What started as a rant about Amtrak and the NJ turnpike ended up as an Xmas summary. Here 'tis:
I went home for the holidays to visit Mom, Sis, Dad, Step-Mom and Sis-BF. I took the train up on Saturday morning really really early as we did Xmas gift unwrapping at R's parents for me on Friday night. I scored a 2GB jump drive and a really awesome map of Spain that will go nicely with a map of Sweden from the early 1900s/late 1800s that I gave to R for a 6 month anniversary after we'd just started dating.
I had worked until 8pm, went up to R's parents' house for dinner and unwrapping and got back down to DC around 11pm. I packed my bags and all the presents I had to bring up and then we sat on the couch to spend some time together before I had to leave. I eventually passed out on the couch at about 2am only to wake up around 2:30am to get my stuff together and go find a taxi to Union Station.
The 3:15am train to NYC from DC on Saturday morning isn't as weird as I assumed it would be. I'd originally planned on going up at a normal time, like 8 am, but when I finally got around to getting tickets, all of the trains after 5:15am were either sold out or on the hyper-expensive Accela (I refuse to pay double the price to get there half an hour earlier.)
The ticket machine at Union Station didn't print out my ticket and instructed me to go see an Amtrak agent. Of course, there are no Amtrak agents at Union Station at 3:15am. I only had about 10 minutes until the train left, so I did a lap around looking for anyone official and, upon finding no one, just went to the train.
I talked to the conductor before getting on and he explained, "this always happens on the Saturday morning train. You'll need to buy a ticket on the train. You need to call Amtrak at 1-800-USA-RAIL. You have ID, right?"
Once on board, I put in a call to 1-800-USA-RAIL, which is a huge pain in the ass on a blackberry because it doesn't have the letters printed on the keys. Luckily, I was able to find the original email from a week ago and just click the number to call it. After waiting on the phone for 20 minutes, here's the conversation (as much as I can remember):
Lady: Hello, this is Rhonda from Amtrak how may I help you.
Me: Hi, I need to cancel my reservation.
Rhonda: OK. Can you give me your reservation #.
Me: It's blahblahblah.
Me: Yeah, I got to the station and the machine wouldn't print the ticket, so they said I need to buy one on the train.
Rhonda: Wait. You're still going to take the train?
Rhonda: Well, then. You don't need to cancel the reservation. You need me to reverse that charges, right?
Me: Umm... Whatever you call it where I don't have to pay the ticket online and can just buy a ticket on the train, I need to do that.
Rhonda: Well, you'll still need a reservation. So you'll need me to reverse the charges, right?
Me: I guess.
Rhonda: It's a good thing I didn't cancel it, because you need a reservation to ride the train. Why didn't you just tell me to reverse the charges to your card?
Me: Umm.... Sorry?
Rhonda: I'm going to reverse them and then give you a new reservation number, so make sure you have a pen.
This was obviously my fault for not knowing the term "reverse the charges" needed to be used. Magic words are very important in these scenarios. After I'd hung up and was giving my credit card to the conductor, I heard the guy behind me complaining that he couldn't get the number to work because he had a blackberry and it didn't have letters for the numbers. I gave him the number and he started to call. After he'd been on hold 20 minutes and was just giving them his reservation number, we went into the tunnel outside Baltimore and he lost the signal.
As we were rolling in the Baltimore station, the conductor suggested that he could try to run up and use the ticket machine to see if it would print the ticket here, but the man declined, saying that he didn't want the train to leave without him.
Once we were rolling again, he called back. I didn't listen in on the conversation, but it sounded like he was able to reverse the charges. Later, the conductor came around to ask him to pay for a new ticket. The man refused, saying that he had already paid for a ticket and didn't feel right paying for another one. The conductor explained that he either needed to pay for a ticket, try to get off and get the ticket from a machine at the next station, or just get off the train altogether because he wasn't allowed to ride for free. The man continued to insist that he didn't want to get off because the train might leave and he'd already paid anyway.
Fifteen minutes went by and this time two conductors came. They explained that he would need to either pay or get off at Wilmington. The man refused. Once we reached Wilmington, an Amtrak police officer came on to try to explain again to the man that he would need to pay or get off the train. The man again insisted that he had already paid and that he wasn't getting off the train. A second officer showed up and the whole "If you don't leave on your own we'll remove you" vs. "I'm not leaving the train" conversation ensued. No one ever really explained to the man that all of us had had to do the same thing and that it wasn't some sort of scam, but he was being stubborn enough that I'm not so sure it would have done any good. Once they started pulling him out by his feet, he grabbed the back of my seat and tried to hold on and the conductor suggested that I move next to someone else for a while. I did and watched as they dragged the man off the train. He promptly stood up once on the platform and they walked him away. The conductor came back on, grabbed the man's bags, put them on the platform and then train rolled out of the station.
No one tried to help this guy. Not even me. I had enough cash to pay for his ticket... but then, I was sure that he should have had the money as well. In fact, he could easily have gotten off the train, caught the next one and done the same trick straight to New York. To let myself sleep with the guilt of not having helped him, I convinced myself that he was irresponsible for having planned a 300 mile trip without having $63 in his pocket... or a credit card. He had also been talking to someone on his blackberry the entire ride up while everyone else was trying to sleep, so we were all better off and it's not like he didn't have a way to contact people.... unless they took the phone away from him after they put him in Amtrak jail. (I'm still very curious about Amtrak jail).
