Amtrak trip starts dreamy, then turns ugly

By JOHN M. DERBY
TIMES PUBLISHER
November 30, 2017

Many family members will be traveling on Amtrak this holiday season, and we wanted to take a trip on the train system in our valley to see what it was like.
We had never traveled from Southern California to Merced before, and we were interested about what kind of advances had been made.
A bus stopped to pick us up in San Bernardino, but there was no station just a sign which was posted outside the train station. The Amtrak bus driver was very courteous and helped us with getting our luggage into the storage area under the bus and then finding a seat.
No tickets were taken at this location and we were told that the tickets would be obtained in Bakersfield. The driver wanted our drivers license or other form of ID just to make sure we purchased a ticket when we arrived.
It was a pleasant drive through a dozen different towns which took over six hours.
We arrived in Bakersfield at 6 p.m. and transferred to the train which was waiting for us at the station. Our tickets were traded for our licenses or other ID and we climbed the narrow stairs to the observation car where there were plenty of seats.
All the cars seemed brand new and had cell phone recharging devices as well as electric plugs so a person could use their computer. Tickets were placed over each seat showing where the occupant was to get off.
Then the train started and we were amazed at how smooth the ride was. We barely felt it was moving at all as the train picked up speed. We were mentally writing what we felt would be a wonderful story about Amtrak and the service it provided for Californians.
We are still uncertain if High Speed Rail is the answer for California. Medium speed with greater frequency is probably the answer. But high speed has been approved and funded so that is what we get, like it or not.
We watched the stations pass, and towns we knew very well — Visalia, Fresno, and next Merced. We were excited and the ride had been perfect.
As we got close to our station. The conductor announced that we should be ready to get off the train. He repeated his announcement several times.
However when we arrived at the Merced station, we were not the only ones to get off, and we had several pieces of luggage and a guitar. The stairs were narrow, and my brother and I were over 80 years old, and had both served in Korea.
When we started last of all, to carry our luggage down the narrow staircase, the conductor said: “How come your luggage is still up stairs, didn’t you hear me call to have it ready to get off?”
We said we did, however, we are over 80 and this was a very narrow staircase. We had several pieces of luggage.
He was insistent, and when we tried to return to get the rest of our luggage and guitar, he barred the staircase and said it was too late. Not only that, he pulled up the stairs so we had to jump off the train, and he said, “I have a lot of 80-year-olds on my train and they have no problem.”
Everything we might have thought about Amtrak vanished, and now we were in a combat mode. We have dealt with people like this in all parts of the world, and they have no business in being in the service industry, specially not working for Amtrak.
All the benefits of Amtrak and their service to this valley were erased in one shot as we broke his hold on the staircase, went back up and got the rest of our luggage and our guitar, and jumped off the train.
Merced’s train station was lit but there were not a lot of people around as we called for a taxi.
We both stood waiting with all our luggage, not knowing what to expect. A young couple asked for a cigarette but not being a smoker, we had none.
Then one of them asked to see my guitar, saying he played a little. We always want to encourage young people to play, so I started to show him my guitar.
Meanwhile, his partner grabbed a couple of pieces of my luggage, and made off with them. When I turned around, they both were running away.
The taxi arrived and we told them the story, and the woman seated beside the taxi cab driver said she had just been robbed too. She had come in by train, and her computer was stolen.
We called the police, and they took a report but said nothing could be done that night.
We told the taxi to drive around the area, and we asked some people standing by a store on K Street if they had seen anyone running off with luggage. They said they had, and pointed in the direction of Bear Creek.
The cab dropped us off at our house and we insisted on getting in our car and checking the usual sports for homeless.
The first spot we checked, under Bear Creek Bridge, was where we found them.
The young man wanted to fight, but his woman wanted to run for it.
In the end, they threw our luggage at us and made off in the dark. We noted as the young man ran, that he had a computer under his left arm.
The experience was enough to make us wonder if we wanted to chance having our relatives take the Amtrak to our own hometown.


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