Another day, another new experience. Like most new things we try, we suck at it the first time!
Today is a sort of connector between the hurley-burley of New York, and the relaxing peace of our cruise to Canada. The only problem is, the cruise starts 200 miles away in Boston. Enter – Amtrak. We reckon we’re a bit tired of airports, so we’re taking the civilised route and riding the rails. We’ve booked online and have our e-tickets duly printed. Everything should be pretty simple, right? Wrong!
Fortunately, Nanette and I have enough experience to know what we don’t know, so we book an early car to Penn Station. At 8:09am precisely, our little group of four is wandering around outside the main entrance, looking for the elevator. It’s only a minor hiccup, and soon we’re trundling into the Amtrak departures area. The Amtrak website says “just look for any of our friendly uniformed staff. They’re happy to help.” I spot a few guys who are definitely wearing uniform. “Hello my good man. Are you able to take our bags to the loading area for the Boston train please?” Guy one looks at guy two. “Is he for real Sarge? Maybe I just take him out and ask some questions.” Fortunately, guy two, who I now realise is wearing army fatigues, has picked up on my accent. “Nah, he’s just another one of those dumb Aussies. We get em all the time.”
I apologise, and head for the “Customer Service” counter. There’s about ten people waiting, and nobody serving. Nanette, who has now picked up the New York system of giving directions, nods me towards a guy sitting at an empty ticket counter. I head over and again ask where we drop off our bags. When the guy stops laughing, he explains – “you see, it’s all open seating, and, you put your own bags on the train.” “Ah, so there’s some sort of baggage area on each car?” “Nah, you just put everything into the overhead lockers. They’re under 50 pounds (23kg for the Aussies) aren’t they?” I look at our four big bags. I look at us. I groan. “Ok, but how do we know which seat?” “Like I said, it’s open seating. When the train’s ready to board, we announce the platform number, and you just get in the line.” I’ll just digress here to point out that Amtrak claims they carry more passengers between New York and Boston each year than all of the airlines combined. I look around and realise is that most of these people have chosen today as the day they need to go.
Here’s how it works. Thirty minutes before scheduled boarding time. We join the loose collection of people sort of loitering around the mid-point pf the departures area, about equidistant from all the escalator entrances. … Twenty minutes to go. There’s a bit of a false rush because someone in the crowd thought they overhead a guy walking past say that his uncle got a call to say the train would be at platform W14. … Fourteen minutes to go. No announcement yet. The crowd’s getting edgy, then, all through the crowd, in about thirty different languages, there’s a cry that sounds like “W8”. The press of bodies is so great that we lose one of our group. We have a rule of “nobody gets left behind”, but there’s no choice. We cry back into the crowd “Try – to – find – us – on – the – platform….”
We’re whisked off down the escalator and get the first glimpse of the sleek looking train. Ah, here’s our lost companion. Now, to board. Let me digress again. Why do Americans need to upsize everything? You order a “small” coffee, and get something that resembles a bucket. You book standard Amtrak tickets, but all the cars are marked “Business Class”. By the time we work out that every car (other than first class) are “Business Class” everyone else is on-board and the few remaining seats are scattered like supporters of the losing superbowl team. Nanette and I manage to cajole two seats in the same four person setting, but Wayne and Cathy disappear on their quest for the Holy Grail. Cathy drops by about twenty minutes later to say they found seats together in another car, so all is well.
I’m writing this with my laptop on the table between our seats, and Nanette is doing stuff on her iPad using the free wi-fi. We’re starting to get the hang of Amtrak, and reckon we’ll do it much better next time, whenever that is.
Addendum: Since posting, two little things have occurred:
- one of our little gang found herself locked in the train toilet for a while – claims that the 150mph train speed made it shake so much she couldn’t move the latch
- two of our gang got off one station too soon. They swear and declare that it’s what is shown on their tickets. Anyway, that’s what cabs are for. All reunited now and (sort of) ready to go