Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Lincoln, Springfield, and Bloomington, or Geographical Illiteracy in Action

RecentlyI had a group of four come in off the 5 p.m. Trailways bus from Indianapolis, booked to Lincoln, Illinois on the 7:29 p.m. train. A woman from the party asked if there was an earlier train. I told her yes, but that the fare would be higher. They opted to wait for the later train. About half an hour later, she came back, saying she had told the reservation agent she wanted to go to Lincoln, Nebraska. It was one of the busiest times of the day, but it was Friday and there were two of us working the ticket counter. I called the Passenger Services desk in Chicago and talked to a supervisor, who agreed to put the group up in a hotel at Amtrak's expense. I gave them a Conductor Carry notice, which allowed them to ride the 6:11 p.m. train to Chicago. After the train left, I rebooked their reservation from Chicago to Lincoln, Nebraska for the next day, and back from there to Indianapolis, and then priced it for the remaining value of their tickets.

Amtrak got them to the right Lincoln, but it would have been a lot easier if the reservation agent in Riverside, California had booked them to LNK instead of LCN. And it amazes me that the agent didn't wonder how a train could get from Normal, IL to Lincoln, NE in 30 minutes.

It's a given that millions of Americans are geographically illiterate. You have to work in the transportation business to find out just how ignorant some of us are--including some of us in the travel industry. When I worked for CIT Tours, the travel office of the Italian State Railways, a travel agent asked for oceanfront rooms in Paris and Rome. Regularly, people wanted to take a train from Italy to France. Asked what cities in Italy and France they wanted to travel from and to, such people were clueless.

Of course, the vast majority of Amtrak reservation agents know the difference between LCN and LNK, or LSV (Las Vegas, NM), LVS (Downtown Las Vegas, NV), and LAS (Las Vegas, NV Airport). But with Internet bookings, there are a lot more errors. While the station I work at is in Normal, IL (subject of endless jokes), it's actually called Bloomington-Normal (BNL). So about twice a year, someone shows up looking for Indiana University at Bloomington.

And just down the track from Bloomington and Lincoln is Springfield. It's no accident that the Simpsons live in Springfield. There's one in nearly every state. Perhaps because of the Simpsons, the Springfield, IL station rarely gets people looking for Massachusetts. On the other hand, I've fixed several reservations booked from Pontiac MI (PNT) instead of Pontiac, IL (PON).

I'm hoping to transfer out of BNL soon, to South Bend, IN. It's the only South Bend in the system. And the Amtrak city code is unforgettable: SOB.


Peter said...

Every now and then years ago, I would ride from Northern Virginia where I live now (ALX) to my hometown at the end of the line (NPN) to see my parents.

This past summer we put our two kids on the same route to stay with my parents.

One of the nicest things about the train for me is the landscape. Nothing much except the station is built for the train's perspective. On the other hand, most everything seen from a car is seen as the property owners would have it. On a train, I feel like I'm slicing through great facades.

steve said...

Peter, I've been through ALX a few times on the train, but never to NPN. Right across from the big steam locomotive in Huntington Park--I've given the directions many times when I was at the reservation office. But I've never been sure how to pronounce Warwick Boulevard. "Warrick." as the British would, or "War-wick," as we would in the Midwest.

Peter said...

We say "Warrick," which does throw most but the locals. Warwick was a Virginia county before Newport News swallowed it up in 1957, the year I was born.

There's a lot of Southeast England in the city and county names in Southeast Virginia, and the pronunciations, I think, are invariably like the originals': Norfolk, Suffolk, Isle of Wight, etc.

I played on that locomotive many times growing up!

My father has been a train lover all of his life. Now in his '80's, he still often rides his bike for the seven-mile round trip to the Newport News station and back.

gerry rosser said...

Boy, I knew they were developing faster trains, but 30 minutes to Nebraska!?
I drive through Lincoln a couple of times every year. Haven't stopped in ages.

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- Prefer a backpack on wheels instead of a suitcase, you could pull it behind you when your back hurts or you are exhausted.
- Consider checking your bag in with the airlines, because it would become an unnecessary burden to be dragged all over the airport or the city if you are going to have a short visit.
- You could stay outside the city, in a hostel maybe, because it is cheaper, less crowded and the air is much fresher, but you have to walk or use the transport more, to get in the city or to the station.
- Most museums, some concert halls, railways, airlines, bus lines, ferry and shipping lines have a discount policy for seniors.
- Electronic devices are useful but sometimes they can give you a lot of headaches. You could help yourself with a micro-tape recorder to record your notes. It would be easier than to write and you would put them down on paper later, to share your notes with your family.
- If you bring a camera with you to keep the beautiful images alive along the time then make sure you know how to handle it or you might fail to record them not only on that camera but also in your eyes.

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