Monday, June 13, 2011

Adventures in Amtrak

Who knew, when I posted on Saturday the words "A few moments away (via Amtrak)," just how wrong I could be?  So much for my plug of Amtrak.  I adore train travel; perhaps this is one additional pull to Paris, the chance to travel all over Europe so quickly and easily by train.  Well, those of us who've had the "benefit" of traveling via Amtrak over a long period of time know otherwise.  Yes, it works, most of the time.  Yes, often it's even on time.  But, then, that once-in-a-while occurrence actually occurs, the one your friends all tell you once happened to them (hopefully just once) - the SEVEN HOUR ride between Baltimore and New York City, starring a dead engine just short of Wilmington, featuring no air conditioning and no ventilation inside the train, and co-starring a second "rescue" train, which is announced (every 30 minutes) to arrive in 25 minutes.

As a sociological experiment, I will note two things first: 1.  The train staff was in good humor, all things considered, and was kind, patient with repetitive passenger questions, and yet authoritative and kept everyone safe and following directions, even when they admitted (and I truly appreciated the admissions) that they no longer knew anything.  2.  The Sunday afternoon passengers, even children, were very well-behaved and thoughtful, even as we all began to wilt, sweat and practically pass out as the temperature in the train rose to close to 90 degrees.  Passengers distributed water bottles from the café car after it was clear we weren't going anywhere about an hour into this adventure,  jokes were made, and even popsicles were given out to kids by a woman who'd received them by airmail (that is, tossed into the one open train door the conductor permitted) from a non-passenger who drove alongside the tracks, parked her car and ran down into the well of the trackbed - dangerously and stupidly, I might add - to deliver the popsicles!

For my part, fairly early on (organized and often hungry sort that I know myself to be), also knowing full well that "25 minutes" meant at least 2 hours, I decided that provisions would be needed - soon, cold and plentiful.  And so, I stood in line in the café car to purchase the essentials:
I did ponder, upon closer inspection, that, if I were in Europe experiencing the same delay (though in my fantasies, I never would be delayed in Europe), I might have to avoid des concombres, ouais?
Yes, the mind did wander.  The body couldn't, so the mind did.  Among other things, I realized I could probably get to Paris faster.  Then my eyes alighted onto this magazine cover, and I thought, "Yes!  Let's Move!  And, if anyone can get us out of here, it could very well be the First Lady!"
And, so, by the time the American (one assumes) cucumbers had been consumed, The New York Times cover-to-cover read (the Sunday Times, mind you), a few emails and text messages alerting  and updating (and bugging) those who might care (it always feels better to do so anyway) of my plight and warmth, and a walk to where the solo door to tempt us outside had been opened for ventilation and for a chance to watch three guys from Amtrak argue about what the *&#@ to do with us...
...low and behold, Prince Charming arrived.  Well, not quite, more like another (cleaner, far colder) Amtrak Regional train arrived to whisk us onto its white steed...or, rather, onto its wire fence-type "bridge" (you know, it seems they've done this a few times before).  
It could be time for some new rail equipment for Amtrak!  But don't get me started.  I don't even own a car anymore, so I'm practically un-American (and certainly my Texas residency has been revoked long, long ago).

But, this story has a happy ending, many hours later.  After 4 more hours in the almost too-cold rescue train, during 2.5 of which we were moving, I arrived, safe, sound, stinky and relatively intact, at Penn Station.  

Never have I been so grateful to see Penn Station.  Ah, American train stations.  But that's another blog post to come.

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