03-17-07: yay, kindness!

There is something about a big snowstorm that makes travelers a bit kinder to each other.  You'd think it would bring out the worst in people, but instead we get this "we're all in this together" mentality once we realize we're all gonna be stranded together for the next n hours.

Below is a Very Long Story, mostly for my journaling purposes, about it taking me 36 hours to get home from Hartford in the snow, and the kindness extended by strangers.

My class got finished around noon today, so I immediately headed to the airport to see if I could get on an earlier flight; my original flight was scheduled for 8pm.  By this time the snow was coming down pretty good, so flights were getting cancelled one by one.  I heard rumors that buses and cabs were going to stop running, so I cut my losses and grabbed one of the last cabs to the Hartford train station and got a train ticket to New Haven, CT so I could grab another Amtrak train direct to Wilmington.  Yay!  I was super-excited because there was one seat left on the New Haven -> Wilmington leg: First Class on the Acela.  Oh darn, guess I'll just have to have work pay for that. 

The cabbie was awesome; he drove very carefully and reminded me a lot of my dad.  The highways were littered with accidents of varying degrees; flipped trucks and cars to minor fender benders.  We had lots of great conversation and I tipped him $15 for the relatively short trip, because yo, he earned it.  Yay, kindness!

I arrived to the Hartford train station around 1:30, and my train was scheduled to leave at 4:44pm.  I found a spot for me and all my bags and set up camp.  A while later, an inner-city raggamuffin kid (maybe just 17 years old) started circling my position and checking me out, and I hated myself for instantly being suspicious, but after I gave him the once-over I got a good vibe off him.  Eventually he approached me, and it turns out he was just a little lost having never taken Amtrak before, and didn't quite know how to get the ticket he had reserved.  I talked him through it, and he was grateful, and away he went.  A few minutes later he came back with this worried look; it turns out the ticket agent wouldn't give him his ticket without his ID, which he had left at home.  He was really worried, because he really needed to get home.  I said, "Try getting your ticket from the kiosk instead of the human, you'll be able to get your ticket without someone asking for your ID."  So away he went again, but he returned shortly because he only had cash, and the kiosk requires a credit/debit card.  He asked if I could use my credit card to get his ticket, and then he'd just pay me cash.  He showed me the cash to prove he was good for it.  My rational brain kept thinking that this sounded like a scam, but my instincts just knew I could trust him.  So we tried, but it denied us, most likely because the card is in my name but the reservation was in his.   His heart sank.  He just really wanted to get home, and I didn't have an answer.   But I had a few hours to kill, so I was determined to help him out.  We went to the Greyhound people and asked how to get him home, and they said that Amtrak would be the only way to go, since the public buses, if they were even running anymore, would take 12+ hours to get him there.   And then we noticed that the Amtrak ticket agents had changed shifts, so there was a new woman behind the desk.  I got an idea:  I said, "Let's go to the Amtrak agent, and I'll say that I was the one who booked your ticket for you.  This way I'll be able to vouch for you, and maybe she'll be more lenient on the ID thing."  So we approached the counter and I explained the deal, and the agent pulled up his reservation but saw it was cancelled.  She gently asked if the other agent had cancelled his reservation because of the ID thing, and he said yes.  So she winked at him and said, "Here you go.  Take your ticket.  If they ask for your ID on the train, tell them you're 15 and that you don't have one.  Get home safely, honey."  It was really great.    Yay, kindness!

So now we had no reason to hang out, so there was this wonderfully human uncomfortable parting, and he said thank you a few more times and that was it.  I was really happy to help.  Yay, kindness!

The train station was pretty crowded, so I parked my arse and bags on a bench near the Dunkin Donuts from which I had just purchased a large coffee.  For a brief moment, I balanced my fresh cup on my sturdy suitcase, and in that same moment some guy bumped into me causing my coffee to spill in a giant tidal wave across the floor.  I felt like a major fuckface, especially because the coffee was right in the middle of the floor where everyone wanted to be walking.  The guy apologized all over the place and asked me what I was drinking, and two seconds later he handed me brand new fresh cup in my hands.  That was very sweet, considering I was really the one who spilled it.  Yay, kindness!

