Thursday, September 3, 2009

Dinner on the Hudson

[Writer's note: I just spent the day in Chicago and will be boarding the City of New Orleans train in about an hour to head south for the weekend. This post is from about 24 hours ago; phone was giving issues with posting, hence the tardiness.]

I already love the train. Granted we’re almost two hours behind schedule, but where else can you drink vodka, be served surprisingly good food, laugh with fellow passengers, and come back to your room to take a dump if you need to—all while moving to your destination? Certainly no fucking hotel. And then there are the vistas; and we’re still riding the Hudson. But then again, one could consider this a hotel on wheels, or some sort of transient bedroom. Oh, that sounds sexy, transient bedroom.

Anywho, I digress. I had a lovely dinner. I was supposed to have one of the later reservations, but 6:30 rolled around, I was a few deep whilst enjoying some cheese and crackers and I decided maybe I should eat. I thought we weren’t far from Albany, where we’d loose power for a while, so why not. Well, I was wrong. We were still over an hour from Albany. But that made dinner all the better. I was sitting at a four-top booth, alone. I was on the western side of the train, the riverside, if you will. (Note that my roomette is on the eastern side of the train (we’re traveling north), so I was forced to look at suburban riverfront sprawl—condos and mass-produced blueprinted homes—hence the reason I opted for the riverside of the car.)

The waiter was fabulous. Attentive yet not overbearing, savvy and funny, it was the type you’d expect to see on a cruise ship. I don’t mean that degradingly; he’s been doing Amtrak service for quite some time—he wouldn’t give me an exact date. Anywho. I ordered the only thing a veg could: fucking pasta. But I was pleasantly surprised. It was fresh, tasty, and flavorful. After some time, the woman, of the couple sitting next to me said, “Did you get the pasta? How is it?” I said, “Oh, it’s really quite nice.” They were both on their second Scotch from the time I sat down, and she was glad I helped her make up her mind. That was our launch pad. Suddenly, we were off, off into obscure yet delightfully personal conversation about our respective lives.

Me and my job, studies and travels, them and their marriage, travels, and previous fields of work (both in medicine: he an orthopedist, she a nurse.) I learned that his name was Frank. Not because he told me, but because she kept saying it. They had opted to take the train over the plane because of how annoying airports are. They live in Minnesota. They went from MN to Boston, then to the City to visit their daughter who lives in New Jersey. Like me, they are loving their first long distance train trip. Though they are on the return of their voyage, so they’ve sat through one way already.

We continued chatting. A few more people sat down around us, including the conductor. You could tell he was a bit tense. We were on our third engine and an hour and a half behind. He ate amongst his passengers and answered all the questions I had while sharing personal stories about his life, too.

There is something about the train and the stories that are shared. Intimate, almost inordinate stories that just get thrown up all over. Last year, a travel writer for the Times did a piece about his cross-country train voyage; it was a great piece. Also last year, yet only read this week, was a piece about why train travelers are train travelers. We talk to eat other and welcome the conversation. When you are sitting next to someone on an airplane and you ask a question, most times, they pull the paper they’re reading higher over their face. It’s quite the contrary on trains. People embrace questions and look forward to the discourse. Christ, even healthcare came up!

Well, we left Albany about an hour ago. The train from Boston attached to us, so we’re five longer than we were before, and one of them is the lounge/snack car. Cards, anyone?

Or maybe just some more stories. Cheerio

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Goodbye NY, hello Train Ride

Hello from train 49, Amtrak’s "Lake Shore Limited" train, connecting New York and Chicago, and a split in Albany allowing those from Boston to make their way to the windy city.

It’s a beautiful day for traveling, even more so on the train. I will be making my way to the Crescent City, New Orleans, Louisiana, via Chicago on a two-day train tour of 8 states, making 37 stops. I have about an 11-hour layover in Chicago and I’m most excited about it. I’ve been talking for some time about never having been to Chicago. Sure enough when I started looking into the various ways of getting to New Orleans, the route through Chicago killed two birds with one stone. It helps that I’m not paying for my train or plane ticket: I’ve accumulated quite a few points for my travels between New York and New London, with random trips to DC in-between, allowing me to redeem a one-way ticket, all the way to NOLA, with Roomette accommodations; for the flight back I used some frequent flier miles. And because of it, I finally get to stay in a hotel—not a hostel while traveling alone. VERY exciting!

