The Day I took a Train Through Canada

I was asked to join this blog because of my many adventures. The only theme that runs through each post you’ll eventually read from me (if I don’t bore you before getting through them all) is a haphazard knack of getting myself into ridiculous predicaments. I share them on my own Facebook page simply because I’m sure someone somewhere is in need of a chuckle and my bad luck is almost always sure to bring some level of a smile. So without further pomp or circumstance, my first contribution to Smiles for Miles.

train

When I was in college, I didn’t have a car to drive back and forth to Michigan (my motherland) the first few years, so, I would usually end up taking Amtrak from Plattsburgh, NY to Jackson, MI. It took a full day to make the trip but the train ride was always fun.

On one such trip, trying to save money and time, my dad booked me a seat on a train through Canada out of Montreal. Of course, not having a car meant I had to find a way to Montreal to catch the train that was leaving at noon.

Being young (aka: naive) and leaving for Christmas break which lasted about a month, I packed everything I could in 2 backpacks and a suit case that had wheels, of which, only three worked. Also in tow was my fish George. He was a betta fish. He had been on many trips with me before including flights and trains so he knew the drill. He was all ready for his trip in his waterbottle which I opened periodically to let fresh air in.

I called the cab company the night before to make sure I would have a cab waiting for me at 5:30am to take me to the Greyhound bus station for 6:00am to get me to Montreal for 12:00pm.

Morning came and there I sat in front of the dorms, waiting for my cab. 5:30 came and went and no cab. I called at 5:45 and the dispatcher said the cab was on his way. At 5:50 the cab pulled up, got my bags loaded in his trunk and off we started down the dorm road.

Kachunk, kachunk, sputter. The cab came to a bumpy hault. It was dead. Nine minutes till my bus leaves and me, George and my bags are in a dead cab 5 minutes from the bus station. The driver got on the radio and called for another cab which surprisingly showed up rather quickly. However, not quick enough to make the bus.

The cabbie asked where I was going and I told him Montreal to catch the train to Windsor. He said he could drive me up there. I explained I didn’t have much money and since he was willing to go that far, he should take me since it was the company’s fault I missed my bus. He called dispatch and they said ok for a minimal fee, of course. Having no other way to Montreal I agreed and shelled out more of dad’s money to take the cab to Montreal.

We got to customs where they made me unload everything from the cab, including George. I sat in customs for over an hour in a room with just George and I. Eventually, an agent came in to question me and see my paperwork. For some reason, he couldn’t comprehend the idea of me taking a train from Canada to get to Michigan. Why didn’t I just fly he wanted to know. My bags were totally gone through and then the funniest thing I’ve ever heard was asked. “Do you have papers for the fish?” I laughed thinking he was joking. He apparently was not joking. He needed the date and place of birth and so on. I explained that I unfortunately did not have papers for him but made up answers to his questions which went great until he wanted to know about George’s vaccinations. I told him fish do not get vaccinations. We argued back and forth for a bit till he went to ask his supervisor. Now what I imagine as having happened was he told his supervisor the problem, his supervisor laughed and gave him a swift kick to the head and told him to go back in the room, let me gather my things and be on my way.

Which he did and back in the cab I went. The driver, knowing that I was trying to catch a train promptly dropped me off at the train station.

After wandering around for over an hour trying to find the Amtrak booth with my suitcase taking a left every three feet and tipping over (due to the aforementioned wheel that did not work), one backpack on my back, one backpack on my front and George in my hand, my french classes from high school caught up with me enough to realize I wasn’t at the train station. I was at the subway station. I figured out where I was supposed to be and what subway train would get me there and onto the subway I went.

My french being not as quick as the signs that told us (George and I) where we were on the track, I wandered through the bowels of Montreal for another hour until I finally caught the station I needed to get off at on the third go ’round.

I had a couple hours before my train leaves. Good time to take a break and make a pitstop at the rest room.

