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Monday, November 14, 2022

Amtrak Autotrain to Florida part 2 - Lorton Hears a Loo

From Scranton it's a four to five hour drive to Lorton, Virginia, the northern terminus of the Amtrak Autotrain run. The train boards between 12:30 and 3:30, so you really don't want to get held up on this part of the trip.

You either make it, or you don't.

The hot food option at the hotel turned out to be some premade Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwiches - variations on biscuit, bagel, egg, sausage, cheese, ham etc.

I had a biscuit one first, skipping half the biscuit. Then I had a bagel one, skipping half the bagel. Coffee. It was enough.

I planned a route that avoided as much of the 90 lane beltway around the nation's capitol, head a little more west, and then take a toll road toward DC.

There was one question, though, at Harrisburg, should I take the big half-moon I-81 route, or take what looked to be a time-saver, the unknown Highway 15. It seemed to be divided highway for most of the stretch, but parts of it meandered through towns.

We got up at 6:00 am so I decided to gamble on the road less travelled - 15. Meandering time would be made up by the shorter route, I reasoned.

And what a great choice this turned out to be! The route was easily the most enjoyable and had the prettiest scenery of any stretch we've travelled between Flusherville and Florida. The pace is slower, and you can really get a feel of how people live in that part of the country. Gettysburg is a stone's throw from the highway (or a cannon ball's shot away, I guess) and there are tons of historic stops to make on this journey through what is designated as Hallowed Ground.

We made Lorton in good time, making use of the toll express lanes on I-495 and joined the line of cars waiting to board, a line that stretched clear out of the station grounds, and down the road.

Next time, we'll take a break just before Lorton, because it took an hour or so to get loaded up after we'd joined the line.

The line of cars split into two as we neared the check-in, and we 'raced' a gigantic brand new white Suburban in the other lane for half an hour or so. It was filled with people, and the cute little black kids took time out to play in the grass, Mom keeping a watchful eye as the line crept forward.

Just at the check-in point, an official went and talked to the driver of the white Suburban tank and after a brief conversation, it pulled across the front of the line and did a 180, heading out the exit.

Oh My God the tank was too big for the train, which has strict height, width, length and width of tire requirements.

We made it up to the kiosk, the dimensions of our '84 Tercel not being an issue, and the fella checked our reservation, slapped a magnetic number plate on the driver's door, gave us some paperwork, and motioned us to one of five or six lanes.

The process was dead simple. Stop the car, lower the window, leave the keys in the car, get out, take your gear (we're moving out), and walk away, McFly.

There wasn't much to do but admire the gorgeous station building, walk up and down along the length of the train, watch them load cars, and then stand in front of our car, bored, waiting, waiting, and waiting.

We watched engines shunting filled auto carrier cars away from the loading are and onto the back of the train, and watched people come and go - but mostly wait.

I spied with my little eye the family from the gigantic Suburban! I asked the Mom 'so what happened to the Suburban??'

She told me that it was too wide and they had to have the driver's side view mirror removed in order to get it on the train. They were directed to a nearby garage. The very nice, friendly people at the garage removed the one cosmetic cover plate and two fastener screws that held the side view mirror in place removed for the low low price of only $180.

Fucking highway (railway?) robbery.

Regardless, their vehicle was loaded, and they'd made the train, all 11 of them. The Suburban is a big ride.

Finally, it was time to board. We got on the train (at last!) and went up a set of cramped stairs that wound around to the second floor of our car.

Our little sleeping roomette was up there and we had a look at our digs for the next 18 hours. There was a long couch that ran the width of the roomette. To the right was a sink, 52 mirrors, and behind all that, a toilet that double as (gulp) a shower.

Or maybe it is a shower that doubles as a toilet. I'm sure somewhere a designer is very proud, but it still begs the question - why why why why why.

I had no intention whatsoever of attempting a shower en route.

Across from the couch was a jump seat. And a series of origami moves provided a table between the 'couch' and the jump seat. Obviously for card games like poker, and other gambling-oriented train activities.

There was storage here and there, and up above, a second bunk that folded down from the ceiling. I called shotgun on this immediately.

Amtrak train toilets are very technical.

At this point it has to be asked - why have a shower in the toilet. Why? There was even a 'guard' over the toilet paper, ostensibly to keep it dry while one showered in the toilet.

Why stop there? Why not have a bidet in the walk in closet? Why not a toilet in the kitchen?

No. No. No. A hard pass, no.

Naturally, we'd brought snacks and drinks on board, and had a few cocktails while rolling away from Lorton. We chose the 7:00 pm dinner, and at the appointed time, made our way to the dining car. We were paired with 'Skip' and his wife 'Skipper', from New Jersey.

Mrs. Flusher and I both opted for the flat iron steak, and it was pretty good. Dinner and breakfast is included in the ticket, and wine is included with dinner.

We'd arranged with the porter to make up our bunks while at dinner, and this is how it looks. The bottom couch folds out to a one-and-a-half bunk, and the upper bunk drops down. A stairway to heaven appears as if by magic, taking a page out of Jimmy's book.

We settled in and slept as best we could.

Best advice I can give you is bring your own pillow. I made a rookie mistake. I actually brought my own pillow, and left it under the jump seat, thinking the Amtrak last spike hobo pillow would be fine.

I was sorely mistaken.

But the night passed, and we did get some sleep.

In the morning, I headed to the dining car for breakfast - coffee, cereals, muffins, and the like were on the offing - as well as those same Jimmy Dean premade hot breakfast sandwiches.

Good enough.

The porter put our bunks away and before we knew it we were in Sanford, Florida, just north-east of Orlando.

Our car came off the train with just a 20 minute wait or so. Some people pay for VIP service, to be the first off - it might be worth it, I suppose - but the wait didn't seem to bad to me.

All our crap was still safely in the Tercel, and by noon we were ensconsed and ready to enjoy a Florida winter at the Greasey Palms Senior Putt Putt Trailer Park.

The train trip is pretty pricy, around $1,500. But you save so much time (and risk) driving, wear and tear, gas money, and so on. Plus it's freaking cool to be on a James Bond From Russia With Love train trip. I'd say it is a luxury, and one worth taking. We will probably do it again, unless things go terribly wrong in Vegas this winter.

Yes, that's still to come.

And so is the launch (hopefully) of Artemis I, which we intend to witness in person.

Stay tuned.

    1 comment:

    1. If you arrive in Lorton earlier, it's very easy to drive up, park your car in the visitor area, go inside and check in, then leave with your car to have lunch or whatever. Come back and check in your car (get your magnet). This is a little trickier at Sanford because there isn't much parking, but the booth people will help. Sanford has some nice places to walk around.
      You had a bedroom, and I think they're worth the extra cost.


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