Saturday, April 18, 2015

All Aboard: NYP to BOS on the Northeast Regional

Photo: New York Penn Station, Main Floor

Amtrak scheduled a comfortable connection, about an hour and a half, between the Crescent's arrival and the departure of Train #88, the Northeast Regional. I was glad for time to explore Penn Station and check out facilities available to Amtrak's coach class passengers. I had seen the Acela Lounge for first class passengers on the trip south with Mom.

Photo: Directly across from the elevator on the main floor of Penn Station, a welcome sight - Dunkin' Donuts!

Photo: Entrance (on right) to Amtrak's passenger lounge for coach travelers

Photo: Arrival and departure information posted inside passenger lounge

Photo: Amtrak's coach class passenger lounge, roped off from the Red Cap service area; and from passenger lounges for (1) passengers with disabilities, (2) groups traveling together, and (3) others needing assistance getting to and from trains

Photo: Curtains gives lounge users visual relief from the hundreds of people in transit, many shopping in NYP station stores

Photo: Power sources for travelers with electronics in Amtrak's coach passenger lounge at NYP look dated

Photo: TTY service in Amtrak's coach passenger lounge at NYP

Photo: Video screen (left) features travel and safety information for passengers; portable wheelchairs (right) are available inside Amtrak's coach passenger lounge

But, there are no restrooms in the lounge. Those are located at the back of the Main Floor. Look for the words "Women" and "Men" high above the doorways after you pass under the train board. The words are not illuminated.

Photo: Exit from Amtrak's coach passenger lounge at NYP; turn right to find restrooms at the back of the Main Floor

The 2:00PM Northeast Regional train was running 40 minutes late, which meant Train #88, the 3:00PM Northeast Regional, would be late too. I had plenty of time to pick up the new Amtrak System Timetable from the Customer Service office. The Blonde From Bakersfield's "Dream Book."

Photo: Amtrak System Timetable available free in the Customer Service office at NYP

Photo: Northeast Regional Route Map (Courtesy of Amtrak.com)

I boarded Train #88 around 3:45PM with a carry-out lunch, knowing I would miss the 8:15PM bus connection in Boston.

Photo: Leaving NYP aboard the Northeast Regional, Train #88

The trip from New York to Boston was uneventful. I enjoyed my late lunch in peace while listening to an audio book.

Photo: The Crescent at the Boston South Station

By the time Train #88 reached Boston, the Plymouth and Brockton office in South Station Bus Terminal was closed. After a momentary panic over whether I had enough cash to buy a ticket to the Cape, I saw a sign that referred P&B customers to the Greyhound desk.

Photo: Plymouth and Brockton office at the Boston South Station Bus Terminal

The Greyhound representative said P&B buses would accept tickets purchased at the Greyhound kiosk. Whew! I could use a credit card.

Photo: Kiosk at the Greyhound office in Boston South Station Bus Terminal. Plymouth and Brockton buses accept Greyhound tickets purchased here.

Ticket in hand, I headed for Gate #18 to wait for the 9:45PM bus to Hyannis. A familiar panhandler was trying to get money from a lady sitting at the gate. The panhandler had changed her story since the last time I saw her. Instead of claiming to be a mother with two small children who needed to rent a room for the night because the local shelter would not accept children, she claimed to be a woman alone, fearful of sleeping on the street, needing money for a different shelter than the one she usually stayed in because that one had closed, and on and on. The lady asked the panhandler a number of questions, after remarking about the girl's glassy eyes. The panhandler said she had been in a bad accident and had broken nine bones, and on and on - but she wasn't going to use the money for drugs . . . To my amazement, the lady gave her some cash. The panhandler didn't bother to ask me for a handout.

Photo: Gate 18 inside Boston South Station Bus Terminal

The P&B bus arrived on time. The ride was comfortable. I sat next to a woman who had been visiting museums in New York City for the weekend. She made interesting conversation.

The bus dropped me off at 11:20PM, just over 27 hours after I left Atlanta. I was overjoyed to see John.

Photo: Plymouth and Brockton bus at Barnstable stop

"There's no place like home." [Click.]

Next trip: The Crescent in May

Hope you will join me!

