Categories
Travel

I’m Moving to Los Angeles

Am I kidding me? I am moving from my beloved New York City to Los Angeles in two weeks. I need to write it one more time. I am moving to Los Angeles in two week’s time.

I was there for the first time two weeks ago on business. “There sure is a lot of concrete in Los Angeles,” thought I while driving to my hotel from the airport. “How do people live here without any seasons?” Next thing I knew, my company made me an offer I can’t refuse and voila, I’m moving to Los Angeles.

It’s not just the pavement and perfect weather. But might I mention without reprisal that when it never rains you never get to rid yourself of the sadness that builds up during perfect weather? A sad movie. A sad book. Someone’s sad story. All those things build up in me and when the weather’s bad, I hole up at home and cry for a few hours and love the feeling afterward that has to be like Catholic confession. I will miss bad weather. Sigh.

I have friends in Los Angeles. My dear friends Victor and Cathryn are in Los Angeles and they have a pool which would be nice to swim in. Ok, that’s a plus. I think some of my high school friends are in Los Angeles and I haven’t seen them in forty years. I’m sure we still have plenty in common.

I was the largest and most saggy-faced person in Los Angeles last week. I found myself running into chairs at other tables in restaurants. I finally figured out that they can get more tables in their restaurants in Los Angeles because they have only very thin people who don’t take up as much space as they do in New York City.

A friend and his wife were meeting me for brunch.

“Come over, see the house and we’ll walk to this great restaurant in Venice to have brunch.”

“Sounds great,” said foolish me. “How far is the restaurant?”

“It’s not far at all. Two miles. We do it all the time, and it’s a lovely walk.”

“Do you have any idea who you are talking to? I’m not walking two miles to eat some bean sprouts with a touch of lemon peel thrown on top, and then back again. Are you high? Do they have burgers in Venice?”

Needless to say, I drove from their house to the restaurant and my friend drove with me while his wife walked and left earlier than us. But not as early as I would have left if I were walking. Gads, these are not my people!

But I have an open mind about it all, don’t you think?

Then I woke up to the news that the fires are raging eleven miles from downtown Los Angeles, and I kept thinking, “What city was it that was burning way back when? Oh yeah, I remember. Atlanta was burned to the ground during the civil war. Great.” I talked to a friend from there later today. He said you just have to stay away from North Los Angeles and you needn’t worry about the fires. Well, I do worry about fires burning in cities that have no way out. Just like I would worry about water levels if I lived in New Orleans. Let’s not even start on the earthquakes.

They apparently have great sports teams in Los Angeles. That’s a good thing. They have good teams in New York City as well, though, and I haven’t been to a sporting event in ten years. Nonetheless, I could learn to love tall people throwing balls in baskets just above their heads and then running and trying to do it again. It could happen.

I need to face facts. I’m moving to a city in a state whose governor can’t pronounce and is more bankrupt now than Enron. The Housewives of Orange County are nowhere near as cool as the Housewives of New York City (you take pride in whatever you can when you come from New York). And, to top it off, they don’t have lilac bushes.

I think I’ll be fine. Good decision. Good decision.





Categories
Travel

Visiting My Friend Howard Johnson

So, a friend from work was chatting with me about my trip to Boston last week to get my daughter settled in her apartment in Cambridge, where she is going to law school. If I were a braggart, I would say she is going to Harvard Law School, but I’m not like that. Anyway, I mentioned to him that I needed a hotel and was lamenting the high cost for a room. He immediately said, “Are you kidding? Priceline, idiot, Priceline.” He walked me through the process and I got the Cambridge Marriott for $100 a night. Amazing. It’s $249 a night if you just call. I thought to myself that I am so happy being the Obama Mini Me that cares about spending money wisely and how fortunate I am to have friends at the office.

After moving her in during the week, I decided to go to the Cape for the weekend and see my family. I’m a freak with weird hours and hate staying with people, so I called my biz partner, Debbie, and asked her to do the Priceline buy again. I was on the phone while she was doing it.

