2022.08.10: Notes and Pictures Taken on a Long-Ass Train Ride From Stamford to Charlottesville

My first post in a while. Consider this a warm up for getting back into the writing habit. Consider yourself warned: you may be bored.

I’m booked on the 11:29 Amtrak Northeast Regional from Stamford to Charlottesville. I had asked my friend, Emil, for a ride to the station. He said yes, but first he needed to take his wife, Sarah, to work at eleven. I was initially okay with this, but when 10:30 came around I became anxious about the potential that he might not get me there on time and, as I didn’t want to chance missing the only train to Charlottesville from Stamford today, I arranged for an Uber, texted Emil that I was getting a ride to the station.

I thoroughly enjoyed my driver, a woman named Joy who moved to Stamford from Port Chester two years ago with her husband and two children – for the schools and a safer neighbourhood. We talked about the advantages of living in Connecticut as opposed to New York State. Her one complaint was the property taxes on vehicles. Between their two cars they pay something in the neighbourhood of One Thousand Dollars annually. She’s glad that gas prices are going down; at their peak they were cutting into about half of what she would make on average. Uber, she said, was giving a Fifty Cent per trip gas ‘help.’ We both had a good laugh at that. I liked her so much I gave her a Ten Dollar tip, just Two Dollars less than the fare.

Stamford Station wasn’t particularly busy. At the newsstand I picked up copies of the Financial Times and The New York Times, a tin of Altoids and a bottle of Canada Dry seltzer. Both papers were thin: I’m already done with the FT and am saving the NYT for the leg from DC to Charlottesville.

Took some pictures at Stamford before the train arrived (late).

I am enjoying my seat in the Business Car. Five-F, a window seat on the West side of the train (if you consider that we’re traveling South). So far, no one sitting next to me.

Just outside of Manhattan, about fifteen minutes from Penn, the train comes to a slow and squeaky stop. We sit there for perhaps ten minutes with no word from the crew. When we start moving again, the conductor announces: ladies and gentlemen, as you can see we have no power in the cars, but the good news is that we’re moving. We apologize for the problems which we’ll address with the maintenance crew when we arrive at Penn Station.

The worst part about the lack of power, it being daytime, is no air conditioning. In ten minutes or so that we’ve been traveling, the air has become thick and uncomfortable. No problem for the remaining five or so minutes to Penn, but I wouldn’t want to finish off the trip to Charlottesville this way.

The train came to another stop, high above some part of Queens (interesting that instead of going through the Bronx as other trains I’ve taken to Washington do, we’re traveling across Queens and Brooklyn – sort of along the BQE). There we stayed for a good fifteen minutes before moving again. Power has been restored to the cars, so the AC is back on, but the ride is going slow. We were told that it would be another ten minutes to Penn about ten minutes ago and Manhattan is still across the river.

Power substation in the Bronx near the Randall’s Island Connector

The passage from New York to Washington, DC was fairly uneventful. At one point I walked two cars up to the Bar Car (through the Quiet Car and one of the Coach Class cars). For lunch I had the Angus Burger (a cheese burger microwaved to a shoe-leather consitency), a bag of Miss Vicky’s chips (sea salt), and a slim can of Stella Artois. These I ate at a table I shared with a young woman in possession of a stack of word search and crossword magazines, a bag of peanut M&Ms accompanied me back to my seat. They’re gone now.

It was raining hard as we pulled into DC. We sat there for a good long time as they changed the engine, the crew, cleaned the train and took in new passengers – might have been an hour, might have been longer; thank God for the distraction of a good book (still deep into Sally Mann’s memoir, Hold Still). At some point the rain stopped and I didn’t notice. Looking out the window at 17:43 I found it to be darker than I expected (because of the clouds? because we’re that much more south from Connecticut? because of the approaching Autumn?) As I asked this last question, the train started moving.

Hopeful that we would get to Charleston at a time approximating our scheduled arrival, I was disappointed when the conductor informed us that we were an hour behind schedule in a scolding tone, as though we were responsible for the delays. ‘Whatever time you expected to arrive at, just add an hour to that!’ she said out loud while, silently, I heard her add ‘you bastards!’

Texting my wife this last update (and by the way: we’re stopped again in the middle of nowhere, so maybe the hour delay was an optimistic estimate), she hopes that I’m comfortable at least. Must say that, in spite of it all, I’m doing pretty well. Getting in some reading, writing, photography (out the train window) and music reading. I said I was contemplating walking back up to the bar car for a stiff gin and tonic after we pass Alexandria. We’ve been stopped just outside Alexandria for the past fifteen minutes, so I’m getting up now.

Thirty minutes later, still sitting outside of Alexandria, double gin and tonic in hand. On the train, they don’t actually make a gin and tonic. Sort of like the pubs in England, they give you a do-it-yourself kit. The main difference is that rather than pouring the gin in your glass and handing you a bottle of tonic, here you get the gin in airplane bottles. The only thing they put in the glass is the ice – and thankfully, they give you a lot of that because the gin is warm and the tonic is warm so you lose the ice quickly.

On the way back from the bar car I stopped between cars and called Jane. Not a lot going on. Some continuing drama over the thefts of personal property at work which I’ve written about elsewhere. Basically, more victims and an ineffectual response from management that probably emboldened the ‘barracks thief’ in their pursuit.

19:08: after more than an hour, the train moved thirty feet. We’re getting there! I’m afraid that earlier statement of a one hour delay was highly optimistic (since, as I say, that was over an hour ago). I’m sure this is also our fault and I hope the conductor doesn’t come down the aisle flogging us for it.

19:17: we have just inched into a station that is not Alexandria. We’ve stopped yet again.

Train stopped for no apparent reason just outside Burke Center, VA

19:46: Still outside of Alexandria and we were ‘reminded’ that we are stopped because of a tree on the tracks. REMINDED? This is the first time anyone is hearing of it. This is becoming an epic adventure of Homereque proportions.

20:22: Announcement: ladies and gentlemen, the maintenance away crew has arrived and are at work removing the tree in front of us

21:45: Woman lost control of her car and ended up on the tracks. They moved the car and we’re on the move again

22:54: One Virginia woman describing to another Virginia woman where her daughter lives in New York City: ‘I don’t know if you know it: West Village? It’s right next to Greenwich Village.’ I roll my eyes so far back they actually face forward again.

The never ending journey

22:51: Well…. I don’t know how to say this without slamming my head against the seat in front of me, but there is a ‘defect’ on the track and we’re stuck in Manassas for a while. WTF?

22:55: Oh! Either we’re moving or I just passed gas. Too slow to tell

22:55 and a half: No, we’re moving. Verrrrrrrrrry slowwwwly

00:42: Arrived in Charlottesville. There are many ways to look at a bad situation. I’m going to look at this as having gotten an extra five hours on the train for free.

2 responses to “2022.08.10: Notes and Pictures Taken on a Long-Ass Train Ride From Stamford to Charlottesville”

  1. This reminded me of a trip I took from Salem, Oregon, to Sacramento, California. Twelve hours late. A freight train broke south of Salem, we hit a bear in Dunsmuir, then the tracks broke somewhere south of it. It was long. A fellow rider missed his court date in Klamath Falls ( I wonder what he had done) and I missed a day at work. Adventure Amtrak. Welcome back to the blog.

    Liked by 1 person

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