Spring Break 2011 Nightmare or Adventure??

This is the first time I’ve ever gone anywhere on Spring Break.

It started out nice, we went up to Minneapolis on Friday, March 4, 2011 to hang out for the day and shop. We went to IKEA with our neighbor and had fun. We then went to the hotel in St. Paul that is 3 blocks from the train station.

There began our journey.

The night desk guy told us there would be a shuttle in the morning to take us to the train. No problem. When we get up in the morning and get to the front desk to ask when the shuttle leaves, we are told there isn’t one on the weekend. ?? They will however call a cab at no charge. ? OK, better.

We make it to the train station with plenty of time, in fact there is no line to wait in. We check in to find out that the train might be late. We wait for the train that was supposed to leave at 7:50 a.m. We finally get on board the train and get moving at 9:30 a.m. nearly 2 hours late.

The train trip from Minneapolis/St. Paul to Chicago is fairly uneventful. Almost boring if you’ve travelled it many times. Since I hadn’t it was a very novel experience. It does get to be tedious if you are on the train for more than about 5-6 hours non-stop. Bring something that you like to do a lot of.

I took pictures out the window, took mini naps, walked up and down the train, and talked with other passengers. As we had to stop at lots of little towns along the route, we kept getting later and later to each destination along the way.

We finally get to Chicago about 2 1/2 hours late. We missed our connecting train. We were told to meet by the fountain and wait for them to direct us further. Seems they were going to bus us to Indianapolis to catch up to the train. I asked if we had time to get some food first and was told “yes, you have plenty of time”. So Kevin went to get us some food. Less than 10 minutes later another Amtrak employee came over saying we needed to follow her to get on the bus now. I called Kevin and told him he needed to hurry. I tried to tell the woman that we were told there was plenty of time but she kept cutting me off and finally said if we didn’t make it to the bus that we were going to be left. I wasn’t very happy.

Kevin finally made it as the last few of us were starting up the stairs. There were 44 of us getting on the bus. We get all loaded up and are each given a smallish bottle of water and a snack pack as our meal replacement. Good thing he was able to get us something before we left. We are told everyone is on board and we can leave.

The driver is actually the mechanic of the bus’ and doesn’t actually drive the route much at all. He was given 2 pieces of paper with a google map on each and hand written directions on the backside of each. When the bus got moving it was dark, so he pulled out his phone and decided to use that instead. As we were heading to the highway it started to rain and sleet, making the road very slippery. There goes trying to catch up to the train in any sort of good time. When we got to the on ramp we found that traffic was backed up for miles. Seems that someone already was in an accident from the sleet coming down. We had to move to the left as far as possible for the cop car that rushed past us to make sense out of the chaos. Just as we were about to start moving forward again the driver got a call from the Amtrak terminal saying he left 4 passengers and to come back and get them.

We turned around and picked them up. This time instead of trying to get on the highway at the same place, he decided to drive through town a bit and bypass all the backed up traffic on the highway. We get on the highway and it’s all clear. Interstate 90 in Chicago is a tollway. The bus has an i-Pass. The i-Pass didn’t work and so we had to stop at the arm and red light and try to see if it would register. He called his boss and had to wait about 3 minutes for the go ahead to back up the bus and go through the pay line. As he was backing up, he had to go slowly because we had to wait for the semi behind us to move first. We got about 5 feet back from the arm when it suddenly registered the i-Pass and went green. The people on the bus cheered while we went forward again.

As we got farther from Chicago the weather got worse. The sleet was coming down harder and staying on the road, and it was now mixing with snow and covering the roadway. You couldn’t see the lines on the road. In fact there were several semi’s that were passing us and pushing us to the right on the rumble strips on the shoulder. They couldn’t see the road lines either. Just past Gary, Indiana it started to lighten up a bit and get much better.

We had 2 stops to make before we got to Indianapolis. Halfway to the first stop of Lafayette, the drivers phone decided to crash and restart on him. There goes the map. I pulled out my phone and helped him to navigate to our stop.

We get to Lafayette to drop off the 3 sole passengers that needed to go there. The driver pulls out a GPS from in a box and spends a few minutes setting that up for the next stop. We get on the road and less than 1 hour later the suction cup on the GPS fails and it falls  to the floor and resets itself. Poor driver is having no luck. I pulled out my phone again since his is still having issues with being anything more than just a phone. We get to the next stop of Crawfordsville without further problems. Crawfordsville by the way is in the middle of boofoo nowhere. We drop off the 1 and only passenger that was headed there. I ask if he is going to set the GPS for Indianapolis and he says he’s not even going to bother. My phone had been working fine up till then I can continue to navigate us the rest of the way.

