Amtrak’s website is one of those glitchy, slow, government-like sites that seems to want to talk to your toaster rather than to you. So I felt proud when, via website, I succeeded in planning a trip to Sacramento, a one-way ticket from western Colorado aboard the California Zephyr. 

I would return driven by my son, aboard the faithful steed known here as “The Mothership,” an aging white Subaru.

Meantime, my truck, “The Ox,” would wait for me … with any luck in a free parking space in Grand Junction, Colorado, where I would board the Zephyr.

Amtrak.com offered no clues other than: “five overnight parking spaces have been designated at the station.” Where do I sign up? Do I have to pay a fee? How much? I wanted to leave my truck for six days. Would that be okay?

Kind travelers had posted on Tripadvisor.com that a parking garage lurked nearby, administered by the city. But apparently the city didn’t fork over cash to Google so Google had not put a parking garage on its map.

Winging it, I arrived at the railroad station an hour before the train, and asked the nice lady with strangely beautiful reddish hair at the Amtrak counter, who we’ll call “Susan,” where I could park my car all week.

Susan found my name on her passenger list and jotted a note on a pink card for my dash and told me to park out front. I asked if I should park in the 2-hour parking zone. Let the record show, Susan stated and I quote, “anywhere is fine.”

 

My Tacoma is white—when it is clean, which it isn’t right now—and its camper lid is silver. I need someone to swap with. Someone who has a silver Tacoma with a white lid. I know, it’s silly. But I can’t help it–I’m always on the lookout for my truck’s antithesis. I imagine parking next to one when I find it. Just parking next to it to find out if anyone else shares my little OCD psychosis.

But right now, I’m happy with Susan’s authoritative word. No, it won’t get towed. But I’m from Washington D.C. where parking tickets seem attracted to whatever I’m driving … so I’m not entirely confident about this.

As I sit in the lobby of Grand Junction’s Amtrak station a man approaches, wearing the classic uniform of a train conductor — up to the signature hat. “Will you be traveling, m’am?” he asks. I nod and instinctively pull out my e-ticket, which I printed because every time I’ve ever NOT printed my e-ticket, I’ve arrived at the gate with a dead phone battery. He beeps it and scrawls some numbers on a blue card, telling me to get on car 510, which will be “just behind the observation car.”

When the train arrives I spot what must be the observation car and walk past it to car #610. I pause but keep going. I soon got to the end of the train. No cars are labeled “510.”

I ask two guys in Amtrak uniforms standing on the platform.

“This is 510,” they assert and gesture me aboard the car labeled “610.” I look again at the number, probably with some quizzicalness. Not making fives like they used to?

“No one’s changed the number,” one of them finally explains.

Like, why would they?

And with two of them standing there rocking back and forth on their heels, who else would need to be employed to accomplish this gargantuan task, should someone who doesn’t actually benefit from the exercise of walking the length of the train and back need to know?