All Aboard: ATL to NYP on the Crescent

I arrived at Peachtree Station two hours before the scheduled departure of Train #20, allowing ample time to look around the station house.

Photo: Comfortable, beautifully maintained wooden bench seats are available in all waiting areas at Amtrak's Peachtree Station.

Photo: Well-placed signs guide passengers through available services.

Photo: Peachtree Station's Baggage Claim is clearly marked and features a large scale for weighing suitcases and boxes. This area is staffed by a dedicated Amtrak employee who answers questions about baggage policies and assists passengers checking in and picking up their belongings. Red Cap and wheelchair service is at hand.

Photo: A steep, covered staircase leads from the station house to the train platform at Peachtree Station. An elevator is available.

Photo: Waiting area for seniors and passengers with disabilities is clearly marked.

Around 7:00PM, an hour before departure, the station began filling with travelers. A blonde woman, wheeling a small suitcase with matching carry-on bag, sat next to me in the "seniors" waiting area. Her luggage was new. She had shopped at a Super Wal-Mart from 8:00AM to 5:00PM and bought more than she could carry, so she purchased the two-piece luggage set and shipped her other suitcase home to Bakersfield. "Wow! Nine hours in a Wal-Mart?" I asked. "Yes. We don't have Super Wal-Marts in Bakersfield."

The Blonde From Bakersfield had arrived by train from Los Angeles to visit family, and was returning via Washington, DC and Chicago with a side trip to someplace in Wisconsin for a 50th anniversary class reunion. She was a very experienced long-distance train traveler and offered dozens of valuable tips. I will share some of them throughout the blog, using italics to differentiate her tips from my own.

About waiting areas: There is always a waiting area for seniors, people with disabilities, and others needing assistance. People in this waiting area are always boarded first, even if they do not require wheelchairs or help with carry on bags.

About baggage: Always keep your bags with you (if you can manage them yourself). This saves time and avoids the possibility of losing a bag.

About seat selection: Seats are usually assigned as you board the train, but if you smile and ask nicely, "Is it possible for me to have a window seat?", you may be able to get one. They are best for sleeping, because you can curl up and lean against the side of the train, instead of trying to stay upright to avoid leaning into the aisle. Window seats are odd-numbered; aisle seats are even-numbered.

We stopped chatting whenever freight trains passed through. (To my delight, four went by between 6:00PM and 8:00PM.) I had a birds-eye view from an excellent vantage point in the waiting room. Though I did not have a chance to verify if the station house was built over some of the rails, judging from the steep staircase leading down to the platform, it seemed a good possibility. Southbound trains appeared to pass directly under the building.

Photo: First of four freight trains that passed through Peachtree Station between 6:00PM and 8:00PM. Exciting!

Photo: Second of four freight trains that passed through Peachtree Station. Super-long!

Photo: Third (on left) of four freight trains. Lots of stacked containers on this one. Colorful! Second freight train (on right) stopped.

Photo: Fourth of four freight trains that passed through Peachtree Station. Sleek!

Photo: Amtrak's northbound Crescent arriving at Peachtree Station a few minutes after 8:00PM on a rainy night in Georgia. "It's the train!"

As the Crescent pulled into the station, an Amtrak representative called my name and one other name from a list he was holding and said to follow him. I supposed I was on the list because I had booked my round trip ticket, one way as a companion to a person traveling with a disability and the other as a senior traveler. I didn't ask questions; I followed instructions, knowing how quickly things have to happen when the train is stopped at a station. The Crescent was running 25 minutes late.

Several of us were escorted down the elevator to the platform area where a golf cart was waiting to speed us to the correct passenger car for boarding. After a brief wait, a Train Assistant began handing out seat numbers and I climbed aboard.

When I found my assigned seat, it was already occupied. As people boarded behind me, their assigned seats were also occupied. We were snarled in the aisle with no seats and no place to put our bags. Two trainman came to our rescue; one called the Train Assistant and told her she had given out numbers for seats that were already occupied. The train was underway by then. Our Train Assistant came powering through and brusquely directed us, pointing and shouting orders. "You! Sit there. No, there! You! Sit here." We passengers struggled to find overhead space for our bags. The Train Assistant left us to figure things out on our own. She was in a bad temper.

