of how to apply it through the
on-line Reservation system. I did get an e-mail back from Amtrak Customer
Service telling me I had to put it in the special field that I think
was called the "PCL Number". I wondered what that was for when I booked
my reservation. However, I still don't know what to put in there. Do I
put my Auto Club membership number in there? Amtrak Customer Service
wasn't clear about that and I'm still waiting for another reply from them.
Stepping up to the Amtrak Ticket Window with my reservation number, the
transaction only took a few of seconds to complete. I had a $20 bill
ready to pay for the tickets when the agent took me by surprise and asked
humorously: "Is that a $20 tip for me?" I knew she was joking about the
tip, but I didn't realize she was serious that the tickets were already
pre-paid! Then I remembered that I used a credit card when I purchased
my tickets from Amtrak through the Internet. How convenient! Doing it
this way even eliminated the time it takes at the window for the ticket
agent to process the credit card or cash purchase! If I can get the
final answer on how to use my Auto Club discount through the Internet,
I might purchase all my furture Amtrak tickets this way.
The ticket prices were a bit interesting. Going from Fullerton to Los Angeles
was $6, but returning from Los Angeles to Fullerton was $8. The reason for
this is that travel for the first ticket is during the off-peak discount
period and the return trip is during the peak travel period.
I took the 9:03A.M. San Diegan Express train from Fullerton to Los Angeles.
This train was fairly full. On the earlier San Diegan Express I've usually
been able to get one of the single seats in the California Cars. I had to
sit next to someone else in one of the pairs of seats in the California Cars
this time as all the single seats were already taken. There was also a
very large number of children that got onto this train. I think they were
on some sort of school outing. There was a luggage rack conveniently
located just 3 rows back from me where I was able to stow my roller-luggage.
My backpack I just placed on the floor in front of me. There is usually
plenty of room in both the luggage racks and the overhead bins on the
San Diegan trains since most people are not on an overnight trip and
usually don't have more than just a briefcase or small carrybag with them.
Earlier in the week I had made a reservation with Metropolitan Express Vans
to take me from Union Station to the Los Angeles Airport. The cost is $14,
but a tip of $1 or $2 is also expected. I didn't really need to make a
reservation. The Metropolitan Express meets all trains in the Los Angeles
Union Station. I think that even includes the Metrolink trains. So, if you
need to get anywhere from Union Station, just head down past the baggage
area and you will find a Metropolitan Express van waiting.
I did use a Metropolitan Express van one other time about a year ago. I
parked my car at that time at Union Station, took the van to LAX to take
the first segment of my journey by plane, and then returned back to Union
station by train where my car was waiting for me. The previous time that
I did that, we got from Union Station to the airport very fast. I was the
only passenger in the van and we made no other stops!
This time, however, I wasn't so lucky. There were 3 passengers in addition
to myself. We first dropped someone off somewhere that I think was quite
far south of the city. We had to take I-110 and I-405 from there to get
back to the airport area. We also dropped someone off at the convention
center, which I think was before we got onto the highways. My train had
arrived into Union Station at 9:38am and we didn't get to the airport
until after 10:50am! I could have driven from my house to the airport in
that time. A direct drive from Union Station to the airport should not
have taken more than 10 or 15 minutes, not an hour and 10 minutes! I didn't
mind much as I got a bit of a tour of Los Angeles and my plane wasn't
scheduled until 11:30am anyway. If you ever take an "express" van, be sure
to tell them when your flight leaves. I've taken airport express type vans
before and they have always arranged their schedules and accommodations to
make sure all their passengers get to their gates in time, even if they
have to call for additional vans.
Not everyone was so patient, however. The passenger next to me was a blind
man going to a convention demonstrating assistance devices for the
handicapped. Someone mistakenly told him that the Metrolink goes near the
airport. From the time he left his house, took a Metroling from San Bernardino
to Union Station, and then took this van that went around the world, the
total one-way time was over 3 hours! He was pretty discusted. He planned to
grab a bite for lunch, make one quick trip around the convention and then
head home early in fear of missing the last train back. He decided that he
would take a short-hop communter flight from San Bernardino to Los Angeles
next time he needed to do this.
The time wasn't completely wasted, however. He rode a lot of trains back
in the 1930's and 1940's and he know the names of many of the trains from
that time and all about the accommodations on those trains. We had a
wonderful discussion about that. I brought him up to speed about how much
Amtrak had changed over the last 5 years. I agreed that rail travel will
probably never again be the way it was in its heyday, but Amtrak has brought
back real china, silverware and linens to the Dining Car and even candlelight
to the tables! Amtrak is doing what it can to bring back the spirit of
what people remember of trains, including the first class service to
He was very interested in knowing the address of my web pages. Evidently
he uses one of those assistance devices that allow bling people to read
the contents of web pages. Naturally his first question was about the
ratio of text to graphics. Graphics obviously has little appeal for him.
