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» RAILforum » Passenger Trains » Amtrak » Amtrak and LA Union Station let me down (Page 1)

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Author Topic: Amtrak and LA Union Station let me down
MightyAlweg
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After wanting to take a train trip for several years but never having the time, I tried taking Amtrak today. WARNING: a ranting and admittedly whiny trip report of a short day trip to LA follows...

I wanted to go to the LA Auto Show this year, but didn't want to fight the horrible condition of the I-5 freeway once you leave Orange County, so I decided to take the train. It was a lovely autumn day for travel. I got to the Anaheim station early and had time to watch them constructing the impressive new ARTIC train station near the existing station. I then purchased my Business Class ticket from a glum agent behind the glass and enjoyed the November sun for a bit.

The Surfliner arrived on time, and I went up the stairs of the Business Class car after helping two elderly ladies with their luggage (no attendant helped them). The car was very full, obviously due to the holiday week. I walked the entire car and not a single empty seat was open. I walked back to the stairs where a four-seat table was wide open but had a plastic sign that said "Reserved for families", and I began to take my jacket off when a train attendant standing nearby said abruptly "You can't sit there!". Oh, gosh, okay, although I was silently put off by her snotty tone she took with me right off the bat. I went down the stairs and felt the same attendant walking a few steps behind me as we both went down to the lower level. There were two open seats, although there was a sign on the bulkhead that said "Reserved for disabled riders" or some such statement. I sat in an open single seat near the door that was against a blank wall with no window, and just as I sat down the same attendant appeared at my side and said "You can't sit here either, this level is for elderly and disabled". I am a 43 year old able bodied man, so I don't qualify for this segregated section of the car.

I smiled at her frown and said "Okay, but there's no other seats and you told me not to sit at the open table upstairs. Where do I sit?" She began a lecture on how this was a holiday week and very busy and that I can find any seat in any other car on the train with my Business Class ticket, but I can't sit here.

I was feeling hounded by this rather unpleasant woman but wasn't going to let her ruin my fun day, so I got up and went back upstairs and walked two cars forward as the train sped towards Fullerton (the only stop between Anaheim and LA). I found an empty seat next to a pleasant college girl who got off at Fullerton, and then watched the scenery to LA. The conductor mentioned my Business Class fare when she took my ticket, and I told her there were no seats available that I was eligible for as a single 43 year old. I never got my snack or paper or anything from the Business Class fare I paid for. No one offered, and I wasn't about to try to go back to the Business Class car and meet my mortal enemy who had just shooed me away.

We arrived at Union Station on time. What a busy station this has become, even mid-afternoon hours before the evening rush! I was quickly hit up for change by a transient in the tunnel on my way to the waiting room, and then had to weave around two other transients with lots of plastic bags and caught a whiff of bodily odors that were just horrendous. But that station is still gorgeous! On my way to the taxi stand in front of the station I caught a strong whiff of urine, but was able to jump in a cab and head to the convention center.

The Auto Show and dinner was great, and five hours later I'm back at Union Station. I waited in a short line and purchased another Business Class ticket on Amtrak from another very glum woman behind the bullet proof glass. She barely spoke three words to me, and then shoved my boarding pass through the slot without making eye contact. I now had 30 minutes to kill before the 7:30 departure. I went to the big waiting room and had to pause to find a seat, not because there weren't empty seats. It seemed as though every other row had a homeless person camped out with sleeping bags and blankets and all their worldly possessions piled on adjacent seats. To be honest, they all smelled horrible and none of them looked like good conversationalists.

I finally found a seat in a row without a homeless person and sat enjoying the view and the ceiling of this marvelous station. That was ruined a few minutes later when another homeless man collapsed into the chair directly behind me while he talked to himself about a very serious topic laced with a few profanities, and his odor was instantly overwhelming. I had to get up and move before I gagged.

I thought, well it's a cool autumn evening, I'll go enjoy the outdoor courtyards. Wrong decision. Every 15 feet as I strolled the north courtyard I was hit by the strong stench of human urine. A bag lady had taken up residence on some of the benches there.

So I walked back through the waiting room to the south courtyard. Another wrong decision. This courtyard had a slightly softer smell of urine, but featured two homeless men literally staggering around the fountain each talking to no one. I can take care of myself, but it just didn't feel safe, so I went back inside.

