The adventure begins
|One of my favourite spaces is the concourse at Union Station.|
The ticket agent directed me across Union Station to the refurbished Panorama Lounge where a rather snooty clerk curtly directed me to sit “over there.” Instead, with spa-like music wafting into my ears, I wandered around to take a look. The space is much loftier than the old Panorama Lounge, which used to be on the departures floor with no panorama of anything. After the restoration of Union Station, when the dust settles and the hoardings come down, there will be a panoramic view of Front St., harried pedestrians, and the Royal York Hotel.
|Mmmmm good, but still in the fridge at home ...|
I helped myself to an apple — from the Okanagan Valley, if the boxes stored by the beverage machines were any indication. I also tucked a small complimentary container of tomato juice into my purse, in case I became thirsty later.
During the 90 minutes until train time, I answered all my e-mails. But before I knew it, my train was called. It was quite a walk from the lounge to Track 20 and then I had the dubious pleasure of walking the entire length of the train to the car right behind the engine. As the conductor at the top of the escalator joked, “Go right to the front … you might just as well drive to London.”
Some initial deflations
When I boarded, I was a bit let down. The seats were just like the ones in economy class except they were dark green. However, I settled into a window seat — actually by the partition between the windows, which, unlike the lower class accommodation, were curtained, thereby obscuring what remained of the view.
No sooner had I arranged myself when a couple of stripling lads came by, paused where I was, and suggested I was in their seat. Apparently the 11B on my ticket referred to where I was to sit. I collected myself, my coat and my bags and moved three seats back, soaking up the condescension of my fellow passengers.
But things quickly improve
I resolved to become both non-descript and observant (which for me is not hard). I pored over the Globe and Mail crossword puzzle. A lot of clinking behind me suggested bottles. Bottles suggested booze. It was the arrival of the refreshment cart. I ordered a white wine but only after noticing no money changed hands between the bored young woman across the aisle and the server — I wasn’t in coach class anymore!
No sooner had I sipped a nice, though not altogether chilled, white wine than someone appeared with a choice of snacks. I chose the mix; my seatmate, the pretzels. He was enjoying the first of several glasses of red wine. I was quite content with my one glass, as a little alcohol goes a long way with me, and the armrest table didn’t lend itself to my falling under it in boozy disarray.
Then someone arrived bearing a menu offering at least four entrée possibilities. Cautious, I chose chicken; my seat-mate, the last serving of a shrimp concoction. He also had another glass of wine.
I awaited developments, but not for long. The snooty girl across the aisle spilled her wine and asked if she could have my serviette; only she called it a napkin. I gave it to her, and she inquired as to the availability of my seat-mate’s. He handed his over, and she dabbed at her shirt and changed seats.
Delectables float down from above
Suddenly a rectangular plastic package was deposited on my little table; I thought at first it was a very thin chocolate bar, but no, it was a lemon-scented, heated, moistened, terry cloth hand towel.
I wiped the newsprint off my fingers. Before I knew it, a plastic container, holding sushi and what looked like coconut cream pie, came from above. I demurred, “I thought I ordered chicken,” but my travelling companion saved me from embarrassment by saying the chicken would come later.
He told me to beware of the ginger: it was hot. I navigated around and through the ginger and enjoyed the sushi. My seat mate had another red wine and took a bite of his coconut cream pie. I didn’t embarrass him by suggesting it was likely dessert, but served prematurely.
Our entrées arrived. The server took them from the cart with an instrument that clipped onto the side of the heated plate; it reminded me of the handle for Corning ware dishes that enabled them to become pans rather than casseroles. I have had one in a drawer for over 40 years because I don’t trust it. However, the Via Rail clip-on handle worked like a charm, and dinner was served. Tasty!
Did I want tea or coffee? I chose tea and handed my china cup to the server, so the lurching train did not result in hot liquid being accidentally poured into my lap. Very acceptable tea.
It seemed churlish to be rescuing a young wine drinker, eating a nice meal and drinking tea from a china cup and not engaging my seat-mate in conversation. He had of course long since put away his Globe and Mail as well. He was originally from Quebec and had moved to London to marry —just like Greg with me.
Anyhow, we chatted about various things I can’t remember too much about. I do remember he had fetching chestnut brown eyes. That is what only one glass of wine does to me. It probably also caused me to explain in excruciating detail how the sleeping berths in trains going to the West Coast are positioned differently from those going to the East Coast and how that affects sleep. I also expatiated on how long you are given to have a pay-as-you go shower on the B. C. inland ferry.
He said something about how much he had enjoyed going to Amsterdam and Paris.
I enjoyed my coconut cream pie.
What a grand meal, and no, I hadn’t yet seen Django Unchained? Had he seen Life of Pi?
Then from over the back of the seat in front, someone appeared bearing a tray on which were small glasses half full of an amber liquid. Ah, would I like cognac? Well, yes, that would be very ice, thank you. My seat-mate said he didn’t usually mix drinks and continued with his next glass of red wine.
My goodness, cognac reminds me of a cold night skating on an outdoors rink and then coming in to get warm by a large fire.
No sooner had I shared this thought, than what should appear but a large tray with two kinds of chocolates; likely they were truffles. I chose one and savoured it.
Yes, I wanted to see Lincoln too.
My goodness, time flies
I also looked out of the window, as we seemed to have arrived at a rather garishly painted station, which turned out to be called Woodstock. I remembered I had intended to phone Greg around Kitchener, so he could leave in time to arrive in London when the train did. No answer, but I noticed a message: he’d phoned 10 minutes before and was already on his way.
Well, that was nice too.
I sipped my cognac slowly all the way into London. Then I joined the other business class passengers saying buoyant farewells to the young Via Rail conductors, who smiled — somewhat over indulgently, I thought. Never mind, I can’t recommend business-class travel highly enough.