Monday, February 28, 2011

Part II: The Weekend of Disaster on Amtrak

The short answer from Continental is no. With the exception of a few rare documents I don't possess, there's nothing other than a Passport that will allow an American to leave the country on an airplane no matter what the entry requirements of the destination nor how much body cavity searching you can tolerate. Predictably denied, I booked myself on the next flight to Bonaire, 24 hours later and turned towards the trains to track my bag into New York City.

A return trip on the people mover and I was waiting on the train platform in a chilly breeze waiting for the NJ Transit train to Penn Station. I phoned my dad and brother who had been waiting at the gate for me to join them on the airplane to share the bad news and also checked in with Jill for her latest process with Amtrak security. In the dark below the platform a peculiarly large rabbit lopped across the train tracks, squeezed through the hurricane fencing and disappeared into the gloom of Newark airport.

The NJ transit train was a half hour late and these were probably my grimmest moments, sitting there beating myself up with how different things could have been if I'd only been paying attention. Calls ahead to Penn Station and Amtrak were fruitless and all I could do was wait and hope that someone kind and responsible would retrieve my belongings and help them get back to me.

Following up in person did me no better as I got weary repetitions of their archaic 'lost and found' operations that are only open Monday-Friday from 8am-4pm excluding holidays, which did me exactly no good at 11:30 Friday night with a long weekend in the offing. The train I'd been on had come and gone to a train yard for cleaning and the best I could expect was my bag returning to the office Tuesday morning, which means I'd miss the Saturday night flight to Bonaire, and thus the entire vacation since flights from Newark go out on Friday and Saturday nights only.

I left Penn Station after midnight, dressed for morning touchdown in the Caribbean, feeling ridiculous and stupid and under dressed for the cold. With my huge check-on bag in tow, I hailed a cab and met up with some friends in the East Village to drink away the pain. Over beers and shots of Jameson we brainstormed ideas to get me to Bonaire on the Saturday night flight ranging from a new passport via expediter to buying  new ticket in a friend's name and assuming their identity. Ultimately, the passport processing idea only works mid-week on a 24 turnaround time at great cost and borrowing someone else's passport amounts to some kind of fraud and probably ends up with problems for both the borrower and lender. I was perfectly screwed and with no one really to blame but myself.

Still, I  held out hope of a 'good samaritan' recovering my bag and taking one of the ample clues inside with my contact info in the recognition of its personal and time-sensitive importance. (Most of us don't casually travel with Passport and every owned, portable electronic device at once.) But this didn't happen in time to salvage the trip and with each passing day is looking less likely at all. A disappointing side note on society these days, I guess. I would have accepted anonymous return of the passport and diving certification cards in exchange for the electronics.

Defeated by the combination of my own goof, the incompetence and undesire of Amtrak and the low scruples of whomever has my bag, I returned to Philly on the Saturday afternoon Amtrak where Jill cheered me up with tamales and micheladas at El Rey.

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