To Philadelphia by rail -- 03/04/02

So... I'm on my way to Philadelphia today... typing this on AmTrak #95...

This is about a five hour trip by train... and about an hour and twenty minutes or so by air.... so why am I on a train instead of an airplane?

The time required for the trip is about the same. I figure that I will be checked in to my hotel in Philadelpia in less than six hours after I stepped out of my front door this morning... that includes my drive to the train station, my wait for the train (I got to the station at 7:02 to catch a 7:19 train which was perhaps a minute late), the train ride, and a cab ride from the station to the hotel (it's about a mile or so... I'd walk it if it were not for having a suitcase and a backpack and my laptop carrybag). Air travel requires getting to the airport early enough to allow for all of the added security nonsense... it's about 25 miles from my house to the airport (compared with five to the train station), have to park (instead of the airport's long-term parking I park at Thrifty Car Rental... much more convenient), shuttle van to the terminal, stand in a long line to check luggage, stand in another long line while a cluster of drones who couldn't hold down a job at a fast food restaurant (but who are now official federal employees) scan my carry-on stuff and wave magic wands over me, endlessly assuring people that I had packed my bags myself and that nobody had given me any packages to carry, etc.) then sit around and wait while drinking a styrofoam cup of overpriced bad coffee, hoping the flight will board and leave on time, hoping it won't be delayed or cancelled, wait for my row to be called to stand in line to board, shuffle to my seat, squeeze into the tiny space allotted (which will become smaller once we takeoff and the inconsiderate twit in front of me reclines all the way back), enjoy a sumptuous feast (consisting of splash of softdrink in a small plastic ice-filled cup and half a dozen or so mini-pretzels), land, taxi around, wait to connect to our gate, wait to exit the plane, find the right baggage claim area and wait for luggage to arrive, then go and find a taxi to cover the many miles to town.... Elapsed time, probably about five or six hours.

So here I am, sitting in comfort, plenty of legroom, no long lines... looking out the window right now, looking at the Manhatten skyline as we roll through the outer boroughs... There isn't the same kind of facade of security that has been forced on us when we travel by air. Non-passengers are not allowed to get on trains, but I think that may have as much to do with the fuss raised by an idiot woman at Kingston station in Rhode Island last year... she got on a train to assist her teenaged daughter with her luggage (even though she had been told a conductor could do that) and ignored two different AmTrak employees who requested that she leave the train immediately... so she was still on board when the train pulled out of the station... then she was indignant they refused to stop the train and let her off until the next scheduled stop (this was a regional express, the next stop after Kingston was New London, CT) she was threatening lawsuits and claiming AmTrak had kidnapped her because they refused to reverse the train back to Kingson and refused to make an unscheduled stop. So, now, non-passengers cannot set foot on a train at all.

Everyone now must have a ticket before boarding the train; conductors can no longer sell tickets on the train (at least not between Boston and Washington). In addition, as a poster next to the ticket window announces, for "security" reasons, all transactions require a photo ID... so you need to show your driver's license (or some equivalent form of identification) when purchasing a ticket. Now we are safe from train hijackings because it is a well-known fact that terrorists are unable to obtain driver's licenses, neither fake nor real. (Uh, where would one take a hijacked train, anyway? "Everyone stay calm, this train is going to Cuba!")

This fits in with the foolishess of most of the bureaucratic security mentality... an absolute requirement for photo ID when purchasing a ticket... and five feet away from the ticket window is an ticket dispensing machine... insert your credit or debit card, push the button for your destination and out comes a ticket. And, yes, these machines are still functioning; I watched people buying their tickets from the machine while others stood in line at the ticket window, driver's licenses in hand. Oh, you say, but the ticket machine has a positive identification of the purchaser because of the credit card use... right, because it is also known that evil-doers do not possess credit cards. By the way... I paid for my ticket with my American Express card... and also had my AAA membership card because there is a discount for AAA members... and I still needed to show my driver's license.

That's merely minor foolishness compared with the death of a thousand cuts that has become air travel... none of which would stop (or even do more than inconvenience) any determined terrorists, but which do allow our pointy-headed federal lords and masters pretend that they are "doing something" no matter what the harm they inflict upon us. Example: during the Olympics they imposed the same rule they have on flights going to Washington: passengers must remain seated during the last half an hour of the flight. A couple of weeks ago a business executive (who apparently had dozed off during that announcement) got out of his seat to use the restroom twenty-five minutes before landing. Not only was he arrested and hand-cuffed in his seat by sky marshalls, all of the passengers were forced to sit with their hands clasped behind their heads for the remainder of the flight. Example: recently a 86 year old retired general, a combat hero who had been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, was shoved around by security personnel when traveling by air because he had his medal with him (he had it with him because he was going to be delivering a speech) and they wanted to confiscate it because it could be a possible weapon.

Ah well, I am on a train so I can get to my destination without all of that hassle.

Now if only I had headphones with me I could enjoy playing a music CD on my laptop while I work... I do have headphones in my office, but I forgot to stick them in my computer bag when I left work on Friday. So last night my son loaned me a really nice set of headphones that he uses with his portable CD player... *sigh*... and they are sitting on my desk in the den at home.

Too bad there's no Internet connection on the train -- I suppose that will come soon -- so I'll have to wait until I'm at my hotel to load this to my journal along with last night's entry. In the meanwhile, I guess I'll get back to work.

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