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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Avoiding pressure while traveling

By Dick Hirsch

Sometimes I wonder whether I still enjoy travel. It has become very stressful. Flying? Arrive at the airport two hours in advance, pack your teeny tube of toothpaste and your deodorant in a little plastic baggy. Take off your shoes for the security screening. Scan the monitor and don’t be surprised if the flight is delayed. So wait. Don’t pace. Did you take a good book?

What about driving? My frequent destinations are either Boston or New York, and typically it is leave before sunrise and push push push all the way, wondering whether I’ll be able to match or surpass my previous times for the trip. Meanwhile, remember the route. Boston is simple, but New York requires careful navigating as you hurtle through New Jersey. Aah, New Jersey; for a state relatively small in area, it seems to have a profusion of highway patrol cars stationed in strategic locations on the road. So, all the way, not only must you be alert for the antics of unpredictable drivers, it also makes sense to watch for the state police, just in case you should inadvertently stray over the speed limit. You may have experienced the feeling of glancing in the rear view mirror and seeing a car with red lights flashing, a car that has suddenly appeared and whose driver is seeking some private time with you. No, officer, I couldn’t possibly have been going that fast...

See what I mean? I hope you agree: travel is stressful. If you seek relaxation, stay home. Or consider an alternative: take a train.

We took the train to New York. Train 284 was scheduled to leave the Amtrak Station on Dick Road at 7:50 on Friday morning. We arrived about 20 minutes early, in the middle of a disconcerting snow shower. There were eight other persons in the waiting room. We sat down and I immediately looked at my watch. I looked at my watch several more times before I heard the whistle as the train arrived about 10 minutes late. Everyone boarded quickly, 284 moved out, and once we were underway I decided that constant watch-checking is for airline passengers and motorists.

It’s a smooth ride and a stress-free experience. The seats are comfortable, the cars clean. There is a lounge serving drinks and a limited menu. Passengers walk about, moving from one side to the other, in order to better observe the passing landscape. As we headed east toward Rochester, Syracuse, Rome, Utica and Albany, it became quickly apparent that in many locations train passengers see a totally different panorama.

We saw industrial and commercial backyards as we rolled slowly through the cities before stopping at the local stations. The businesses face the roads, with their posteriors along the tracks. In rural areas, the train goes through woods thick with trees and undergrowth, as well as snow-covered farm fields, some with rolls of hay that will eventually be hauled to the barn. At a top speed of 75 to 80 mph, there are many grade crossings and the engineer sounds his whistle repeatedly as he approaches each. There is still a haunting and romantic sound to that whistle, a sound that will probably never become obsolete.

One woman, late for a meeting in Albany, created a conference call. She was on her cell phone from Utica to Albany---a marathon conversation---before she said goodbye, reminding her listeners she planned to hail a cab and join them at the meeting in a few minutes.

I read a book, enjoyed the passing scene, looking for familiar landmarks. I saw the Beech-Nut sign towering over the baby food factory in Canajoharie, but 284 sped through many small towns so quickly it was difficult to decipher the station signs. There were a few periods of delay along the way, when the train was slowed because of traffic ahead, slower-moving freight trains.

Other brief stops were in Amsterdam, Saratoga Springs, and Schenectady before we reached Albany. The train then crossed to the east side of the Hudson River and turned south, closely hugging the shoreline, stopping in towns and cities like Hudson, Rhinecliff, Poughkeepsie, Croton-on-Hudson, Harmon and Yonkers.

The schedule calls for 284 to make that Buffalo-Penn Station trip in 7 hours and 45 minutes, arriving at 3:35 PM. That day, we were about an hour late, but no one seemed to mind. We were stress free.



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