The cloud sits heavy over Albany, NY and drips of rain slide down the windowpanes of the coach windows of Amtak train 69 “Adirondack” bound for Montréal. After a nightmarish bus journey in the opposite direction this is much more civilised. I wonder whether the border crossing is going to be as bad on the railroad as it was on the highway (how it’s hard to write those words – I’m still British at heart after all), but the joys of the Department of Homeland Security await sometime this afternoon.
Relaxed is probably the best description of Amtrak. The seats are huge, there’s plenty of space, and no one seems in the remotest hurry to get the train to its destination. We’ve been parked a good 10 minutes at Albany – no idea quite why. They are pottering around with the locomotive, and I assume we’ll leave at some point. The train itself is typical American style, corrugated stainless steel cars and a revving diesel engine at its head.The route from New York is one of the most scenic rail journeys I’ve ever taken, with the line winding itself along the edge of the Hudson River for a good couple of hours, beside rotting industries, fields of water lilies, and small yachts moored in the smooth waters of the edge of the river. All rather civilised, and quaint too in its this place has seen better days sort of way. Plus the train hoots its horn at every single level crossing – a bit annoying for those in the train, and surely maddening for the local inhabitants of the farms and villages along the route.
The behaviour of the other passengers is rather confused. At the customer service desk in New York Penn Station I was behind a 50 year old man who asked the Amtrak employee “I’ve never ridden the train before so what do I need to do?” Well maybe using your brain would be the best starting point? Perhaps it will be like the subway that got you to Penn Station – you stand on the platform, the train arrives, you get on it, and then it leaves. Not so hard, eh? For a European it’s incredible that someone of 50 (and indeed someone of 20) had managed to get to that stage in their life without taking the train.
I’m also a bit unfortunate with my choice of seat in the Adirondack. There’s a doddery 80-year-old woman sat behind me with her slightly less doddery 50-year-old daughter. The elder one in a rather loud drawl keeps asking “Why are we stopping?” “Can I help?” “Do you want a pretzel / a vegetable / bread?” and the younger one keeps getting confused when her mobile phone gets cut off if we’re in a tunnel or a cutting. Plus the elder one eats like a cow chewing the cud – with lots of slurp of saliva and her mouth open so it makes a hell of a lot of noise. Maybe it’s dementia setting in.
(As the journey wore on it was clear she wasn’t demented, just thick. “Look at the farmers growing corn!” when it was a swamp with reeds and bulrushes growing. “When we used to travel we used to see animals. There were no cows or horses. Maybe they were inside because it was raining?” Erm, maybe, but probably the main reason was because there were no fields beside the railway all the way from New York. It’s hard to keep a horse in a forest or on a lake or a river. But maybe I’m too logical?)
Anyway I’ll settle back in my seat with Kent’s Tillbaka Till Samtiden playing (an appropriate title I think) and watch some more of the world go past when we eventually depart.