I love the idea of traveling by train. I speak well of Amtrak in conversations with friends, I think Amtrak has a good heart, it has been good to me at times, it apologizes for its mistakes, and it suffers from a long history without a strong support system. But over and over, and over and over and over and over again, Amtrak lets me down. It’s time to get out of this abusive relationship.
My presentation at the library in Princeton, Illinois yesterday was terrific – the kids were curious about Whitney, and it was a pleasure to meet their parents and grandparents as they came to our table afterwards for signed (and Brailled) copies of Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound. Princeton really was a sweet little town, and Paula Morrow, the Youth Services Librarian, treated Whitney and me like royalty. Everything was swell, until the 1 pm train back to Chicago didn’t arrive.
No announcements were made at the Princeton station. Why should they bother? Everyone knows Amtrak trains almost always run late. We all just shrugged and sighed. The two-hour wait became a support group meeting, all of us sharing stories of previous train delays and missed connections. Whitney served as a therapy dog — I took her harness off so passengers could pet her and give her belly rubs. Our train was supposed to be back in Chicago by 3:15 p.m., and I thought Whitney and I might stop by my office at Easter Seals Headquarters at Willis Tower on my way back from Union Station. Maybe at 5 I’d meet Mike for happy hour at the piano bar at Sullivan’s. But we had another delay as we approached Naperville and didn’t arrive in Chicago until after six.
I still love Amtrak enough to have applied for their Amtrak Residency. The writing fellowship is new this year, designed “to allow creative professionals who are passionate about train travel and writing to work on their craft in an inspiring environment.” Selected writers get round-trip train travel on a long-distance route, on-board meals, and a private sleeping roomette with a desk and a bed. The following letter was waiting in my in-box when I finally returned home yesterday:
Dear Amtrak Residency Applicant,On behalf of Amtrak, I’d like to thank you for submitting your application. The response from the literary community has been absolutely tremendous and we are very grateful to have had the opportunity to read so many heartfelt applications. We had over 16,100 applications and had the difficult challenge to select only 115 semi-finalists. The quality of applications was high, which made our decisions even tougher. We evaluated each applicant based on the quality and completeness of their application package, as well as the extensiveness of their social community and ability to reach online audiences with content.
After carefully reviewing all the applicant packages, I regret to inform you that your package was not selected to move forward in this year’s residency selection.
Any self-respecting person would leave a relationship after receiving a rejection letter like that from the same folks who made me (and a lot of other passengers) very late. Not me, though. I don’t feel safe in Chicago’s bus station, and I can’t drive. I love visiting libraries and schools all over the state –and the country — with my Seeing Eye dog, though, so I can’t break up my relationship with Amtrak. I’ll continue to support subsidies for Amtrak, I’ll hope for positive change, and I’ll keep reminding myself to feel grateful to have train travel as an option at all — otherwise how would Whitney and I have ever met all those wonderful people in Princeton yesterday?!