June 25, 2006: Day in Frankfort

Today’s update is being written on board the Amtrak Empire Serivce train 281 running from New York’s Penn Station to Utica. So let me start the update by getting you up to date with the events from yesterday.

I left off the update yesterday at seven in the morning. That is when I called the taxi company to send a cab to the apartment. To my surprise it took them less than five minutes to get someone there. How handy. He got me right into New Brunswick. It took so little time that I was there significantly earlier than I had anticipated. Do I ran into Dunkin Donuts and grabbed iced latte and a cheese danish. I went up to the platform to eat and wait.

It turns out that I was so early that I actually managed to grab an earlier train than I had planned on. I was originally going to get on the eight o’clock train on New Jersey Transit but since I was all ready at the station I hopped onto the seven thirty train getting me to Penn Station around a quarter after eight. That didn’t really save me any time because I still had to wait until nine forty five to get onto Amtrak. So I went to the Amtrak waiting area and sat there for a while. At least I had plenty of time to relax and didn’t have to worry about anything.

I got to talking with a youth group from Morgantown, West Virginia that were getting ready to return home after a week in Manhattan. We had a good time talking and it passed the time. Falling into the “it’s a small world” category – the guy that I was talking to asked me if I knew a person in Pittsburgh and managed to come up, in a single shot, with someone that I know extemely well, have seen within the last eight weeks and will talk to again within a few weeks. Weird!

I got onto the Amtrak train without a hassle. This is the first time that I have ridden Amtrak in many years. I would guess a dozen years or more most likely. I forgot how comfortable it is to ride on Amtrak. The seats are great, there is nice air conditioning (better than the apartment,) and my own personal power port to plug my laptop into. It is great.

I was dumb and didn’t think to bring DVDs with me to watch on the trip. I hadn’t thought about the fact that I would probably be able to use the laptop. But, even though I am dumb, I had forgotten to remove the DVD of Magnum P.I. from the player from watching it last night. That was a stroke of luck. There was one episode of Magnum P.I. left so I at least had that to watch. I was extremely happy when I discovered that it was a special two hour episode instead of the regular one hour. That was a big time bonus. The DVD also had demo episodes of Knight Rider with David Hasselhoff and The A*Team. Hey, when you are on a train with nothing to do you get desperate. I was prepared and had headphones with me. The train was sold to capacity so there were no spare seats available. Having the DVD player on the train really makes the time go fast. It is much easier to watch movies on the train than in a car or on a plane (I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them, Sam I Am.)

It is strange to me to think about how prevalent the Vietnam War was when I was a child. The war ended, officially – whatever that means when no war was ever declared, before I was born but it was such a long and dramatic war that in the early 1980’s when I was growing up it was still fresh in the minds of adults. To children my age it seemed like something from history long ago. Much like the first Gulf War must be to my younger cousins but now that I am older Vietnam seems almost to have been a part of my early childhood. I probably feel the same way about Vietnam that dad feels about World War II. WWII was definitely more dramatic to everyone but Vietnam affected American consciousness so much that the effects must be similar. Far more similar than the Korean War or probably WWI would have been.

The ride north along the Hudson River is a beautiful one. Being from western New York and having spent almost no time near the Hudson I am inclined to forget what the eastern part of the state looks like. It is no wonder that the New Netherlands Colony sprung up along this waterway. The Hudson is such a completely different world than I am used to in New York. The eastern half of the state is much more similar to the mid-Atlantic regions of the country like New Jersey and Maryland than it is like western New York which is more similar to Pennsylvania – not so much in terrain where it is pretty unique but in lifestyle. The Hudson is expensive and upscale while western New York is extremely inexpensive and rural. As I ride up the Hudson Valley I can sure understand why such a huge percentage of Upstate’s population chooses to live along this waterway.

As I rode along watching out the eastern side view on the train with a overcast, dreary day I couldn’t help but notice that the river swamps on the east side of the Hudson and the wooded hills in the background look an awful lot like parts of Vietnam that you see in movies all of the time. You could just imagine the swamps being used as paddies. Weird that I have never noticed that before. You could definitely film a Vietnam movie along the Hudson and fool a lot of people pretty easily.

So I came up with something totally awesome to do with my laptop while riding on the train today. I remembered to pull out my GPS unit and I attached it to the train window. I pulled up Microsoft Streets and Trips 2006 and set it to GPS Tracking. Now I am able to see exactly where the train is on the map with a history of our travels, information including the direction that we are currently facing so that I can determine what I am seeing out of the windows as well as our current speed! How cool is that? You don’t get that on an airplane – yet. This makes the trip a lot more fun. Maybe for those of you who are not as into maps as dad, Nate and I it wouldn’t be so cool but this is a great way to teach map reading too. This is one of the best ideas that I have had in a long time. I am going to do this all of the time now whenever I travel by train. It really adds something to the ride.