I did explain that of any web site, he should enjoy TrainWeb since it is
almost entirely text with very little graphics except for the gallery.
The lines at the airport were not too long. I got my boarding pass and to
the gate fairly quickly and boarded the plane within a few minutes of my
arrival at the gate. I had a window seat in row 18 right over the wing.
The plane was a Boeing 767, so it was a fairly good size and the seats
weren't too cramped. During the flight, I watched the movie "Star Trek:
First Contact" for the second time. I wanted to see the holo-deck bar
scene that was filmed in Los Angeles Union Station. I paid close attention
to that segment of the movie, but there were so many people and so much
activity in that particular segment that it was impossible for me to
recognize any of the surroundings in the scene.
We arrived on-time at JFK airport in New York. The taxi fare is a flat
$30 from JFK airport to anywhere in Manhattan. There is a toll of $3.50
that is expected to be paid by the passenger and a "suggested" tip of
$5. Thus, the ride from JFK to my hotel, Hotel Pennsylvania, cost me
$38.50! This rate information is all printed up and given to each person
by the taxi dispatcher at the airport and is then printed on cards and
taped to the inside of the glass partition.
The Hotel Pennsylvania is a very old and historic hotel. I would recommend
to anyone traveling by train through New York City to stay at the Hotel
Pennsylvania strictly for its historical significance, its convenience to
Pennsylvania station, and convenience to many tourist attractions. The
Hotel Pennsylvania is just 2 blocks from the Empire State Building and
directly across the street from both Madison Square Garden and Amtrak's
Pennsylvania Station. Not only can you board Amtrak trains from this
station, but you can also board the New York subway trains, the Long Island
Railroad, and the New Jersey transit trains.
The Pennsylvania hotel was built in 1919 by the Pennsylvania Railroad.
It was designed by the renowned architecture firm of McKim, Mead & White
who also designed the original Pennsylvania Station and the Metropolitan
Museum of Art. I belive the original Pennsylvania Station was torn down
to make room to build Madison Square Garden. The Glenn Miller Orchestra
forever immortalized the hotel and its phone number in the 1938 hit,
"Pennsylvania 6-5000", which still remains to this day the hotel's phone
Hotel Pennsylvania is located on Seventh Avenue between 32nd and 33rd
Streets. What was my first impression? Well, when I stepped into my room,
it looked like a cheap small dark motel room. It also had the damp musty
smell of the same. Overall, however, I wouldn't let this disuade you from
staying in the hotel. You have to remember that this hotel is very old and
historical. The fixtures are old, the design of the rooms is old, and you
are going to get that look and feel from many hotels of that era. What
it really reminded me of was the design, look and feel of my grandmother's
house that I can barely remember from when I was a small child. At least
the hotel does have a push button phone and a flush toilet. My grandmother's
house had a pull-chain toilet and the phone didn't even have a dial on it!
It just had a voice that would say "Number please" whenever you picked it
Unlike the hermetically sealed hotel windows in California (and the Amtrak
passenger trains), the windows in this hotel actually open, even on the
14th floor! Be careful. Don't fall out the window!
I walked across the street and explored Pennsylvania Station. This station
is unlike any other station I have ever been in. It reminds me of some of
one particular subway station in Boston where many stores have entrances
right down inside the subway station. The major difference is that
Pennsylvania Station is bigger, much much bigger. There seem to be dozens
and dozens of stores and places to eat in the station. There are thousands
of people going here and there, and this was at almost 10 P.M. at night!
The activity at this station reminded me of the amount of activity you
usually see at an airport. The major difference is that the structure of
the station itself is much older. I'm sure that most train stations
in major cities around the nation looked much like the way Penn Station
looks today during the peak of rail travel. Penn Station itself must have
had many times the activity that it even has now in those days, but I
believe that New York had quite a few rail stations in those days.
A lot of people love New York City. Generally, I don't really like cities,
period. New York City, being one of the greatest cities on earth, probably
has more of what I don't like about cities than most any other place on
earth. So, I don't plan to comment much more on New York City. Many people
love to live or visit this city. Many people could not dream of living
anywhere else on earth. I'm not one of those people, so rather than bias
you with my own perceptions of cities, especially New York City, I'll leave
it up to someone else to sing the praises of New York City.
I like quiet train stations. I consider the Chicago Amtrak station to even
be quiet compared to the jumble of people in Penn Station! There is just
no end to people going in every direction in this station. So many people
just make me nervous. This is a nice place to visit for a few hours, but
I'm very glad I'm leaving on a train tomorrow.
It is now 12:23am Eastern Time on Saturday morning. Even though it is only
9:23am my time (Pacific Time), I better turn in so that I can get up in
time to check out and head down to the station. My next entry will probably
be from the train tomorrow unless I think of something I want to get in
before I leave the hotel in the morning.
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Spring 1997 journey.
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