TRAVELING IN OUR FABULOUS GAY WORLD: Our Amtrak Experience – The Good, the Bad the Ugly and the Aftermath

Published Date Author: , August 1st, 2014
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AmTrak Ride With Pride

AmTrakTravelers have only about three choices on how to get to different places… by auto, by air and by Amtrak. Since we have plenty of time, 95% of the time we always drive to both coasts. Amtrak has a promotion to get the Gay and Lesbian travelers with their “Ride With Pride” Campaign. You can check out that website at: http://amtrakridewithpride.com/

With that in mind we decided to take our last trip to California on Amtrak to see for ourselves about how GLBT friendly Amtrak really is. Since we are press media, the home office of Amtrak in Washington, D. C. actually comp’ed our entire ride and dining from Kansas City to San Francisco and back so that we could see for ourselves and tell our thousands of readers about our Amtrak experience.

Our first contact with anyone in person with Amtrak was when we went to the Kansas City Union Station to pick up our tickets. Her name was Paula Stogner and she has been with Amtrak for YEARS! She was extremely professional and extremely friendly. Too bad that she is soon to retire. On a scale of one to 10 she is a 15!

The next person we dealt with at Amtrak was when we went to the Union Station on April 25 to depart. Ashley was the agent at that time and all by herself. She checked in our luggage and was very professional and friendly. Our train was to leave for Los Angeles at 10:45 PM and she informed us VERY nicely that our train from Chicago was running an hour late. Being seasoned travelers, we know that this type of thing happens from time to time. Airlines run late or are canceled and when driving, road detours, wrecks, etc. can cause delays so we fully understood. One should always take a book or magazine or crossword puzzle with them when traveling.

We choose another option and that is to TALK WITH OTHER PASSENGERS WHO ARE WAITING. By doing so, what was to be an hour wait, seemed like only a 20 minute wait. We chatted with an elderly woman who had been in Kansas City visiting her brother and we chatted with both of them. (She was traveling by Coach and the following day after our lunch on Amtrak we walked back to the Coach area and chatted with her and it made her day!)

Upon getting on the train, we were greeted by our “room attendant” Candice who showed us to our room and asked if we needed anything else. For the entire trip to Los Angeles ( a 37 1/2 hour ride) she was extremely attentive and friendly and very professional. Our dining room server on the trip was Ty, a lovely young woman who was very charming, professional and friendly. We got to sit with so many wonderful and interesting people while dining for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We all chatted where we had been, where we are going and a myriad of other subjects. It was a PERFECT trip to Los Angeles on Amtrak and everything was a solid 10 or higher!

Upon arriving to Los Angeles, we went directly to the Metropolitan Lounge at the Union Station. We were greeted warmly by the receptionist, Rose. Again, extremely professional, friendly and asked all questions. When our train was close to arriving for us to board, she took us and the rest of the passengers by herself and led us to the train.

On our train from Los Angeles to San Francisco, our room attendant was Daly. He was very professional, friendly and took great care of us and all the other passengers on our car. Nanette in the Club Car was fun, funny and a great asset to Amtrak. Our server on that ride was Charlie, a wonderful lady who was perfect. (More about our train ride from Los Angeles to San Francisco in our “THE BAD” email which will follow.)

The food, presentation of food and the service in the dining cars were perfect the entire trip.

Upon arriving to Emeryville we had to take an Amtrak bus into San Francisco. Michael was our bus driver’s name and again, very professional, friendly and welcomed all on board to San Francisco. Not knowing exactly where to get off, he asked us where we were staying and he actually drove a few blocks further just for us since we were the last passengers on board. How thoughtful was that?

On our way back home, we first got on the bus at the Ferry Building in San Francisco to take the Amtrak Bus to Emeryville Our bus driver was Robert who again, was very professional and friendly and he kept a running description of everything about San Francisco and gave so much great information.

We then went to check in our luggage and was told that one of our two pieces of luggage was 2 pounds overweight. Does one take bathroom scales with them on trips to weight their luggage at the hotel before departing?

We got on our train, (no bedroom as it was a train that only went from Emeryville to Bakersfield. The conductor was Melinda. Guess what? She was extremely professional and friendly. The Cafe was open and Lisbeth was, well are you tired of us saying, she was very professional and friendly. We were running an hour late when we got to Bakersfield however our bus driver, Sgt. Garcia was again, professional and friendly and apologized for the train being late.

We arrived in Los Angeles and went directly to the Metropolitan Lounge where three receptionists were very efficient and there was a large number of people waiting but they took their time to answer all questions. When the time came, they personally took everyone down to the train.

