Memories of my Harrowing and Upsetting Amtrak Trip

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A series of posts from my four-day trip back to D.C., where I lived for six years…

When flying to and from Washington D.C. my preferred airport was always the metro-accessible Reagan National airport (more on that in a post to come). However, on this sojourn back to D.C. I flew into Baltimore. It’s a lot of travel to get from BWI to DC. You must find and wait for the ten-minute shuttle from the airport to the train station; wait for the train; ride 35 minutes south; and take the DC to metro to your final destination.

Friday’s journey from plane to city was lovely and uneventful. But as I stepped off the BWI shuttle into the winter air, I recalled the most harrowing and upsetting experience I had returning from NOLA to DC.

The Most Harrowing and Upsetting Experience I Had Returning from NOLA to DC
Two years ago I flying back from a New Years vacation in New Orleans in an emotionally fragile state. Things weren’t going so well in my personal life and I was eager to get home,

On a layover I switched to the smallest plane I had ever been on. I am not afraid of flying, but I am afraid of heights and the shaky plane accentuated our distance from the ground. It made such loud sounds that I couldn’t hear my iPod. I was also physically uncomfortable because I was seated next to a woman who requested a seatbelt extendor to fit her body, and my poor decision to wear a not-long skirt and tall boots left me cold with aching feet.

When traveling I opt for comfort over style, but on this trip I wore a not-long wool skirt and tall boots because sometimes I like to imagine I like to I’m the kind of girl who dresses up for flying. My feet ached from running through the airports and I was cold. Tears rolled down my face as I pressed up against the window to give myself space from my neighbor. I wanted to be in my bed, cuddling my cat.

BWI was quiet when we touched down. I didn’t know when the trains to DC departed and there was no one around to ask. The ticketing office was closed when I got to the MARC station and a display said that the next train wouldn’t come for 30 minutes. A few cab drivers offered to drive those of us waiting back to DC, but it was expensive and I refused.

A group of about ten people huddled in an enclosed walkway that connected the train platforms to wait for the train. Someone checked their phone and it was 19 degrees. We watched the electronic train schedule as it counted down and all of a sudden the next train’s arrival time disappeared. Another train appeared on the schedule, one that was to arrive in 50 minutes.

To keep warm I alternated between pacing the coved overpass and sitting in a seat, bent over towards my toes, all the while cursing my outfit. I wondered if the train would ever come. I was lonely and it was late so I couldn’t call or text anyone. (This was before I had a smart phone, so I couldn’t search the Internet, send an email or social media– small measures that make the world feel smaller.) My only company was the assortment of shivering strangers and the lone podcast on my iPod I had not yet heard– a conversation about an ESPN documentary with sportswriter Dan LeBetard.

The next scheduled train never came. One of my companions called Amtrak and relayed the message that a train was on the way…soon. Someone lent me their jacket (damn outfit!) and we continued to wait.

When the train finally arrived I curled into the corner of a seat and defrosted, shuddering each time we reached a new stop to pick up passengers, who themselves all greeted the train with boundless joy.

This memory seemed so far away in the pleasant and accomodating light of late Friday. The train arrived on time, and travel went off without a hitch.

But I didn’t forget.

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