When we pull into Indianapolis and get close to the station, one of the other passengers had been there before and helped to get us to the right spot at the station. Everyone cheered and were saying thank you to the driver and us for our help.

Yay we made it. In actual fact they held the train for us for an hour. When we got on board I asked when they had left Chicago and found out they had only left 20 minutes before we got there. Oh well, what can you do. When we got on the train, and settled in the room we paid extra for so we could sleep from Chicago to Cincinnati, it was midnight. The dining car closed at 11 p.m. There was supposed to be a free meal for each of us that came with the room.

We asked the attendant to wake us up 2o minutes before the station so we had time to get our stuff together. As we were gathering our wits and our stuff the train started to slow down and then stop. Shoot he didn’t give us enough warning after all. We rushed to get the rest of our stuff together and then made time to the lounge car. Everyone was sitting around when we got there. Looking out the window I noticed we were not at the station. What’s going on?

Seems there was a police cruiser with its lights on parked across the tracks blocking our way. I guess there was a shoot-out going on another half mile south of our location. Seems that there were 2 people who were arguing and one pulled a gun on the other and started shooting. Someone else called the police. When they got there the shooter started firing at the cops. The cops then chased them to the river. The shooter fell in and drowned. The police pulled out the dogs and helicopters to find the guys body. It took about 3 hours to get the go ahead to continue to the station, which was still about 20 minutes from us.

We were supposed to be in the Cincinnati station around 3:20 a.m. We pulled in to the station at 7:30 a.m.

The station hours are from 11:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. Since the train never comes at any other time than in the night.

There were no taxis waiting anymore since the station was closed. I had luckily called before we left to find out how much the taxi should cost us so the numbers were still in my phone. I called one and it took until 8 before they got there. We weren’t the only ones that needed a taxi but we were the only ones that thought to have the numbers to call. There were 2 people who asked if they could share our taxi with us. I said share the ride share the fare. They agreed. They asked the taxi driver if where they were going was on the way to our destination and from what they provided the driver said yes. So we loaded our stuff up front with us and they put theirs in the back. We were on our way to the hotel. About 1 mile down the road the guy pulls out a business card for where they are going and hands that to the driver and asks how much their share of the fare would be. The driver thinks for a bit then says what he’ll do is take us to our destination and then reset the meter for theirs.  The guy started arguing with the driver that $70 was outrageous. The driver retorted that he wasn’t really supposed to allow sharing of fares and he could let them off right there if they wanted. The guy said just drive their stuff is already in the back and we were already on the road, you’ll get your money. The problem is that the guy said a place in the beginning that was on the way to our destination. The place on the card was in the other direction from the station. There are 3 legs to the journey. The one from the station out to the main Interstate was about a 30 mile drive east, then we go south about 10-20 miles to our hotel. Their destination was 40 miles north once you hit the Interstate. They were going to be getting a better deal going from our hotel to theirs than from the station. A difference of about 10-20 miles.

We get to the hotel and check-in for our 3 nights. The room is supposed to be a non-smoking room. As soon as we open the door I could tell that it wasn’t. It took a few minutes to pinpoint the source. The pillows and sheets smelled like someone was chain-smoking while they were making the bed. For those that don’t know me, I am extremely sensitive to cigarette smoke. I called the front desk to complain and he said it must be my imagination or some neighbor smoking outside. We used the shower facilities and decided that since it was 8:45 a.m. when we got in and the dealership opened at 10:00 a.m. we would just stay up.

We went to Cincinnati to pick up a Mercury Capri XR2 that Kevin has been wanting for years. The dealership where we found one wanted $500 up front just to hold the car. We sent a cashier’s check ahead of us.

The dealer came and picked us up at 10:00 a.m. Sunday morning.  We got to the dealership and he pulled the car around to the front and left it run to warm up and for us to listen and look at it. Kevin looked all around, in, and under the car. He even checked under the hood. Meanwhile, I was checking out the interior and trying to find a way into the trunk. Kevin said there was a button in the glove box. I kneeled across the driver’s seat and unlocked the passenger door, then tried to open the glove box. After a few minutes of fiddling with it I came to the conclusion that the handle was broken. Kevin tried to open the glove box and in doing so a light on the dash went on. There was a dinging noise that started at the time the light came on. It was the airbag light that went on. I got out of the car as fast as I could. We finally just used the key to open the trunk. As soon as I started opening the trunk I could smell the mold emanating from it. For those that don’t know, I am sensitive to mold almost as much as cigarette smoke. Lifting the carpet in the trunk revealed an almost rusted through bottom. There were also holes in the body in each of the four corners underneath. It was a rust bucket. Needless to say we passed on actually test driving it let alone buying it. We asked for our $500 back and got it too. We asked if they were willing to take us back to the hotel or if we should call a taxi. They were nice that way too and brought us back to the hotel.

I called my uncle and told him about the car and hotel and he agreed to come and get us and bring us to one closer to his house.

I cancelled the other 2 nights at the hotel and got a refund for them. We went to a different hotel and that one was extremely clean and nice and didn’t smell like smokers made the room up. By the time we were checked into the new hotel I had been coughing fairly steadily the whole time since smelling the pillows. My throat was pretty sore by then.

We visited with my uncle Sunday and Monday and were planning to leave on Tuesday.

Monday morning at 7:30 a.m. a half hour after customer service opened, I called Amtrak to see what they could do about the trip out the Cincinnati being late, bused, no meal, and the sleeping car not being much use. I waited on hold for an agent for about 30 minutes. The agent listened to what I said and looked at my reservation, then told me that if I sent in the stubs from our tickets that they could get us a refund of the sleeping car. I told him that we would need a ride from Chicago to Minneapolis. He put me on hold for about 10 minutes and came back on saying he had us a roomette for that Thursday. Free of charge, and since it is considered a room it came with the free meal we didn’t get on the way out there.

Now we just had to find passage from Cincinnati to Chicago. That proved pretty easy. I searched for likely ways to get there and found that a bus was probably the best way to go. I searched and found that there was a new route going from Cincinnati to Chicago and back called the Greyhound Express. Express meaning that there were only about 3 stops. 2 for food and 1 for a change of drivers. The grand total cost of that bus ride for both of us was 2 whole dollars. Yep $2.00. That’s it. Talk about a break. There were a total of 7 passengers on the bus for the whole trip. We were told we could bring our stuff up top with us seeing as how the bus was going to be sooooo full. My uncle didn’t believe me until I showed him the email receipt.

So Tuesday comes around and we have a nice uneventful trip to Chicago. Alden was going to be picking us up in Chicago after he was done with work. It was going to take him about 45 minutes to get to the station from his job. We got to the station on time and were only waiting on him about 5 minutes. Not bad. We make it back to Lois’ house and have a very nice visit with them as well.

The train was supposed to leave at 2:15 p.m. so we have to get to the station early enough to check in on time. The metratrain transit system that the Chicago suburbs have are kind of like an Ell train and a regular train mixed together. The entire cost of the return trip from Cincinnati to Chicago and then Minneapolis was $15.00 for the 2 of us. The metra was the most expensive part of the return.

Thursday when we got on the train and checked into our room, we unloaded our stuff and got our reservations in for the dining car. This time we were going to have our meal. It was a very tasty meal. Mostly worth the wait for it. We had a very pleasant and relaxing return trip. When we were about 5 hours from the station in St. Paul, we called our neighbor to make arrangements to be picked up.

When we were first going to go to Cincinnati I had thought for some reason that her roommate was going to be needing a ride to school that next Thursday night. Instead of her driving to Mankato, then to Mapleton, then to St. Paul, we told her that we’d get a hotel room and have her pick us up the next afternoon. Well I brain farted a certain fact. I forgot that if I had spring break that week then so did the roommate. Duh. So she reminded me of that when I called. She also said that her ex-husband had offered to drive up Thursday night and pick us up if we wanted. We said oh yeah. So they drove up and picked us up and I have no idea about the trip home as I was sawing logs.

We got home Thursday night Friday morning about 12 midnight.

During this week-long trip we put our cat in boarding. We picked him up Friday morning. I asked how he behaved and I guess he didn’t like them at all. He would growl, hiss, and swipe at them with his clawless front paws. When I got to the back area to get him he started mewing piteously. The woman opened the cage and he kept looking between us growling at her and meowing at me. He purred all the way home. I think he was happy to be home.

Saturday we decided to drive to Brookings, South Dakota to look at another Capri XR2. That one didn’t fare any better.

The dealer wanted $3200 for a car that had a blue book value of $2825. If the soft top actually had its window intact, and if the intercooler had actually been hooked up and working instead of him saying “oh well I guess it has problems then”, we might have actually thought of giving him the price he asked. However, with the problems there was no way we were paying more than book price. He stood firm and we drove away without it.

We took a detour home and stopped in Worthington to take my mom out to supper. Then we headed home and had a nice quiet day home on Sunday.

So what do you think, nightmare or adventure??

This is a true accounting of what happened during our spring break vacation.

This is the first draft, subject to updating.

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  1. #1 by unclegroove on June 18, 2011 - 8:21 am

    My 2 cents’ worth….
    why don’t you use your tag?

    It will keep your blog tidier and make it more readable.
    IMHO, of course

    Ciao
    Paul

  2. #2 by burdei on June 18, 2011 - 2:17 pm

    My tag? Not sure what that is. I am new to blogging. Also vote if you’d like to.

    Thank you for your comments.

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