On our train ride from Los Angeles to Kansas City we were very pleasantly surprised to have Candice as our room attendant again, the same Candice that was our room attendant on our way from Kansas City to Los Angeles. Our server for all of our meals was Ignacio who was the best of the best. He was professional, friendly, witty and extremely efficient.

Now you may think that we praise everyone all the time, when in fact, nobody and we do mean NOBODY complains about service, food, accommodations more that we do, but on the other hand nobody and we mean NOBODY praises more that we do. All of the above mentioned employees of Amtrak are truly to be commended for their professionalism. We always talk to everyone and everyone of the people mentioned above, we found very friendly and professional and we asked them all types of questions about Amtrak.

And now, you have heard THE GOOD about our experience with Amtrak.

Now the “THE BAD” about our Amtrak Experience… On our trip from Los Angeles, all was going fine when we heard from some of the passengers about a VERY rude employee on board. We asked what the problem was and they said that she was very nasty with them and “barked” at them rather than to give them simple answers. We went down for lunch and saw her walking thru “barking” at some of the employees.

She was acting like she OWNED Amtrak and berating the other employees. She went back to her table on the dining car where she was working on some paperwork. Usually at lunch, we can make reservations for dinner however our server said that “Trish” and that was her name, would be in charge of that. I “Donald” went back to where she was sitting and asked if I could make reservations for dinner since we were going to be taking a nap. She “barked” at me and said that she would be coming around later to take reservations. It was her way or no way.

After, when it got dark and passengers were trying to sleep in their rooms, she came on the intercom and woke everyone up and complaining to the employees several times. Why did she need to do this over the intercom ????? She was barking orders to them. This was NOT a good thing. All of the passengers were talking about this. And yes, her name was Trish, whoever she is or whoever she wants to be. (CONFIDENTIAL: We talked with a few of the staff about her. We asked specifically, “What percentage of the time is Trish a bitch”? Each answered, “95% of the time and we do everything we can to not schedule working her shift.”

We do not know if you have ever been to San Francisco or not via Amtrak that the train drops you off in a suburb of Oakland just across the bay and then an Amtrak bus takes you into San Francisco at different locations and the main stop is at the Ferry Building. We needed to know about the other locations we could pick up the bus so we went to the main office of Amtrak a few days before our departure, which is at the Ferry Building.

I, Donald, went into the office and there were two gentlemen behind the counter… a mature man with gray hair and a younger man. Since the mature man was already waiting on a customer, I went to the younger gentleman whose name was Michael. I explained to him what I wanted to know and he asked if I had my reservation number which I immediately gave to him. He pulled it up on his compute and then started making fun of my name, (Donald Pile).

He started calling me Gomer Pyle which was a television sitcom show. I explained to him that I did not think that was funny or appropriate and that Gomer Pyle was merely a TV character on a sitcom. He neither apologized or anything. It WAS rather embarrassing to say the least. He just went on and on and on. The mature gentleman (the other employee there, was thru with his customer and just stared, not knowing what to see or do, which was smart on his part).

So I got the information and just left. As I was leaving I noticed a sign on the front door had fallen to the floor and I took it back inside and handed it to the mature gentleman behind the counter and he thanks me very much.

One should NEVER make fun of anyone’s name, nationality, race or anything! This young man needs to take a course in how to be NICE to customers rather than make fun of them.

AmTrakAnd now THE UGLY on our experience on Amtrak… After having such a wonderful time during our experience traveling on Amtrak, we were really looking forward to our last leg on our trip, from Los Angeles back home to Kansas City.

It was after 6:30 PM when we boarded and got to our roomette.

We had dinner and then was ready to settle in for the night. Except for the fact that our ceiling vent would not close! We tried and tried and tried but to no avail. We got a hold of our room attendant, Candice and she said that they were having trouble with some of the vents. She was VERY concerned, etc.

By this time, she knew that we were going to be writing a national travel column on our adventures on Amtrak. She said that they did have a couple of rooms that were not being used and most likely we would be upgraded to one of them. She had us talk with the Conductor, David.

We explained who we were and explained that we were writing a national travel column on our experience on Amtrak and that we would be writing about “Ride with Pride” which he knew nothing about. He said that he would look into it and get back with us in 5 or 10 minutes.

Then I handed him our business card and we could tell by the expression on his face, that he was not going to do one thing about it. We knew that it would be impossible to sleep with the ceiling fan vent bearing down 2 feet from our face. We waited and waited and waited and finally after 2 hours, I hunted for the Conductor, David and found him sitting down.