I arrived at Penn Station around 6:50am and hoofed it over to Grand Central where I caught the 7:20 local train home. At first I regretted having taken the local and not just walked around Manhattan for 30 minutes until the 7:50 express, but the 7:50 gets in later anyway and I had a suitcase that would have made walking around a pain. The local train also turned out to be a good experience. I must have taken the local fifty times during high school for various reasons, but I've found that as I get older I experience things that I've seen before differently. Everything I learn every day changes the lenses through which I see the world, so it's no surprise when I suddenly notice the old crumbling mill with a dock on the Hudson that I'd been past before and never bothered to see; it's roof caving in and windows broken; a lamp from the early 1900s on a post out at the dock that's being swallowed by rot and the river. Thinking of all the amazing pictures that I could take, I vowed to come back and take the local to all it's stops some day to wander around. I'll never do it, but it's nice to think of doing it... especially if there's good lighting like there was this morning: really overcast at 7:30am on the third shortest day of the year.
Once I arrived in town, Mom picked me up at the station and we went home for breakfast. J (sister) and her boyfriend S were still upstairs, but came down pretty soon after I'd arrived so that we could all eat together. Then we were off to our Dad's house further North in a town outside of Poughkeepsie.
We had Christmas dinner with Dad on Saturday and the conversation was mainly dominated by step mom E asking me all about R and I getting married and reception plans, etc. I was so tired at this point from having been up since 2:30am and only having slept for 20 minutes on Friday night that I couldn't put up much of a fight in answering questions about the wedding. Most of my answers were "I don't know" or "yeah" and I escaped relatively unscathed.
After dinner and dessert, we put on March of the Penguins and I passed out in a comfy chair.
The next day we had breakfast at a little diner outside of town. The town itself is quite close to the Culinary Institute of America and known for some great chefs and great restaurants. This little place was no exception. They had eggs from never-caged hens, home made sausage and excellent pancakes (I ate all of these things).
We headed back down to my Mom's after breakfast, stopping along the way to get some air in the tires as my sister's car was pulling to the right and the back wheels were making a hell of a lot of noise. The air solved the former and not the latter.
Once at mom's we had hung around a bit until Sis-BF had to go the Stamford train station to catch his train back to RI for Xmas with his family.
Later, we sat around the kitchen and talked while Mom was getting some of the different dishes for dinner started. At around 4pm she went to church to do some caroling and J and I went to try to find a CAT5 cable so that all of the computers in the house could be on the network... we got some beer and Tostitos, too. (very important errands)
We had a roast for dinner and hung around at the table talking until 10pm or so. For some reason Mom had purchased Barbarella on DVD and decided that it would be fun to watch it, so we threw it on. I'd never seen it before, but was lucky that I'm now old enough that it wasn't too uncomfortable when Jane Fonda stripped completely nude during the opening credits. I'm not sure J was as OK with it as I was since she immediately began questioning the reason for the movie being on at all. The movie turned out to be dated, but good. I fell asleep on the couch by 1am and had to make my way up to bed soon thereafter.
We woke up Christmas morning, unwrapped gifts and then had breakfast. After breakfast we took the dogs for a long walk up in the woods outside of town. I managed to get some pretty good pictures of trees and dogs and such, which I'll post once I've had a chance to get them up on flickr. After getting back from the walk, we hung around the kitchen while mom worked on dinner again, ate and then played hearts over dessert until 11pm or so.
I had to be back at work on Tuesday morning. I was originally going to take the train back down early on Tuesday morning and just get in late around 10, but Mom offered to drive me down as she wanted to see R, R's parents and was considering visiting her friend W outside Philadelphia on the way back. We considered leaving Christmas night, but decided to just wake up at 3:30 and leave by 4am to have me at work by 9.
For some reason, we both woke up with no problems and had an uneventful drive back down to DC. I'd burned a mix of all my favorite Wilco songs and we ended up listening to that for pretty much the entire drive. We switched drivers right after the Maryland border and I took over. When we got to my place, Mom took a nap on the couch and I went to work. Luckily, the office was so dead that the boss made us all go home at 1pm and I got to meet Mom down at the Natural History Museum. Once there I forced her to come with to go see two different photography exhibitions, Robert Creamer's Transitions and another exhibition called "Visual Griots of Mali", which features 40 black and white photographs taken by Malian children.
At 3:30pm, Mom and I met up with R's parents and we all went to see a new exhibit at the Ripley on the British, French and Indian War called Clash of Empires. After I fell asleep on my feet looking at one of the displays, I realized how tired I was from traveling and not sleeping and decided to sit down until we left for home.
We all met up with R back at our place, sat around and shot the shit a bit and then all went out to a delicious dinner at a Latin-Asian fusion restaurant a block from our house.
Mom left this morning after she dropped me off at work and here I am blogging about it all.
Time for lunch!
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
What started as a rant about Amtrak and the NJ turnpike ended up as an Xmas summary. Here 'tis: