A Day at Union Station

Recently, I had scheduled an appointment in New York City and had made a reservation on Amtrak. Traveling by train in the U.S., where train travel is, as one European friend tactfully put it, "a third world experience," can be immensely enjoyable. There's legroom, you can walk around, you can see things, such as Delaware. The trip between Washington and New York by train takes about 3 hours and 20 minutes. (The high-speed Acela train takes about 3 hours, and costs twice as much).

This day started out poorly. I had hopped into a cab that had to drop off another passenger first. We meandered through the streets of DC, and a trip that should have taken 10 minutes took nearly 25 because we had to go to the Capitol building to drop off another passenger first, and I arrived at Union Station with about 5 minutes to print out my ticket and board my 8:30 Penn Station Express. I thought I was lucky when I heard a voice over the public address system say that some trains between DC and NY were delayed to a power outage. When this announcement began repeating every 5 minutes, I knew the trip was doomed.

By 9:30am, I grimly realized that I'd miss my appointment in New York and so I got in line to get a refund for my ticket. Some news cameras showed up, and it was then that I became aware that the power outage was a bigger deal than I had thought, snarling train passengers along the DC – Philadelphia – NYC corrider.

But I had my computer, and Union Station is a lovely piece of architecture with plenty of seating and shops of interest. So I purchased a latte and sat down to write. It's somehow easier to write in a public space. The surrounding white noise is at the appropriate level, and people watching at airports and train stations fires the imagination. These are places of in-between, and for some reason I find that comforting. Maybe it's just knowing that I could, in a moment, go somewhere, anywhere. Train stations, like airports, are places of endless possibility.

After a few hours of writing, I wandered around the shops reading some magazines I couldn't bother to purchase, examining the summer crop of Brooks Brothers ties, and running into some random auntie who works across the street. Rather than eat at one of the nicer establishments on the main concourse, I decided to have lunch at the food court on the basement level, which offered a multitude of choices, including Indian. Big mistake. Over a hundred junior high students with some sort of voucher in hand had mobbed the place. My super steak from the Great Steak and Fry Co. was decidedly average, and the fries soggy. But I managed to finish off one of the New Yorkers (only 2 issues behind now!).

Union Station also has a movie theater within its environs.  I bought a matinee ticket for The Da Vinci Code (it seemed defensible to pay less for what I knew was going to be a crappy movie).  It was a crappy movie, but that made returning to observe the crowds heading home on their trains more enjoyable.  I idled for a bit longer, and left Union Station around 4:30pm.  I took the bus home. 

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