Railroading North America

02/ Washington,DC

02-amtrak-counter-was-102108-bw-smallDAY 2
Washington, DC
Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Washington’s Union Station, a railroad cathedral, was surprisingly packed and thriving at 8 a.m. the Tuesday morning I arrived.

I should have gone straight to New York, not Washington and I should have booked an earlier train. Now the only way to get to Montreal was to wait nearly 24 hours and catch a train leaving at 4 a.m. for New York.

Which would lead to another reality: By the time I arrived in Montreal Wednesday night I would have spent two nights and three days on trains or in railroad stations. I had expected to book a sleeper from Kissimmee, but Amtrak proved unexpectedly greedy: $500 for a room. My lack of planning was catching up.

I used GPS on my IPhone and found a hotel a few blocks from Union Station where a desk clerk was soon giving me free internet access, cookies and coffee (if you travel a lot you learn to scrounge very deep). Moments later I had my hotel reservation in Montreal but now I was troubled by how inexpensive the hotel was. Checking, I discovered that the Canadian “loonie” (dollar) has tanked against the American dollar and this Canadian trip was going to cost a lot less than I expected.

Amtrak shipped one of my bags on to New York but I kept my backpack with my computer to use later in the day. For the first time I had planned ahead. I had a bunch of quarters in a plastic bag to ditch my backpack in a station storage locker … but now I couldn’t find any lockers in the station. Well. There haven’t been any lockers in American train stations since September 2001.

Instead there are storage rooms where for two-to-five dollars an hour per bag (depending on size) you can check luggage up to 24 hours. I only paid 15-dollars years ago for this backpack, and now it is going to cost me more than I had paid for it brand new? Exactly.

Now a clerk and I had this discussion:
“That water bottle clipped to the backpack — does it leak?”
“Does it contain contraband liquids?”
“It contains water from Kissimmee, Florida.”
“The point is, is it explosive?”
I bet everybody in Kissimmee hopes not.

Now I had a free day in Washington. I started through my stack of business cards having little luck until I came to a photographer I had met at Gracie Mansion during the Republican Convention in New York in 2004. She is a White House photographer and was shooting a press conference at the National Press Club — would I like to meet her there and then do coffee?

The photographer had grown tired of Washington in the years since we met. She is a Canadian citizen and I figured she might give me pointers on touring her country. “I haven’t been there in years,” she said, “and when I was there I didn’t get around much.”

She said she has always wanted to paint and draw — photographers are usually more artist than journalist. But she has lost a lot of her conservatively invested savings in the last two months and her dream of getting away is fading. Trying to be upbeat she figures a President Obama will been a bonanza. “Everyone in the world is going to be looking for pictures of him,” she said.

This trip: 0 miles … Washington, DC
Total North American Rail Pass miles covered: 917

(Photo, Amtrak’s deserted ticket counter, Washington, DC, Union Station, 1:15 a.m., Wednesday October 22, 2008)


Distance today: 0
Distance Total: 917 miles


1 Comment »

  1. Ya know I picture it and laugh.

    Comment by Edward Betz — April 5, 2010 @ 5:01 pm

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