“Ok, type in four-star hotels in Hyannis and see what they show. Then they will tell us the average price for those hotels and my friend, Mike, from the office said just divide it in half and we will get a great room. It worked in Boston.”

“There are no four-star hotels in Hyannis.”

“Ok, try three-star hotels.”

“Hmmm, not so much.”

“Ok, what stars do they have?”

“Well, they have one-star hotels. And, the average cost is $130 a room.”

“Ok, bid $75 and let’s see where I’m staying.”

“Alrighty then. Looks like it’s jimmies, not sprinkles.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You, partner mine, are staying at the Yarmouth Howard Johnson. I remember ice cream from Ho Jo’s and they call sprinkle toppings jimmies, not sprinkles.”

“Whatever. I’m sure that’s great, right?”

” I don’t know, Christine, I’m not sure you are a Howard Johnson girl, but go for it.”

IMG_0056I drove in after a long day on the road and finishing up things, and I was stunned. Everyone parks their cars outside the rooms, and they were all sitting outside their rooms on plastic chairs that they clearly brought with them. They were drinking beer from coolers sitting next to the chairs. I checked in, drove to the space right in front of my room (which is quite convenient) and went into the room. I then started plotting how I can get Michael, my friend who introduced me to Priceline, fired.

The sheets had been slept in. The TV was black, white and red. You cannot call it color. There is a film over everything, and I decided I surely should not take my shoes off until getting into bed. I decided to stick it out and went to Kmart and bought sheets and a comforter. I bought wipes and cleaned off everything. It’s only two days, but a girl has standards. As I was walking to the checkout, I saw plastic chairs. “Ok, Christine, embrace the new experience. Join the crowd.” I bought a cool red plastic chair and a small cooler.

This afternoon, after returning from a lovely afternoon with Aunt Nancy, I sat out front of the building on my plastic chair for a really long time. No one talked to me. They talked to each other and they didn’t talk to me. I tried to look cool and interested, but nothing. Finally I started up a conversation with someone about my car make, and he asked me how I found Howard Johnson. I told him Priceline. Turns out he’s only paying $60 a night and he just drove in without a reservation. I just said, “See you later,” and headed back to my room. I’m going to leave the plastic chair in the room tomorrow when I leave.

Here is the thing. I’m not a snob. I fit in most places. I like all kinds of people. That said, when I travel I like a clean room where the remnants of those before me are not my roommates during my stay.

I think Priceline is probably fine when you can use the star function, but not so good when you don’t.

Categories
Parenting Travel

Proof of Life for Luke

I have the most amazing dog, Luke. People actually say to me, “If you don’t want your dog anymore, I’ll take him.” Aside from wondering what about me looks like I might be the kind of person who doesn’t want her dog anymore, I try and recognize that it’s a compliment to Luke, rather than an insult directed at me.

I’m heading off on vacation this week and am always in the quandary of what to do with Luke. The last time I left him at Doggy Day Care, he ate his thigh and they didn’t take care of it, and when I got back we ended up in big doggy do do. My sister has three dogs, one of which she rescued from New Orleans. That dog doesn’t like people (any wonder?), but supposedly is fine with new dogs.

I asked her if she would take Luke and she was thrilled. I do have to confess that she has a dog of mine from many years ago, Emma. Emma is a Sheltie, and she needs to herd. She used to bark and bark around us until we all stood in a clump in the middle of the room. This became very irritating; the truth is we didn’t like Emma. I brought a Dog Psychologist in (Yes, I’m aware that means I have issues, not the friggin’ dog) who said that Emma’s only problem was that she thought her name was Emma No, not Emma. We got the picture.

We woke up one morning and there was a note on the kitchen counter which read, “I have gone to live with Aunt Leslie because she likes me and you don’t. Love, Emma No” We were all fine with that. While the truth hurts, looking it in the eye can save you.