I walked toward the front doors to look at the old Information Booth, which was featured recently on a Jack Benny TV rerun. As I approached the booth I cleared my throat and was met with a "SHHH!" and stern look from a man standing nearby. They were filming a movie or something in the old ticket lobby, and had traffic cones on the ground nearby that said "QUIET! Filming Taking Place". Okay, sorry if I ruined your shot. A minute later a homeless man burst through the entry doors yelling about being "disrespected" by someone outside, and the silence monitor rushed over to him to tell him to be quiet. I chuckled, quietly.

I went back to the concourse entry and found a column to lean against, and at least there was no urine smell. Just then a rough looking gent with neck tattoos walks up to me and explains that he's "just been released" (I inferred he was talking about prison) and needed some money to start his life anew. I declined. That's when the announcement was made that my train was delayed by 30 minutes and now wouldn't depart until 8:00. My God, I have to defend myself in this smelly homeless shelter for another 30 minutes?!?

After a brief moment where I considered using my Uber App on my phone to call a car to drive me back to Anaheim, I remembered the Traxx Lounge. I walked over there, observing a desperate man yelling through the hole of the security glass protecting the unstaffed Amtrak Information Booth "HELLO!? CAN ANYONE HELP ME?!?", and then dodging a homeless woman who unrolled her sleeping bag suddenly into the walkway.

I bought a cocktail, tipped the bartender well because I was so grateful to find someplace without a urine smell, and sat in the bar for a half hour.

The track announcement was made, I walked to the train and a very busy platform, and boarded the old Amfleet equipment in use tonight on the southbound Surfliner. At least on this one there was a seat for me to sit in, but the whole train was very busy. The crew on this train wasn't the most polished or gracious, but at least I wasn't lectured and shooed to another car. I also was handed a bag of snacks by a mute car attendant. A few minutes later he engaged in chatty gossip with his fellow Amtrak employees in the vestibule nearby, so he apparently can talk and only goes mute when it's time to pass out snacks to passengers.

I drove home from Anaheim, reflected on my travel experience, and thought... Why the heck did I just do that? I should have driven and taken the 91 freeway to the 110 to avoid I-5! Next time, I will.

Seriously, Amtrak. The SoCal corridor is one of your busiest routes, serving some of your most affluent markets. And you've got one of the most beautiful hub train stations in your system to work with. And it's run like this?!?

I understand that many of the social problems on display in Union Station tonight (and there were dozens!) are really the fault of the city of Los Angeles and the degrading urban environment there, but it does not appear as though Amtrak is doing anything to prevent the waiting room and concourses of Union Station from turning into a homeless flophouse. And my God, that urine smell was everywhere in all the outdoor areas!

It also doesn't help that the Amtrak employees in Anaheim and LA and on board both Surfliners ranged from silent indifference to grouchy hostility. And I am a very polite, well dressed, middle aged man on a Business Class fare having a fun leisure trip. I was not expecting first class service, fabulous perks, or ultra-posh deluxe environments. I simply expected professional and basic service in a clean environment using modern equipment. And maybe a smile or two.

I also expected things to not smell like urine.

Too much to ask?

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Henry Kisor
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Maybe it IS too much to ask these days.

For many reasons, among them drastic cuts by Congress in social services, homelessness is increasing all across America, and public facilities such as LAUPT (it's publicly owned, by the L.A. metropolitan transit authority) are feeling greater and greater stress.

Amtrak doesn't own LAUPT and therefore cannot police the waiting room.

This morning the New York Times has a story about private charities attracting outside homeless to L.A. just by feeding them. (Can't give a URL because the Times site breaks it, possibly because of the pay wall). The numbers of homeless in the city are increasing rapidly.

As for the attitude of the Amtrak crew, I have no explanation.

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Gilbert B Norman
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Here we go:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/26/us/as-homeless-line-up-for-food-los-angeles-weighs-restrictions.html

Hopefully, my $850 a year to hear that 'thump on the porch' comes with a few fringe benefits.

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Henry Kisor
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Thanks, GBN. I am a subscriber (online) to the Times, too, but for some reason could not get the proper URL posted.
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Gilbert B Norman
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quote:
This morning the New York Times has a story about private charities attracting outside homeless to L.A. just by feeding them. (Can't give a URL because the Times site breaks it, possibly because of the pay wall). The numbers of homeless in the city are increasing rapidly.
Mr. Kisor, if you pay, you should have access to the material.
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PullmanCo
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GBN:

Online access is far cheaper...

