A site of satirical musings, commentary and/or rhetorical criticism of the world at large.

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Location: Southeastern, Pennsylvania, United States

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Long Mixed Weekend

Anne Marie and I returned to work on Tuesday after a long weekend, which means we cussed out Tuesday as if it were Monday, because Tuesday was the first day of our work week. Or to quote that great Scottish actor Robert Shaw, who once said more than once in The Sting, “Ya falla’?” If you don’t follow, don’t worry about it; it probably wasn’t worth the trip.

We traveled to Baltimore during the course of the long weekend, with every intention of catching the Phillies play at Camden Yards on Sunday. We had always wanted to visit Camden Yards, which 20 years old this year. This was the stadium which, when it originally opened, set the standard for a new generation of sports venues. Since we also take the train whenever we can find an excuse, we decided to take the one-hour (I emphasize “one hour”) train trip to Baltimore from Philadelphia.

That was our plan, but as the great Scottish poet Robert Burns once said, “The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley!” Yeah, I know! I don’t know what the hell he’s talking about either. Why are men ganging up on the aft? And why pick on the poor agley?

My point in sticking this reference of high culture in the middle of my blog was simply to dramatize this point: our weekend trip had the best of intentions, but we got eff’d, at least for a while!

Our problems started when, just was we were leaving Philadelphia, our conductor’s radio crackled to life as he punched our tickets, and I heard the words “one hour delay”. The conductor matter-of-factly acknowledged the message and moved away nonchalantly as he punched more passenger tickets, but I tried to pretend that I didn’t hear it. Once we got to our first stop in Wilmington, the conductor and I couldn’t pretend any longer. The train stopped and the conductor had to come clean. He announced that the catenary wires somewhere between Wilmington and Baltimore had come down, which would not enable our electrified locomotive to go any further.

For those of you who are not hip to train travel, but use jet airliners as your principal mode of travel, I shall offer this analogy. A disconnection of the catenary wires is similar to hearing this announcement from the cockpit during your flight, “Attention passengers, this is your captain Mitt Romney speaking, and I thought I might tell you something humorous. It seems that we’ve made a major miscalculation on the amount of fuel we needed to take on for this flight, and it appears that shortly we’ll experience what we in the airline business call an unscheduled landing. Um…I hope all of you have your affairs in order!”

Fortunately, those of us sitting in a train in downtown Wilmington were in no danger of experiencing an unscheduled landing. However, we would be inconvenienced in not getting to our destination on time for the scheduled 1:35p start of the baseball game. This is not the first time we’ve experienced a lengthy delay riding on Amtrak. We once had a five hour leisurely layover between trains in Chicago evaporate down to 30 seconds, and the train to which we were transferring just had to be on the other side of the station. This meant we had to dash through Union Station with luggage going at speeds that two overweight, middle-aged people were not built to withstand. It was a most unusual sight, and I don’t believe the good citizens of Chicago have recovered from it yet. But I digress: my point is that this was not the first delay on Amtrak, but it would be the first delay that would keep us from making an appointment on time.

So, one hour passed while we waited for the diesel (yes, three cheers for black soot smelling, odor belching diesel) engine which would pull us through the wireless catenary. The diesel finally showed up; the electricity and air conditioning inside the cars were turned off for five minutes while the new engine was coupled. Hooray, we thought! We can go now, and still make it in time to drop our bags off at the hotel, and walk two blocks to the stadium in plenty of time to hear the umpire call out, “Play ball.”

Alas, this is where our gang went aft agley. The conductor came on the loudspeaker again and announced that we now had to wait for the next train from Philadelphia to come behind us and hook up to us, so it too could get through the Land of Defective Catenary. Apparently they also needed a diesel engine to make this trip, and wouldn’t you know it, we were lucky enough to snag the only diesel engine on the entire Northeast Corridor. Wow, lucky us! This meant we sat for another hour in downtown Wilmington!

The other train arrived, power down, trains coupled and pronounced married, power up, and…and…we sat there for another 30 minutes. There might have been another announcement about brake testing before we could proceed, but I don’t remember hearing it. Finally we were off, but since the engine was pulling two passenger trains the progress was very slow. At another point, we reached the other side of the Land of Bad Wiring, the diesel engine was uncoupled from us, and we proceeded into Baltimore, arriving about twenty minutes after the first pitch was thrown.

We rushed to a taxi, which was not dependent on catenaries to go forward. In the course of the ride, I saw a running message board one would see on the side of a newspaper building, which reported that the Phillies were ahead 3-1. Nice, I thought, that we missed them scoring those runs. The entire day later rubbed salt in that wound when those three runs made up the bulk of the Fightin’s score that day. 
At the hotel, we checked in, ran our bags to our room, used the facilities, and hurried on to Camden Yards in time to hear Orioles fans cheer their team going ahead of the Phillies. I tried my best to forget the disastrous morning and enjoy Camden Yards as much as I could. Most of my time there was spent gathering food: crab cake sandwiches ($30!!), a kosher sausage sandwich, and drinks. Fortunately, the game went into extra innings which gave me the illusion that I got my money’s worth for my hundred dollar tickets. Still, it just whetted my appetite to return and get the full Camden Yards experience, Phillies or not.

I could go on about our evening dinner at Dick’s Last Resort, but that experience is worthy of another blog entry sometime in the near future. I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the contributions of the one group who made this day’s snafu possible. No, I’m not talking about Amtrak; I refer to the United States Congress who for the past 40 years has treated this nation’s passenger railroad like a red-headed stepchild who (they obviously hoped) would dry up and blow away. Their non-funding attitude undoubtedly contributed to the ancient railroad equipment which keeps breaking down without repair or replacement. Their thinking has prevailed regardless of which major party was in power. 

So, this is dedicated to you, Congress! I hope your gang goes aft agley!

(Thank you for reading, and thank you for allowing me to vent. Honestly, what are blogs for?)


Anonymous Janey said...

Dear RTG and AMG,

So sorry to hear that your vacation plans went all gang aft agley!

May I suggest a mode of transportation known as the automobile? While certainly not infallible, they offer the passengers much control over arrival and destination times.

On a political note, I too wish that rail funding would be greatly increased, and that the long-defunct rail line in Pottstown would run again. The guys in Philly would be sooo happy if I were just a train ride away!!


June 14, 2012 at 8:33 AM  

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