I'm up at the APSA meetings. In Philadelphia.
On Thursday, I thought I would come up here on the Amtrak. Given everything I had heard about bad service and lateness, seemed like a natural blog subject.
What a disappointment! Consider:
1. The train was supposed to leave Raleigh terminal at 5:40 am, didn't leave until 6:30am. A great start. But we ended up getting into the Philadelphia terminal at 2:20, about ten minutes late. Not bad.
2. And this was at the downtown terminal, mind you. About 6 blocks from my hotel. Made it to my panel at 4:15 very easily.
3. I had a roomette. Nice little bed up top, comfortable seats, my own little potty and sink. Plugs for laptop, free water and orange juice. All for $255 one way. A little pricey, but worth it. Arrived rested and happy. A regular ticket was only $55, which is fine. I was so sure we'd be ten hours late that I bought the roomette, and then didn't need it.
Well, there was one thing, lest you think I am losing my knack for bizarre retail experiences. Part of the first class ticket was "free meals." So, about 12:15, I go back to the dining car (right behind the first class car, so the tubbos in first class don't have to strain themselves).
I sit down, look up, and see why railroads are disappearing the U.S.: three middle-aged white guys are working the dining car, as waiters. Now, where have you seen three middle-aged guys working in a restaurant? Only in the very most expensive restaurants. Most places pay low wages, and so hire more women and minorities. But union work rules allow the railroads to pay top dollar for rude gorillas.
Union man #1 saunters up, and hands me a ticket. "Need your name, room number, and car number, chief." Monotone, no eye contact, a smirk. This is union work, so he doesn't actually to provide any real service. And being nice is beneath a railroad union man.
I fill out the little sheet. Hand it to him.
"So, what'll it be, sport?" Staring at the back of the car, where his two boys are cutting up and giggling. At least five other tables are awaiting service.
I try to order the chicken ceasar salad. He interrupts; "Nope."
Staring at him, I ask: "Why not?"
"Don't have it." Pleased with himself. He made me ask; points for him.
"All right," I said, and handed him the menu.
Now I have his attention, unintentionally. He goggles at me. "Look, sport: we don't have any salads. Look at your menu, and pick something else."
Me: "Sir, I'm not entirely stupid. I understood what you said. You have six menu items. Five are some sort of fried something on a bun, served with potato chips. One is a salad. Even with only six items, you can't be bothered to have them all available, at the BEGINNING of the lunch shift. So, no, I am not going to pick something else. I am going to finish my diet coke, and go back to my little room."
On the plus side, this was said in a level voice and not too loud. On the down side, and for reasons I still can't explain, I said this in an increasingly strong, and entirely fake, British accent. Changing from a southerner to a Brit in the course of diatribe does not help when you want to be taken seriously.
I think he thought I must be crazy. He took the menu gently, and said, "Sorry, sir" in the most polite voice he had used yet. I later realized that passing up fried food and potato chips (crisps, I should say, in my Angloglossiac dementia) was so foreign to him that he might actually have BELIEVED I was a Brit.
Sat and finished my soda. Hoped no one else would talk to me, since speaking in bad foreign accents accidentally is not something I am proud of. Each of the three guys would occasionally get up, the other two would sit, and the one "working" would go and pester a couple of passengers for about five minutes. "Everything okay here?" "You...you haven't brought our food yet." "Okay, good, I was just checking." Union guys must have their irony bone removed at a young age.
So...overall, the trip was a real solid B+. And if you bring your own food, probably would have been an A-. I am going to take the train again, for trips in the Eastern corridor.