So, I put Luke in the car yesterday to head to my sisters. He was all excited, looking out the window, panting. The guilt started. He’s fifteen years old, deaf and maybe it’s too much to ask him to hang with three other dogs. What if my sister gets impatient with him? What if her dogs gang up on him and she takes their side?  I swear, I was a mess. I hate this thing called guilt.

We get there and he’s already in heaven. Her yard is much larger than mine and it’s like Fort Knox. The gate has three entry locks, and there is no way he’s getting out. His tail is wagging away, and I’m feeling much better.

“Did you bring his dog food?”

“No, I figured you have three dogs. Can’t he eat what they eat?”

“They each eat their own food based on their personal needs. Are you kidding me? You didn’t bring him any food? Emma eats Eukanuba for joint health, and this one eats such and such.” I’m starting to get anxious which is very par for the course when I’m with family.

“Well, no, I didn’t. When I used to drop Sarah off at a friend’s house for a sleep over, she ate what they were eating. I figured Luke could do the same thing.”

“Well, he can’t. You need to come back with his food before you leave.”

I start to feel like the worst dog owner in the land. No wonder people ask me if I want to give up my dog. I’m driving home thinking it’s best to give Luke to her permanently. Or, maybe I should review those that have asked for him to see what’s the best fit. He looked so happy running around her large yard. I start to get defensive and look for something else to focus on.

Something she said started to gnaw (get it, gnaw?) at me. “I told my friend Barbara that if anything ever happened to Luke while he is here, I would have to leave town.” I call her on my cell.

“Would you mind sending me a proof of life picture every day while I’m gone, so I know Lukie is ok?”

“What?!”

“You know, take a picture of him with the front page of that day’s The New York Times – or maybe in your case the NY Post – in front of him? Just so I know he is ok.”

“You are sick, very very sick.” And, she hangs up on me.

A few hours later, her niece Saneya calls and leaves the following voice mail.

“Luke is fine and he is having a lot of fun here. He was with me by the pool, and now he is at the Vineyard and everyone is coming over and saying he is very cute and what kind of dog is he. Call us right away.”

Call right away? What does that mean. I call back and everything is supposedly fine. But, how am I really supposed to know?

I am leaving tomorrow on my vacation, which I’m very much looking forward to. I do want to relax and not worry about anything, which is certainly doable. Lukie is fine, I’ll bring presents for everyone, and I’m grateful to my sister for rescuing her dog from New Orleans and me from yet another opportunity for craziness. Do I wish she’s send the proof of life? Yep, but I’ll get over it.

Categories
Politics Travel Women

Americans & Attitude.

I was watching The View last week. I watch The View because the new Obama Mini Me doesn’t have an outlet for my anger. So I watch The View and choose to hate Elizabeth Hasselbeck, who seems to be someone who thinks she knows it all but doesn’t seem to base it anything intelligent. I get home some nights, put my dinner together and hate Elizabeth. It gets rid of anger that was really focused on others and allows me to better attain my Obama Mini Me. Anyway, I was watching and I stopped dead in my tracks as I heard Whoopi Goldberg refer to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as Ahma Dinner Jacket. She actually giggled and said, “I call him that because I can’t pronounce his name.”

The ladies of The View were just honored as some of the 100 most influential people in America. They constantly talk about how seriously they discuss world issues, in a forum for women to see points of view. The hated Elizabeth called him the same thing while she ducked her head down like a demure little girl. Well, hear this ladies. If you want to be taken seriously as people with brains, and you are talking from an American platform to millions of people, and you cannot pronounce a name that no one else in journalism seems to find difficult (including that idiot Mika on Morning Joe – Do NOT get me started on her), then please get someone on The View who can. Barbara WaWa, you should be ashamed to allow that on the air. Truly. To say nothing of the fact that when Iranians see the way we do not take seriously their language, how can you possibly expect them to reach across the Ocean Aisle? 

