Departing Union Station For Points South And East

Union%20Station%20By%20Night.jpgIn my opinion, this is exactly what a train station ought to look like. A little old-fashioned, a little ornate, a lot dignified. Just one room with a huge vault of a ceiling, not too much for the eyes to take in and organize in the brain, but plenty to appreciate aesthetically.

(For this report’s purpose we will ignore the corner of the station behind construction. “Excuse our dust. We are in the middle of reconstructing and preserving.”)

First time I took the train, last year in late October, my husband asked me to get pictures of Union Station in Chicago. But Chicago’s Union Station looks like an airport from the inside, all glassed-in terminals with immovable chairs and a gate that just happens to lead to rails instead of a plane. Denver’s Union Station, now, there’s a train station.

As trains don’t have Internet just yet, and I’m on a train now, I probably won’t get to post this until at least Chicago and maybe not even until New Orleans. Hopefully no one’ll mind me backdating the post.

Here we go.

Ticket%20Office.jpgI have decided that I like trains muchly. I like the whole experience. Compared to the high ceremony of the airport with all its security clearances and sterile loudspeaker announcements and “Do not leave your baggage unattended; unattended baggage will be confiscated and destroyed” and for the Gods’ sakes don’t you dare make jokes about bombs–compared to all that, the train experience is laid back, human, and friendly. Those in the ticket office have time to comment on your destination (“New Orleans, huh? First time back since the hurricane? How’d your family do?”) and to give you change for the parking meters. There are no metal detector arches. No one frisks you. The trains are often an hour late and no one really minds.

(Well, except for people waiting in the cold at midnight on a platform in Podunk, Iowa. Train delays make them pretty testy, let me tell you. But no one minds too much who’s in a train station, where it’s warm and fairly comfortable and there are vending machines that dispense rubber bouncy balls, candy, sandwiches, and fairly decent coffee.)

My husband and I got to the station around 6:00 PM for a train scheduled to leave at 7:25 but in actuality not expected to arrive until at least 7:40. After picking up my tickets, we headed over to the baggage office to drop off my stuff. It was all carry-on (small suitcase, small satchel, lunch sack, and overstuffed book bag) but we didn’t want to haul it with us to dinner. A tall, cheerful man in overalls led us back behind the desk, past a forklift, and over to a handy wall. He gave us a claim tag to fill out and a number to call for updates on the train’s expected arrival. “You’ll want to be back by ten after,” he told us. “Only we have to clear out of here when the train arrives. Makes it hard to get you things back.”

The impression my husband and I got upon meeting this man has absolutely nothing to do with him, and should he be reading this now, I strongly urge against him taking this personally. Fact is, my husband and I are gamer geeks. Total RPG nerds. And because that’s the way a gamer geek’s mind sometimes works, we got the impression of having encountered a magical guide such as might aid an adventurer in the course of his fantastic quest. A boggart, maybe, or a bear spirit, telling us how to solve the riddles standing between us and our personal holy grail.

As such, we later reflected, it might have been wise for us to take his advice regarding restaurants. “Dixon’s is very good,” he’d told us. “Good food, relatively cheap. Right next to the Tattered Cover, great bookstore.” He gave us directions.

“What about Josephina’s?” I asked. “We were in the mood for Italian.”

“Oh, Josephina’s is the place for Italian food, sure, sure.” An affable response, but my husband and I agreed later that this was the part where the adventurer, by discounting magical advice freely given, gets totally thrown to the wolves. Oh, sure, if you’re going to be picky. If you’re going to demand a particular cuisine. On you own head be it, then. Who am I to argue?

Ten minutes later we were in Larimer Square and a mild state of panic. Josephina’s wasn’t listed on the shopping directory at Larimer and 15th. A quick query inside the Cuban restaurant on the corner revealed that Josephina’s was in fact no more. Its space was now in use by Corridor 5280, a restaurant probably out of both our pocketbook range and time allowance.

“We should tell the baggage attendant about Josephina’s demise,” I said.

My husband laughed. “Oh, he knows, all right. He knows.” By now, we had thoroughly convinced ourselves that the denizens of Under The Hill were laughing at us.

Inquiring after Italian cuisine got us directions around the corner to Buca di Beppo, a national chain my husband had sampled once before. They serve family-style portions, which means John and I got to split a plate of spaghetti marinara and a pan of mozzarella garlic bread. And after a rocky start in which the hostess sat us at a 6-top in a deserted downstairs room and then appeared to totally forget about us, things went well. John flagged down a waiter, we placed our order, and we had food and soda in under ten minutes from that point.

It was very, very good. Someday we need to go back there with friends and a lot more time. As it was, we arrived back at Union Station by 6:45, reclaimed our baggage (the friendly, bearish attendant, not being a faerie guide after all since reality is so much less interesting than our imagination, did not in fact know about Josephina’s demise; he was rather chagrined to hear it, lamenting that he’d gone there all his life growing up in Denver, and he’d eaten there just last month), and had a seat on one of the tall-backed, lighted pews. I bought some coffee and a handful of sweet-n-sour candy wafers. John bought some gum and got a bonus bouncy ball with his purchase.

And then, at last, at around 8:00, the conductor began taking tickets. We said goodbye and I boarded the train, promising as I went to take pictures of everything. My husband hasn’t been on a train before, y’see. He wants to know what it’s like.

3 Comments so far

  1. hubs (unregistered) on February 22nd, 2006 @ 5:29 pm

    actually the commuter bullet train in sanfran has internet. just so you know.

  2. Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little (unregistered) on February 22nd, 2006 @ 9:24 pm

    That’s great to hear. I think more trains should do that. A fellow traveller on the train from Chicago to New Orleans told me that in Europe all the trains have wi-fi, at the very least in first class. No internet on Amtrak yet, sadly.

    Amtrak appear to have installed a company policy of covering up all the outlets in the sightseer lounge and snack car with duct tape. I think they’re worried that people will plug in electronics that can’t handle all 120 volts. So. Not very laptop friendly, sadly, but I understand the concern.

  3. Susan (unregistered) on February 27th, 2006 @ 11:08 pm

    I have been living in Denver for 6 years and only a few months ago did I have to go to the Union Station to pick up my kids and mom – then drop her back off a week later… the inside is a photographers dream of interesting photos in different views. I love how our voices echoed and we were whispering when we went in. That must have been a busy place back when trains were the ‘in’ thing.

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