What a week it’s been for these two modes of public transportation! First we watched the rescue of US Airways Flight 1549 after it was ditched in the Hudson on Thursday; then yesterday (1/17/09), it was Barack Obama’s “slow roll” on Amtrak from Philadelphia to Washington that held the nation’s cameras enthralled.
I myself intensely dislike flying. I fly, but I don’t enjoy it. I hold my breath till we reach cruising level and I tense up again when the plane begins its descent. From this day forward, I’m going to hope that my pilot is a Captain Chelsey B ‘Sully’ Sullenberger, who kept his cool enough to set the plane down tail-first close to the midtown ferry crossings.
My husband calls flying “a waste of time,” and I couldn’t agree more. With all the “homeland” security rules (and could we please go back to calling it national security?), I get an automatic two hours tacked onto every flight. To get to New York from Raleigh, it’s a 40-minute drive to the airport. I check in the suggested two hours early, two hours in the airplane (if it’s a direct flight), spend 30 minutes waiting for my baggage, then take another hour to locate the shuttle bus and ride to the Port Authority to get a cab to my final Manhattan destination. Assuming everything’s on schedule, that’s 6 hours door-to-door, give or a take a few minutes. Six very tense hours.
On the other hand, if Amtrak’s on schedule, it’s a 20-minute drive to the Raleigh depot, 10 hours on the train, and I arrive calm and rested at Penn Station in midtown. I do not have to worry about the train losing cabin
pressure or circling the train station if it's foggy or icy. I will have lunched in a comfortable dining car, perhaps had a drink in the club car, caught up on those articles I tore out of the New Yorker and saved for such a trip, perhaps even done a little writing on my laptop. When I’m feeling especially self-indulgent, I pay the extra fee for a private roomette and an
attendant will fetch me food and drink if I don’t want to leave my cosy cocoon.
My favorite train trip was to attend a book expo in Orlando a few years back. My publicist, an enthusiastic flyer, reluctantly agreed to book me a roomette on the train. What should have been an 11-hour trip stretched to 22. It was summer and the intense heat made the expanded rails too dangerous to sustai
n normal speeds. And because the tracks are owned by a freight rail company, we kept getting diverted to a side rail to let the freights go through. I loved every minute of the trip. My publicist was so concerned by my non-appearance (I didn’t have a cell phone then) and so annoyed that I missed my first event that she has made me fly ever since.
The late Alex Haley used to take a cabin on tramp steamers to write his books. If I could, I’d take a room on a train going anywhere for three months. Like Edna Millay, “There isn’t a train I wouldn’t take/No matter where it’s going.”