Monday, 9: 30 A.M.—Arose after an evening of drinking, soft-shell Jazz and mainstream crabs: oops—dyslexia margarita. My sister’s cleaning lady arrives with an armload of Tito Puente records and an Electrolux without a muffler: I decide to skip coffee and head right to the train station: looking forward to a leisurely trip back to Boston nestled in the upholstered arms of AMTRAK, one of the last civilized modes of transport.
10:14 A.M.—The usual cheery ride on the subway—all ads about hemorrhoids, AIDS, bad teeth, upset stomach, bad feet, headaches, hair loss, and boils: all feature indistinguishable “before” and “after” examples. I leave car itchy, tickridden, woozy, and stiff.
10:30 A.M.—Penn. Station frantic: schedule board has my train—the 11:06 to Boston—”canceled.” The information lady addresses herself to “all travelers to New England,” and I hear for the first time the dreaded phrase—”Rerouting passengers by bus to New Rochelle.”
10:50 A.M.—The ticket seller asks if live heard about the accident north of the city. He himself is skeptical of the contingency plan and says—”Do you still want the ticket?” A little voice in my head says “Take the plane,” but a dark vision of the mounting 18 percent monthly interest charge on my Visa card crushes it.
11:06 A.M.—Five hundred of us stand sheep-like on the street in front of the station, clutching our valuables to our bosoms: the passing of the original departure time is marked only by the low hum of people in blue uniforms loitering about, talking to each other on walkie-talkies.
11:15 A.M.—Two buses arrive and the rule of law no longer pertains: all five hundred try to jam their luggage in and climb on board: drivers and blue-shirts watch the process unfold dispassionately.
11:55 A.M.—Increasingly decrepit buses come and go in pairs, disgorging and loading. I finally board and am happy to sit next to the lovely, jocular Emily.
12:15 P.M.—I’m beginning to question our driver’s decision to leave Manhattan via Madison Avenue: he goes from West 34th Street all the way to the northeast tip of Manhattan: passengers are growing restive.
12:45 P.M.—At last, arrival at New Rochelle. We pull into the station and another man in AMTRAK blue waves us out of the parking lot, around the corner to—where?
1:00 P.M.—A man sitting on a lawn chair in front of his split-level home looks up from his newspaper and wonders why a large, beat-up Carey bus, driven by a confused Latino, is careening wildly through his quiet suburban neighborhood. Sabotage afoot, peutetre? Everyone knows trains and buses are the rat and terrier of the transportation world.
1:10 P.M.—Driver swallows pride and asks for directions at a gas station. Heckling from passengers growing bolder.
1:20 P.M.—We finally arrive at a train station: unfortunately, it’s not the AMTRAK station. It may be as close as we’ll ever get, but I’m deterred from defecting by ominous “Third Rail” signs.
1:25 P.M.—The use of amulets and incantations and the ritual dismemberment of a Garfield doll were extreme steps to take, but they seemed to have worked—we’ve found AMTRAK New Rochelle. Upon exiting the bus, I catch a look at the driver’s name tag—”Ramon De Sade.”
1:28 P.M.—The long wait for our arrival seems to have had an unnerving effect upon those waiting on the train: a man runs down the aisle, pursued by a woman who sprays him with soda while yelling “You bastard! That’s my seat! I told you it was my seat!” Not the Love Train.
1:30 P.M.—There are no seats, per se, so we’ve settled in at a table in the dining car. The space under the table is completely taken up by other people’s luggage, which means I can either have my legs battered in the aisle, or work on my Full Lotus position.
1:36 P.M.—The landscape seems to be moving past my window—obviously an elaborate hoax or hallucination.
1:37 P.M.—Neither: we’re actually moving. A fat conductor comes lurching up the aisle, demanding our tickets and berating us for making his train late. “A healthy exception,” I think to myself, “of the ‘fat and jolly’ syndrome.” The phrase “knuckle sandwich” drifts over from a nearby table. This reminds me of my empty stomach, but there is no food in the dining car. They do offer us soft drinks—”because we care about you.”
3:15 P.M.—We’ve come to “Old Saybrook” station. Too bad no one bothered to tell my pal Emily that she should have changed trains in New Haven if she was serious about getting to Wallingford.
7:00 P.M.—Eight hours after scheduled departure, five and a half after actual departure, we arrive at South Station, Boston. Like other intrepid travelers before me—Marco Polo, Gus Grissom, Gulliver—I bend to kiss the concrete of the loading platform and vow to publish my journal entries so that others may learn that AMTRAK’s corporate office is in Washington, D.C., and that the name of its CEO is W. Graham Claytor, Jr. I’ve dropped him a friendly line, and if you were on the 11:06 to Boston with me, I hope you do, too.