Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Weekend of Disaster on Amtrak

Tuesday morning as I shoveled my car out of the 5 inches of snow that fell in Philly overnight, I mumbled some a curse at the Universe beneath my breath since by rights I should have been in the Caribbean this morning on a scuba adventure with my dad and brother.

Rewind to Friday night after a crazy week of work and I'm scrambling to wrap up my business affairs, spend a last few quality minutes with Jill and catch the 8pm, 138 Northeast Regional train from 30th Street Station up to Newark to catch the red-eye to sunny Bonaire.

I make the train and we sit there next to the platform for about 30 minutes without moving. The conductor comes on to explain something about the 8:35 pm train breaking down and its passengers needing to board our train. Not a big deal, but I actively chose the 8pm train because the 35 minute difference might mean something on an international flight. Still, I'm not panicking as we pull out of 30th street at 8:35 and begin the journey.

Under normal circumstances I'd have been on the platform at Newark airport at about 9:15, which would have been plenty of time to catch a midnight flight. But the train keeps slowing down and even stopping and we're getting up there past 10pm and still not there, so I'm starting to get a bit anxious.

10:15PM we finally pull into Newark and I grab my checked bag and hurry off the train to get a ticket for the strange people-mover type train Newark uses to get people from Amtrak to the airport. I settle onto the people mover, in a small car all by myself and as the glass doors seal me in and the train leaves the station I realize that I've left my carry-on bag with my passport, iPad, digital camera, prescription glasses, sunglasses, antibiotics, and scuba diving certification cards on the Amtrak bound for New York City.

The rush of panic I felt just then was about as serious a jolt as I've felt since watching Jill nearly bleed out on our couch. As I realized that I'd probably just screwed myself I went into a rage and gave the glass door of the people-mover a few good head butts before picking up my phone to call Jill, to get her working from home with the advantage of a good Internet connection, and then Amtrak to see about tracking down my bag.

Meanwhile, I'm still puttering on at slow donkey pace toward the Newark Airport terminal while my precious bag and passport are flying down the tracks in the opposite direction towards the mean streets of New York City.

First of all the Amtrak Police are completely useless. Don't even bother calling these guys. I'm not sure what they respond to, but unless someone's entrails are hanging out already I'm not sure they'd bother with the situation. They tell me 'we don't do that kind of thing,' (like, help people?) so I have to call sales and support through the 800 number. My heart sinks. I picture the Amtrak cop hanging up and smiling at his buddies over their steaming styrofoam cups of coffee and saying some poor fuck just left his passport on a train and thinks he's still got a chance of flying tonight.

The 800 number is predictable, polite computer voice recognition maze of sales oriented dead ends that takes 10 minutes to speak with an agent despite my dire, loud screams that yes, I'd like to speak an agent. I'm sorry, I didn't quite get that, it sounded like you said you'd like to speak to an agent. Who finally, also informs that she has no way to get in touch with the train, but I could phone up ahead to Penn Station in New York to alert them and have them look for my bag.

The people mover stops and I get off at the terminal in Newark. The Continental line isn't too long, maybe 10 groups ahead of me in sandals and Hawaiian shirts with their passports poking out of the front pockets. I'm still on hold with Penn Station's customer service line when I get to the check-in and the guy there does a double-take as I inform him in an increasingly hoarse voice that I don't have a passport but is there any amount of body-cavity searching I can submit to that would get me to Bonaire?

To be continued...

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