We pulled out of Penn Station promptly at 3:45. Traveling north under Manhattan Island, as opposed to heading east towards Queens for the trip to CT, allows for a view of sky scrapers through the random rail cuts as the train snakes north in between 9th and 10th Avenues.

A few minutes into the ride, an older gentleman came to collect my ticket. I asked him a question and he said that was something my room attendant could answer for me. Fine. A few more minutes later, a chipper lady with a big smile in a bright red apron came to talk to me about dinner. I asked for the latest reservation—I’m a New Yorker and ate a late lunch—to which she advised was not a good idea. By 8:00pm, the last reservation, sometimes they can be wiped out of certain things. This made me nervous as a veg, so I settled for 7. She said that was a great idea.

A few more minutes later, my room attendant came by to introduce himself, do an overview, and answer questions. He also passed out today’s Times (idiot me bought a copy at the station), timetables, and route guides. His name is Ainsley.

Over the Harlem River crossing, continuing our climb up New York’s famous Hudson River (celebrating its 400th Anniversary this very year!), thick smoke blew past my big windows. I didn’t think much of it. A few minutes later, we were at a total fucking stand still; we still are and it has been nearly an hour. They just announced that we blew an engine. Yes! Not even 20 miles into my adventure, and we’re already delayed! This should not have come as too much of a shock:the "Lake Shore" is famous for its poor punctuality.

They said a new locomotive was being brought down from Croton-Harmon, 18 miles to the North. Once they take off the dead guy and put on the newbie, we should be rolling.

Oh well, such is life.

A minute ago, another uber polite gent just came to let me know I have the option of eating earlier. When we get to Albany, we loose power for 20-30 minutes when they hook up a lounge car and new locomotive car. (it’s 5:20 and we’re moving!). I said I have no problem waiting until after we leave Albany to eat. I came prepared: I brought my picnic cheese board and knives, a block of cheddar, crackers and peanut butter, Veggie Booty, health nut bars, and peanut M&Ms. And libation supplies: seltzer, lemons, and vodka.

Speaking of Vodka…it’s after 5. Time for a cocktail—bottom’s up.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


In six hours, Life happened.

It was sudden, shocking. Startling.

Quickly. Eyes open, jaw drops.

It’s simple really: I signed a new lease. Came home; ran back out.

The toilet flooded.

I’m moving.

Holy fucking shit.

Much as I’ve contemplated it, conjured or imagined, never did I ever expect to truly be moving. Unless of course, something foreign came up—but that’s neither here nor there.

I’m moving. Two floors down…and I’m freaking out.

As I stood from the hallway just outside the soggy bathroom, reality flashed before my eyes. Edge hit me.

The apartment is my personification, an utter depiction of existence. And I have to move it all?

[Holy shit.

The toilet flooded.



Don’t forget to drop of the dewy towels at the laundry mat.

You're signed to move. ]

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

President Obama

We have a new president and I need time to digest it.

Goodbye W, your service could not have been worse.

Hello to a new America.

More to come later.

In Position

After just about three hours in line, here we are. Not the prime spot we wanted as we weren't the first ones in line, but a breath taking view of the capital and staging area. We will be able to see Barack, but pics will be tough.

The San Francisco is serenading the masses as they heard their way into place. Aretha Franklin will warn the crowd with her pipes too.

Perhaps the most exciting thing about today is that Dick Cheney will be in a wheelchair!! He pulled a muscle in his back while moving boxes in his new home. Haha. Karma's a bitch and irony can really make something.

The sun is up now but the chill is deep.

The people that are here are continuously blowing my mind. Janette, the one doing interviews with her video cam, is a riot. She bring it out and ask someone where they're from, ask them what today means to them and then find someone else right next to them. People began screaming where they were from when they found out she was trying to do a 50-state interview. Her energy was amazing, screaming as she met someone from a state she had yet to find.

My aunt just called to let me know Barack is running 15 minuted late. Mass at the national cathedral ran late and so goes his day, fifteen minutes gone astray.