I remember when I was in the Paris in the eighties. I was in Chanel looking at bags, and there were a ton of Americans like vultures around the counter with soft spoken, dignified French sales ladies trying to cope. There was a big guy with a Texas twang and cow boy boots looking at items. He slammed his hand down on the counter and loudly said, “How much is that in real money?” I was so ashamed. I really was, and I should have said something to the Texan, and I didn’t. 

I hope that it’s just because we are so isolated by oceans that we seem to think that everyone owes us respect for our culture, and we do not return the favor. I hope we start to think as we travel the globe that while we are somewhere else, not only do we owe the hosting country our respect for their cultural ways, but in addition, we are providing them the mirror into what our country is all about.

Whoopi, I like you girlfriend. I know if you read this you would get it right. You seem to care a lot about respect. Start showing some.

Categories
Travel

National Geographic Expeditions: Ms Christine Goes To Washington

I haven’t taken vacation in close to three years. It’s clear I have trouble relaxing. I decide in this Obama mania of Change, Change, Change that I will take five days off. What to do? What to do? I receive my National Geographic Expeditions catalog in the mail and decide to sign up for the DC four day photo-journalism expedition.

First, I can add simple numbers. It’s not four days. It starts Thursday night at 5:30 PM and ends Sunday at noon. That’s two and a half days. Duh. Ok, rise above accuracy in logistics and get with the program.

I tell my friend Paula about the trip, and she decides to join me. I love Paula because she always reads everything associated with anything she does, and I know she will have the whole thing figured out by the time we get there.

One Month Before My Vacation Expedition

“You have to get a Mac and download Lightroom.” Paula is on the phone after having received her kit in the mail that I received weeks earlier and haven’t read.

“Huh? It’s a photography class.”

“Yes it is, and you need Lightroom which costs three hundred dollars, and you should be on a Mac.”

I always follow Paula’s directions and order one Mac laptop, one major screen, one cordless mouse and keypad. I buy Lightroom and add $5,000 to the $2,000 cost of the trip. Well, I needed to move to Mac anyway; everyone who is really creative uses a Mac and after the class that will include me.

One Week Before the Class

I put my camera in the car and take it with me to be ready for a few practice shots on the days before the trip begins. You never know when the next Katrina can hit when you are driving to and from work the week before your first photo journalism class. My camera is stolen from the back seat of my car two days before we are heading to Washington.

I go to the camera store and buy a new camera and  lens that will serve as my “sure I know what I’m doing” calling card. $1,500. We are up to $8,000 for the trip. I’m realizing that perhaps there is a reason I never take vacation.

I’m ready to go. Bags packed. Check. New camera. Check. Batteries charged and ready to go. Check. DC here I come. On the way to meet Paula at the train station I make a mental note that I could be sent to Africa shortly after being discovered in DC as the best photo journalist discovered in a two and a half day class that so far costs $8,000.

Night One — Dinner with the Group

We head down to registration, drinks and dinner right on time and start to meet the group. No one talks about photography much, but instead get acquainted with where we are all from and what we do outside this trip. I look for those with indented shoulders thinking the professional photographers are worn from carrying bags, etc around the globe in their amazing assignments. Not too many are admitting they are photographers professionally. I start to relax.

We eat and then see a presentation by our PPL (Professional Photographer Leader), Mark Thiessen. He presents his work on fires and as he speaks I look around a bit wondering if anyone has the same thoughts as I do about how pyromaniacs love fires and perhaps the fact that for six years he pursued his fire story should be a tip off to the feds. That, of course, makes me wonder if we are going to shoot any FBI stuff and so the evening went.

Day Two: Really Day One After Night One

Everyone is stoked. We head over to National Geographic Offices. (Who knew they have three buildings and call Alexander Graham Bell their founder? Turns out that Bell left them a ton of telephone stock, and so they have plenty of real estate to call their own. I wonder what I will leave them when I win the Pulitzer for a shot I take after learning everything I need to know in the next four days, or two and a half depending on whether you are the payee or the payor.)

