The Perfect Storm: A Vacation Travelogue (Part 2)

Friday evening. I’ve made it through the coach-seat, coffee-spilling adventure, and I’ve done the responsible thing and had Wayne suspend the phone service on my lost phone. Nothing to do now except try to enjoy the ride. I’ll be on this train from Philadelphia to Orlando, where tomorrow I’ll get on an Amtrak Thruway bus to my destination in Tampa. There I’ll meet up with Wayne, who is flying down tomorrow afternoon. We’ll stay in a hotel overnight and get on the cruise ship on Sunday. Seems straightforward enough. What could go wrong now?

I settle into my Viewliner roomette, which has one noticeable difference from the Superliner roomettes I traveled in last year: there is a toilet right in the roomette. At first blush, this seems like a marvelous idea: a bathroom all to yourself. At second blush, you realize you’ll really blush if you’re sharing this roomette with a friend—apparently a very close friend, at least by the end of the trip. The toilet is just sitting there next to one of the two facing roomette seats.


It’s not all weird and awkward, though. The toilet doubles as one of the steps up to the top berth. You know, as long as you remember to put the lid down. (Men, I’m lookin’ at you.) As I think about the logistics of using this toilet, I realize there’s another perk of traveling alone.

I head to the dining car, although I keep forgetting which direction it’s in from my roomette. I’m relieved they have a lit-up sign at the front of the sleeper car that says, “Dining Car This Way.” (I think in small print underneath that it also says, “You Stupid Idiot with No Sense of Direction.”) I’m not afraid of being seated with strangers, because I now have mad dining car skillz since my cross-country train trip in 2017.

I have dinner with a nice couple heading home to North Carolina after a visit to New York City. I’m excited to have a captive audience to show off photos of my new grandson, King Arthur, on my pho— Oh, shit. Never mind, I tell them. I’ve lost my phone and they’ll have to endure me trying to describe him instead. Something gets lost in the translation and I give up.

The good news is that the waiter has already brought my Diet Pepsi and I’ve poured it into the short, squat clear plastic cup and have added the ridiculously long, clear plastic straw. (Clearly we are not in California or we would all be felons because of these straws.)

The other good news is that the waiter is now bringing my delicious, rare steak dinner, cooked to order, served on our table, which has a real tablecloth and real flatware. I do not envy airplane travelers at this moment. I’d show you a picture of the beautiful table and steak dinner, but … yeah, um, no phone.

The bad news is that the waiter does not see the clear cup and the ridiculously long, clear plastic straw … and knocks over the entire Diet Pepsi, which soaks into the real tablecloth before I can finish describing King Arthur’s bald head to my dinner companions. We all say a pleasant “No, thank you” to the dessert and head back to our sleeper cars.

A Viewliner roomette differs in one more way from a Superliner: the upper berth has windows. Everyone on the Amtrak Unlimited forums seems to recommend sleeping in the upper bunk and leaving the bottom set up as seats if you’re alone, especially if you are short and can still sit underneath the lowered bunk. I decide that this is a fun idea and ask the room attendant to make up the upper bunk so I can leave my huge luggage on the other seat overnight.

It’s reassuring to sleep on a moving train with this convenient “seat belt” attachment so you don’t careen into the toilet below.

dscn1819-1.jpgI took this shot while standing on the (closed) toilet, looking down at the seats and table still set up under my top bunk.

After a night of interrupted sleep from the tossing and turning of the train, and several mountain-climbs up and down from the bunk because of my tiny bladder, I brush my teeth and wash up in the tiny folding sink, which is actually a clever arrangement. No drain in the bowl: the water disappears when you fold the sink up.

I fold the sink back up and try not to overthink the obvious firing of the engineer who designed this toilet-sink-electrical outlet arrangement …

dscn1822Because what could go wrong?