The Joy of Waiting

The sun is up but the air feels colder. My toes are already numb; for some reason I forgot about my feet when I was packing.

We've been in line for almost two hours. The people are amazing: Janette from Mississippi with her video camera who has interviewed everyone around her and then some; Elizabeth, who's probably in her 50s, dancing to stay warm, she told the story about how people in her "conservative village" have come up to her and said: "Elizabeth, I didn't vote for him, but I am excited." The family of five from Charlottesville who drove up this morning, the three boys range from about 6 to 10. I wonder what they'll remember from this day?

We're moving closer and closer to the security screening. Screams of joy from movement belt out here and there.

Cirrus clouds are scattered about the sky with the sun breaking through. The clouds scatter the light, subtly fracturing it, sending it all over the city.

The city that had been taken over by those yearning to witness history. To be a part of the change we created.

to the train

5:22 am at East Falls Church, VA on the orange line. We arrive at station with one minute before a train arrives. Jump on the escalator to see the train is in the station...I start yelling, "move people move, that's a washington bound train!!" NO ON FUCKING MOVED.

Bridget and I pushed our way to the top and people still did not move! They were even taking up two lanes to stand on the escalator!

We made the train regardless. It's packed. Energy abounds. Change is in the air....

Monday, January 19, 2009

Evening Mall Stroll

There is a surreality to the capital city on the eve of the 56th inaugration to bring in our 44th president. The CT delegation reception was a blurrrr. Hundreds of CT residents scurring about the Russell Building cacus room, Dodd and co., Lieberman and crew; with the five congress members making appearances, it was more a comparison of who you know and how close you can get to whom the quickest.

The lights on the capital are luminious and radiant; its marble glows against the clear night sky. People are everywhere. First timers and locals, regular visitors and seasonsed alike are all in awe of what is about to take place in the great United States.

As we walk to find a resturant, recordings of past speeches by the president elect echo from various directions. Vendors are making millions from the name and face of the first black president.

Washington, like elections can change in a day. I was here two months ago and a few before that and it is like a whole new city. Revitalized anew, hip and mod as the tarnished silvers are ushered out by the glimmering golds.

Tomorrow will be amazing, there is no question about it.

My fingers are cramped and cold.

DC Bound

Hello from the train!

[Writer's note: please pardon misspelling and wrong grammar; a BlackBerry is not the easiest device to blog from.]

I'm just back from mexico and found out friday I got a ticket to the big show! My good friend, who's name I will not disclose so his/her office goesnt find out, gave me a senate staffer ticket--they works for the biggest traitor in Democratic politics, Joe Lieberman, and hates lucky me. I am forever in their debt.

I'm just south of Philly now, creeping towards Joe's hometown, Wilmington, DE. Of course Joe will no longer be an Amtrak commuter; he's got residenc in DC now for at least 4 years.

The train is sold out. It took me hours of refreshing and resubmitting on saturday to even get train tickets.

I'm on the 153 regional, which originated at Penn. It wasn't full out of the city, but once we got to Trenton, the train was packed. It's a beautiful ride heading south. Provided you can ignore the industry and warehouses along the route. The scenery is grey, the infrastructure grafitied. All is dusted with a sheet of white, frozen in place by the deep chill.

The conductor called us all crazy. She said we'd never get back to the station once we stepped outside beautiful Union Station: "they got machine guns and dogs and you ain't gonna get anywhere!" We all laughed and cheered with excitment.

Tonight I will be attending the CT delegation dinner and reception. Rubbing shoulders with Dodd and Lieberman, and the constitution state's five congressional members, along with staffers, donors and friends. I can't wait. It will be a grand affair and I've now promised my friend that I'll never talk shit on Lieberman again.

Full speed ahead now and on with the show!!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Decency or Discrimination?

I’m appalled. But before I go any further, I must immediately set the preface.

Tonight, on this sixth day of January, I was at a “Three Kings and a Bunch O’Queens” Party, as it is Three Kings Day. The party was on 123rd and Broadway, in a lovely apartment on the 19th story; overlooking the above ground 1 train, Grant’s Tomb, and the GWB. It was a splendid soiree with food and friends, Christmased to the T and rife with bibulosity. I must admit that it was a great way to end the official holiday season. With the Three Kings Parade taking place not far from where we were celebrating, facing their out barrier though
overcome by generosity and human decency, as I walked home, I was suddenly faced with my own.