After breakfast we head up to the editing classroom we will be using. They tell us in the elevator that we are assigned seats. I say out loud, “Please let me be in the back row. Please let me be in the back row.” Everyone laughs but I know two things. You have to say what you want in life, and being in the back row means you can see what everyone else is doing on their laptops and know whether you should check out or not. We arrive, and no surprise to me I’m in the back row with some fabulous people.

Jack on the left, Martha, Kate and Paula who visited our row often.
Jack on the left, Martha, Kate and Paula who visited our row often.

Kate on my right and Martha on my left. Jack sits next to Kate, and they happen to have the same last name. We later dub our back row, Back Room Alley, and we know that we are the finest in the land for sure and support each other better than my Playtex bra in 1993 when I went through menopause and my breasts fell to my knees.

The morning is a presentation by Todd James, one of the editors at National Geographic. I’m sure he’s a very very nice man to have as a father. That said, his presentation was more a review of his favorite National Geographic stories over the past years (not sure but could be quite a few years).

He offered the following elements of editing:

Know your subject. Research Up; edit down. That was interesting. I’m not a strong researcher, but it makes sense. Learn about where you are going before going and then you will know the shot.

Find Meaningful Surprises. Are you kidding me? That’s like saying, “Make a lot of money,” or “Eat well and you will be thin.” How to find meaningful surprises would have been nice. Some examples of meaningful surprises would have been nice and how it wasn’t dumb luck (or was) would have been nice.

See what others miss. He’s kidding right? Todd, again, how does one see what others miss? How do you even know if others missed it? 

Photograph what you feel. I have spent thirteen years in therapy trying to figure out what I feel. By the time I figure out what I feel darkness has set in and the shot is lost. But I know what he means. I do. I know that I need to shoot people not places because I feel people. M on my left who aspires to be a photographer and is one already shows me a shot on day two where there is a line of WWII vets lined up at the memorial, and I start to cry as she remarks, “You know they won’t be around much longer.”

Use photography as a language to tell your story. I like that one. I try it on, “I speak English and photography.” Yes, that’s it for sure. I realize it was worth the morning just for that. And, there were some shots over the weekend that did just that. One in particular was a line from the military at Arlington taken by John I think (will try and get it to upload). The soldier on one side is barking out an order and his mouth is in a perfect O that reminds me of the carolers that I put out at Christmas. I know he means that order big time, and I can hear the picture. I can hear it.

So, I’m glad that Todd, the picture editor who still prefers film rather than digital, spoke to us. I learned a lot and also I know I want to subscribe again to National Geographic.

We have lunch and head off to our first assignment.  We are split into two groups; one goes to Dupont Circle and the other, including Back Row Alley, heads to Adams Morgan neighborhood. We are told to capture the culture of the neighborhood. The only thing I remember about Dupont Circle is in the movie An American President, when she keeps getting stuck in Dupont Circle, and I never heard of Adams Morgan. We are told that they are culturally diverse and that’s it. Now, I am a learner, and we were just told that we should research up and edit down, so I know this is not going to go well but I decide it’s all in the attitude. I put on my Geo (that’s what all the cool people at National Geographic call the company, and since I’m a photo away from my African assignment, I’m sure it’s ok to join them) hat, hop in a cab with Y whose bag weighed more than I do and he,ad out. I leave her at destination Adams Morgan Neighborhood so I can hear my feelings and stand on a corner for awhile waiting for my feelings to hit me. “Shoot what you feel. I speak Photographer. Editing down from researching up (liar!).” That goes on for quite awhile and I am starting to panic.

My boys in the 'hood
My boys in the 'hood

I see it. Four thug young boys walking down the street. They turn the corner away from me. I’m desperate. I call after them “Hey tough boys, walk toward me. You can kill me when you get here.” I swear to God. Desperation does something to a person. They turn. I start clicking. And, it worked. One of the four kept walking the other way, but the other three turn and start walking toward me with a mixture of tough and fun on their faces. I love them and will pay for their college education.

I spent some time talking to them. It was great. Promised I’d send the shot which I will do shortly.

