The Thrill of a New Journey

A feel of excitement filled the air in Chicago’s Union Station Sunday afternoon. Within a little more than an hour, four classic Amtrak journeys west were about to depart. The Texas Eagle would head south to Dallas and San Antonio and then west to Los Angeles. A few minutes later the California Zephyr would leave for Denver, Salt Lake City and Emeryville, Calif., just across the bay from San Francisco. Third was the Empire Builder going to Minneapolis and eventually splitting to Seattle or Portland, Ore. Finally, the Southwest Chief would head to Kansas City, Albuquerque and eventually Los Angeles.

I found a community sense of excitement and adventure at the starting point of the train’s journey that isn’t matched when you board the train at an intermediate station. We are all new to this journey together. We have time to find our seats or compartments, stow our belongings and settle in. As soon as we can, we set off to explore the train. Our adventure is starting.

When I joined the Texas Eagle last Wednesday in Dallas, everyone else already was settled into his or her roomettes in my car. The luggage racks were pretty full. Groups had already gathered in the observation car. Their journey was mid-point as mine was beginning.

Chicago’s Union Station is a hub, so every journey starts anew there. Parts of the station are amidst renovation, but the work on the Metropolitan Lounge is completed. It is open to anyone in a sleeping car or business class seat as well as certain levels of rewards members. The two-story lounge has lots of seating for individuals and groups, work desks with power outlets, a children’s play area, complimentary beverages and snacks and even showers. The snacks were freshly cut vegetables and dip and a variety of cheese cubes.

The California Zephyr left Chicago’s Union Station on time at 2 p.m. and headed southwest. After a few hours snow flurries appeared outside the window, and by the time we left Illinois there were a couple of inches on the ground. Darkness fell as we crossed the Mississippi River into Burlington, Iowa.

My roomette bed was comfortable (a thin mattress on top of the lower seat cushions) and I slept through till nearly 6 a.m. During the night we crossed into the Mountain Time zone. I had a so-so cup of coffee from the sleeping car coffee maker and packed my belongings. I could have eaten breakfast before I left the train just after 7 a.m. in Denver, but I was meeting a friend for breakfast in Snooze in the Denver station.

A word about Denver Union Station: If you have a stop here and some time, go explore. It has been beautifully renovated. The westbound California Zephyr stops for about 45 minutes, plenty of time to explore a bit unless your train is running late. The lobby has comfortable chairs and tables along with a few shops, a hotel and nice restrooms. You might not have time to sit down for breakfast, but my dining car server from the night before said he likes to order the Blueberry Danish Pancakes to go. I followed his recommendation when we sat down to eat, watching the train leave for parts west. Thumbs up on the recommendation!