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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Aboard the Southwest Chief, plus a nondescript day in Las Vegas.

Holiday Trip to Las Vegas and Reno, Part 4
December 22, 2013

Traveling aboard Amtrak's westbound Southwest Chief, I took a post-dinner nod through Missouri. Something before midnight I woke up to find the train sitting in a Kansas City rail yard, with snow on the ground. The train was running about 50 minutes late by the time it left the yard. Five hours later our delay had extended to two hours.

At this point, passing Hutchinson, Kansas, I was awake for good. Alas, this wretched soul made coffee with three packets of Sanka, purloined from the Metropolitan Lounge the day before at Chicago’s Union Station. It may have been prostate friendly for lack of caffeine, but the flavor wasn’t much to crow about.

The view of western Kansas slipping by isn’t terribly exciting, but after bringing up my Pandora station for Neue Deutsche Härte music, Kansas seemed cool and edgy while listening to the likes Rammstein, Megaherz, and Eisbrecher.

It was short-sleeve weather and sunny at our stop in La Junta in Colorado. Okay, so maybe 34° isn't exactly for short-sleeves, but the sun is awfully nice after many days without it. An already delayed train is made even further late by "mechanical issues” between La Junta and Trinidad.

Lunch was an unremarkable chili and salad combo. The chili had a few decent pieces of beef, but for flavor it had no oomph. Liberal amounts of Tabasco and black pepper contributed only so much.

Oh Kansas! Meh.

From left: Okey dokey, let me find the lotion; Far away view of the Spanish Peaks in southeastern Colorado; Only die-hard Cubs fans will know this one.

Hours later in New Mexico a familiar situation arises, having to wait for the opposite-bound Southwest Chief to pass first through the narrow, single-tracked Apache Canyon. While stopped we’re notified that the eastbound train needed one of our engines so it could continue its run. Both trains were late at that point: the eastbound by an hour, and the westbound on which I was aboard was well over two hours behind.

And then we were told that the cafe in the lounge car had sold out most of its food. The crew then started passing out emergency snack packs and bottles of water to placate coach passengers tired of sitting out in the middle of nowhere. I fared much better in my sleeper car. Fate determined to spread out the misery when the toilets in my sleeper were closed. More mechanical issues.

Once we got going again we traveled at much reduced speed, being pulled by just a single engine now. Amtrak long-distance consists generally operate with two engines, one to provide locomotion and the other to provide electricity to the lounge, diner, coach and sleeper cars. One engine can’t accommodate both, hence our relatively slow crawl to Albuquerque.

We pulled into Albuquerque about four hours late. A few more minutes were needed than the time it normally takes to refuel and replenish water tanks to attach a fresh engine to our consist and speed us on our way, through the now inky black night.

For dinner I did not have to endure the same pasta dish as the previous night. Instead I had a Nathan’s hot dog on a bun with potato chips. I was quite pleased!

I retired to my bed where a good sleep finally caught up with me. I awoke for good nearly ten hours later to find we were even more late than before, about seven hours so. I was surprised to find the cafe up and running at 5:30 in the morning. I ordered a microwaved California Pizza Kitchen Sicilian for breakfast. Folded over it was like a flatbread pizza sandwich. I would order it again in a heartbeat.

It still dark out when I arrived in Kingman, Arizona, and am reassured to find our shuttle van to Las Vegas waiting for us, despite our lateness. Once on the road I wished I had called shotgun upon boarding the van. From where I sat in the back, every significant bump in the road went straight to my ailing back. And on top of that it was sweltering inside the vehicle.

From left: And this is the least garish part of the jacket; 'Pro gun' and proud!

As the sun rose, we were greeted by the rugged, craggy terrain that hugs the area around the Colorado River just south of Hoover Dam. After crossing into Nevada, an elderly woman sitting in front of me laments, "When does it flatten out? When it gets not too mountainous? I think this is the worst part of the trip.” I can only roll my eyes in embarrassment.

Upon arrival at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, I sought out a head for relief’s sake, then located a RTC bus stop to catch an express bus to Summerlin. Outside the Suncoast I finally meet up with my pal Barb. With all the hubbub with her husband’s recent hospitalization, my first meal in Las Vegas was an Egg McMuffin at a McDonald's. Sigh.

Barb’s husband, Al, had suffered a cardiac arrest at work and was successfully revived. The diagnosis eventually pointed to arrhythmia and Al had spent the better part of two weeks stuck in the hospital waiting for an optimal time for a defibrillator implantation.

My time in Vegas on this visit would be spent less on roaming the town for eats, drinks, and sights, and more so spent watching over cats back at the now empty house while Barb overnighted with Al at the hospital. Either way, I wasn’t back home grinding over the slaving meat wheel of wage servitude.

I fared much better with lunch, featuring grapefruit from the yard. Dinner with Barb, Al, and friends, at the hospital was even better with thin-crust pizza from Northside Nathan's of Las Vegas. Simple and comforting, though I much prefer their classic Detroit-style pan pizza [see blog post].

That night I had the house all to myself, along with the two house cats, and the four feral cats camped out in the back yard.

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