And no, I'm not referring to Maven's Minivan of Destiny. I'm talking about my trip up to Baltimore...at least the getting there part.
I'm back safe and sound. Tired, but happy and relaxed and happy to have seen three old friends (Maven, GMan, and MPP's Mom) and one new friend (Esmerelda). And in order to do justice to this trip, it's going to take me at least 2 posts to talk about it. Mostly because Friday was just the most unbelievable thing ever.
So Friday morning my train was scheduled to leave at 11 AM - so I hightailed it from my office to the Amtrak station which is approximately 5 seconds away. I got on the train, got a good seat, and settled in with a few magazines and my iPod. So far, so good - right? I made and took a few phone calls and right at 11 we left the station. Life was good.
We made one stop in Ashland (which is like the strangest stop since it's smack in the middle of a street and a small men's college but whatever) and I admired all the beautiful old homes located close to the track. Looked at the leaves. Jammed out to a little Sevendust. The perfect day.
About 15 minutes later, we were traveling along at a good clip when suddenly we felt this huge jolt and the train came to a pretty fast stop. I looked out the window to my right and suddenly I see something that makes my blood run cold.
Smoke. And pieces of a yellow school bus. Holy fuck, we have hit a goddamn bus.
"Loooord, we hit a damn school bus!" the woman behind me screamed, and everyone in our car scrambled to a window to see what we could see. I felt like I was seriously going to puke right then and there. The Amtrak employees started running down the tracks, back behind the train to see what happened. Hysteria took over the car, with people yelling and trying to figure out what happened.
Finally, an announcement. No one was injured, and apparently we had hit an old school bus that was empty and being towed by a truck. And the truck driver was shaken up, but uninjured.
And then the waiting started. First, it was announced that it would be at least an hour for the investigation to be finished. Then, they announced that the engine was damaged and they'd have to be sending another one. From Washington.
I looked out the window. We were in the middle of nowhere. Seriously, it was a field with a dirt road - I guess that's why the guy ran into the track, there were no crossing gates or anything. The cell phone conversations around me were hysterical - everyone was repeating "no, you can't come get me because we don't know where the hell we are other than some county" over and over again.
Now, part of the interesting thing of traveling by train is that without an engine, you have no electricity. And with the damaged engine, they went ahead and shut that sucker down so we had no lights, no heat, no flushable toilets (oh yeah, that was NAS-TY), and the car with all the food didn't have much to offer. I had some nabs and a bottle of water in my bag, but I figured that since we had no idea when we were going to move again that I better haul ass up to the food car and see what I could get.
I walked up there and stood in line for a good 45 minutes waiting to see what I could get. And they couldn't serve hot food and the cold food was pretty limited at that point. So my lunch consisted of a "cheese and cracker" kit (which actually was pretty good with some good sharp white cheddar and a variety of crackers), a blueberry muffin (blech), and two Coronas. The guy next to me and I joked about how if we were stuck there much longer, we were going to have to resort to cannibalism.
My nerves were pretty shot. The Coronas helped. I began to relax and size up my fellow passengers for possible snacks. Just kidding. Maybe.
So for the next two hours, we sat on the track and waited. We watched all the law enforcement people go up and down the tracks. The feds showed up. Amtrak and CSX had people there trying to get it all worked out. At that point, they still weren't sure if the replacement engine was on the way or if we were going to have to ride buses to our destinations.
At approximately 30 minutes into this whole debacle, I figured that I should probably call Maven and let her know what had happened so she wasn't stuck waiting for me at the station at 2:30. Um, slight problem - for some odd reason our cell phones wouldn't play nice and we kept calling each other and weren't able to get through. So I called my friend Mer in Boston - who called Maven and I think emailed MPP's Mom - and she relayed everything. Soon GMan called to check on me and said "Liz, next time...drive!" No shit.
Eventually we got our new engine and got on our merry way. So I settled back in and rode the rest of the way happy as a clam. Yeah, we were late but everyone was okay. Well, everyone but that bus. We got to DC where the engine had to be switched out again to an electric engine, and at that point I called Maven and finally got through to let her know I was probably only 20 minutes away.
Um, yeah. That would've been if I hadn't missed my damn stop.
So we're booking along - stuck behind a local train so we're making a lot of unscheduled stop. And then we made one stop...they didn't announce what it was for and everyone was asking each other if they could see what stop it was. Nope. No signs, no announcement. So we all sat back and then as the train pulled away I looked out the window and saw BWI - BALTIMORE. Just as plain as day. The collective moan rose up from our car - at least 5 of us had missed our stop. At this point now I'm just so exhausted that I'll ride to Timbuktu if they have alcohol.
There were these two elderly sisters that sat next to me the whole way - they had never been on a train or airplane before and they were going to a funeral up in New Haven. "Whattrye gonna dooooo?" they asked me. "I've been in worse pickles than this before, so I'm sure I'll figure out some way to get where I'm going," I replied just as calm as could be. Yet I felt like puking.
At this point I called Maven. "Guess what? I missed my stop," I whined. So we agreed that I'd get off at Penn Station in Baltimore and see if I could get back to BWI easily...and she would try to find out how to get to Penn Station if I couldn't get back. Geesh. When I got to Penn Station, I walked up to the main counter and there was this really nice man there. I started to explain what happened and he asked for my ticket stub - took one look at it and said, "Girl, lord, you were on that train that hit that bus, weren't you? I'm gonna put you on the Acela and get you back to BWI in the next 20 minutes, okay?" Jesus Mary, I felt like hugging him and maybe showing him my boobs or something. Gah.
The Acela screeched up to the gate and I hopped right on the food car, walked up and ordered a Corona. I then found a seat where I proceeded to drink it straight without even stopping to breathe. I think the men beside me were duly impressed.
And 15 minutes later, I was delivered into the safe haven of Maven's Minivan of Destiny.
Tomorrow, my arrival at Casa de Maven and GMan, the Meeting of Esmerelda, and whatever else I can cram in.
I am so, so thankful that no one was on that damn bus. So thankful.