Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Amtrak Flashbak

M ore about the events I mentioned yesterday:

When pulled up to the Toledo Amtrak Station--third largest train terminal in the U.S. (said an announcement justifying departure/arrival delays)--I had no idea it was only open from 9 p.m. until 12:30 p.m., seven days a week. When we arrived at the station straightaway from Tony Packo's, it was 7:40 p.m., so there would be a fair amount of waiting around given that my train was scheduled to pass through between 3:30 a.m .and 4 a.m. Waiting, reading. I finished Weinberger's Everything is Miscellaneous and glanced Rice and Reynolds' Portfolio Teaching pamphlet, which I grabbed from the Bedford table at C&W because Old U. aims to add Portfolio Keeping to their online FYC sequence by September.

Other than the ticketing agent, I was the only person in the station from 9 p.m. until 10:30 p.m. The worst thing about the Toledo station is that the benches are deliberately uncomfortable. High, rounded cushion backs and narrow, slanted bench seats made it impossible to sleep. The second worst thing about the Toledo station is that the channel cannot be changed on any of the three televisions broadcasting CNN Headline News (which, on Sunday night, included at least three full airings of Larry King featuring the whole gang from Dancing with the Stars). The third worst thing: only Pepsi products. Even so, I did enjoy one Dr. Pepper. And the fourth worst thing?

The 2:00 a.m. train to Pittsburgh was delayed for a full hour, to those who would have boarded it at 2:00 a.m. were mulling around. I talked for a while with a retired elementary school teacher from Saginaw who had many concerns about No Child Left Behind and who, for other reasons altogether, waited with her NYC-bound artist-daughter to make sure she wasn't left behind. The late train arrived. Those departing on it went out to the platform; those arriving made way into the station.

Next--ten feet in front of me--a woman in her fifties was walking into the station, wheeling her luggage into the terminal when the floor mat folded under the short wheels of her suitcase, instantaneously creating a tripping hazard of the worst sort: one that could hardly be anticipated. And she fell with alarming force to the floor. We helped her up and over to the nearest bench--the same one I had been sitting on. She would be fine, although she insisted on having the ticketing agent call 9-1-1 and mentioned that her daughter was a lawyer at Toledo U. I won't go into all of the details of our conversation, but because I was already sitting there and had all of my luggage parked by the bench, I was the only one who remained within earshot, near enough to listen to her rail against Amtrak (It's not even raining! and I just want my medical bills paid for! and Did you see what happened?). Living it--perhaps because I've done a poor job of capturing the mood--was somehow more surreal.

Compared to the trip and fall, most of the other incidents were minor. In Buffalo, a mass of passengers crowded onto the train and there was a tussle between a couple of folks in front of me over who would have the window seat. Nothing major. I will take the train again, but I can't say that I have any immediate plans to do so. For the $57 bucks I spent, I might not have been able to drive a car from Toledo to Syracuse. And all of the flights, besides costing several times more and piling on one or more layovers, would've taken the same amount of time as Monday's eight-hour train ride.