I watched the one demo episode of Knight Rider that was on the DVD in the player. If I ever wondered whether or not I might want to buy that show that episode definitely answered that question for me. That show was crap. There is no writing in it at all. They just have a “situation” and the car produces whatever magic is necessary to fix it. No matter what. Even when they had to do a prison break they just flew in with the car (and by fly I mean they flew,) used the car as a bullet proof shield for its inhabitants (even thought the windows were down) and then flew the open windowed vehicle right on out of the prison?!? Who wrote that? Then, later they made the car travel 47.5 miles in under 8 minutes – which is an mean average speed of 352 miles per hour. And yet driving at that speed they were unable to out run the Chevy Impala cop cars that were chasing them. And everytime we saw the car it was doing about 130 mph so it must have been doing over 1,000 mph all of the time that we weren’t watching. Funny how those cops kept up. Not only that but they had time to stop the car, drop off a bomb and drive away all within those eight minutes. So make that 1,500 mph. They didn’t even mention the obvious sound barrier issues with all of those cop cars keeping up with them. The whole thing was just dumb.

Albany is so beautiful from the Hudson. Albany is the nation’s third oldest city (after St. Augustine, Florida and Santa Fe, New Mexico – making it the oldest non-Spanish speaking city) and is just loaded with history and charm. It is strange that in some ways Albany is such a small city but it really seems large. It has much more “big city” feel than do any of the other Upstate cities like Buffalo, Rochester or Syracuse which are all larger. Albany has the serious downtown area that makes it feel like a real city.

While I was riding on the train I overhead a girl in front of me talking on her mobile phone about reading how they are trying to use dog droppings from dog parks to make fuel. I think she was talking to someone in college who was writing a paper about doing that. All I could think of was Jared Diamond’s point in his book Collapse where he talked about the use of feces as a fuel as an indicator of a society within its final days before total breakdown. This is caused by society choosing to turn fertilizer into heat rather than putting necessary nutrients back into the ground. Once you go down that road collapse accelerates as the soil depletes and the need to produce fuel increases as the supply decreases through the creation process.

We had some signal issues on the route that CSX (formally Chessie System) had to deal with that cost us some time. Amtrak was doing what they could to make up the time and at one point my GPS system clocked the train at 111 mph! (Apparently fast enough to keep up with the “super car” in Knight Rider. I didn’t know that Amtrak was able to push their trains so fast. That is really hauling. It is no wonder that they are able to make the trip from New York to Utica so quickly. I thought that the trains only did about fifty miles an hour most of the time but they definitely go a lot faster than that the bulk of the time.

When we left Schenectady they announced that we were running almost forty minutes behind schedule and that we would not be arriving in Utica until 2:40. I called Dominica because she was just about to leave to go to the station.

As we went through the eastern Mohawk Valley we had a little red Honda Insite running alongside of us with the driver trying to get the train to blow its horn. It was pretty funny looking.

The train ended up running extremely late. I was scheduled to arrive at two o’clock but didn’t actually end up arriving until almost four! I have heard from Bob Winans that Amtrak often runs very late along this route because it is primarily a CSX freight line and the passenger traffic is secondary. Dominica and Joe got stuck waiting in the car with Oreo for over an hour waiting of the train to get in. Fortunately I had the GPS with me so I was able to get them information about where we are. That worked out really well.

We went right over to Erica’s graduation party. We were there all afternoon. I played some badmitten too. The weather was pretty good. There was tons of rain to the south but Frankfort was bright and sunny.

We went out to get some ice cream at a place called Dave’s. They have really good ice cream.

On Saturday morning we got up and had breakfast with the Toccos. Most of the family left around noon to go to a picnic at a park about an hour away. Dominica, Joe and I stayed behind. Dominica and I would have headed for home but I have to work from 1:30 until 3:00 so I need to be someplace with Internet access. I also have to work the overnight tonight so it is going to be a busy day.

We took it easy this morning. Just watching some television and having some donuts for breakfast. I started work at 1:30 and then waited for Dominica to get ready so that we could get some lunch. The work that I had to do did not require me to be at the computer most of the time so once I got things rolling we were able to go out to get some food.

We headed out into New Hartford and just grabbed a quick bite at Wendy’s. Then we went to the Cold Stone Creamery to get some ice cream. For those of you who keep telling me that there are Cold Stones all over the place and that the one in Manhattan is just part of the chain need to go to 42nd Street and try out the Cold Stone there. They treat making ice cream like it is a show – they get really into it and sing and shout and get the people there involved and excited. Going to Cold Stone in New Hartford was roughly like going to a nice Baskin Robbins. Nothing special at all.

As we were leaving Cold Stone we spotted a Hollywood Video across the street and since it had been a while since we had purchased any used movies we decided to check out the selection. We ended up getting quite a haul of eight movies including The Producers, Virginia’s Run, and a bunch more that I can’t remember.

We went back to the Tocco’s and I wrapped up my work for the day. Then we packed and headed out the door to drive back down to New Jersey. It was pretty late by the time that we finally arrived. About 11:45 which sucked because I had to be ready to work at midnight for an eight hour shift. What a long, exhausting night it is going to be.

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