Tuesday, June 03, 2008


I left work at noon to catch a 3:00 train. Got home, threw a few last things in a bad, buy nibbles, and off to Union Station. Amtrak says show up half an hour early. I got there closer to an hour and a half early. If you know where you're going and what you're doing they're right, half an hour should do.

As it was Union Station was still in the middle of the lunch rush. High school tours and business people everywhere in addition to the people trying to get to their train. It was worse than navigating from one gate to the next in an airport.

The line at the ticket counter moved pretty fast. They had more agents than most airlines have windows AND automated machines. My info came right up instead of the agent spending 10 minutes working on their novel or whatever they're doing pushing all those buttons. Checking my bag consisted of "here's my bag", "Ok, here's your stub. NEXT!" I went off and got some lunch. Ate at my leisure. Bought new headphones at the music store. Went to the gate. Had half an hour still to go. People started lining up at 15 minutes until departure. At 10 til they let through the elderly and people with kids. The rest followed about a minute later.

We went down an escalator to a filthy platform between to trains. It looks easy enough to clean. A good ladder, a hose, a soapy brush most of the grime should wipe right off. As we moved down the platform it started to look more like what you'd expect a train platform to look like from the movies. Metal beams, lots of rivets, and unpainted wood stopping the rain. It looks like the filth was from diesel engines idling in an enclosed area. Seats were assigned as you actually got on the train.

Seating is like first class on a plane but without the arm rests. There's one arm rest by the window and one on the rather ample aisle. They support elbow to mid-forearm. That is to say they're nigh worthless. I rested my arm on the window sill most of the time instead. The seats are big and have plenty of leg room but are not comfortable. About half the passengers moved to the refreshment car instead.

The train moved very slowly from Union Station to Alexandria where it stopped again. DC and the surrounding area was the only part of the trip where we were actually running on elevated platforms over the city instead of blocking traffic. I'm sure everybody involved appreciated that.

I watched out the window for a long time. This is a great way to see the wide diversity of scrub brush along the east coast. Lots of really tall weed things. Some areas plant bamboo or some ancient tall grass along the tracks to make them look better. Other places plant plants. Chemical plants. Gravel plants. The backs of malls. Stuff like that. And you really can't tell the grafitti in DC from that anywhere else along the coast.

There's really two speeds on a train. A slow creep and too damn fast. You could walk the slow creep. Too damn fast means the train is shaking because it wobbles so much on the rails. I've been on rollercoasters that didn't shake that much. Not many, but a few. To be fair there were some places where we went a speed that shook that weren't scary.

Supper is by reservation in the dining car. The booths are comfortable. The food is reasonably priced and not bad.

And then there was sleep. Or at least an attempt at it. You can lean back 20° or so and put out a leg rest. But that's not nearly enough. That was the most uncomfortable bed I've ever slept on. Remember, the guy saying that slept on his office floor for two months, his couch for a year and a half, and has gone camping on really rocky ground.

I picked up my book about half an hour down the track. Agatha Christie's "Murder on the Orient Express". I finished it 15 minutes before pulling into Orlando. I also spent time doing really scribbly crossword puzzles in pen and listening to audio books.

So for $94 I made it from DC to Orlando in 19 hours. For about the same price I could have taken a plane in 3-4 hours. There's really just no reason to take a train other than the experience of having taken one or a fear of flying.

No comments: