Sunday, November 20, 2011

Part 25 - Weekend trip to DC

Sometimes when you are in a slump you don’t even realize how time flies; you think time is at a standstill during a slump but it flies just as quick. Well, anyway, back we are...
Saw a movie recently and it seems the director has some fascination for Apple products - it featured a MacBook pro for the villain’s boss in China, an iMac (the desktop computer) for the Indian villain and an iPhone for a Chinese hitman villain. I felt the movie had plenty of loose ends that could have been tied up better. I wonder whether a director can again retake scenes after they have put together the entire movie - do a preview show for select critics audience and then based on the feedback modify the movie.

Government shutdown?

Rewinding, we go to the day I decided to see the famed Cherry Blossoms - this was the last weekend and if I delayed the trip by another week there would be no cherry blossoms to see. The plan was to head out from Boston on Friday by the late night Amtrak train. My colleague didn’t join in this adventure - a few people in office suggested that I just put him in the car and drive away. I checked one last time if he wanted to come; tickets were still available.

When you do these trips, just in the station you suddenly begin to wonder, “Do I have the ticket? Is the date right” and so on; especially when you are traveling alone. The iPad 2 ads were there all over the place dropping down from the ceiling. I first had to collect the ticket using the online booking printout. Amtrak had automated machines where you just needed to show the barcode on the printout. The machine would project a spider web, scan the code and print the ticket.

Next I tried calling my Baltimore friend to tell him that I was starting. This was another bad experience with coinbox phones on this trip - I lost one dollar and the call never went through. Out of curiosity I tried a collect call - it went through and my friend accepted it. In this case, my friend would get charged on his credit card and I didn’t need to put any coins. There was a risk in my trip - depending on what the US Senate decided, there could be a Government shutdown tomorrow; basically they were debating on the Government funding or something of the sort - so if that didn’t go through then government offices would close tomorrow - that includes all national museums, memorial areas etc. They had 3 hours to approve and it was already late in the night. 

I was curious to know whether Amtrak used the same tracks used by the Boston metro and asked an Amtrak employee, “Where does the train come?”
And she quickly replied, “It sure doesn’t come from up there,” raising her hand pointing at the ceiling. It took a lot of seconds for me to understand that she was joking!

Union Station, Washington DC

The train left exactly on time, or perhaps a minute early. The first coach was called a “quiet coach”. Seats were comfortable and there was a nice table like in flights. It will be cool to work on a laptop since there was a plug point as well. It wasn’t express fast, just a little faster than our Indian trains - but it was certainly better maintained. The ticket checker came on rounds, he checked the ticket and put a slip above the seat I was in - probably just to indicate that he’d checked the seat. I started writing a letter to a friend and dozed away.
Morning 7am as I picked my backpack, a Japanese asked me, “Is this Washington?” and I confidently replied. I had heard the announcement just a couple of minutes earlier. It was cold, really cold even with my leather jacket on. I went up the steps to enter Union Station. It was a nostalgic feeling walking in the station which had a grand structure. I bought my return tickets and headed to the restrooms which were a lot better compared to the Boston station. Most of the shops were closed but some of the tour and travel counters had little pamphlet trays in the open. On close inspection I found a couple of good maps in these free pamphlets. And I also caught a headline somewhere that said the Government shutdown had been avoided.

I searched for the metro to get to Tidal Basin - the place of Cherry Blossoms. Over the last 3 years the metro had become a little dirty; the automated ticketing system was still pretty much the same. You can pick your destination point and print the ticket. Cherry blossoms here I come...