Traveling with Wheels: Amtrak to Atlanta & back

*This post is delayed because my computer & WordPress haven’t been cooperating…I have a couple photos of my scooter on the Amtrak train, but I can’t manage to get them to post. I apologize in advance!

I got back on a Monday from the amazing Society for Disability Studies annual conference that was held in Atlanta, Georgia, USA from June 10-14 (I’m going to blog about that separately). The last time I was there was in 2011 for the National Women’s Studies Association conference, but I drove to the conference instead of flying or taking the train (I was also a cane user at that point). While that was a lovely six hour drive to Georgia, it was a really frustrating 10 hours back because of a huge traffic jam. Since my pain issues are much worse than in 2011, I knew that driving would mean I have to take at least hourly breaks and that was something I really didn’t want to deal with (plus the price of parking at the conference hotel ate the money I saved from driving).

I was a little nervous taking this trek. It was my second trip on Amtrak and my first alone. I also didn’t designate myself as disabled on the ticket because I was afraid that I wouldn’t get an actual seat to sit in for the trip (the thought of spending 8 hours sitting on my TravelScoot was really unpleasant). The Amtrak employees at my local station were great. They directed me to the elevator to get to the tracks, then asked me if I wanted to use the ramp or go up the stairs. Since I wasn’t sure what the ramp looked like in action, I opted to use the stairs and have them lift my TravelScoot up and over the stairs (they were amazed at how light my scooter is!). They pushed it to a disabled section and I got to sit with my beloved scoot in front of me with an empty seat next to me! I was really thankful because the train seats are probably one step above metal folding chairs in comfort for me. I was able to find new and unique ways to drape myself over seats & scooter throughout the trip (although I never managed what could be construed as “good sleep”).

I started my journey at about 1am and arrived in Atlanta shortly before 9am. The ATL Amtrak station is a lot smaller than my local one, which was a huge shock. I got myself through the people and was ecstatic when I found the restroom (the bathroom on the train was right by my seat and reeked of urine). Much like in an airport, I had to wait for a presumably non-disabled person to get out of the accessible stall (I honestly don’t blame people for wanting enough space for their body & their luggage in the stall, but that’s a design issue)….however, I had a young woman almost shove me over as I headed toward the accessible stall when it opened! Thankfully she realized what happened, asked if I was waiting for the stall (“yes”…with a barely hidden eyeroll thanks to exhaustion), then let me go use it.

*****

The trip back started out way too eventfully for my tastes. I spent Sunday hanging out with awesome friends I had either met from previous conferences (like Bethany from Crip Confessions) or from Facebook. It was glorious on so many levels, but more mechanically it meant that I got a ride to the train station so I didn’t have to mess with public transit. One of my friends was taking the same train (but to NYC), so it was pretty convenient….but we were running late. We were trying to find what my friend called a “Red Cap,” which is one of the disability services type employee (I think in NYC they actually wear red hats to be visible to folks that need boarding assistance…I didn’t see any at my home station, so it could be a large station thing).

Every employee we found seemed confused by the “red cap” question, which really didn’t help the sense of panic we both had about being potentially late for our train. My friend would then essentially ask for a disability liaison (I can’t remember her exact phrasing), which would get the employee to look at her ticket & nod, but look at my ticket and chastise me for not having my ticket labeled as disabled. At least four different employees made comment about it in a way that made me freak out that they weren’t going to let me board the train because my ticket didn’t have the designation. In the midst of it all, I got separated from my suitcase, which made me panic even more (the porter took it and my NYC friend kept an eye on it). Eventually I did get to board the train with my scooter and with text messages & periodically asking the Amtrak employees to keep an eye out for my suitcase, I was reunited with the rest of my belongings. I feel lucky that I didn’t hit full blown panic attack (something I haven’t had for over a decade, thankfully), but I’m still upset that the employees made me think that they were going to leave me stranded in Atlanta at all!

Although the train got a late start, it made up for it along the way and I got back to my home station at about 4:30 in the morning (less than an hour late). I confirmed that I cannot get much sleep on a train, which was a big frustration as I had to work at 9am which made for a very long day. Thankfully my husband is a night owl so it wasn’t too much of a hassle to get me home!

Next posts: the Society for Disability Studies conference in Atlanta, Flying with Wheels: TravelScoot edition, and probably a CONvergence post, plus more!

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