Sunday, January 18, 2009

Planes and Trains

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.”

Blog Archive