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Gilbert B Norman
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Mr. Pullman, I'm simply too old to learn any other way to read a paper, be stimulated by the great columnists appearing in BOTH The Times and Journal (and that are not syndicated), and for me to evaluate the issues of the day, from my Ekornnes Stressless easy chair than from an on-line source.

On line is used to forward articles of interest to friends and to provide a link and commentary at sites such as this.

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HopefulRailUser
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Well this won't help the sad trip you had very much but you were eligible to use the new Metropolitan Lounge while you waited for your return train. But I bet they didn't have the signage up to help you find that.

A very disappointing tale and not the way things should be.

--------------------
Vicki in usually sunny Southern California

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Railroad Bob
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Hi Mr. Alweg: Quite a mis-adventure; pretty disconcerting stuff. Things seem to have gone downhill a bit since I left (used to be a Surfliner Biz Class attendant.) She could have let you sit in the 4-seater; I would have. If she got a family of 4 between ANA and LAX, then put them there and relocate you, not too hard. That "jumpseat" on the lower level with no window is a really bad seat. But it can be used by anyone, if not needed by a wheelchair occupant. Sorry you got such bad treatment by this unhappy employee. I always felt lucky to have the job, good pay, benefits etc. I think I know who she is, by the way.

Now on to Union Station. I hate reading about this heavy incursion of the homeless people; the guards used to put them out as much as possible during the past few years. You know Amtrak doesn't control LAUS 100%; not an excuse but I think some other entity/transit agency is responsible for security, cleanliness, etc. After about 8 PM the guards used to perform a "sweep" of ANYONE in the main terminal waiting room. If you could not produce a ticket for the last Surfliner or the Sunset, out you went. Looks like that rule has changed. At any rate, thanks for taking the time to write the trip report, Mr. Alweg. It's depressing to read how the onboard service has suffered. Hope you get a better attendant next time, if you ever give the service a chance again.

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smitty195
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I'm surprised there were so many homeless in there. I haven't been to LAUPT in two years, but I have been there many, many times over the last umpteen + years and the private security people are constantly kicking out the homeless and/or anyone without an Amtrak ticket. I wonder what has changed? Why were they not doing it on this day? Could it be that they were all watching the movie being made up front?

Your experience, to me, is "typical". I mean, sure, I've had great experiences on Amtrak. But I guess my point is that this type of behavior is acceptable at Amtrak. If it was NOT acceptable, then it wouldn't happen---right? So let's just say it like it is, which is that Amtrak accepts and encourages mediocrity. They always have. The good employees that you get are doing it because they WANT to---not because they HAVE to. And that's a bummer.

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Geoff Mayo
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I was thinking this was not the station I've been to recently, then realized all my visits recently have been daytime - not later than about 5:30pm I think. A whole different atmosphere I guess. Sorry to hear your woes, especially with a biz class ticket: you'd expect at least a little better help, not service with a snarl.

--------------------
Geoff M.

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palmland
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Good, if depressing, write up MAlweg. I am surprised with the apparent emphasis on the homeless by private charities that they haven't sponsored a mission near the station. In our small town we have a great shelter called 'Food for the Soul' sponsored by local churches (in a former cotton warehouse next to an abandoned Southern line). That's where all the homeless go because they know they'll get good food, a bed, and shower. But they have to play by the rules - if not the local police will get them on their way. The local churches also have homeless helping doing chores. We have Benny at ours. Nice guy who enjoys trying to help. He prefers his home under the US1 overpass of the CSX mainline to the shelter, though. He is struggling with alcoholism but has started reading the bible and wants to get rid of the 'demons'.
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Henry Kisor
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How much more pleasant life would be if the homeless. the mentally ill and the unemployed would just disappear. Their condition is of course their own fault and they do not deserve charity, private or public. Maybe we could round them up and put them in a camp in a warm place in Arizona.
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smitty195
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Actually, Henry, in my personal experience with the homeless, their condition actually is their own fault. Many choose this lifestyle and are perfectly happy right where they are. When offered help, and with the millions that are poured into programs for them, it just goes right through like a sieve and accomplishes little to nothing. The fact is, most of them WANT to be there. They like the drugs and the booze, and will not give up either in exchange for a clean life. That's just a fact of life. The mentally ill---that's a different story. I don't know what the solution is, but so far, pouring a whole bunch of money at it hasn't done much. And letting them hang out at LAUPT surely isn't an answer.
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MightyAlweg
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Thanks all for the replies and thoughts.

