I don’t remember whether the call came on December 24th itself or a day earlier, but Dennis’ brother informed us that the subzero weather and ice-covered roads had rendered all relatives unwilling to drive 45 minutes each way to pick us up at the Amtrak station in Bryan, Ohio. Renting a car doesn’t sound appealing to us either, so we call and find that we can switch our reservation and be routed through New York City directly to Fort Wayne (ah, those were the days!). We’ll get our sleeper when we get to NYC. The biggest snag: we can’t leave until Christmas morning.
So on the feast of the Nativity, we drag our suitcase two blocks to the subway, take the “T” to South Station and wait for our train. Apparently the effects of unusually low temperatures are creeping eastward, and our train is delayed. Once aboard, we move more slowly than usual. It is becoming unavoidable that we will miss our connection. What should we do?
Stay on the train until Philadelphia, is the conductor’s answer. We’re not told what will magically happen there, but no other answer is forthcoming so we wait. At Philly, we grab our bags and are practically pushed up one flight of stairs and down another. We race along a platform where a long train idles. A conductor hangs out a door watching us,and asks–of no one in particular–“Is this IT?” The train begins to move almost before our feet have left the platform. We are ushered down a narrow passageway to a tiny cabin. Inside, a bench-like couch, a nook for our luggage, and a closet containing our private sanitary facility is welcoming indeed.
Soon we are served a basket of mini muffins with Philadelphia Cream Cheese (nice touch). We feel quite luxurious gazing out the window from our private bower. It would be downright romantic if not for the sad fact that Dennis has caught the wretched flu bug I just got over, and he is feeling miserable. We decide to turn in, and discover that we can easily convert the bench into a bed…a pitifully narrow bed. It looks as if there is another narrow bunk that should fold down from the ceiling, but we can’t work the latch, and get no answer to our page of the attendant. So our honeymoon suite is now a sardine tin, getting colder by the minute, in which we lie like spoons and wake each other every hour or so to turn over in unison–like synchronized swimmers under the sheets, or perhaps more like trained seals.
We realize vaguely that not only is there no heat on this train, but that we stop every so often and sit silently for no obvious reason in the middle of nowhere. Eventually we’re told that in the interest of conserving fuel for this unintentionally long trip, the dining car is closed and the heat set very low. The frequent stops are to chip ice off the tracks so that we don’t derail. Ah…well, by all means then.
Our 14-hour trip takes over 24 hours, and we arrive, cold, dishevelled and (in Dennis’ case) very sick indeed, before noon on December 26th. I can’t help thinking that the young man in the harbor probably fared better for Christmas than we did, and that seeing him jump may’ve been a bad omen.
Dennis does recover enough to enjoy visiting family and friends. We take a carriage ride with his cousins, bundled to the teeth and covered in wool blankets. The horse-drawn carriage has windows that zip up. We can sort of see the twinkling lights of downtown, and just being carried slowly through the city in this Doctor Zhivago landscape has its own charm.
There is no particular “clincher” to this story. It’s just a Christmas memory that I wanted to record somewhere for my own benefit. If you took the trip with me, thanks for your company, and please share one of your own stories with me.