Philly Breaks New Yorker’s Heart…Again

Given the opportunity to interview someone face to face, as opposed to over the phone, I jumped at the chance to do it in person–especially as there was an Amtrak trip to Philly involved.

I hadn’t ridden Amtrak in close to a decade, I’d guess.

I settled into my seat–there were dozens of empty ones on the 12:05 yesterday–and the train took off from NY Penn at 12:07. 

I sort of missed the Metro-North conductors. The lady standing atop our stairs at Penn didn’t respond to a hello, and the guy collecting tickets on the train didn’t either. A few minutes after we took off, I moved to window, as my aisle seat had this annoying habit of sliding back an inch or two every time I put a little weight on it. (Turns out all the seats appear to have that characteristic; made me long for the immovable–and surprisingly more comfortable–MNR seats.)

After I’d moved, the unsmiling conductor came back and demanded my ticket–again. I explained that I was the same man who’d been sitting six inches to the right five minutes ago, but he still wanted to see the damn thing.

There was no cafe car, explained a guy on the PA system. If you hadn’t thought to grab lunch at Penn Station, you were going hungry for the next 90 minutes.

The quiet car was at the very rear, he said. “Please refrain from using your cell phone in the quiet car,” went the announcement, “and keep your voice down.” Riders in the loud cars were also instructed to limit cell phone usage, and put phones on vibrate mode.

It’s a wonder how many ballfields you pass between New York and Philly, making one wonder why there are so many fatties in America. Ballfields, boarded up buildings, boring little suburbs, and open space.

And a soccer stadium that looks like an inflatable pool.


I read my book, and used a Doug Glanville baseball card to get me in the mood for Philly–putting aside any hard feelings about the Phillies routinely destroying Met fans’ autumnal optimism. (Speaking of baseball cards, here’s my review of the clever memoir Cardboard Gods.)

The ride was terrific. We turned up at 30th Street Station 80 minutes after we’d left Penn. The skyline as you approach is nothing to be ashamed of. It was 80 degrees. I could walk from 30th Street Station to my appointment in Center City in less than 15 minutes. It was eminently doable, and enjoyable. I thought of bringing Little G on a Philly trip one of these weekends, see the skyscrapers, get some lunch at Con Murphy’s Pub. Ride the train.

Loads of people ride to work at Comcast in Center City.

Little G. He’d been hassling me again about our lack of sufficient time in the mornings playing dinosaur. I’d told him that, despite me schlepping to some exotic place called Philadelphia for the day, I’d be back at my normal time.

My ride home, however, had other plans. First of all, have you ever been in a major metropolitan train station that does not sell beers for the ride? (OK, maybe Provo, Utah, or something.) I wandered around, looking to put a cap on a productive and pleasurable day with a Bud tallboy for the journey. I asked a worker in the food court, who instructed me to the bar, which was Breakwaters or Brightwaters or something. The lady there told me they couldn’t sell beers to go. I asked where I could grab one.

“You’ll need to go outside the station,” she said. “And get a cab.”

Phreakin’ Philly!

As I am officially old, I opted for the comfort of coffee and a chocolate chip cookie instead.

My 3:57 train was 10 minutes late. I had been due in at Penn Station 5:18, which left enough time to get the 5:46 out of GCT. Losing the 10 minutes would cut it close.

We ambled north. All was fine until some point between Trenton and Newark, when the train ground to a halt.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we have traffic ahead,” went the announcement at 4:55.

At 5:01, the announcer spoke of “police activity.”

People started getting restless. One woman started asking dopey rhetorical questions of the rest of the car: What does ‘police activity’ mean? Why are we stopped?

Some had a flight to catch at Newark, and started pacing the aisles, fretting. I eyed my watch and kissed that 5:46 good bye. The 6:13, it would have to be. Little G would not be happy.

The wait turned to 30 minutes. The nearest station said “Jersey Avenue.” It was Nowhereland, U.S. The train car was FREEZING. I tend to like things a bit cold, but it was blow-on-your-hands cold. Some wore shorts and tank tops to celebrate the 80 degree day. Several got up to search for warmer cars.

The PA system was awful; you could make out just about every other word the man was saying.

We started to move around 5:45 or so.

Police were streaming onto the tracks at New Brunswick. A stark white sheet covered a lump on the rails. I read later it was a woman who’d laid down on the tracks. I guess tragedie such as that put a missed train connection in perspective. (If you Google New Brunswick train station and dead, you see that yesterday’s incident was not the first of its kind by a longshot.)

We crawled through central-northern Jersey. My 6:13 train started to appear unlikely. If I missed that, it was the damn 6:33. Little G would be apoplectic–a crummy half hour to play velociraptors before bed.

We pulled into Newark around 6 or so. A woman in a wheelchair needed a bridge plate to get over the gap. Those things happen.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

We arrived at NY Penn at 6:17–a full 59 minutes late. I had 16 minutes to catch my train. I bolted out of the nearest exit, which happened to be Penn’s ass end at 31st and 8th. I hailed a cab immediately, and we…sat…in…traffic…on 8th Ave…for several minutes.

My cabbie was a profane Russian who repeatedly cursed his fellow motorists. We tried to get onto 42nd from 6th and a blonde woman slowly crossed, blocking our path as she worked her smartphone for undoubtedly crucial information, such as the night’s dinner plans.

“F***ing bitch!” he yelled. (To be fair, he was sort of right.)

I got out at GCT at 6:34, my train a minute gone into the dark tunnel, bringing all the other daddies home to play dinosaurs with their sons and sip air tea with their daughters. The cabbie gave me shit about taking too long to disembark, as cops were waiting to ticket him.

I eyed the board: 7:01 was my next ride. I glumly called The Missus; she confirmed–Little G was furious with me for failing to uphold my end of the bargain, and you can’t really tell a five year old that a suicide was to blame.  

With almost a half hour to kill, I grabbed a Sam Adams from the beer cart (beers in a train station! what a concept! get the phuck with it, Philly!) and caught my first break in hours by scoring an empty folding 1-3/4 seater on the 7:01.

There was an empty half gallon “growler” of Heartland Brewery beer on the floor next to me.

That actually looked like a better match for my frayed nerves than 12 ounces of Sam.

This entry was posted in 1-3/4-Seater, Amtrak, Blackberry, Little G, Quiet Car. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Philly Breaks New Yorker’s Heart…Again

  1. Eric R. says:

    Geez, thanks for calling the area I live in Nowhereland. Although, I have to admit the area around Jersey Ave station is the dumpiest part of New Brunswick (not that it’s the only dumpy part of the city).

  2. jerseyjim says:

    William Penn has a few things to say about skyscrapers in Philly.

    I had lunch last week with a college friend who asked:
    – Where’s the best place for a cheesesteak in New York? –
    – That’s easy, I responded. Go south for about 100 miles, until you get to 9th and Passyunk, in Philadelphia. Pat’s Steaks: the best cheesesteaks in New York.

  3. harv sibley says:

    Amtrak, another fine mess, brought to you by your elected officials in DC. My son went to college up in Boston, and often took Amtrash from Boston South to Stamford. I’d say it was on time 10% of the time. And the cost was crazy…it was less expensive sometimes to fly. On Easter Wknd he was home from his nest in Washington, flight home from Westchester on Sunday scrapped due to bad weather in DC… he could have taken Amtrak, but opted to fly from LGA to DCA the next morning….. better to get up at 4am to catch a morning flight that only took 40 min than suffer the frustration of a 4-5hr ordeal on the Amtrak “express”.

    And they want to take over healthcare…… oiy.

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