The party died down and there was but five of us left. Throughout the evening conversations ranged the gamut, cameos to cock, concluding with a political bomb. I devoured it. Like waves to a wind swept beach; it was a delicious fuel. The conversation went round and round: race and ethnicity, Americanism and creed. There was perhaps a bit of fire running through my veins, though kept confined and subdued.

I left with the Tony. We both had the same direction to walk, and so we did. As we walked east on 123rd street, languidly making our way to the edge of the precipice—well, not really, but the image is fabulous— on 123rd, we both lost our footing, grabbing for each other, screaming, laughing, as we skated across the iced sidewalk! It was riotous. We both almost hit the fucking ground. We reclaimed out footing and laughed even more. I saw an elderly gentleman with a dog ahead of us, who had reached the peak of the cliff from the other side. I asked, “Is it icy down there?” He quipped, “Oh yes, very icy.”

We laughed even harder.

So T and I backtracked through the building compound grounds, up further north getting on to Amsterdam at about at what would be 124th St. (Non-natives should note that 124th begins just before Morningside where 124th stems from 125th St.) We made our way, reflecting on the eve’s tales, and split ways once we reached 1-2-5; Tony furthered north, I was eastbound.

I was feeling all giddy and needed to laugh so I called my west coast partner in crime, Margaux, to catch up. I had about a twelve-minute walk ahead of me: a block to 124th, angling down, across Morningside, over the Manhattan Ave, St. Nicholas intersection, turning south to cut toward 118th and Adam Clayton Powell—7th Ave.

Now for the juice...

One of Harlem’s police precincts is on St. Nick between 124 and 123, just above Harriet Tubman Square. The building is a fortress, a tribute to Soviet-style architecture. On the eastern side of the street, it takes up almost the whole block, and is indeed one of the creepiest parts of St. Nick. There are no lights on that side of the street, and the building has odd alcoves and alleyways. The only comfort is the line-up of cruisers and patty-wagons, making the walk ridged, between the fortress and the cars. Never is there a personal police presence; unless someone is being dragged in with cuffs on.

As I walked, brightly and briskly, chatting and laughing away with Marg, I was forced to cut through a posse of police, gathered outside discussing I’m sure the most sagacious of subjects. I cut through them, as any New Yorker with a direction would have. Once through, still on the phone, I heard, “Get off your iPhone.”

I was shocked without really realizing it yet.

I was maybe three or four strides from their pack, quickly turned back and said, “What?!?” “Get off your phone, that’s how you get robbed,” was his retort.

I was aghast, two-fold frankly.

I turned back:
“First off it’s a BlackBerry. And second, I live down the block and I walk this route every day, and you guys are never out here. Please spare me your concern.”

I kept walking. Margaux was shocked, in hysteria as she realized whom I was talking to. It wasn’t until I was passing Ms. Tubman’s sculpture that I realized what I really did say, and more poignantly—to whom!

I never heard them sally back, nor did they rush to surround me. As I unleashed my shock and awe on Marg, I just really couldn’t believe it. Here I’d been talking about our soon to be President and the hopes we all had that racial profiling would end, and there I was being a victim of it. Or was I? Is that too dramatic an interpretation? Were they just doing their job, fulfilling their duty as officers of the law?

Can a gay white boy not live in Harlem? Much less, talk on his phone whilst walking home at 10:00pm? Fuck that shit.

I’ve read some constituent mail at my job, and Christ, I can only imagine what some of them might have to say about the situation I was thrown in to tonight. I just may have to write to this police station to brief them. Brief them on not only the neighborhood’s demographics, but also about what is happening on Manhattan Island writ large. Not to mention the gall of their sentiment.

I mean come on. I’m fully aware that gays are the most outwardly discriminated against minority in the United States, but really? In New York? Just because I was on the phone, walking briskly, clad in a scarf and warm wool winter coat, and white—presumably gay, if they’re that savvy—I deserved to be belittled by such a novice warning?

Am I wrong to be this shocked, so appalled by the 5-0’s behavior? Maybe I just need to breathe and sleep it off.

We’ll see how I feel when I wake.