People started making their way up towards the platform for the train, but it was too cold to open the doors to the outside, so everyone was perched on their bags in the stairwell.  A bunch of us started gabbing, and it turns out that two of the people in our foursome were separated by one degree-- it was very cool.   Everyone was helping everyone else with their big bags up the stairs, and it was really inspiring to see. 

I got onto the train and finally got to New Haven, CT, but I had missed my connecting train to Wilmington.  I talked to the Amtrak agent who said I simply couldn't get to Wilmington tonight, nor could I get to MetroPark (which is the Amtrak station near my folks in NJ), so I'd be basically having to sleep in New Haven.  NO NO NO NO NO.  So I asked her if I could get to New York Penn instead, and she said that there were just a few seats left.  Bingo!  All places are accessible via NYPenn, so I knew I'd be OK to jump on a local commuter NJ Transit train and get someplace near my folks, and for a hell of a lot cheaper. 

I called Jeremy (who is also stranded in Pittsburgh because of the weather) and asked him to look up some NJ Transit schedules for me, and we determined that I could get really close to my folks' place before midnight tonight.  Awesome! 

While I was on the phone with Jeremy, I saw these two guys who reminded me of Chris Adams in the train station eating Triscuits, cheese cubes and slices of pepperoni.  Holy crap, it looked so delicious that I made a joke to Jerm about how I wanted to go up to them and say, "I'll give you five bucks for a piece of your pepperoni."  Jeremy dared me to do it-- he said, "If you can send me a picture of you holding the pepperoni, I will totally give you $5!!"  So a few minutes later, Jeremy had a picture sent from my phone.  Dude, you're gonna pay me to eat pepperoni!?  NO problem.   The guys were cool (and totally befuddled/amused that some chick approached them asking for pepperoni) and we chit chatted for a little while before making our way to the NYP-bound train.  Yay, kindness!  (Yay, pepperoni!) Which is where I am now... typing on the train, with greasy pepperoni fingers.  Life is good. 

I'm expecting to reach NYPenn by 10:30-ish, and then arriving to Madison NJ via a NJ Transit train just before midnight.  I will sleep like a baby.  It's a pleasant surprise to get to spend some time with my parents.  I can't wait to show my mom my student evaluations of my class-- they were absolutely glowing, with people saying this was the best course they'd ever taken, and I was the best instructor many of them had ever had.  Wow!

Dunno if I'm going to be in NYC tomorrow with Quito and Matt.  I think I've had enough traveling for one weekend.  I just want to be home... especially considering I'm flying to Texas on Monday.  This girl's gotta do laundry. 

My folks picked me up from the Madison train station.  Since I told my mom on the phone that I was hungry because I hadn't eaten dinner, she packed me a snack and a cup of decaf for the car-ride home.  How awesome is that?  My mom rules.  When we arrived home, the three of us hung out around the kitchen table for a bit drinking rum (don't ask), and slowly we started to conk out, so we headed to bed.  The next morning dad was snowblowing the driveway, mom was puttering around the house, and I woke up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed ready to start my journey back to DE.  I decided I wasn't gonna go to NYC; I just don't have it in me.  I wanted to go home.

My dad and I jumped in his trusty Mustang and we got me down to the MetroPark train station around 2:30, giving me just enough time to hop the 2:38 Amtrak to Wilmington.  I sat next to this recent college grad Chris who was so wide-eyed about the world ("You mean you can actually read the news on your cell phone?  Wow!").  He too had been stranded in NY, and he too was finally homeward bound.  We talked about all sorts of stuff (homeless folks in San Francisco, climate change (he's an environmental scientist), traveling, living on the east coast, jobs, friends), and then he offered me some freshly-baked rye bread and some cheddar cheese;  his landlord is a baker and made him a loaf for his long trip.  What a nifty way to spend 2 hours; gabbing and eating fresh-baked bread on a train, searching for the Eyeball-Man tags (see userpic) along the buildings and tressles around the tracks.  Yay, kindness!

And in the last bit of kindness:  ButlerJon came to pick me up from the train station and brought me back safely to my apartment. 

People are so good. (Oh, and I take comfort in knowing that David Byrne also got stranded.)