I’ve got my luggage all ready, I’ve had a marvelous hot breakfast in the dining car, and we’re getting ready to pull into the Orlando station. My room attendant helps me get my gargantuan suitcase down the corridor and near the door at the front of the sleeper car. I’m gathering my purse and carry-on and wool winter coat (which really feels ridiculous down here in Orlando) when I spy something unusual wedged between the seat and the metal frame of the seat. It’s my phone!

We’ve now stopped completely and folks are dashing for the exits. I need to get off here so I call the attendant and tell him my phone’s stuck down near the floor between the cushion and frame. I can’t seem to reach down to get it, so he hits the floor on his knees and thrusts his hand under the seat to poke the phone upward where I can reach it.

They’re announcing a last call for Orlando, so I grab the phone, shove a $20 tip in the attendant’s hand, and jump off the train. (Mind the gap!)

Before I lose the train’s Wi-Fi, I grab my Amazon Fire tablet, open an email and write triumphantly to Wayne, “Uncancel! Found phone!” Well, that’s what I think I’ve typed. I don’t realize at the time that autocorrect has changed it to “Uncancel! Find phone!”

And although Wayne is flying to Tampa in a few hours, he’s still back in Pittsburgh, having no idea what my email means, as he’s driving back from the Xfinity store where he has already bought me a new phone…

…Which has therefore completely bumped my old phone out of their system.

Next installment: Unlimited Texting is useless if your phone ain’t a phone anymore.


The Perfect Storm: A Vacation Travelogue (Part 1)


By the time our Caribbean cruise included a showing of The Perfect Storm in our stateroom, I could have told you it was going to be THAT kind of vacation. We’d gone on a similar cruise a few years earlier, and even though they’d played Titanic during that week, we’d managed to have a lovely time anyway. So why did this week have to be so different? It was literally the same itinerary.

This time, though, most of the week felt like a comedy of errors. Light on the comedy part, and heavy on the errors. Wayne flew to the port in Tampa from Pittsburgh, but I opted to take the train. I’d earned a boatload of Amtrak Rewards points (yes, a boatload—nobody says “a trainload”) on last year’s cross-country train trip. Might as well use ’em. Plus, I hate flying. Win-win, right? Maybe.

On the way to Philadelphia (where I’d board a sleeper car southward to Tampa), I bought a breakfast sandwich and coffee and nimbly carried them back to my coach seat. Then I noticed I’d spilled coffee all over my jacket as the train lurched while I walked from the café car. Nice going. Nimbly, my ass.

I climbed aboard the Silver Meteor after a short layover in Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station, with its uncomfortable “mod” furniture in their first-class Club Acela lounge.

20181230_112805(“Captain Kirk, I’m heading for the bridge…”)

As I settled into my comfy roomette and the train pulled away from the station, I couldn’t find my phone. I was sure it had been in my purse when I left the lounge to head to the train, but that pocket on my purse was now uncustomarily unzipped. The sleeping car attendant and I searched for it high and low (mostly low—I’m short and I hadn’t put any luggage on the top bunk).

You’d think it’d be impossible to lose a phone in a room the size of a shoebox. Apparently not. I panicked and realized I must have left it in the lounge. The lounge back in Philly.

Philly, the city we had just left behind us.

The attendant called the Club Acela lounge on his cell phone (since we couldn’t use mine), and I talked to the staff there. There was no sign of my phone where I’d been sitting. And literally no one had accompanied me or touched me or even gotten all up in my personal space as I’d trudged from the lounge onto the train. Now I wondered if I had dropped it onto the tracks in that small gap between the train and the platform.

Mind the gap. Ugh.

I grabbed my Amazon Fire tablet, latched onto the train’s Wi-Fi (which was, to my amazement, working properly), and dashed off an email to Wayne, begging him to suspend my phone’s account so no one could run up data charges. God bless him, he did this immediately.

Now my only worry was whether I’d embedded passwords into any of the apps on the phone. I sat in my roomette for the next hour changing passwords on every account I could think of.

On social media, in the meantime, folks were trying to be helpful, offering suggestions for finding the phone, and the perfect storm began.

1. Have someone call your phone so it’ll ring.
Nice try, but I had turned the sound completely off overnight so random texts or notifications wouldn’t wake me up. I’d had to get up at 4:30 a.m. to catch the train on time, and I needed every second of sleep I could get.

2. Ping your phone from your Google account with “Google, find my phone.”
Another nice try, but I had just untethered my phone from all things Google a week earlier, after reading one too many stories of people realizing their phones were tracking their every movement and then showing them ads for things on Facebook they had discussed with people on their phones. Google is Big Brother, and it must be stopped. So, I stopped it.

3. Use the Find My Phone app on your laptop or tablet.
This works only with iPhones. Guess who owns an LG X-Charge phone? Well, no, guess who used to own an LG X-Charge phone?

I wasn’t sure how stupid I should feel about these things (answer: pretty stupid), but the phrase “perfect storm” kept running through my mind. Little did I know how much that phrase was going to follow me for the rest of that week.

Next installment: Be careful what you wish for: Linda finds her phone

This is a Public Service Announcement

If you get new post notifications and emails from me today, I hereby apologize. I’m migrating my website, and that includes moving and reposting some older blog entries from the previous site. Ignore any notifications about new posts for the next day or so.

I’ll come up with a catchy, obvious post title when I’m back to new blog posts.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled internet, already in progress.

Rise, Ye Mighty Tent!

The mighty Author Tent for Beaver County BookFest arises skyward today on Market Street in downtown Beaver, Pa. The greatest book festival in the state kicks off tomorrow night (Sept. 8) at 7 p.m. with an all-female author panel Q&A discussing all aspects of the writing craft and business. It’s a fundraiser for a local school library, so come on out and enjoy food, beverages (adult and otherwise), and fun while helping a great cause.
Then, Saturday, Sept. 8, the main event runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. This is a free admission festival, with food vendors, other book-related retail vendors, and, of course, the more than five dozen authors inside the aforementioned big Author Tent.


My copies of Train of Thought: Travel Essays from a One-Track Mind showed up on my porch yesterday, and as of today it’s also available on Amazon. So now I can breathe easily. Along with copies of my four other books, I’m now officially ready for BookFest!
By Sunday afternoon, I’ll be ready to collapse… much like this tent will do at about the same time. Come see it while it’s still set up!
(top photo, credit Valentine Brkich, )

Real Life Encroaches

I’ve been back from my cross-country bucket-list train trip for about a week now. Hard to tell exactly, though, because my brain hasn’t fully adjusted to having a routine again.
That’s probably because I had to make three long car trips up east of the city this first week back:
  • one to pick up the guinea pigs (and apparently guinea pigs do not appreciate being stuffed into a small plastic box and carted 50 miles in a car while “Weird Al” Yankovic music is blaring over the car speakers);
  • one to join my daughters on a house-hunting spree (which included one house where we were counting the bullet holes in the windows and matching up the trajectories of similar holes found in the dining room wall—just like an episode of CSI, yay!);
  • and one to attend a standing-room-only memorial service for the wife of my first RP pastor.
Talk about a week of ups and downs!

At home I’ve been trying to:
  • catch up on freelance work;
  • sort through 1,500 pictures and 20,000 words of notes from the trip;
  • do laundry (apparently people like to wear clean underwear around here—how rude);
  • go grocery shopping (apparently these same people appreciate eating several times per day—every day);
  • and stare at the waving fields of wheat in our backyard. Well, it’s just uncut grass, because the lawn mower Wayne ordered in early April still needs to be picked up in Calcutta—Ohio, not India (though, judging from how long it’s taking him to go get it, I’m beginning to wonder if it’s not in India).