Into the restroom I went with George, the suitcase that fell over every three feet, the backpack on my back and the backpack on my front. As I sat to do my business, an elderly lady who’s face seemingly had seen more suns than the Sahara, slithered on her back under my stall door muttering in french. Being the cool, calm, collected person that I am, I jumped up with pants in tow, whipped the door open over her head and gingerly but not so gracefully lurched across her body on my way to the bathroom exit. Finding the closest human dressed in some kind of law enforcement attire, I explained in broken french and hysterical english what had just happened. His reply amounted to “Is Martha back again?”

He accompanied me back into the bathroom where we found Martha sitting in my place of relief having a conversation with George who was still sitting on top of the toilet paper dispenser where I had left him. Martha left with the nice law enforcement looking man while I shut the stall door, placed my broken suitcase in front of it and finished what I had started.

Feeling very much relieved, I trekked out of the bathroom towards the train station. Now as a side note, the building I had been dropped off at by the subway train was a huge metro center. As I would soon see in my wandering through it, it contained everything from a mall to business offices, to a train station and many, many broken escalators.

Picking my suit case up every three feet and mumbling to George, I again found myself wandering around unfamiliar territory. Dripping with sweat, I ended up in a mall in the middle of Christmas rush, with my broken suitcase and a fish in a water bottle. Canadians do not like getting hit in the shins by the suitcase of a 19 year old American blonde girl that speaks cruddy French.

Again, looking to the law enforcement of Canada to help me, I found a man in uniform and explained I was looking for the train station. He explained I had gone by it, to go back down the two flights of stairs I had just came up, to the right, through the long hallway with all the paintings on the walls and I’d end up in the station.

So, I, George, the suitcase that fell over every three feet and my two backpacks, headed back down the two flights of stairs and took the right and went down the hallway with all the paintings on the wall.

At the end of that hallway, a beautiful site materialized in front of me. A track and train sign with people rushing here and there with working suit cases in tow. I made it. Now onto the Amtrak booth.

ViaRail, ViaRail, ViaRail……. Where’s Amtrak? All I could see was signs for the Canadian Railroad, ViaRail. Dad and MaryJo hadn’t mentioned ViaRail. Beside I always took Amtrak. 30 minutes till my train leaves and they’re probably already boarding it.

I finally walked up to a Via booth and said I couldn’t find the Amtrak booth. The nice lady pointed me towards a small corner of the immense station. I rounded a pillar and saw the warm and familiar sign of my country’s beloved track running company. I went up to the lady and told her I was booked on a train that was leaving for Windsor in half an hour but I had forgotten my confirmation number at home. Her response? “We don’t have a train that runs to Windsor. We only run one train from Montreal to NYC.”

Of course they didn’t……..

She asked me my name and looked up in ViaRail’s system and lo and behold, found my name. The train was boarding and was only 20 feet from where I stood.

I boarded the train with my suitcase that fell over every three feet, my backpack on my front, my backpack on my back and George in my hand. He was still smiling and excited to be going on a Canadian train. He’d never been on one apparently.

I crumbled into a seat sitting George down by my side on the floor. I got myself situated and comfortable. After a short time, a cart, like those on a plane, came through the car with drinks and snacks. I got some chips and a water and settled in for the ride. Thinking of George, I reached down to open the cap for the rest of the trip. However, George wasn’t there.

I jumped up, looked under the seat, the neighbor’s seat, all over my area. Someone had fishnapped George right under my nose. As I whipped around looking under everyone’s seats, a man walked through the car coming from the car that the lady with the cart had headed towards. He asked if I was ok. I said yes but I lost my fish. He asked “That one?” pointing to just next to the door that led out of the back of the car across the gap where the track was rushing by under the next car.

GEORGE!! I screamed. Apparently when the lady with the cart came by, George had gotten far enough away from my seat that he ended up being pushed along by the cart until she cleared the seats and he was pushed aside before going out the door.

George rode in the seat curled up in my arms the rest of the trip. And me? I never again took the Canadian Railroad. The Canadians? Well, they steer clear of blonde 19 year old American girls who carry fish in water bottles and tow a suitcase that falls over every three feet.

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