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PENN STATION, New York City Dec 31st, 2009

Glitzy Glasses, Cattle Call and Quiet

“It’s the bar code,” Alice said, smiling in her capacity as AMTRAK ticket rep. “It’s too small and can’t be read by the kiosk.” So, after we spoke of the why of my destination and Alice shared her volunteer experiences at home in D.C. and Denver, I gave her my card and wheeled my baggage out of the way “Wait,” she called thru the plexiglass, “I‘ve got something for you.”  That’s how I got my glitzy red 2010 sunglasses! I said, “If there is a party on the train tonight, I’ll wear them!” It was about ten minutes later that the cattle call happened. Apparently Penn Station in New York posts Arrivals/Departures fifteen minutes before they happen. Everyone prowls and paces around the monitor and when a Gate is posted, they’re off! Now, since I am train hopping, I have two carry-on’s with wheels – one for each hand and heavy as lead  – when I realize I am supposed to have my ticket ready (3rd hand) and maneuver down the escalator (4th hand) while boarding a train with 500 other hell-bent-on-boarding-people!  Also, when you reach a seat, hoist that bag, lift that carry-on. Remember, I will be away six months and have packed everythingIwouldneed.  Up and over  and shove – (x3). Don’t even want to think about how to get them down. Time for the chocolate! WHOOPS! It’s up there. Ibuprofen now, chocolate later.  Remaining day uneventful except for the train announcer hesitating when stating .. “Welcome to AMTRAK train number .. Ummm .. After some rustling of papers, he did come up with the right number. Whoo Hoo My seat-mate and I exchange glances. This is turning into a very funny adventure. I loved our conductor – and he loves his job! Each ticket punch was a song, compliment or tease. Marvelous! Disembarking at Washington, D.C. was different, right onto the wet and slippery platform – lumbered down the appointed route with deliberate pace to the welcoming warmth. Wondered why people had put their coats on. Should have asked. I had been told by my seat-mate that Union Station in D.C. was remodeled. He forgot to mention that the train stuff pales in comparison to the pizzas and diamonds, clothing and chocolate, cocktails and sports equipment. Union Station is an immense shopper’s paradise, guess because of Capitol Hill. Despite the glare of neon signs and Christmas wreaths, I spied a Airport Security and asked where was the train part of the station? He laughed and said, “take a left at The Gap then straight down past McDonalds.” They do have a very pretty Christmas tree courtesy of Norway. Why? Didn’t have time to inquire but, did manage to find an actual waiting room, chairs and all – and they announce the train, giving you time to board by category, just like the airlines. For the D.C. to Chicago route, I had chosen to have a Roomette. I will say that I tend to approach the first of anything as an experiment, rationalizing negatives and (as they say) accentuating the positives – more fun this way. Hence, some insider tips for those of you considering overnight train travel. Think small – economy Roomettes are maybe 4x8x9 – a horizontal closet. Don’t know how two people do it?  Take along a hand towel for the morning wash-up. A shower comes with the Deluxe Roomette; a little pricy for me. Ask about use of 1st Class Lounge and baggage storage on a lay-over. Some stations have, some don’t. It is now 9:00 p.m. and the jury is still out on the Roomette. A plug for my PC but no Internet unless you have a card. Will wait until Chicago to check e-mail. Music button broken; room attendant excellent, personable, attentive. Being on the second level leads to more rocking, pleasant to me. When I called AMTRAK to discuss reserving a sleeper, I guess I did not ask the right questions. She said privacy. I thought good, a break from hectic coach. She said quiet. Oh my yes! More like sequestered. When I boarded, the woman across from me closed her door and pulled the curtain. Now, I am not a wallflower. I speak with people, but I thought “don’t judge” and did a walk-around my area. One person said Happy New Year. Others seemed annoyed at my intrusion, so I ignored them and smiled. Get’s ‘em every time. Motioned through the door to the guy with a three-foot Christmas tree. Mouthed – cool! He smiled but did not move from his seat. Do you think this car is ready to ring in the New Year? Asked and found out that “no ball dropping since the TV’s had been removed from the Observation Car due to video-game-overuse” and the Dining Car had not planned anything. Don’t know what the rest of the train will do but then, dinner was good with an attentive staff and pleasant conversation with a man returning to Montana and a woman going to celebrate the holidays with her family in Chicago. Both are seasoned train travelers and tended to speak of we and them. At the moment, while I am writing this, we are stopped dead – the second time since leaving D.C. – something about a hose connector this time. Am philosophical. Don’t want to be delayed but can be.  Am told this does not happen often. Breathe. Enjoy. The AMTRAK Route Guide gives insight into stops along the way, historical stuff, nice. I believe AMTRAK is doing their best to make my first overnight train trip memorable. It is absolutely quiet, no lights, no voices, not even a whistle. It’s 10:00 p.m. and most are already asleep. In the true spirit of Laugh In, this is interesting. Tomorrow, back to the common area which I believe will be more active and communicative. Fortunately I am not easily thwarted. After breakfast, I intend to not so quietly visit the Observation Car until we reach Chicago, but for now ….. Shhhhhhh …. Happy New Year!!!!

Pssst:  Finally got changed by lying on the bed. And, although warned not to use tech devices without headphones so as to not disturb the other passengers, have a Netflix movie. Ho. Ho. Whoops – wrong holiday.