No matter what, though, I’m still organizing those trip notes and am now buckling down to turn all this raw data into Train of Thought this summer. Those of you who backed me on Indiegogo (and thank you for that!) will be glad to know that I’ll be contacting you soon about mailing addresses for hard copies of the book and email addresses for the Kindle editions.
Other than all that … I think I need a nap. One in a real bed that doesn’t convert back into a cute little seat on a train once morning hits. Having said that, I do miss someone else cooking all my meals and sometimes serving them to me in my private little room. Those rare steaks were pretty good! Maybe I’ll grill a few ribeyes this weekend … if I can find the grill amid the wheat fields.

But Wait … There’s More!

Thanks to all of you marvelous backers for a successful, fun Indiegogo campaign for Train of Thought! I couldn’t have done it without you! Well, technically, I could  have, but it would have been a pointless waste of time to write up an entire campaign only to donate a thousand bucks to myself and then watch Indiegogo take a cut. I’ve done stupider things, but not lately.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, I was thanking you lovable, wacky knuckleheads…


Thanks to you, now the credit card company will stop throwing panicky fits over that huge charge I made to Amtrak a few weeks ago.

I’ve already made quite a few notes for the book, and I haven’t even left yet. But of course, a strangely introspective trip like this is going to start in my head months ahead of time. That’s the beauty of our overthinking, introvert brains: we never stop asking, “What if?” We are the kings and queens of the Worst-Case Scenario.

The official trip starts in early May, around midnight here in Pittsburgh. Due to my husband’s work schedule at that time, he can’t drive me to the station. So I’ll start off with a cab ride to the train station downtown. And I’m already obsessing over whether the cab will show up on time. (Just ONE time I called a cab in the 1990s and it was late, and I’ll never let myself forget it.)

Once I acclimated to the idea of a cab, though, I realized I might as well start the trip off with an introvert’s worst nightmare: sitting alone late at night in a small vehicle with a stranger who will drop me off in a desolate part of the downtown area. Yay!

And of course it will be smooth sailing from there. Right? Because… what could go wrong?*


*rhetorical question, not meant for actual answers

P.S. If any of your friends (or enemies, I’m not picky) still want to get in on this sweet campaign deal at one of my many backer levels, the campaign will continue to run until the trip. Oh sure, anyone will be able to buy the book after it comes out in September, but only backers will get combo deals on my other books, plus exclusive, hand-wringing updates like this one (including some photos and maybe video!) during the actual trip. (If you didn’t feel special before, I bet you’re preening like crazy now.)

Feel free to share this link with anyone. I’m not proud. Plus, that credit card company is still hassling me about the other half of that large Amtrak transaction…


But Where Do I Put My Passport?

Don’t get over-excited, but I bought a new wallet for the train trip. What’s wrong with my current wallet? Nothing, really. Except this new one not only holds my credit cards, cash, and travel documents, but also will do my laundry and help me memorize the entire New Testament. At least, that’s what I’m guessing based on the little insert that came with it. I’m reproducing the text exactly as it appears—typos, bad punctuation, and odd capitalization included.
I’m not doing this to mock whatever bad Google translation program they probably utilized to go from Chinese to English. I’m merely asking myself this: Does it seem as if they assume English-speaking folks need to have things repeated many times, with slightly different wording, in order to remember them?
I offer you the following, without commentary, if only because some things need no explanation:
  • This High Density linen/cotton blended fabric All-in-One Passport Holder fits your iphone, Holding Passport, Boarding Card, Credit Cards, Tickets.  Coins, Keys, money, other documents, etc.
  • The Passport Wallet is simple, compact, lightweight, zippered and multifunctional. Portable and Compact case, is easily held in Handbag passport holder. men’s and women’s travel gear case. An ideal travel accessory holder, a nice cover for your passport.
  • Best travel documents holder with smooth Closing Zipper, secure wallet that protects your travel accessories. A zip around travel wallet for your convenience.
  • Durable travel wallet with multiple pockets, perfect for all your needed documents.
  • A slim small wallet for holding and making easy to access your documents while traveling. Fits your hand, your bag, and your jacket pocket.
Doesn’t this make you want to go out and buy twelve of these wallets? Or invest in company stock? Or stab someone?