We arrive back for the editing process and everyone is shaky – wanting like Sally Fields to really have their shots be liked. It was all very touchy feely during the review process and no real input from the professionals on what should have been done or what makes a good picture etc. I realize that two hours to edit (really meaning pick out four pictures to show the class) borders on a new level of narcissism. We in back room alley finish up in a half an hour and chat amongst ourselves as others painfully look at each of their shots over and over and over again to figure out which one pops. Truth is I only have one worth showing – my boys in the hood – and I feel good about it.

Kate starts doing some work on her laptop, and I see she is in pharmaceuticals. I tell her I’m all about the drugs, and she doesn’t offer anything under the table. Martha and I talk about her sherpa husband and the class.

We see each other’s images, and the next day’s assignment presented. We are to go to the Lincoln Memorial at dawn, shoot in the new light and then get shots of tourists and meet back for “editing” after lunch.

A group of us walk to a nearby place for dinner and decide to meet in the lobby at six to head over to the Memorial. I take to heart the research first editing remarks and Google Lincoln Memorial at dawn images and see that the light appears to come from the left hand side. I tell everyone that the next morning. Turns out it doesn’t come from the left, but no one suggests that I was sending them astray on purpose.

My shots of the memorial are not memorable. Martha, however, nails it with a shot of the Memorial with a man mopping the area. Kate and I compliment her shot, and we all marvel at Kate’s shots too. I have asked her to send me some to show.

Martha's Shot of Lincoln Memorial with mopper
Martha's Shot of Lincoln Memorial with mopper

I am grateful for the morning and my encounter with Reginald in the park. Paula and I go into the park near National Geo after the Lincoln Memorial, and he is sitting on a bench. I know he’s not all there but there was something about his face. I sit down next to him and realize that part of being a photographer is that you are not really you. You can do things like sit next to a schizophrenic on a bench and feel like you have something to say to him.

I hand him my large lens as I’m switching to something smaller, and he and I become friends. Reggie is trying to stay in the real world and in his mind is a great basketball player. He demonstrates his techniques which if I’d read the directions on how to work my camera I could have shot with repeat shutter controls, but of course I haven’t and so I am stuck with Reggie in one still.

My new friend Reggie
My new friend Reggie

I give Reggie twenty dollars. I tell him he earned it for helping me with my lenses He was so happy that he gave me a hug and a kiss. I won’t forget him.

When we got back to the editing room, our leader Mark gave a lecture on elements of good picture taking. It strikes me that having it at the END of the expedition was sort of strange, but whatever. he also shows us pictures from his personal collection. They are awesome. Kate notes that the Halloween Jack-O-Lanterns are all about the candles in them. The birthday cake picture is also all about the fire. She is so smart that Kate, and I tell her so, but she still doesn’t offer me any free drug samples.

We have our wrap up dinner and the helpers put together a video presentation (they are sending it to us and I’ll upload it when they do).  I realize that we all learned a lot. I took my first vaca in years, and I realized that it’s about getting out of the house, away from technology. I intend to do it more often.

Paula and I skip the last morning tour of Mark’s lab; I doubt we will be using it in the future. We have a nice leisurely breakfast and talk about our favorite shots from the group.  Great wrap. Great weekend with my friend.

Thanks to all for the great time. I would do it again in a heartbeat. 

And, check out the pictures from the Pulitzer winner this year. He knows how to take a picture. I am in awe.

Categories
Travel

Amtrak: Ms Christine Takes a Roomette

I recently had to go to a number of cities for business and family matters that were nestled across the country. “Self,” said I, “why not take the Amtrak challenge, write on the train and relax for two days going to Denver from New York?” Silly me.

Traveling is not wonderful during the winter months no matter how you go, and I was prepared for the inconveniences of Mother Nature. However, how a service deals with those inconveniences separates the men from the boys, and sadly, Amtrak, or AmCrap as my fellow travelers dubbed the company, clearly has to grow up.

