09 December 2011


I decided to begin my holiday in the United States two weeks ahead of Paul so that I could visit friends. I arrived in D.C. on Friday, Dec. 2 and planned to travel between Southern Virginia and Massachusetts over the course of 10 days.

Since I would be spending 26 hours in airports and on planes on my way to the States, the last thing I wanted to do was spend more time in airports and on planes once I arrived. I considered renting a car but that would mean not only paying a rental fee, but also paying for fuel and tolls and additional taxes. Plus, Virginia = traffic and I am not so keen on sitting in traffic, especially when I have places to go and people to see.

My solution was to take a train – well, three trains – so that I could see the countryside and be chauffeured around, all while not sitting in traffic. I called it my Amtrak Adventure because I had never taken a train for anything other than a quick ride to the North Pole when I was little.

After a stellar weekend with Katie and Van, I arrived at Union Station, beautifully situated across from the Capitol building.

Luckily, Katie is an Amtrak veteran so she gave me all of the inside info so that I would be able to make it to my train on time. Day One took me from Washington, D.C. to Newport News, Virginia, where I was greeted by my long-time best childhood friend.

Amanda and I met in kindergarten and became instant sisters. We liked each other so much that we spent every waking moment away from our parents together. We spent so much time together that we got on each other’s nerves and got into the biggest fights and stopped being friends about a half a dozen times. Of course, after a couple of days, we were fine.

The train ride was great. As I rode I wondered why I had never considered taking Amtrak before. I was provided slightly more legroom than on a commercial airline, there was free Wi-Fi and electrical outlets in each seating pair, the seats reclined at a more than reasonable angle, there was a café car and there was no security anywhere.

No TSA people approached me and forced me to place everything on a conveyer belt and take off my shoes. No one patted me down. I did not have to worry about how many liquids I had, the volume of each or which bag they were in. I was allowed to carry on any size bag I pleased at no additional cost.

The train was quiet. The first time I heard a dull whistle, I got excited as I realized that I was on the train from which the whistle was sounded. The sun was shining outside and I got to see the landscape, though it was rather dull. Brown grass, brown leafless trees, brown buildings. Singapore is much prettier.

On Amtrak Adventure Day Two, I opted for the business class car since I had a sevenish-hour ride north to New Jersey. The business class car was really no different than the coach cars. The seats were slightly larger and there was a bit more leg room but that was it.

The seats were cloth just like in coach; there were no additional amenities. I was advised that my ticket stub would earn me a free beverage from the café car but I, of course, left it in my seatback pocket. The biggest thing I noticed is that the coach cars were actually quieter than the business car. There were lots of people on phones and typing on computers in the business car.

The weather from Southern Virginia to New Jersey was utterly gross. The sky was grey, fog rolled in, rain was constant. The farther north we travelled, the harder the rain poured. Then, my real adventure started.

I opted to alight at Newark Penn Station so that I could take another train to Western New Jersey. Somehow I got distracted and did not realize when the train was at my desired station. I heard the Amtrak attendant say that a lot of people would be leaving the train in Newark, so I assumed that a lot of people moving would be my cue to get up.

I asked my seat partner if we were at Penn Station and he advised me that Penn Station is underground and that that station would be our next stop. Well, whoever named these stations sure made life difficult because Newark Penn Station and New York Penn Station are not the same even though they are pronounced the same.

When I realized we were indeed at my stop, I tried to flag the attendant to confirm but the train began to pull out of the station after a mere minute and a half of being stationary. “Next stop New York Penn Station in New York City,” I heard the woman on the loudspeaker say. “Fifteen minutes to New York Penn Station.” Crap.

Missing my station meant that I would have to go into New York City, find the New Jersey trains, purchase an additional ticket and find my way back west. I got off the train and headed inside, trying my hardest to remember Penn Station’s layout – it had been three years or more since I had been there.

I was rolling two bags, one medium-sized black rollerboard typically seen as an airplane carry on and one small rollerboard suitcase about half the size. I was also carrying my purse, which was filled to utter capacity, a small travel pillow and I had a coat or two clipped to the front of my black rollerboard. This is why I did not want to go into New York City. I was not crowd friendly.

No kidding – I was in Penn Station for about 30 seconds when a man in his 20s came walking toward me in the masses. I was contemplating whether or not I could fit in between him and another man to his left. There was a space between so I went for it. I curled my arms behind me so that I could trim my personal space and not hit anyone in the process.

While the one man moved to allow me more space, the man in his 20s very rudely and very loudly yelled in my ear as he passed, “The world does not revolve around you!” Oh yes, I am in America. I heart New York, right?

I found my way to the New Jersey Transit station, bought my $14+ ticket and headed into an overcrowded corridor, down a single-width escalator and into an overcrowded train. Now, when I say overcrowded train, I mean that I was standing with five other men in the corridor between two trains because there was no room inside the trains. This was, after all, New York City transit rush hour.

I alighted at the first station and realized about five minutes later that I was not back at Newark Penn Station as I had thought. I was in Secaucus, another New Jersey City. After speaking with a security agent, I was advised that I now needed to take two more trains to get to Raritan, my former New Jersey home.

A little more than an hour later, I made it into the tiny town of Raritan, New Jersey my former home. The world was pitch black and the rain was pouring hard. What made the rain worse was the low, single-digit Celsius temperatures (40 Fahrenheit or below) and the wind that made my fingers feel like they were about to break off my hands. Why was I not wearing gloves? Oh yeah, because they were in Ohio. I was smart enough to have a winter coat shipped to D.C. so that my friends could have it waiting for me upon arrival but I did not think about gloves until I really needed them.

Unable to contact my friend to advise her that I was at the station because my American sim card is almost worthless, I walked to my former apartment building about five minutes away. I arrived on Jackie’s doorstep, soaked, two hours after I intended to arrive but she greeted me with open arms anyway – even if she did forget I was coming.

Yesterday was Amtrak Adventure Day Three and I enjoyed riding through my favorite part of the United States – New England. I took the New Jersey Transit train to Newark Penn Station – and made it without a hitch this time. As the train pulled into the city of Newark, I was reminded of how indescribable the city is.

Paul has spent a little time in India while working as a pilot and has advised me on more than five occasions that nothing good comes from India. “There is no good reason to go to India,” he says. I, personally, would enjoy spending a few days in India. I would like to explore some culture, see the Taj Mahal, see some wild tigers and I hear Goa is nice. “I repeat – there is no good reason to go to India.”

Newark, for Paul’s sake, is like India. After spending two years in New Jersey, I can honestly say that there is absolutely no reason – good or bad – to go to Newark. It is utterly disgusting. See for yourself:

Connecticut and Massachusetts, however are all quite beautiful.

My train ended in a little town where I saw a man get arrested in the station – handcuffed, put in the back of the police vehicle and all – and I thought, welcome to Springfield.

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