The Blonde From Bakersfield was sitting one row back, across the aisle from my second assigned seat. She had managed a window. I asked the passenger next to her if she would be willing to swap seats. She said "yes" and I cleared the change with a passing trainman. Whew!

The Blonde From Bakersfield continued sharing tips for long-distance travel. The duffel-style bag she carried contained all the comfort items she used on a long-distance trip.

About legrests: In addition to a standard footrest and a button to recline your seat, there is a legrest that lifts up to support your thighs and calves. This legrest makes all the difference on overnight trips. But sometimes, the mechanism is broken and the legrest will not stay in the raised position. To ensure a good night's sleep, The Blonde carries two, made-to-measure wooden legs to place under a broken legrest. Brilliant!

About dining: The Club Car host cannot microwave passengers' personal food items, but is permitted to give out cups of hot water free of charge.

Along with her many other supplies, The Blonde from Bakersfield carries a treasure trove of food and beverages that can be made with hot water.

Unfortunately, I was not as well-provisioned as my cheerful companion, so I excused myself and made the short trip through the Club Car to the Dining Car. The Dining host advised they would be closing in five minutes, but I could still order hot food from the Dinner menu. I ordered the "Healthy Option" (not a favorite) and the garden side salad, both pictured below.

Photo: Amtrak's Lunch and Dinner choices on the Crescent

Photo: The Crescent's garden side salad

Photo: The Crescent's eye round steak

I finished dinner at 9:30PM. The crew was closing down the Dining car for the night; it would re-open at 6:30AM. The Club Car would be serving until midnight and stay open for the use of sleepless passengers (and crew) all night long. I moved to the Club Car and topped off the charge on my iPhone while I wrote.

Photo: Crescent Route Map (Source: Amtrak.com)

By the time I returned to my seat, The Blonde From Bakersfield was curled up, sleeping comfortably against the train wall, cushioned by her personal train pillow, and snugged under a light polar fleece blanket she brought along.

About pillows and blankets: Since Amtrak no longer provides pillows and blankets (though they do sell travel kits and light blankets in the Club Car), you should bring your own. A lightweight polar fleece blanket is best.

Using the blanket: Mark the top of your blanket in some way (The Blonde uses a large safety pin placed at the center top.) This ensures you always have the same part of the blanket near your face.

I wrote until 4:00AM, alternating locations between a booth in the Club Car and my coach seat. One of the advantages of train travel is being able to walk around; and there is always someplace to go. The night passed quickly. Only one thing bothered me - a persistent cold draft on my feet and ankles. I looked several times to see if a train door was ajar, but it wasn't. I wished for a blanket, but I hadn't brought one with me and couldn't buy one until the Club Car opened at 6:30AM. Still, I managed a two-hour nap from 4:00AM to 6:00AM. My seatmate was sleeping soundly when I moved to the Club Car to wait for coffee service to begin. She was a true master of long-distance travel.

Sometime during the night our ill-tempered, sour-faced Train Assistant had moved into the row of seats behind us. Her personal fan was the source of the cold draft on my feet. She kept it on whenever she slept, napped, snacked, or gossiped with crew, which was pretty much all the time - except when the train stopped and she got up for a few minutes. She proclaimed herself as "lazy" to another crew member and proved it from Atlanta to New York. She did nothing for passengers, except once, she walked through the car holding a trash bag and ordered us to clean out the seat pockets and put the trash in her bag. Yes Ma'am!

Photo: The Train Attendant's belongings in the seats behind me. Her personal floor fan vented under my seat creating a cold draft - the reason why my feet were cold all night - and all day.

I chatted with The Blonde From Bakersfield from late morning until the train arrived in Washington, DC. She explained how Amtrak rail passes work, and told me about the system-wide timetable that had been published April 6th, and where to get one. She called it "The Dream Book," and advised planning all my own trips.

Recommended scenic route: Bakersfield (her home station) to Sacremento to Denver - then on to Chicago for connections.

I missed The Blonde's company when she got off in Washington, DC. By that time, many passengers had left the train, and there were a lot of empty seats. Our Train Attendant, Joanna, expanded her "crew" space across the aisle to include two more seats; one for a bag, the other for visiting crew member, Richie. Joanna's gossip about fellow Amtrak employees was loud and unwelcome to my ears, but Richie returned for several helpings of it between Washington, DC and New York.

