The train finally arrived around 7 a.m., and departed close to 7:15, two and a half hours late. However, we left in good spirits. Vivian was quite taken by all of the trains she saw, if a little trepidatious. A huge BNSF freight train preceded Amtrak into the station, and she stared in fascination at the long rows of hopper cars.
Vivian and I made use of the sleeper’s free breakfast on board the dining car to allow Erin and Nora to get some missing sleep. Vivian charmed our table mates: an elderly couple from Denver. Then we went back to the sleeper. She’s now asleep and I’m typing this in the observation lounge. These cars are obviously built to view mountains, but you’d be amazed how many passengers turn out to stare at the rolling cornfields of Iowa.
It was slow going through Iowa, as the railroads are still recovering in the aftermath of the major flooding of a month ago. Crossing the Mississippi, we saw fields that are still underwater, huge plots of land that have had to go to waste.
We got into Chicago around 7:20, about three and a half hours late, but still pretty relaxed. After surviving the baggage check area in Chicago Union Station, we piled onto a taxi cab to head to the Wyndham Hotel. Now, typically this hotel would be outside our price range, being as it was a starred hotel within spitting distance of the Magnificent Mile, but thanks to some timely research from my mother-in-law, we managed to get a decent coupon. However, when we showed up at the check-out counter, the concierge looked at us sheepishly.
Apparently, there was a plumbing problem, which took out two whole floors, including the room they’d reserved for us. But this was one of those bits of bad news that wasn’t. We’re moving you to another hotel, said the concierge, picking up the tab, and we’re refunding your credit card for the stay here. So, not only did we get a free night’s stay in Chicago, but they assigned us to the Omni Hotel.
“I’m not even sure if we can afford to breathe here,” Erin said as the elevator let us out on the eighth floor. The hotel room has marble floors, there’s a plasma screen television. The extra toilet paper roll is wrapped in organza ribbon, and the roll on the roll has been folded into a point. And there are bathrobes.
In short, we are being pampered tonight and we’re not paying for the room, so we intend to enjoy it.
Although the two Sprites and an Evian I picked up for the room from the gift shop did run me $11.50.
Here are some more photographs of the journey:
On another note, I see that it is exactly one year since I wrote the following:
Recently, political analyst Gwynne Dyer made a bold prediction regarding the fate of Zimbabwe’s beleaguered dictator, Robert Mugabe. I say bold since the man has survived 27 years in power, including the last seven during which time the economy and the population’s life expectancy halved. By rights he should have been thrown out long ago, but Dyer is certain that the man is at the very, very, nubbly tipped end of his rope:
Three million of Zimbabwe’s 11 million people have fled abroad to seek work, mostly in South Africa. The money they send home is the only reason most Zimbabweans eat at all, since unemployment at home is 80 percent. The average lifespan in the country has halved in 15 years. But the most urgent problem for Mugabe is that his own security forces cannot feed their families because their huge pay raises still cannot keep up with inflation.
If the security forces turn against him, he is finished, so early last month he decreed deep price cuts for all consumer goods and sent the troops out to enforce them. The idea that you cannot simply impose lower prices, he scoffed, is mere “bookish economics.” But if it costs more for bakers to make bread than they get for selling it, then they stop baking.
A month later, the shelves are bare of staple foods like sugar, flour and cooking oil throughout Zimbabwe. Rural people, most of whom fell out of the cash economy some time ago, can scrape by somehow, but people in the urban areas are getting truly desperate.
Mugabe has played his last card, and he will probably be gone by the end of the year.
Unfortunately, he’s still in power.
How does he do that?