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Baltimore and my first Greyhound and Amtrak rides

Those of you who have already talked to me since the train ride may be worried that my blog is turning into one about railroad accidents (not the Torts casebook ones, the modern ones). I’ll try to write about some other stuff too.

Baltimore was a very nice break for me. I took Greyhound from New York, leaving an hour early (after standing in line for an hour) and arriving just barely on time. The driver (he and his bus were borrowed by Greyhound from a New Jersey company) was a bit of a Mr. Rogers character, and he played Home Alone II. Another first: I set foot in Delaware for a few minutes. I guess it was worth the money (thanks to the Chinatown competition on the route), but I’m not a big fan of the ticket’s not guaranteeing a seat on any given bus schedule.

I was picked up at the station by Alison, who has also hosted me in a slightly more exotic place. We launched straight into the much shorter part of the preparations for a gumbo party. This party included barrels of homemade gumbo (I’m glad I only showed up for the easier part, though), pecan pie, and… mead? Yes, someone brought homemade mead. It wasn’t bad, and the rest of the food was great. I don’t have enough gumbo in my diet.

The next day brought a leisurely tour of parts of Baltimore: a smallish local craft/farmers’ market, the Walters Art Museum, a communist café, and the ridiculous Christmas lights on 34th St. [you may google for pictures, but they don’t convey the full ridiculousness] I also finally got around to watching Das Leben der Anderen, which was excellent.

In the morning, Baltimore’s Penn station provided a civilized point of departure with high-backed wooden benches and light Christmas music. I boarded the Amtrak #51 train, Cardinal service from New York to Chicago, which was running about 15 minutes late. A bit later, the train and I were sitting uselessly at Union Station in Washington for a layover of about an hour. I was able to sneak into the station and then back through the one-way exit with my fast food breakfast—try that with a plane. We left DC on time and were maybe 10 minutes behind after discharging quite a few passengers, including my seatmate, at Charlottesville, when…

I didn’t really feel anything, but I heard “Mayday! Mayday!” crackling from radios and the air hissing out of the emergency brakes. Apparently someone drove her 1993 Nissan Sentra through a lowered crossing arm just as the locomotive was arriving. The train won: the driver and her mother were ejected, and the driver’s 4-year-old son had to be airlifted to Charlottesville. Staunton News-Leader. Surprisingly, that only cost us 45 minutes (instead of the normal 2–4 hours).

The day had been mired in a never-lifting fog from the start, but after leaving a tunnel somewhere in Virginia the sun broke free, already low, and treated us to a golden pastoral view with dramatic clouds until sunset: the last notable happening of the trip. The train kept going, no more cars got in the way, and thanks to skipping a flag stop at Thurmond, WV I made Charleston only 1:20 late–not bad for Amtrak, from what I’ve heard.

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