Little did John and Becky Malicoat know when they boarded Amtrak’s Southwest Chief to Chicago that a minor catastrophe loomed.
The Malicoats, who were among some 100 people on the 31st excursion trip of Friends of Chicago & Alton Depot, made the eight-plus hour trip to the Windy City on Wednesday, June 12, without incident. Thus far, the trip - billed as “Marvelous Michigan” - was living up to the Blue Springs couple’s expectations.
But the “perfect trip” would become their “worst nightmare” during the nearly three-hour layover in Chicago’s spacious Union Station.
While the group, led by Jim Austin and Bruce Lindgren, were dining in the station, baggage handlers removed the C&A luggage off the Chief and onto the Amtrak Wolverine for the two-hour plus trip to Kalamazoo, Mich. There the travelers would spend the night, then board two chartered buses for their excursion to Northern Michigan and Mackinac Island.
No one witnessed what happened next. However, Amtrak officials believe Becky Malicoat’s only suitcase fell off a large baggage cart in the dimly lighted underground station and onto the darkened tracks where it remained for more than a day.
Becky will tell you that during the trip to Kalamazoo, she felt a little apprehensive about the luggage.
“I wasn’t concerned, but it was a thought,” she says. “It was in the back of my mind.” Her concern became a worrisome reality when the last piece of C&A luggage on the Kalamazoo platform was not the red suitcase she had borrowed from her daughter.
Before the mystery of the missing suitcase could be solved, the Wolverine departed the station as quickly as it arrived, leaving Becky on the platform grasping her carry-on and with the clothing she had on. In her carry-on bag was an extra blouse, extra undergarments for herself and John, as well as her make-up, medicine, a prayer book and other incidentals.
“I wish it had been the other way around,” says John, who had nothing in his black suitcase his wife could use - not even a curling iron that she would need to make herself presentable in the morning. Becky’s was in her suitcase, but John was able to obtain a curling iron for her from the hotel.
Thursday morning dawned much brighter. While everyone else was visiting the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, the bus driver took the Malicoats on a shopping spree that netted three pairs of pants, three tops, pajamas, underwear, a suitcase, a phone recharger, an iPad and other incidentals.
Then it happened. While visiting Greenfield Village in Grand Rapids Friday morning, the Malicoats received a call from Amtrak. On the other end was the Chicago baggage agent informing them he had both good news and bad news.
Page 2 of 2 - The good news: the suitcase had been recovered. The bad news: It had been run over by a train - or trains.
Upon hearing her suitcase had been destroyed, “I just started laughing,” Becky recalls. “I said, ‘God, we can either laugh or cry. Can you believe it got run over by a train?’”
Says Becky: “The Knipps (Edwin and Mauri) were with us, and we all started laughing.”
What to do with the battered suitcase and its contents was settled when Amtrak agreed to box up the luggage and its contents and ship it to Detroit. The box arrived the next day with nothing salvageable - save a pair of pants and Becky’s leather-bound prayer book.
“There wasn’t a scratch on it,” says John. “It was a God incident.”
And what about the new clothing Becky purchased for the eight-day trip with the money she received for her birthday and Mother’s Day?
“The stuff what wasn’t torn up had so much grease on it from the tracks or whatever (that) they were not cleanable,” he says.
All is not lost, though. Amtrak will reimburse Becky for her losses.
“Keep your receipts,” the Amtrak agent tells them, “and we will replace everything” once a claim is filed.
Looking back on their Amtrak ordeal, Becky says she couldn’t have made it if it hadn’t been for John.
“He was so patient. He was so willing to do whatever he needed to do to get me what I needed. I knew he was going to be there (for me) no matter what. He was really my source of strength.”
John, though, just wanted to get through the stressful ordeal, knowing that God was involved in everything that transpired on the trip.
“I said, ‘You know God, I know there is a message in this. Is it that I need to learn more patience or humility because things ain’t working out here.’”
Says John: “It ended up working out ... because God was teaching us something about patience and humility ... and if I learned anything, it’s have more patience. God will take care of it.”
And what did Becky take away from her ordeal?
“Next time ... I’ll put half of my clothing in John’s suitcase and he can put half of his in mine so (that) we won’t have everything in one suitcase.”
It was a lesson well-learned.
Retired community news reporter Frank Haight Jr. writes this column for The Examiner. You can leave a message for him at 816-350-6363.