Photo: More crew space

Joanna's stories about other crew members were unflattering and mean-spirited. And, she didn't care who heard them. In one story, she bragged to Richie about ignoring a call over the loudspeaker for "Train Attendant Joanna" to "come to the Club Car." "I just sat," she told Richie, laughing. The call came over the loudspeaker again. "Train Attendant Joanna. Come to the Club Car." "I just sat," she repeated, laughing louder the second time. She repeated this annoying story twice, presumably to underscore her pride in being uncooperative with other crew members. Mercifully, Joanna slept whenever Richie went off to do his work, so I only had to hear her ugly talk when he stopped by. The two acted as if we passengers were invisible - and deaf to their comments - even though there was a man across the aisle from me - both of us only one seat away!

Photo: Train Attendant Joanna, snoring in mid-morning. Between Atlanta and New York, it's a good bet she slept longer - and napped more often - than any of the passengers in her car.

When we reached New York Penn Station, I was glad to leave Train Attendant Joanna far behind. Her four-day-on, five-day-off schedule means I may not have to ride with her next time I take the Crescent. Here's hoping!

Note: I am grateful to the fellow passenger who took time to help four women, including myself, get our suitcases down from the overhead storage bins. There wasn't an Amtrak employee in sight.

Next, the Northeast Regional.

Monday, April 13, 2015

All Aboard: NYP to ATL with Mom - Morning on the Crescent

After a super-quick, very tasty breakfast delivered to our room by Tina, Amtrak veteran and master chef from New Orleans, we arrived at Atlanta's Peachtree Station fifteen minutes early.

Photo: Tina - Watch for her on the new season of "Top Chef" (Bravo TV network) August 24, 2015. Tina won a place on the premiere after surviving twenty-two elimination rounds against 1800 contestants. We meet the most interesting people on trains!

Mom and I cleared our table and packed the few things we had taken out for morning use, while Tina waited for lift service to help us off the train.

Photo: Our tray table doubled as a potential game board during the trip

Photo: Lift and Lift Operator

Mom and I rode the lift down to the platform level. Then, the operator folded the lift and moved it aside so new passengers could begin the boarding process.

Photo: Collapsible Lift

He waited with us and our bags for cart service to arrive.

Photo: Lift Operator

A cart operator loaded our bags into a Club Car golf cart and drove us to the station elevator.

Photo: Mom With Amtrak Golf Cart Driver

The cart operator ordered wheelchair service and baggage service to help us from the platform to the station house.

Photo: Mom Waiting For Wheelchair Service

Mom stayed dry in the comfort of the Club Car.

Photo: Mom in the Club Car Golf Cart

A view of the train platform, with Atlanta traffic and high-rise buildings in the distance, framed new with old.

Photo: Train Platform at Atlanta's Peachtree Station

Mom's wheelchair and a baggage cart arrived. I offered to push the wheelchair, aware of how many Amtrak employees it takes - and how little time they have - to get passengers on and off the train at each station.

Photo: Amtrak Baggage Handler Preparing the Wheelchair

Photo: Amtrak Baggage Cart

Our baggage handler left the cart loaded for our convenience while we waited for Mom's car to arrive from Presbyterian Village.

Photo: Our Baggage Waiting at the Amtrak Counter in Atlanta's Peachtree Station

I noticed how many steps the elevator had saved us.

Photo: Steep Stairs from Station to Platform

Photo: Mom Inside Atlanta's Amtrak Peachtree Station

Our transportation arrived. We used Amtrak's wheelchair to get Mom to the car.

Photo: Partial Exterior Including Parking Lot at Amtrak's Atlanta Peachtree Station

Atlanta's late morning traffic reminded me of how glad I am we didn't drive from Boston.

Photo: View of Morning Traffic With City in the Background

Photo: Entrance to Amtrak's Atlanta Peachtree Station

This is the end of our BOS-NYP-ATL adventure, but I'll be returning to Boston on the Crescent soon. It appears the return trip from New Orleans is scheduled so passengers can see what they missed at night during the day.

I look forward to blogging from Coach class. Mom will join me as an armchair traveler on this one. Hope you will come along!

Photo: Poster Advertising Amtrak's Crescent Train Service