Monday, October 12, 2009

Don't get sick in Wilmington, DE

I went to Maryland for the weekend for a long-delayed visit with my family down there. It was a relaxing couple of days, with nothing more stressful than waiting to eat a late dinner Saturday night because my brother was in the process of buying a car. My father grilled steaks by the beam of a police-nightstick-sized flashlight I was holding. I had my choice of the Redskins-Panthers or Bengals-Ravens on the TV but not my beloved Steelers, who were in Detroit playing the Lions. We followed the Steelers game online and kept an eye on the Redskins' blowing a 15-point lead and losing the game.

I got to New Carrollton for my return train just a few minutes before it arrived at 4:37 PM (it was early for once) and had my pick of seats. I thought the train's early arrival and relative emptiness augured well for a speedy trip back to New York. My train's scheduled arrival was 7:46 PM and I thought about getting back to my apartment by 8:30, ordering dinner, and watching TV for a solid five hours. Those of you who followed my Twitter feed last evening have some idea how events transpired.

We were about 10 minutes past Baltimore when the train slowed to a crawl and then a stop. The conductor announced that we had stopped because of police activity up ahead. I'm used to the generic "police activity" announcement on the NYC subway, but this was the first time I'd heard it on Amtrak. We sat for at least a half hour, maybe longer, with an occasional update from the conductor that he didn't know how much longer we'd be there. Having no idea where we were, I assumed the problem had something to do with another train in the station in Wilmington, DE, presumably a few minutes away. As the delay wore on, some passengers suggested that someone had been hit by a train. When the train did move again, we eventually eased past a few police cars and Amtrak trucks off to the right side of the train and past a stopped Acela train on our left headed in the opposite direction. Once we cleared the police cars, we picked up speed. I considered sending an apologetic tweet to the good people of Wilmington for thinking that their fair city was the problem.

Just outside of Wilmington, a man came into our car and asked "is there a doctor on board?" Before he could explain further or even finish his question, the train conductor and his assistants rushed down the aisle toward him. A minute later, the conductor announced that we had a medical emergency in the quiet car. I hoped whoever was ill or injured was OK, and I thought we'd be delayed just a few minutes in Wilmington while the emergency services got the passenger off the train. Wouldn't it be funny, I thought, if he or she refused to get off the train because they didn't want to be treated in Wilmington? That's funny! Ha ha!

We pulled into the station and the conductor announced that we were waiting for the EMTs to arrive. And we waited, and waited, and waited some more. After about 15 minutes, the conductor announced we were still waiting for the EMTs. I strongly recommend against having a medical emergency in Wilmington, because the city's only ambulance might not reach you for quite a while. The EMTs appeared about five minutes later, approximately 20 minutes after we arrived at the station, and walked (WALKED!) up the platform to the quiet car. If you're sick in Wilmington and need emergency help, you should probably start walking toward the nearest hospital and meet the EMTs halfway. No wonder Joe Biden couldn't wait to get out of that town.

To their credit, EMS got the passenger off the train a few minutes later and we were cleared to leave. It was about 7:45 PM when we pulled out of Wilmington. The conductor said we were now about two hours delayed and apologized profusely for any inconvenience. I snacked on an apple and reconsidered my evening plans. Ordering food was out, but I might still make it to the pizza joint near my apartment before they closed. I hoped the DVR remembered to record "Mad Men."

To Amtrak's credit, we picked up some time on the way and arrived at Penn Station at 9:15 PM, only 90 minutes late. I passed up all the restaurants at the train station, gambling that I'd make it back to Brooklyn in time to grab dinner before rushing home to two lonely cats. With this past weekend's wacky subway outages, I got off the subway a few minutes after 10 and the pizza place was closing up. I had to make do with a tuna sandwich while watching Don Draper deeply disappoint Connie Hilton.

Strangely for me, I wasn't all that angry about the length of trip home. Both events were out of Amtrak's control. It wasn't as if our train's engine broke down and Amtrak had to send another engine to pick us up. We never lost power or A/C, so we were all comfortable. The bathrooms worked the whole time, and based on the availability of alcohol to the ladies across the aisle from my seat, we had plenty of provisions in the cafe car. I have few options when it comes to traveling to visit friends in DC, and I like the train far more than the bus or renting a car. I will use Amtrak for that trip again soon and often. But I think I can cross "see Wilmington, DE" off my life's to-do list. A 45-minute unplanned stop in the train station counts as a tourist visit.

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