Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Mistakes were made/ Riding the rails (Updated)

I have a headache, so this might be brief.

I think my dad and I were both a little down today. There was no specific cause for it. Just the particular dust particles in our air today or something. Speaking of which, my brother asked if maybe my father and I have both been extremely tired since Saturday because the air quality is bad here sometimes. I haven't seen anything on the news about it, but it's possible. I don't really think it's related to my father's cancer, though, because we have both been napping during the day AND going to bed earlier and sleeping later. So maybe he wasn't down today and I am just projecting.


I fell for it again. My mother called this morning and said that she is having so much pain that she can't do anything. She has no quality of life. She sounded genuinely distressed and near tears. So, I got her into her pain doctor tomorrow, a week ahead of schedule. Then I go up to the nursing home at 5pm for a meeting with the Reminiscence Coordinator.

Wow. Interesting. My mom's physical therapist? It's a home health scam company that preys on nursing home residents and their families. And that explains also how my mother ended up in an ambulance on the way to the hospital last week and why nobody as Sunrise seemed to know what was going on. I feel like an IDIOT.

Also? My mom participates in most of the activities. She is good at Pictionary. Unless these people are lying right to my face, she seems to be doing well. She enjoys people. They seem to like her. And given how often my dad and I call my mom's room and there is no answer, I'm inclined to believe them. I need a NannyCam. But this is why I feel duped-- I can't believe I bumped up her pain doctor appointment. She complains at the same level no matter how many meds she is getting.

We talked about the possibility of placebos. Doctors can't prescribe them, ethically. But nursing homes and daughters can. Ethically? Yeah, if it makes her feel better. I am pretty sure she wants to hoarde them anyway.

We were also talking about the one behavior that seems to be an actual problem: She gets up a lot at night. Also? Her roommate goes to bed much earlier than my mother. So, my mother goes in and out, and always turns on the light (and insists on sleeping in total darkness-- won't have a night light). Her roommate doesn't get very good sleep as a result. This usually leads to nasty exchanges between the two, even though lately when I show up, my mother and Alta are always sitting near each other.

The woman I met with hesitantly wondered about switching the women back-- moving my mother away from the window, so her comings and goings won't bother Alta. I practically bounced up and down in place on the couch. "Yes! That's a great idea!"

She looked startled. It turns out that she had thought that the family insisted on my mother being near the window. I told her, no, that my mother had wanted it, but that they then called us and told us that they had reserved it for my mother. And that my mother was paying more than her roommate, so she got to call dibs. That was very interesting. Communication isn't exactly a strong point; they actually share my frustration that there are too many cooks in the kitchen.

This evening, my friend Heith asked me about my experiences taking the train. Thanks, for the rest of the post, Heith!

I always get the cheapest seats possible. And nowadays, all of the coach cars have electrical outlets. Some of them are older and only have one or two outlets, so you have to share. But there are also observation cars with huge windows, and tables for cards and games and snacks. There are outlets all over these cars. But the last two times I have ridden the train, I've been in the newer cars where there are two outlets or every two passengers. I've only had to share two seats with another person one time-- in the middle of the night, and it didn't last long.

The seats are big-- roomier than airline seats. They have a footrest and also they are a lot more like recliners than airline seats are. You will have leg room-- and most importantly, you can walk all over the train. As much as you want. The only time they don't like you going from car to car is when they are going through tunnels and might get dust in the train. Going from car to car is really fun-- there is a door at the end of your car with two buttons, one flush with your fist and the other with your foot, that say PUSH. You push them and the door slides open. You repeat this on the door to the next car, and step across the very short span between train cars. You are never actually outside though. I once saw a little boy kicking the lower PUSH buttons and he looked like he was having so much damn fun. I didn't think passengers would like it if I started doing it too, though.

