I began making notes for this post on the Silver Meteor somewhere between Baltimore and Washington DC.  The sun is down.  I am well fed and working on being well libated.  It will have been a week in the writing when this is posted.  That doesn’t mean it’s good, but only that it took that long to filter out the expletives and over the top ranting.

March 5, 2012.  This has been one of the most surprisingly stressful travel days I have ever spent.  Here’s how it began.

Concord Trailways is, hands down, the most efficient and comfortable way to get to South Station and Logan Airport from Portland, Maine.  I was primed to have a repeat of former experiences early this morning.  That is until this rather porky guy decides to sit with me along with a case that should have never come on board.  He spilled over into my space, and he knew it.  He made several attempts at adjusting his angle of attack so as to lessen the crowding effect on my left shoulder.  I had to give it to him.  I simply, but quite uncharacteristically, smiled and tried to “share” the situation in good humor.  After all, here I am on this vacation trip on the choo-choo train.  And the bus ride is only two hours.

Arriving at South Station I got some of the most unhelpful instructions as to how to get to the trains.  I had it in my mind that the Amtrak and the Commuter Rail were two different things.  I guess they actually are but they occupy the same space in South Station.  It’s just not clear to the first-time ever user just what and where things are.  Someone might consider an inside walkway to the trains instead of having to go down to the street level and walk zig zag back up a couple of floors to reach the train station.  Even then, confusion and streams of rushing commuters still reigned supreme.  Thanks to a friendly Red Cap I was able to figure it out and get a sandwich as well.  But not having a clue and not finding my way in a timely fashion was troubling.

I should mention that I had little sleep the night before.  This not Amtrak’s fault, but it should be part of a cultural norm when dealing with the “weary” traveler, that they should employ the common curtesy of looking at the person they are talking to, smile and give that person the feeling if not the fact of rapt attention until they know without a shadow of doubt that that customer’s needs have been met.  I’m the first to say that that ain’t ever gonna happen.

My head was numb from the lack of sleep.  But the train ride too New York was speedy and well handled.  I ate the remaining part of my tuna with red peppers and downed a bottle of water.  Next stop New York Penn Station – Hell on earth.  It was my first time in New York.  There might have been a better way to do this.

All I needed to do was to get to the right track on time.  Simple.  I suppose, in all fairness, the experienced traveler would find my comments quite odd, but my experience is my experience.  When the information I needed appeared on the info board I then had to find the appropriate track.  I had 15 minutes!  I asked 4 different “officials” (about half of these people could be let go for all the good they are doing) for directions and got 4 different answers.  Their mistake – and it was a mistake – was to assume I knew something about the geography of the damned place.  No, wait, I meant to say the goddamned place.

In desperation with 5 minutes to spare and overloaded with luggage, I asked a guy with a broom if he knew where my track was and he pointed it out to me – directly.  “Bless you, my son, for your simple act of kindness”.  Ah, but I had only just begun to enter the labyrinth. 

You would think that on a train you could find a seat and sit in it.  Wrong.  Although I did find a seat and sat in it, I was told by a woman, whom I found to be the Car Commander, that I was in the “wrong seat”.  God help me!  Not only that, I was in the wrong car – even though she told to get on THAT car when I got to the train.  You can’t even begin to imagine the emotion welling up within me.  I said something like, “This is a seat on the train to Orlando.  I am going to Orlando.  What’s the problem?”  I could go on and on but it boiled down to this cardinal fact of choo-choo life: this woman, who had nary a clue as to how to employ authority, was my Lordett and Masterett for the duration.  People should never be given authority until it has been determined that they  know how to handle it. I am sure there is an Amtrak god of superior status than that of this woman and he or she shall hear about this.  Gerrr!

The Car Commander led me to the next car and to a particular seat next to another man, even though there were a dozen seats totally empty.  OK, as I have said, I could go on and on but it boiled down to this, as far as I could deduce, that Orlando passengers MUST be in the same car, and all the seats were assigned.  OK, as it turned out, all but a few were.  I am nonetheless not mollified, as none of this has yet to be explained to me.  Simple information is the first building block of comfort and satisfaction.  I’d fire everyone of those bozos that didn’t understand and employ this principle.

The upside, and there were a few, was that my seat companion was a most interesting man with whom I enjoyed the trip as we both commiserated about the foibles and tricks of mass transit, as well as the fact that he periodically came to Maine on business.  Hmm.

It just seemed that nothing was as I had expected.  I needed a success experience.  That would be dinner.  Upside No. 2.  My seat mate told me that the steward just passed by taking reservations for dinner.  As usual, I did not hear this announcement.  My hearing alone is subject for an entire story.  I made tracks for the dining car and got the last slot for the evening.  

The menu included an herbed half chicken with snap beans and a great rice pilaf, chased by a cold bottle of chardonnay.  The food got good marks and it was prepared right on the train.   However, my table partners were sorely lacking in the social skills needed to take the edge off, what has been up to that point a disappointing experience .  They all left before I did without a word.  They didn’t know how to respond to simple things like, “So how is your trip so far?”  Nothing.  Old, What’s-his-name, sitting by me in the window seat, nearly choked on the necessity to ask me to let him out.  A completely unremarkable specimen!

Stay tuned for the next installment: ATTEMPTING SLEEP WITHOUT A PLACE TO SLEEP.

1 Comment

  1. David Henderson

    I’ll save my comments for part II. But you know whats coming.

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