You know when you arrive at the airport and it says delayed on the boards? Well, Amtrak says ‘on time’ until it’s a lie to be saying it (in other words, the departure time has passed), and then they alert you to the delay. I did ask at the counter when it was boarding time if the train was in the station and the man behind the counter was clear about the fact that it wasn’t.

“I see that it now says the train to Chicago is delayed. Is it in the station?”

“Nope.”

“Oh, that’s odd. If they knew it wasn’t even in the station, why did they wait until departure time to change the ‘on time’ listing to delayed?”

“I dunno. It’s not even in the service area.”

“Oh, well how long does it take once it’s in the service station before it comes to the station to pick us up? Is there time for me to go out and run a few errands?”

“I have no idea.”

“Could you ask someone?”

“No.”

Ok then. I head back to the lounge area and eat the soup that I bought just before they changed the marquee. I thought it would be cool to eat hot soup in my roomette (Isn’t that a great name, Roomette?)

We board an hour later, and I lug my luggage to the rail car where my first class roomette awaits. I have a large, heavy bag filled with papers etc. for the business part of the trip, and I stand looking at the gap between the car and the platform wondering how I can lift it across as it clearly can no longer be rolled. I am reminded in that great film  A League of Their Own when she is running next to the moving train and throws her luggage, the luggage of her sister and then her body onto the slowly moving train. She wasn’t embarrassed at all at her grunting and so I thought, “well if it’s good enough for Geena Davis, then it’s good enough for me.” I heave ho my bag over the Delaware Gap of Penn Station and notice the porter for my first class car standing just inside.

“Hi, I’m Christine, and in Roomette #5.”

“Well, it’s back there,” he says pointing.

“Oh, well is there a place to store my bag?”

“No, if you didn’t check it, then it has to go in your room. You are going to be crowded.”

I’m wondering why they didn’t tell me this when I checked in. I maneuver my way to my room and realize it just ain’t big enough for the both of us.

And, surprise, surprise, the porter for our compartments has disappeared.

The train pulls out; I’m sitting on the chair in my roomette with my legs on top of the bag which just fits lying on the floor. My knees are higher than my chest, however, and I’m concerned about sitting like this for two days and if the blood clots from sedentary sitting are worse if your legs are higher than your heart.

My door is open and a family of three from Australia is setting up in the roomettes next to mine. It appears that we are the only three in the car, but alas the porter is still not around to answer questions. I wonder where he can possibly be hiding. We are not talking about many places to get lost.

We chat for a bit, and I think this adventure is getting better. It’s agreed that we will go to dinner together. In the meantime I make some calls and watch the partially frozen Hudson as we run alongside it and the sinking sun. Very pretty.

We get to dinner and the first sign that this is not quite the first class dining experience we’re used to is when there is only one menu for the entire table and it’s all been crossed out with a pen with other entrees entered in with misspelled precision by the hand of someone who clearly couldn’t care less.

I’m quickly reading my turn at the menu when our waitress announces,

“You can’t eat breakfast here; we have no water.”

Huh?

“Oh, well where will we be eating?” says the Australian father politely.

“You can get something in the back if you want, but other than that, I don’t know.”

We are then given sheets of paper to sign for our dinners which she leaves on the table.

“Don’t lose those papers,” she admonishes. “If you do, I’m docked $25 for each of them.”

I am starting to feel testy.

“Then don’t leave it here on the table,” I said with a hint of irritation. “I can’t take on this responsibility right now. I’m trying to unwind.”

“I have to leave them here until dinner is over. It’s the rule.”

About twenty five minutes later, four paper plates of still bleating lamb are slapped down in front of us just as the lights go out. I figure this is a gift from God, and I’m grateful. We eat in the dark for 15 minutes and then one of those neon wands is put on the table. You know the ones. They use them at concerts, and I’m thinking I might lift it up, wave it around and sing a heartfelt rendition of God Bless America.

I ask the waitress as she comes by for another diet pepsi.

“Not unless you pay $1.25 you can’t.”

Ouch.

