Review: Acela Express

The other day, I had to go to New York for business. Finally: A chance to try out the Acela Express train!

Kids, if you've wanted to experience the best American railroading has to offer, now's the time - given the way things are going in Washington, you might not have this chance much longer. But reserve early - I tried getting a seat 11 days before my trip only to discover that all the morning trains were already all booked. So I had to settle for a "regional" train (you know, the one that stops in places like Old Saybrook) in the morning and Acela back in the evening.

Acela has much to recommend it: You can get to the station 10 minutes before the train shows up and not worry about having to take your shoes off or being randomly selected for a strip search. In three hours or so, you're in midtown Manhattan, not stuck in a taxi sitting in a traffic jam by LaGuardia. The seats are comfy and you'd have to be incredibly tall to have your knees get anywhere near the seat in front of you (and for you, they have these single seats at the ends of the cars with folding tables). All the seats have outlets for plugging in your laptop. The hot dogs in the cafe car are surprisingly good. And there's some really nice, soothing scenery along the way. To New York, sit on the left for views of marshes, harbors and Long Island Sound; to Boston, sit on the left again for a really nice view of the New York skyline:

Sunset over Manhattan

Of course, this is Amtrak we're talking about, so nothing's perfect. Before boarding, there was a little drama at the station. First the train number disappeared from the departure board at the station. Then it reappeared but "stand by" started flashing next to the train name - just like next to the Silver Meteor train to Miami that was now four hours late. Not a good sign. Then the announcer guy announced our train on track 9 East. Everybody rushed over - only to find out that was really the New Jersey Transit train to Long Branch or Metuchen or some other godforsaken place. Now, the announcer guy announced all trains like this:

"Now boarding on track 7 West, the ..."

instead of, oh,

"The 6:04 train to Philadelphia, now boarding on track 7 West ..."

So for the next few minutes, every time he started announcing a track, a horde of people would rush over to the escalator - only to find out that it was just another New Jersey Transit train. It was just like that scene at the end of "Airplane" where people run from gate to gate as the plane skids around the runway.

Once on the train, we learned the reason for the delay: The "quiet" car, where you're not supposed to use your cellphone or talk loudly or play touch football in the aisle, had a bit of a problem. Seems the electrical outlets were not working quiet right. In fact, there was "sparking." So they turned off the outlets on that car.

Between New York and Stamford, one of the conductors went on the PA several times to tell us about the quiet car and its rules - each time preceded by this really loud, really annoying bonging "announcement coming, wake up!" sound. Seems some people just weren't getting the message about what "quiet" means. After the third or fourth such announcement, I really felt like getting up, finding the conductor and shaking him by the shoulders as I sternly told him: "Look, you're the adult on this train, enough with the stupid announcements, just go in there and kick some butt!"

One thing really surprised me: How smooth the ride wasn't. Here's the sine qua non of American passenger railroads, with those fancy leaning things so the train can go fast around curves without making passengers nauseous and yet: Had this been an airplane, there were a couple of times when the captain would've come on the PA to announce "folks, we're going to try to climb out of this, but for the next few minutes, please stay in your seats with your seat belts fastened." Plus, there were a couple of spots in Connecticut where the train just slowed to a crawl - that seemed to have been built in the schedule, so it's not like it made us late (as opposed to the sparking problem, which got us into Rte. 128 a few minutes late), but why?

Still, in all, it beats driving and if you ask me, flying. Note: If you get on at 128, parking will cost $10 for the day.

Also see:
Sooz's review of the LimoLiner
Amtrak's Acela Express page.

Citizens Bank Opera House. Feh.

Today's Boston Globe reports that Citizens Bank is negotiating to put its name on the Opera House:

Citizens Bank is nearing a deal to put its name on the newly renovated Opera House in downtown Boston, according to people briefed on the talks.

The negotiations are not complete, but are expected to wrap up soon. The deal, if reached, would give Citizens a new and prominent platform in the arts and entertainment community to rival the presence of major competitors, such as Bank of America Corp. and TD Banknorth Inc.
No details about either the possible price or the proposed new name for the Opera House were available yesterday.

I don't see the point of this, since the Opera House is fully restored and fully booked. It doesn't need this money. If Citizens wants to put its name on a venue and generate goodwill in the community, how about contributing to restoration of the Modern or Paramount or RKO Boston instead?

How I almost missed the bus last night

Last night after work, I took the MBTA's #442 bus from Haymarket to Marblehead to attend a show at the me & thee coffeehouse. The show ended earlier than I expected, and the next bus wasn't scheduled to leave Marblehead until 10:15 pm, so I had about a half-hour to kill.

Old Marblehead is a beautiful place to walk around, and the weather was pleasant. So I figured, instead of waiting here, why not stroll to the end of the bus line, check out the harbor, and get on the bus there? As I began walking down Washington Street, the outbound bus passed me. I fully expected it to go to the end and wait there until the scheduled 10:15 pm departure time. Right?

Imagine my surprise when the bus came back up Washington Street around 10:00, a full 15 minutes ahead of schedule. After it passed me, I quickly turned around and began running after it. Fortunately, the bus driver was nice and stopped to wait for me, but as I got on, I asked him, why are you leaving so early? He told me that at this hour, nobody ever gets on the bus in Marblehead, and that he'd rather not keep the residents awake by idling at the bus line's terminal in a crowded residential area.

Instead, after picking me up, he drove for another half mile and then stopped on Pleasant Street, near National Grand Bank. There he waited for 10 minutes until the scheduled 10:15 departure time (and took a bathroom break at a nearby store). He then drove the rest of the route into Boston uneventfully, although he still managed to leave Lynn Central Square at least 8 minutes before the scheduled stop there.

Now, as I said, the driver was very nice to me. But if I hadn't been alert, or had decided to wander off the bus route instead of along it before 10:15, I would have missed it and had to wait over an hour for the next one. As would anyone else who depended on the printed schedule to mean what it says. So with some reluctance, I think I'll have to report this to the T.

Has anyone else here had a similar experience?

Protesting intimdidation

Blue Mass. Group has been chronicling the intimidation of student voters in Brighton's Ward 22 during the state rep's election this past Tuesday, largely by ward committee member Bart McCauley (who told the Daily Free Press: "I've been working my ass off longer than these little babies have been living").

On Blue Mass. Group, Bob says the only answer is for the ward committee - led by soon-to-be state Rep. Mike Moran - to kick McCauley out:

... The Ward 22 Democratic Committee, led by newly prominent member Mike Moran, should censure McCauley and remove him from the Ward Committee to demonstrate its opposition to voter intimidation. Moran has his first test of leadership. ...

Best question of the day

Marilora: Why must trees die so that the Herald can live?

She's upset by the Herald's latest Salvadoran gang story, which yet again paints East Boston as a gang stronghold:

... I don't know what their definition is of a "stronghold in East Boston," but I do know that Eastie had one of the lowest homicide rates in the city of Boston. Can you guess what the 2004 homicide rate was in a city considered the "stronghold" of a "brutal," "bloodletting" gang? 100? Maybe, 50? Nope. A big, whopping 2. That's right. I said 2! And what was my source for this wonderful statistic? None other than the Boston Herald. ...