Railroad Bob: Yeah, that first car attendant was not nice. If I had been in a less relaxed mood her hostility would have been met with less restraint on my part. But honestly, it just wasn't worth the fight on that 40 minute trip. She was middle-aged, African-American, and had an air about her that she'd been doing this for a long time.

HopefulRailUser: No one mentioned a thing about a Metropolitan Lounge, and in my 1+ hour wandering around Union Station I saw no signage directing anyone to it. I see now after perusing these boards that it exists. I used the Metropolitan Lounge years ago on previous Starlight trips out of Portland.

What's a bit sad is that the pictures posted here of this new lounge look like a dentist's office lobby, not the grand LA Union Station. If I ever take the Starlight again out of LA (and after this Amtrak experience I doubt that will happen now), I think I'd rather hang out at Traxx again instead. You can at least enjoy the magnificent architecture of the grand waiting room at Traxx.

smitty195: I saw no sign of any security or police presence in the waiting room or concourse. There was one lady out in front of the station wearing a yellow vest with "SECURITY" on it, but she seemed more concerned about cars dropping off people in the wrong zone than the homeless folks wandering through.

Perhaps I just caught LA Union Station on a bad night? But the strong stench of established urine throughout both the north and south courtyards, and near the taxi stand in the afternoon, tells me that for at least the previous 48 hours at this facility there were humans peeing along walls and in planters repeatedly. Security didn't catch them, if there was security there.

Mr. Kisor: As for the presence of multiple homeless folks in Union Station, several of whom appeared to be mentally ill, I can be as charitable and sympathetic as the next guy. (And I do give to several charities, especially this time of year)

But I also know that when I fly out of John Wayne Airport on Alaska Airlines or out of Long Beach on JetBlue, no homeless person smelling strongly of foul odors and babbling profanities to himself has ever collapsed into the chair next to me in the airport departure lounge. If Amtrak expects me to put up with that as a paying customer, then I'll make a note of it.

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Ocala Mike
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quote:
Originally posted by MightyAlweg:





But I also know that when I fly out of John Wayne Airport on Alaska Airlines or out of Long Beach on JetBlue, no homeless person smelling strongly of foul odors and babbling profanities to himself has ever collapsed into the chair next to me in the airport departure lounge. If Amtrak expects me to put up with that as a paying customer, then I'll make a note of it.

At the risk of being accused of stating the very obvious, it happens, MightyAlweg, that rail stations are actually located IN cities where, naturally, people congregate, while airports are out in the "wide open spaces". Love Henry's post, topped only by the quote of the week for me (and I'm not even Catholic):

“How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure but it is news when the stock market loses two points?” - Pope Francis

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Railroad Bob
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quote:
Originally posted by palmland:
I am surprised with the apparent emphasis on the homeless by private charities that they haven't sponsored a mission near the station.

There's at least 3 of these places not too far from LAUS, Palmland. Big ones too, the Fred Jordan mission is one. LA is a whole different story than other smaller cities where the homeless gather. I think LA is #1 in the nation for sheer numbers due to not-brutal winters and other reasons.
The city tried to do an actual headcount not long ago and came up with some staggering number.

Many of these ppl do not like to go to the missions for myriad reasons; cannot take their shopping carts, can't actively drink or shoot up in the mission, you get the idea. Many Angelenos (I consider myself one even though I'm retired in San Diego now) try their best to help/contribute to improving the lot of the street ppl. There are countless programs, agencies, etc but the reality of life in Los Angeles is pretty hard. It's always been a hard city, even considering it's cheery image of swaying fan palms, creative people, movie stars, incredible diversity of world cultures, food, etc. But it's one heck of a mean city and a tough place to survive in; maybe that's another reason why there are so many homeless?

