Over Night Train Travel With the Amish

Chicago to Pittsburgh, Capitol Limited, Train No. 30

An Amish girl on board an Amtrak train

An Amish girl on board an Amtrak train

Traveling from Chicago’s Union Station to Pittsburgh I board the Capitol Limited, scheduled to leave at 6:40pm. And it does. I find my assigned seat, number 45, near a window and settle in. My seatmate is eating a raspberry colored applesauce with a plastic spoon. A white cap covers her head and ties beneath her chin. A long apron dress reaches her black shoes. She appears to be in her early 30s. Wire rim glasses balance on her slightly pointed nose. Faint pink cheeks complement her pale complexion. She reminds me of a young Meryl Streep. She is not wearing a wedding ring, an observation I am keen on since having removed mine just days ago. I stick to traveler questions as we begin talking.

“Where are you coming from?” I ask her.

“California. We’ve been on the train since Monday,” she says politely. It is Thursday.

“What were you doing in California?”

“Well,” she hesitates and turns her head to the elderly couple sitting across the aisle from us. “My father needed a surgery. We don’t have health insurance. This was the best way.”Continue reading

Volleying for a Train Seat

Pittsburgh to Chicago, Capitol Limited, Train No. 29

Pittsburgh Amtrak station entrance

Pittsburgh Amtrak station entrance

When visiting a city, I look for hotels near Amtrak stations that offer transportation perks such as free shuttle service to and from the rail station. My stay at The Wyndham Pittsburgh University Center on Lytton Avenue included such an amenity. While I was impressed with the city of Pittsburgh, the Amtrak station is rather grungy. It feels dirty. There are no windows in its subterranean location beneath the historic Penn Central station. It’s now known as The Pennsylvanian which houses condos and ground floor commercial space.

Before I board the midnight train to Chicago people here move slowly, unsteadily in the dank surroundings. The Amtrak locomotive sounds a long blast, which means get on board now. I walk up the stairwell in the last car of the train. Most of the passengers are sleeping. I discover a large middle-aged woman sitting in my seat, awake.

Bridge view from train

Bridge view from train

“I have seat number 50,” I say in a hushed tone. From my pocket, I show her the blue piece of paper where the conductor wrote my seat number.

“I have number 52 and someone is sitting in my seat so I’m staying in this seat,” she says with confidence. I remain unrattled and volley for the seat. Turning to the elderly woman sitting in seat 52 I ask, “Do you have the blue piece of paper the conductor gave you?”

“Yes, I do. Seat 52.” But she doesn’t show me the piece of paper. I move down the car to see if there are any vacant seats. A conductor approaches.

“Someone is in my seat,” I tell him, feeling like a six-year old on a school bus. He asks the woman sitting in my seat for her ticket. He begins trying to reshuffle passengers but they are staying put.

“People have tickets but they sit wherever they want,” he says. I am confused. Do I have a reserved seat in Coach or not? My ticket says so. Lowering his chin into his collar the conductor appears powerless. Apparently, on this train there is nothing that disallows passengers from sitting anywhere they want.Continue reading