Monday, November 02, 2009

Halloween, Washington and a weekend aboard Amtrak

It certainly was a fascinating Halloween weekend here along the Atlantic Seaboard. I spent nearly the entire weekend traveling back and forth between Providence and Washington, DC aboard one of Amtrak's less-than-stellar Northeast Regional trains. The upside was that for at least half that trip Susie and I were together.

After a fairly typical week of work for both of us, Susie and I left Providence by train and headed south to Washington, DC. The plan was (and, in fact, still is) for her to attend the national conference of “Women chefs and Restaurateurs” in Washington. I would turn right around for Providence after a quick stop at Arlington National Cemetery. As a bonus we hoped to pop over to Northern Virginia and see Glen and Christina and Miss K.

It was a fine autumn Saturday morning when we left our apartment for the train station in Providence. The plan was simple: take the train to Washington, the Metro to Virginia, spend the night with Glen and Christina, Metro back into the city early Sunday, I get off at Arlington National Cemetery to look for Mary Heistand's grave, Susie continues on into the city to check in for the conference.

A simple plan complicated by the vagaries of human nature and mechanical failure.

The train departed on time but twelve miles outside of Providence, in the middle of rural Rhode Island, we came to a complete stop. We had to pull alongside an earlier New York-bound train, which had broken down, and off-load their passengers onto our train. Naturally this made for a full house and we were just getting started. And now we were late by nearly an hour.

Still, it was a stress-free ride through the Connecticut countryside, and one couldn't help but admire the gorgeous fall colors still lingering just about everywhere along our route.

The train cruised into the Big Apple and came to a halt in the bowels of the old Penn Station. Several thousand people (exaggeration alert) got off and very few got on -- most importantly, though, the conductors failed to get on and so we sat for something approaching an hour before we learned that there was no crew aboard our train. At last Amtrak rounded up a handful of conductors, who, it seemed, had no idea what was going on and in fact gave the impression of just having recently passed their English as a Second Language test.

Off we went to Washington passing through Newark (two stops) Philadelphia, Baltimore and eventually pulling into Washington's Union Station at 8pm (20:00 hours), nearly two and a half hours late.

We headed straight for the Metro, bought our "Farecards" at one of the automated kiosks and headed for the Red Line. We got off at Metro Center and connected to the Blue Line headed in the direction of Franconia-Springfield -- indeed, we took it to the very end of the line.

The one highpoint of the metro leg of our trip was that since it was Halloween evening, nearly everyone under 25 in Washington was dressed up (or down) in one sort of costume or another – although in this day and age it’s often difficult to distinguish what is a ‘costume” and what is simply normally clothing for some people. One thing did stand out though: it seemed that most of the young women were vying for top “Halloween Slut Award.”

But it was fun and made the trip out to northern Virginia zip by.

Glen met us at the entrance to the Metro station and a few minutes later we were in their warm home, sitting around a table of delicious food, enjoying a glass of wine and lively conversation.

Not a bad way to end out a long day of train travel and train snafus. Not bad at all.

Next: Susie stays, I return and Amtrak lives up (or down) to its reputation.

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