I used to work on the edge of LA's "skid row" and remember one guy in particular we found sleeping in one of the Amtrak coaches on a storage track. White guy; he had been a stockbroker and lost it all in one of the big crashes. Wife left him, everything went bad and he spiraled downhill. Alcohol/drugs. Told his story, then quietly moved off the property. It was a real lesson for me.

Sorry to spin off Mr. ALweg's thread a bit, but since we're talking about the homeless there's my .02 cents. The face of homelessness can take many appearances. I don't mean to sound "preachy" to anyone; sorry if the post came off that way!

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MightyAlweg
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quote:
Originally posted by Ocala Mike:
At the risk of being accused of stating the very obvious, it happens, MightyAlweg, that rail stations are actually located IN cities where, naturally, people congregate, while airports are out in the "wide open spaces". Love Henry's post, topped only by the quote of the week for me (and I'm not even Catholic):

“How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure but it is news when the stock market loses two points?” - Pope Francis

I understand that Union Station is right downtown. So is the Marriot Hotel, but there aren't foul smelling homeless guys saying profanities in the Marriot lobby. And the Marriot isn't nearly as gorgeous or as important to the civic good as Union Station is. But the Marriot pays security guards to keep mentally ill homeless men from camping out in their lobby. Amtrak and Metrolink apparently do not.

There are plenty of homeless in the suburbs too. But I've never known an American airport to allow homeless folks to camp out in the terminals, much less the very smelly and profane homeless. Even before the TSA existed.

Ocala Mike , if you and Mr. Kisor are saying that that any customer who now wishes to travel on Amtrak should silently put up with a permeating urine smell and multiple homeless people sharing station lounge seating with you (of various strong odors and profanity), then I will note that new prerequisite for train travel and weigh that into my future travel plans.

Personally, I find the homeless factor in this customer service equation to be more of a downer than the ornery and/or sullen service from the Business Class car attendants and ticket agents. So it would seem to be a factor for other potential customers of Amtrak as well.

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chrisg
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Call Amtrak and report all this to a customer service person. You should have told the conductor on the spot.
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Ocala Mike
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If the station itself is the problem, I suggest you contact the owner, the Los Angeles County MTA. My only limited personal experience with big city stations is with NYP, NYT, and CUS. I don't know about Chicago, but I do believe New York tries to control the problems you speak of (not sure how successfully).

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Ocala Mike

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Gilbert B Norman
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quote:
Originally posted by Ocala Mike:
My only limited personal experience with big city stations is with NYP, NYT, and CUS.

Mike, NYT is an invalid station code; nor is it a recognized abbreviation for a station such as the case with CUS.
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Henry Kisor
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Grand Central Terminal (GCT), perhaps?
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DonNadeau
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Is it legal in California to use an iPhone or other smart phone to record a terribly negative customer service experience such as the one MightyAlweg had? I would have loved to have done that in his case.

--------------------
@DonNadeau

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Mike Smith
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quote:
“How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure but it is news when the stock market loses two points?” - Pope Francis
Can the Pope really be this clueless? The stock market affects many hundreds of thousands of lives, the homeless death only affects one life. One is newsworthy, one is not. To put this in perspective, within the next 100 years, over 7 billion people will die.
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DeeCT
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It would seem that things have drastically changed during the last 5 years since I have been there. At that time the station was clean. No panhandlers. No homeless.

I know that Security personnel did check peoples tickets as a means of making sure you had reason to be there. I had come in late morning from San Diego .... had lunch .... walked across the street to a lovely old church .... then returned and curled up with a book. I was waiting to leave on the eastbound SWC which if I recall left early evening then.(Yes I was asked to show my ticket ... even though I had luggage, laptop and surely do not look homeless.)

I would highly recommend that anyone who encounters such conditions, go to the ticket window and ask to speak to an Amtrak official in charge or Amtrak Security .... and make a complaint to them. Follow up with a call to Customer Service at your next stopover and again upon arriving home.

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DonNadeau
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quote:
It would seem that things have drastically changed during the last 5 years since I have been there. At that time the station was clean. No panhandlers. No homeless.
That too was my experience in May 2012. Security was very noticeable.

By-the-way, you are more likely to be left alone in the north patio, which in contrast to the south one also has tables. The north one does not offer direct access from the street.

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@DonNadeau

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Ocala Mike
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Yes, I meant Grand Central Terminal. I don't know if this is the case any more, but they even took to closing the place down during the wee hours to "sweep" it of unwanted garbage and humans.