You don't have to arrive until right before you depart. Make sure you call the train station before you leave your house and check to make sure your train is on schedule. It rarely is, which is one of the few downfalls of the train. I don't know about the Kansas City station, though, in terms of parking, but I've never had any trouble (or had to pay for parking). Most of the places I travel to and from have no real train stations to speak of. They might have a little shelter, or a building where you can use the restroom. It's only in big cities that you will find bars and restaurants and possibly be able to buy an actual ticket at a ticket window. I don't know-- when I've been in Denver and Montreal, it was just useful to get a last decent meal before you get onto the train, or magazines and snacks. You show your tickets after you get on the train. You can buy your tickets ahead of time and have them mailed to you, or get a confirmation code to show the conductor. But you don't go through a baggage claim. Nobody asks for your ID. They won't search your stuff. You literally carry it onto the train with you and there are storage areas in the downstairs part of the car for the luggage. There are also several bathrooms at this level.

In the lounge car (the one with all the big windows), in the basement, there is a snack bar that sells outrageously over-priced food AND alcoholic beverages. You can also order wine with dinner. It's mostly useful for providing hot coffee in the morning, breakfast sandwiches (never tried 'em, sorry), and cups of ice. Bring your own snacks. But if you don't bring enough, you can use a credit card for anything you want to buy on the train.

Before mealtimes, a loudspeaker will announce that you need to go to the dining car and make reservations if you want a meal. You should probably eat at least one meal in the dining car for the experience. Then never do it again (you'll see what I mean, though the steaks aren't bad). It's just very very very expensive for mediocre food. (I would like to try the breakfast, but I don't sleep super well on the train, so I never actually make it there).  I have started getting Chinese carryout, or Indian food, or a couple of Jimmy Johns sandwiches for the train. I always carry enough for every meal I will be on the train for (plus snacks). I also bring my own alcohol, though I heard on this last train ride that you aren't allowed to do that. EVERYBODY does that. And nobody has ever said boo to me. I usually don't eat all (or even that much) of the food-- snack mixes and jerky are usually good. Sometimes I think I get a little motion sickness and I don't want to eat anything much. But I almost never take enough bottled water. You *will* get dehydrated.

Take Tylenol.

Take a pillow, and if you will be on the train overnight, take something to help you sleep. A little melatonin or Tylenol PM can make all the difference. I also now take a blanket-- having a pillow and a real blanket can make all the difference. And you don't really have a luggage limitation on the train.

No wifi. You're also not going to see a lot of iPads on a train (versus a plane). You'll see a lot of ipods, a few kindles, a lot of laptops. You will want to either download a lot of television or bring DVDs, and either load your Kindle or take a lot of books. I find that I don't usually read or write, but I always prepare for the possibility that I will want to.

A lot of Amish people take the train. And when you board the train in the early morning, be prepared for the cars to smell like a bunch of people have been sleeping in them all night.

Don't let that last bit dissuade you. I love taking the train. I vastly perfer it to flying (and I like to fly-- I just hate the airport). Also, you are allowed to get off at most of the stops and stretch your legs. In Grand Junction, CO, there is a crappy little gift shop that sells milk so I like that. And if you get off the train in Glenwood Springs, CO, they will announce over the loudspeakers ahead of time some recommendations for nice hotels. It is so beautiful there that passengers often become distracted by the beauty of the area and the canyons and forget to get back on the train.

I forgot to add a P.S.: Even if you find yourself in a coach that doesn't have outlets at every seat, you don't have to stay in your seat. You will put a little tag with your destination station above your seat, and you need to return to it before your stop, but you can feel free to go find a seat anywhere on the train that isn't claimed by one of those little tags. So, just to reiterate, get the cheap ticket.

Heith asked:
That's good advice. But if you can switch seats, why can't you just take your destination tag with you?
The answer is: They load the coaches according to destination and they come by and make sure passengers don't miss their stops, so it's a good idea just to leave that tag alone once its in place. If you are planning a nap, sleep at your own seat or set a good alarm.


  1. LOVE the train. I've taken it many times back and forth to Utah. The only thing I'd add to this is that the main point of getting up out of your seat is to meet and socialize with some of the other passengers. A few of the most interesting people I've met have been on these train trips, and that is probably the main reason I prefer train to plane.

    -Pi Mike

  2. What a great load of information. I think we're sold. :) It'd be great to take the rails out to see Keith's mom out in GJ this year.