I explained that our room attendant was making up rooms for the night and we needed to know if we were going to be able to move to another room. He said that there were no rooms available. NONE! And we knew in fact that there were at least 2 rooms that were available. He said that his shift ended in Kingman, Arizona and to talk to the next Conductor! I asked him why he did not get back with us in the 5 to 10 minutes that he said he would rather than us having to track him down two hours later. He said that had been busy. But we knew when he saw our business card with the word, GAY TRAVELERS on it, that he was not going to do anything.

AmTrakSo much for “RIDE WITH PRIDE” when the conductor was rather homophobic! After we returned to the roomette, poor Candice was trying to help us do something with the ceiling vent. Then Conductor David came by and had her get some old cardboard and masking tape and fix the ceiling vent that way. Candice is a short woman and David is a tall guy. Did he offer to help her? No! Ray, being tall himself assisted Candice trying to tape up the old cardboard.

Needless to say, the cardboard came down a couple of times since the air was blowing out of the vent so hard. We knew that we would not be able to sleep that way, so we walked down to the Coach section and slept in one of the empty chairs for the night. After the new Conductor Cedric Williams got on board and we were back in our room, we requested that he come to our room. He promptly came and we explained the situation to him.

He said that he was truly sorry (and hinted as to how bad Conductor David was) which he really should not have told us. We KNEW that there were still those two other rooms available and he KNEW that we had slept in the Coach Car the night before and he said that he would take care of it immediately.

We said that we hoped it would not take two hours and he assured as that it would not. Guess what ? 2 hours later he came back to our room and said that there was nothing that he could do! We asked if he realized what type of national travel column we would most likely be writing up about our adventures on Amtrak? and he simply said that there was nothing he could do and there were no other rooms available.

So the Conductor gets off at we believe Raton, Colorado and another Conductor comes on duty. Apparently someone had told him about us, (most likely Candice). He did not even have the professional courtesy to talk with us. He told Candice to tell us that yes, there were two available rooms available and that we could have either of them but would have to pay an extra charge for the upgrade!!!!!

Needless to say, we declined his offer. We tried sleeping again by putting up more old cardboard and masking tape but it didn’t work, so yep, we went back down to the Coach Car and slept in a chair.

NOTE: Candice who was our room attendant did EVERYTHING that she possibly could do. We certainly do not want to get her in trouble as she was only doing her job and she did try very hard to handle the situation for us. She is to be commended for her professionalism and friendliness with all of the passengers. She is great!

However, here we are now in a dilemma. The first 3/4 of our experience on Amtrak was great! The last part of our trip was a total disaster and one that no one should ever have to go thru. If indeed, there were no rooms available, we would have been understandable, however when the first two Conductors actually LIED to us about there being no rooms available and then a slap in the face when the third Conductor admitted that there WAS two available and that we could have one if we paid for the upgrade, is really too much. We would never want any of our thousands of readers to go thru what we did.

With the hundreds of very professional and friendly employees that Amtrak have, it really is a shame when a few destroys everything like this.

On a VERY personal note, all of the professional and friendly employees that we mentioned in “THE GOOD” email are to commended very highly. While dining, we met so many wonderful people, many of whom have emailed us and saying how much fun and interesting time that they had while dining and talking. After all the best things about traveling by Amtrak is seeing the sights of the land and meeting new people.

By the way, one woman from upstate New York that we dined with twice, has lost luggage. She got on with us in Los Angeles and got a call from Amtrak that for some reason her luggage was taken off the train and given to some passenger in Albuquerque, New Mexico and she just emailed us saying that she is now home and still no luggage. However we do understand that problems and mistakes do happen, but when they do happen a good company takes care of them immediately.

After we returned home, we contacted several people at Amtrak’s home office about our problems. First of all we were told that if a problem did ever come up on Amtrak during a travel, that the passenger needs to see a conductor, which is exactly what we did!!!!! to no avail! Brandon Wilson. Customer Relations Specialist for Amtrak emailed us back saying, ” however, the 2 Conductors should have been more honest with you” and that “it is now an internal matter”. Some employees need to go thru a sensitive training session. Further emails we sent resulted with the following:

John Wojciechowski, Director, Office of Customer Relations responded, “any follow up we take with our employees is kept strictly confidential”. Mr. .Joseph H. Boardman, President and CEO of Amtrak did not respond to our emails. Eleanor D. Acheson, Vice President, General Counsel & Corporate Secretary, National Railraod Passenger Corporation replied, ” I apologize for my delay in doing so but wanted to confirm that the customer service problems you experienced and issues you flagged were referred to the appropriate departments of the company to address”.