“Ok, I will pay the additional funds. But could I point out that since you have no water to serve, it seems to me I should get the diet soda for nothing.”

“You can get water,” she says. “It’s on the shelf in your car just up there.”

Oh, I get it. I should get up from my dinner and walk to the next car and get the water there and bring it back. Right.

We are sitting making the best of a meal that only gets worse, and I’m drooling from stories from the Australian couple about the great trains in Europe and the train from Paris to London. We decide to rise above those around us, get my computer and watch a movie. I get the computer, come back and set in on the dining room table. 

“Oh, no you don’t!” cometh from the Amtrak Gestapo Waitress. “You ain’t watching that in here.”

We decide to retire to the rooms and head for bed. Somehow the festive mood is lost.

Our porter is no where to be found. It’s now 9:30, and I wonder about how tipping works and what exactly his responsibilities include. I figure out how to work the bed, lower it and get ready for the night’s adventure.

I lie on my berth watching the night pass and the lights of Ohio and Pennsylvania going by. I realize that the second diet pepsi which I had to drink all of to make my point is making sleep impossible. But the night is cold and the window gives me a doorway into sleeping America that I find very comforting. I watch the passing scenery as the train lumbers through the countryside. I am reminded of the enormity of this land of ours and how Amtrak transverses it daily like a mother walking through her den. I’m happy to be on the ride.

It’s the next morning, and I head to the dining car. I see that there are some women eating oatmeal, and I think all is not lost.

“I’ll have the oatmeal please.”

“No oatmeal. We have no water.”

“They have oatmeal,” I say pointing to my neighbors.

“Well, we had water a while ago and now we don’t.”

Another woman walks up and asks if I want oatmeal.

“I can get the water from the car up there and make it.”

I look pointedly at Gestapo Lady and ask her what her name is.

She answers, looks me straight in the eye and says. “What’s yours?”

My neighbors arrive and sit down. He wants the egg and cheese sandwich and the oatmeal.

“You can have one or the other, not both. And if you want the cheese sandwich you have to go the car back there and order it with the rest of the passengers.”

Could I possibly make this up? By this time it’s about National pride and dignity. All I can think of is the stories from the night before about European train service and I’m ready to pull out my flag and show them how this country works.

“Ok,” I say looking right into her eyes. “Let’s review. You can’t serve us the breakfast we paid for because you have no water. Now you are telling this nice man that he can’t have what he wants which is available for breakfast. This is not working for me. Who is in charge and please ask them to come to the table.”

We see her walk back and talk with the other waitress and another woman at length, clearly explaining the situation. Now I become Tom Hanks in You’ve Got Mail when he’s trying to get the woman at Zabars to take Meg Ryan’s credit card.

She walks to the table, and I make the case.

“These nice people from Australia paid – as I did – $1,000 for tickets on this train to ride first class from New York City to their destination in California. You can’t serve them the breakfast they paid for. We understand that the water isn’t working because the pipes froze. But, now you are telling him he can’t have both oatmeal and an egg sandwich? If Amtrak can’t give them what they paid for, then the way Amtrak needs to respond, like this. “We are so sorry for the inconvenience. How can we make it better? You want the egg sandwich from the back and Oatmeal? I’m on my way.'”

She looks at me and starts to explain.

“No,” I interrupt holding up my hand. “Explanations are over. Are you going to help him or not?”

“You are not listening to me explain our procedures and how they are just following the rules.”

“No, I’m not listening. I’m the client and your job is to murmur, say you are sorry and to recognize that we are at our wits end.”

To her credit, she looked at me, said she would take care of it and did. I thank her from the bottom of my heart for showing them that in America, reason can prevail. The message to AmCrap? No wonder you are in the state you are. Wake up, smell the roses and change your rules. They aren’t working.

We arrive into Chicago two hours late. Our porter is all over me with helpfulness when we pull into the station. I tell him that I find this insulting, and I hope he has a nice life. I have just enough time to run to a museum I want to see before the next train takes me to my final destination of Denver. Maybe that train will be better.