Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Baltimore Detour; The Acela Debacle


I had planned to spend my Sunday in DC but all the afternoon buses were sold out, and I had to get a 1pm bus back.  Not wanting to return to DC so soon, I decided to hop of the bus in Charm City.  Immediately I felt I had made the right decision.  I ventured out of the station and looked for a bus into town.  With none around, I hoped a cab.  The Pakistani cab driver wanted $6 off the meter, but I bargained down in Urdu to $5.  He laughed, and I played him some Yusuf al-Islam.

I wandered through Federal Hill, stopping at a bar called The Metropolitan for an afternoon drink.  I never left.  At the bar, I met a fellow named Jefferson, who had studied military history at Norwich.  We spent the afternoon geeking out about history, and were joined by a pilot who flew cargo into Africa (welcome to Ouagadougou!) and otherwise.  He showed me a pic on his phone that I immediately recognized as Bishkek.  Perhaps not another person in a bar in Baltimore could make that claim. 

The afternoon turned into a long St. Patty’s Day nite with Baby Guinesses.  A twentysomething fellow wanted to introduce me to the Yemenite musician who ran the tobacco shop across the street, so we chatted up the fellow over his oud and I gave advice on how he could share Yemeni music in Baltimore.  

I had planned to stay at the hostel on Mulberry, as I really like the place, but the twentysomething kid insisted I come crash on his couch.  So I followed him to his apartment.  He had a bunch of other friends there, and the other kiddies were not so keen on a random stranger on their couch.  Some obnoxious girl asked me in an accusatory tone: “Who are you?”  I laughed and said “Who are you?”

So I left and went over the hostel as I originally planned.  I promptly fell asleep, and snored like a bear for all the poor hostelmates chagrin.

The next morning, I got up and moving and had the pancake breakfast included.  I made my way to Pennsylvania Station and ran to buy a ticket for the MARC (commuter) train leaving at 9:06.  It was 9:05, and the sign said the train was still boarding.  But I couldn’t find the train.  I thought it had already left, but they kept making announcements that the train was still boarding.  At 9:09, a train pulled in.  I asked the conductor if it was heading to DC, he said yes- it was 2107.  So I hopped on.  Probably should have known better, it was an Acela. 

No sooner did the conductor come by, he looked at my MARC ticket and was convinced I was pulling a scam.  I offered to buy the regular ticket; he wanted me to speak with the Amtrak policeman on board.  So we walked over to the policeman.  I explained about how I was running around looking for the train, and I asked.  The conductor claimed he had said it was an Acela train, but I don’t believe he did.  I didn’t win that argument.  Anyway, I agreed to buy a ticket—until I heard the price. $68 for a 35-minute train ride.  I was apoplectic.  Can I just get off at the next stop?  There wasn’t.  Can I jump off the train? 

I didn’t need to rush back, and I definitely did not want a $68 train ride on a POS Acela.  But I had no choice, and no other options.  So I handed over my credit card to the conductor to pay for the ticket.  But POS Amtrak, the conductor couldn’t work the credit card to buy a ticket.  So I then had to have a police escort when we arrived to Union Station to go to the Amtrak ticket counter to buy the ticket.  I gave my "For the Record" statement to the police escort; they laughed, and said "So, for the record, you were wrong." Guilty as charged.  

En route, I laughed, and told the police officers that this was my first police escort, but spun tales of my peshmerga escorts in K-stan.  The police escort was kind-of a trip, but the guys were genial once they realized I wasn’t a train hopper or grifter (A Grifter for Good? Something Ellen and I were joking about).

So in the end, I had to pay a $68 stupidity tax to f’ing Amtrak.  Amtrak, you suck.  There is no good reason that trip from Baltimore to DC should be $68.  And there was no good reason that I should get the Nth degree over a misunderstanding.  Dagney Taggert should take you over and sell you for scrap.


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