I left off last week at the point where Ken and I were about to board the train. According to my Via Rail GPS tracker, the train was over two hours late, so I called Via to make sure. “Oh no!” said the woman on the phone. “Those trackers are never right. The train is absolutely on time. IN FACT, it’s early. You should get over there right now!” So Ken and I packed up everything superfast and called a cab. The cab driver was very pleasant and chatted with us amicably while he drove extremely slowly and took as many detours as he could, because the train station was only 5 minutes away and he wanted to extend the ride as much as possible, even tucking himself in behind a slow-moving dumptruck.
We were getting a little panicky, but we got to the train station in Edmonton, which is quite possibly the dirtiest, sketchiest station I’ve ever been to, with about 10 minutes to spare. “Oh no!” said the man behind the desk. “Those people at the call centre are never right. The train is absolutely two and a half hours late. IN FACT, you should go find something to do.” So Ken and I checked our bags superfast and called a cab to take us to the shopping centre we saw on the way over to buy a magnifying mirror (I had forgotten mine at home, and I needed it to put on mascara, which sounds stupid, but if you have to wear reading glasses, you’ll understand how necessary one of those is to not gouging your own eye out with a mascara wand). The second cab driver was also very pleasant and chatted with us amicably as he too took the slowest way possible back. We would repeat this one more time before the morning was over but we are now intimately familiar with 121st Street and all of its numerical tributaries.
The train finally arrived though, and Ken and I proceeded to our car, named Elgin Manor. Manor, indeed, if the grand home in question had worn carpeting, torn upholstery, and smelled like a urinal cake. Still, there’s a certain charm to rail travel, so I’m told, and when we were shown to our room, which was approximately 8×8, with a large window and its own sink and toilet, I was actually quite pleased with the whole set-up. And then we were off. By this time, it was lunch and we made our way to the dining car. Via actually has its own on-board chefs, servers, and a rather smarmy maître-d, Philip, who greeted us and showed us to a table for 4.
We weren’t sitting there for more than two minutes when he showed up again with an elderly man and said, “Right here, sir.” The man sat down and I looked at Philip questioningly. “Oh,” he said, “It’s a busy time so we need to put people together at the tables.” If you know anything about me at all, you know that being forced to talk with a random stranger is something I would NEVER willingly do, yet there we were. Luckily, Ken did all the heavy lifting/chatting, and the old dude was actually pretty interesting, having fought in ‘Nam and been on an aircraft carrier. But for the whole meal, we were literally the only people in the dining car, so I was calling bullsh*t on the “busy time” rationale for forcing me to eat with a stranger. Then later, when it was dinnertime, it got worse, as Philip immediately took us to a table already populated by a couple a little older than us. I was about ready to scream, but I didn’t want to offend the couple, and Ken was excited about taking pictures of the scenery. Unfortunately, the woman we were seated with didn’t have a problem being offensive herself.
Me: That’s a great shot, Ken. Too bad there’s such a glare on the windows.
Woman: There’s ALWAYS a glare on the windows. It’s because of the light inside the train.
5 minutes later…
Woman: And then we climbed Chichen Itza.
Me: Oh nice. I climbed a Mayan pyramid once too.
Woman: WHICH ONE? CHICHEN ITZA?
Me: I don’t think so. One of the other ones.
Me: No, not that one. It was in Costa Maya.
Woman: THOSE ARE THE ONLY ONES.
Me: I’m pretty sure there are more than just those two. I can’t remember its name, sorry.
Woman: THEY ARE THE ONLY ONES.
They’re actually not, lady, but I really didn’t want to argue with her anymore about it, and I just looked it up now and it was Chacchoben. The final straw came though when she made what seemed to be a racist remark, and I was done with her sh*t so we left them and the still empty dining car. The next morning at breakfast, when Philip arrived to take us to a table, I announced loudly, “I’m not sitting with anyone. We want our own table.” Philip looked pretty pissed off, but since there were 12 tables empty, he didn’t have much choice. Do not force me to make friends, PHILIP—I will throat punch you.
It was really pleasant though, sitting in our cabin, or up in one of the Observation Cars, watching the scenery roll by. The mountains were gorgeous, and at one point, the engineer slowed down so we could all ogle a bear walking along beside the tracks out in the middle of nowhere. Then it was time for bed. Our car attendant came in, and with the pull of a few levers, our chairs collapsed and bunkbeds came out of the wall and ceiling. I looked at them skeptically, already planning for a worst case scenario.
Me: I’ll take the top bunk.
Ken: I thought you wanted the bottom?
Me: We don’t know how secure these things are, Ken. You outweigh me by a good 75 pounds. If the top bunk collapses, it’s probably better for both of us if I’m in it. I promise not to crush you.
2 hours later:
Me: Ken! Can you help me get down the ladder? I need to go to the bathroom.
2 hours later:
Me: Ken! Ladder! I have to go to the bathroom again!
1 hour later:
Ken: Why did you have to drink so much wine?!
But the bunkbeds were very comfortable, even if the ladder was a pain in both of our asses. The next day was pretty leisurely, and we spent time wandering around the train, which was kind of like Snowpiercer (if you’ve seen the bizarre movie with Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton, you’ll get the reference) in that it was over a quarter mile long, had 19 cars and two engines, and its own class system where one end of the train was the Economy class where people slept sitting up in their seats, the middle section went from berths to “Sleeper Plus” where Ken and I were, and it got more exclusive until the other end of the train, where the Prestige cabins were. The Prestige people had their own lounge, which the rest of us plebeians were allowed to enter after 4 pm, although I heard that the Prestige folk were a snobby, tightknit group who gave everyone else dirty looks when they came in and muttered ominously about amputating people’s arms by sticking them out the train windows.
And that’s where I saw the Emergency Brake sign that said you could pull it if you had a valid reason. So I leave you with this—the top 5 valid reasons to pull the emergency brake. Next week, we will explore Alaska and have fun in Vancouver!
Top Five Valid Reasons to Pull the Train’s Emergency Brake
5) I need a better picture of that bear. There was a glare on the window.
4) I appreciate the “History of Alaska” lecture, but William Seward did not say, “7 million dollars? Whatevs.”
3) Philip, you’re a dick. Get off the train.
2) The Economy passengers have organized a coup and are marching on the Prestige Lounge.
1) Racist on board!
A Little News
Some of you might already know this if you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, but I just had my second YA novel accepted for publication. The Dome will be coming to a bookstore near you in 2019, and I’m over the moon!