We have received other emails from Amtrak saying that it might take 60 days to get back with us. We arrived back in Kansas City the middle of May and still no reasonable response from Amtrak! Not one person at Amtrak explained to us that things like our experience would not happen to other LGBT travelers. Will we be taking Amtrak again ? NO way! And if you would like to read what other travelers have to say about their horrible experiences with Amtrak, click : http://www.consumeraffairs.com/travel/amtrak.html

One wonders why Amtrak is losing so much money every year and now we know why! Customer Service at Amtrak is something that is simply not there. And so much for their ‘Ride with Pride’ campaign. We will drive our automobile from now on.

Always remember to have fun when traveling, meet new people and talk to everyone!

Donald and RayTRAVELING IN OUR FABULOUS GAY WORLD is written by Donald Pile and Ray Williams, Award-winning, Celebrity travel columnists who write for gay publications from coast to coast (And now legally married). Proud members of the IGLTA. You can email them at gaytravelers@aol.com and visit their website at http://gaytravelersataol.blogspot.com/

Comments reader  6 Reader Comments

Our Amtrak Experience – The Good, the Bad the Ugly and the Aftermath - Gravatar

gaycationmagazine.com/traveling-fabulous-gay-world-amtrak-experience-good-bad-ugly-aftermath/ Our Amtrak Experience - The Good, the Bad the Ugly and the Aftermath said on August 1, 2014, 5:25 pm:

[…] By Don & Ray – Full Story at Purple Roofs […]

Randy Smith - Gravatar

None Randy Smith said on August 4, 2014, 9:02 pm:

Hi guys….I read with great interest about your traveling experience on the Southwest Chief, the Coast Starlight, the San Joaquin, and back to the Southwest Chief, as well as the local Amtrak Thruway Buses.

I am so glad that you had a wonderful trip from Kansas City, MO (I had relatives in King City and Bethany, MO Northeast of St. Joe). And I am very happy to read that an enjoyable time was had by you in the LGBT capital of California, San Francisco. Isn’t the San Joaquin Valley something else? All the produce, vegetables and nuts growing there for use by the Western United States.

However, I was dismayed, as a retiree of Amtrak, having given 37 years of service to the company, that your trip East on the Southwest Chief, was less than pleasurable. It’s true, that various employees have their good days and their bad days’, very similar to those employees serving the public with the airlines, but in all cases, they should present themselves in a very positive and cheerful manner to all passengers and fellow employees.

Unfortunately, you happened to have traveled on the days that ‘Ms. Personality’ was working. I am not defending her nor commending her for her attitude and communications with her fellow co-workers and the passengers, but she is definitely in the minority of the over twenty thousand employees nationwide.

I do hope that you continue your quest of getting some answers concerning your trip, and will not “write off” traveling by train again. Rail travel can be very relaxing and civilized, unlike that of flying or riding the bus (Greyhound and similar). I can say the same thing pretty much about the other problems you encountered, but you must keep in mind that there are only so many passenger cars available for use…many have been destroyed by errant drivers of autos or trucks, and other incidents that cause either a long time to repair or a car will be deemed unusable for a variety of problems. Amtrak tries just as hard as the airlines and the bus companies , to keep the rolling stock in tip-top condition to be utilized as much as possible.

Being the travel writer that you are, you are well aware of the airlines who have a late running flight and the powers that be within the particular airline, just have to make a decision to either hold that flight departure until the arriving equipment does show up and take off late, or if possible (which isn’t all that common) substitute another plane to carry on the schedule. Amtrak, on the other hand, doesn’t have a lot of passenger cars or locomotives just sitting around waiting to be utilized due to late trains. One thing that Amtrak does have the lead in, is the weather. If it’s snowing for example, planes can’t take off all the time, but the train can certainly go on down the tracks.

Please give Amtrak another try in riding the rails, maybe this time heading East!!

Sincerely yours,

Randall L Smith
Retiree

Randy Smith (retiree), Cathedral City, CA - Gravatar

none Randy Smith (retiree), Cathedral City, CA said on August 4, 2014, 9:19 pm:

Hi guys….I read with great interest about your traveling experience on the Southwest Chief, the Coast Starlight, the San Joaquin, and back to the Southwest Chief, as well as the local Amtrak Thruway Buses.

I am so glad that you had a wonderful trip from Kansas City, MO (I had relatives in King City and Bethany, MO Northeast of St. Joe). And I am very happy to read that an enjoyable time was had by you in the LGBT capital of California, San Francisco. Isn’t the San Joaquin Valley something else? All the produce, vegetables and nuts growing there for use by the Western United States.