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Ocala Mike

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Ocala Mike
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quote:
Originally posted by Mike Smith:
[QUOTE]

Can the Pope really be this clueless?


Mike, I think he's getting bad advice from above, don't you? [Roll Eyes]

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Ocala Mike

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Gilbert B Norman
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The former station code assigned to Grand Central was NYG - now retired so far as the website is concerned.

Also off topic yet of possible interest, the station codes for those formerly served only by Sunset East have also been retired. Just one more nail in the coffin, or dependoing upon one's perspective, an extra step to the end-zone victory dance.

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Mike Smith
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quote:
Originally posted by Ocala Mike:
quote:
Originally posted by Mike Smith:
[QUOTE]

Can the Pope really be this clueless?


Mike, I think he's getting bad advice from above, don't you? [Roll Eyes]
I would totally believe the media misquoted him or they botched the translation.
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jimhudson
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As a Business Class Passenger you could have Waited in the new Metro Lounge Upstairs in Union Station!
No Excuse for the Rude OBS on the SurfLiners but we all know that some People, no Matter what their Job, Abuse their Power, its especially Sad when its a Customer Service Person! Let Amtak know so they can Re-Train or De-Train Jerks like this!

Andas to the Smug Remarks and Digs @ the Homeless,it' One of our Great Shames that Most of these Poor Souls are veterans and dont receive the help they Need! The Idiotic thinking that Most of them are Homeless by Choice was a Favorite Saying of the Late and Immensly Stupid and Out of Touch Ronnie Raegen! Nothing to be Proud of or Smug About!!!

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Mike Smith
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I do not know who Ronnie Raegen is, but I would like to know how may homeless people you have tried to help, jimhudson.
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jimhudson
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Opps, Mis-Spelled Ronnie Raegans Name!(you could look it up if you doubt what this Senile, smug Man said and believed! There's alot more like this too!)

Ask and you shall Receive: I Volunteer @ the Food Bank, Caritas and Meals on Wheels here and over 50% of our Clients are Veterans and/or Homeless! I am also a Veteran and but for the grace of God I'd be among the Homeless also!

Those that make Light of those Less Fortunate than themselves hopefully will wake up and See what's going on All Around them, it's the shame of this Rich Society!!

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Mike Smith
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OK, you may not have understood my question. How many have --->you<--- tried to help?

And if you are referring to President Reagan, then that explains a lot about you.

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Henry Kisor
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Asked and answered, Mr. Smith.
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Mike Smith
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Henry, you believe handing a meal to a homeless person is all the help they need? OK.

I disagree.

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Gilbert B Norman
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  • Give a man a fish and you have fed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you have fed him for life
I learned of this quotation from a friend, a co-owner of a commercial insurance brokerage (if you are looking for an auto insurance policy, go see Flo. If you need commercial P&C with $20M coverage with a $10K deductible, come see us), who sincerely believes the 'giving back' comes from heart and hand.

I don't measure up; my giving back is a checkbook.

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Mike Smith
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Mr. Norman, the Salvation Army, Shriner's Hospitals, and your local food bank desperately need that check to keep doing what they do. Without you and people like you, they cannot do the charity work they WANT to do.

The Salvation Army teaches men how to be men, the Shriner's Hospitals allows men to continue working when their children need major medical help, and the food bank will keep 5 members of a family in food for the 3 days before payday.

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Gilbert B Norman
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Very well written thoughts, Mr. Smith.

Even though some might think of Salvation Army as a religious organization (they do seem to use such as a 'dodge' to filing a Form 990), I can assure all, from my experience within the Not For Profit sector (two agencies were clients of mine), the Salvation Army has many a health & welfare program beyond their visible disaster relief, that are conducted in a wholly non-sectarian manner.

This point I keep in mind when I make my charitable contribution (by check; as distinct from the bell ringers; I'm too much an accountant to forego my tax deduction which is what you do when you 'throw it in the kettle') to the SA; done in the same spirit in which I support the ARC.

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Henry Kisor
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Even though the Salvation Army's policies regarding reproductive choice and gay marriage run counter to my beliefs, I still help stuff its Christmas kettles because in my opinion the good the Sallies do far outweighs the bad. No organization of human beings is perfect.
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