However, I was dismayed, as a retiree of Amtrak, having given 37 years of service to the company, that your trip East on the Southwest Chief, was less than pleasurable. It’s true, that various employees have their good days and their bad days’, very similar to those employees serving the public with the airlines, but in all cases, they should present themselves in a very positive and cheerful manner to all passengers and fellow employees.

Unfortunately, you happened to have traveled on the days that ‘Ms. Personality’ was working. I am not defending her nor commending her for her attitude and communications with her fellow co-workers and the passengers, but she is definitely in the minority of the over twenty thousand employees nationwide.

I do hope that you continue your quest of getting some answers concerning your trip, and will not “write off” traveling by train again. Rail travel can be very relaxing and civilized, unlike that of flying or riding the bus (Greyhound and similar). I can say the same thing pretty much about the other problems you encountered, but you must keep in mind that there are only so many passenger cars available for use…many have been destroyed by errant drivers of autos or trucks, and other incidents that cause either a long time to repair or a car will be deemed unusable for a variety of problems. Amtrak tries just as hard as the airlines and the bus companies , to keep the rolling stock in tip-top condition to be utilized as much as possible.

Being the travel writer that you are, you are well aware of the airlines who have a late running flight and the powers that be within the particular airline, just have to make a decision to either hold that flight departure until the arriving equipment does show up and take off late, or if possible (which isn’t all that common) substitute another plane to carry on the schedule. Amtrak, on the other hand, doesn’t have a lot of passenger cars or locomotives just sitting around waiting to be utilized due to late trains. One thing that Amtrak does have the lead in, is the weather. If it’s snowing for example, planes can’t take off all the time, but the train can certainly go on down the tracks.

Please give Amtrak another try in riding the rails, maybe this time heading East!!

Sincerely yours,

Randall L Smith
Retiree

gaytravelers - Gravatar

gaytravelersataol.blogspot.com/ gaytravelers said on August 5, 2014, 7:50 am:

Randall L. Smith: We thank you for you comments concerning our Amtrak Experience. It has now been 3 months since our trip and the Home Office of Amtrak has NOT responded other than to say a lame “We are sorry” and nothing about things like this would never happen to the LGBT community. We keep asking them more questions and they just merely say that it is now an “internal problem”. No, we think that we shall NOT try Amtrak again. If they cannot repond to our complaints and to the other complaints that they receive (and they received hundreds of complaints that they do not respond to) then there sure is a major problem there. We are sure that if you were in charge of Amtrak that all would be good, but………. alas, you are retired. Being late or delayed has nothing to do with our problems with Amtrak. Thank you again for your comments about our travel column on Amtrak

K.M. Greer - Gravatar

purpleroofsgaytravelblog K.M. Greer said on September 12, 2014, 6:40 am:

My husband and I recently traveled on Amtrak from Boston via Chicago to our destination in Tucson. The first part of our trip was a great experience until our train, The Texas Eagle joined the City of New Orleans in San Antonio to become the Sunset LTD. Here we had a change in conductors and this man kept glaring at the two of us and upon our arrival in El Paso, Tx. he came to our roomette and informed us we were being ejected from the train. When I askd for what reason he actually stated it was because I was gay and I have HIV. I was outraged! I attempted to complain to anyone who would listen at the station but again it was El Paso and all we got were blank stares. I do plan of contacting Amtrak and an attorney as I feel the likes of this conductor, Steve Spect were not only uncalled for and homophobic but were a violation of my civil rights. Needless to say my husband and I will NEVER ride with Amtrak again!!

Brian - Gravatar

None Brian said on December 19, 2014, 4:38 am:

I loved reading your column but I was rather dismayed that you used your role as Gay Travelers Writing an Article on Amtrak to intimidate. If you were truly trying to give a picture of the Amtrak experience, you would have gone about your business as a gay couple traveling and written what it would be like for any gay couple traveling. Still, there is valuable information and you both have a great sense of humor.

Michael - Gravatar

Michael said on March 8, 2015, 10:22 pm:

I got thrown off a train today. The details are not important–you’ll just have to take me on my word when I say that I did nothing wrong. Found this while googling to see if others have had experiences like mine. They have. And worse. I will never take the train anywhere ever again. The schedules are not reliable and the staff seems not to care at all about passengers. The Internet is filled with horror stories, some written by folks who are obviously educated and didn’t start out with axes to grind, others I read in newspapers. The cops who escorted me from the train were quite nice. One volunteered that the conductor who threw me off throws lots of people off. All I did was question whether I could sit in a certain seat. Not loudly. Not drunkenly. Not anything.

It seems clear to me that Amtrak employees who treat passengers like you-know-what face no consequences. If they did, there would not be so many stories out there like yours and mine.

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