Showing posts with label trains. Show all posts
Showing posts with label trains. Show all posts

17.8.19

Travel Diary: On a Recent Trip to Rouses Point, New York


Getting Off at Rouses Point, New York
     Taking the Adirondack train line from Montréal on Amtrak, the first stop in the United States is a town called Rouses Point in New York state. Since it is a border crossing, Amtrak has scheduled the train to stop for at least an hour, so agents from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) can board the train to check every individual on board. For this journey, I happened to be seated in the front of the car. I looked out the window, and I could see two white vans pull up to the train station. Five or six uniformed agents dressed got out and boarded the train. I was the first person to be checked. I gave the agent, a middle-aged man with a scruffy beard, my passport. "Where are you going?" he asked. I told him I was getting off at Rouses Point, and this was my stop. "Why are you going to Rouses Point?" he asked incredulously. "For pleasure, mostly." "What kind of pleasure?" he asked, still incredulous. 
      I had expected a quick interview, the kind received at the airport customs desk when the agent asks if you are entering the country for work or pleasure. My answer did not mollify this agent, however. He asked me to point to my luggage, how long I was staying in Rouses Point, where I was staying, what I planned to do in the town, what I did for a job — and through it all, I was a bit nervous because I had never been asked so many questions at a border crossing. The questions were easy to answer. I gave him the address of my motel and told him I was taking a short vacation before school was to open up again in September. 
       I was anxious about finding my motel and getting settled in for the afternoon. I looked at the agent and told him if I could get off after he inspected me. He looked at me for a moment and then explained that agents had to check the entire train for any suspicious activity. "What if someone on board were carrying contraband," he told me. "Then everyone on the train would have to be checked to make sure there was no cross-involvement." It made me think that the necessary act of boarding the train made me somehow connected to all the passengers on board this train — just an hour or so ago, I had been in Montréal boarding this train, and it felt effortless. The train leaves the city, crosses the St. Lawrence River, and then it's farm and rural countryside. At Rouses Point, the landscape opens into the United States in a quite unceremonial way. 
        At that moment, I felt self-conscious because I thought everyone on the train was listening in on my conversation with the I.C.E. agent. He told me to go to the café car and ask his boss for clearance. If the head agent OK'd it, I could get off the train. I hurried through the Amtrak cars to the café car, which is usually occupied by travelers who want to eat a snack, look out at the scenery, or talk to the train crew who tend to sit in the cafe car to take notes and to prepare for the next stops on the route. Four agents were seated at the tables, looking serious, and doing their job. "Excuse me, sir. I have just been checked by an agent, and I would like to disembark here, at Rouses Point. 
       The conversation was simple — "Sure. The agent said. You can get off the train." I was so ecstatic. I rushed back to the agent who had interviewed me and said, "I can get off the train!" He looked at me like I had missed a step or did something wrong in the Byzantine procedure of being checked in at the border. "Are you sure you spoke to my supervisor?" Yes. I told the agent his supervisor's name and gathered my things. I was nervous, so in a moment of excitement, I exclaimed, "Have a nice day. Thank you for protecting our country!" I think I said it in such a heightened tone that it made everyone on the car chuckle. I got off that train in a hurry.
A View of Lake Champlain Through an Open Door
Visiting Rouses Point
       The town of Rouse Point is a nondescript postage-stamp kind of a place, replete with a singular lake-style beauty. Lake Champlain is its main attraction — and while I was there in Summer, it was August, so few people were milling about. The town is very close to the French-speaking Canadian province of Quebec — so I imagined I was in a unique mashup of anglo-francophone heaven. Sitting in a café on the first day I arrived, I noticed a francophone couple seated next to me — and I marveled at how I often do not think of the United States as sharing a border with French-speaking folks. The Family Dollar, where I picked up some supplies, had a sign on the door that warned folks "No Canadian Dollars Accepted Here. Card Only. Or American Cash." I started to fantasize about teaching in a rural country schoolhouse in French-speaking Canada, close to the border, and I would spend my weekend hiking through the woods, going back and forth across the border. How my students would love me, and I would become immersed in French and truly make it my second language. Would I live on Lake Champlain? I felt like I was in a different yet familiar America.
Red light
A Ratty Motel On Lake Champlain 
    So. I was staying at this ratty dump of a motel on Lake Champlain. I woke up in the middle of the night. A red light was emanating from the window — thus, I took my phone and captured a grainy photograph of the dot.
     I stayed in Rouses Point for the weekend, then I planned to hop back on the train back to New York City. I thought, will I see the I.C.E. agent again? I walked to the station from the motel earlier than I needed to —  the Amtrak station is handsome. There is a museum inside dedicated to the area's train history — Rouses Point at one time in history was a bustling spot for train travel — especially freight — than it is now. It just so happened that as I was waiting for my train, a man arrived, spraying the station grounds with what looked like weed killer. He saw me waiting — I was the only person at the station. I asked him if the train museum was open. He said, "No. But if you give me a couple of minutes, I will open it for you." And sure enough, he did. He showed me the museum, and I learned that the station had been in somewhat disrepair for years. Still, when President Obama had opened up Federal dollars to bolster the country's transit infrastructure, the Rouses Point station was given money to renovate their station. The town had been in an economic slump ever since the Pfizer pharmaceutical plant had closed down, and 1,200 people lost their jobs. Also — the guy with the weed killer turned out to be not only a local but was at one time the mayor of Rouses Point. He told me about his several train trips to New York City — on routes that I had never heard of — and he ended the conversation with an announcement that he had to get back home and cook for his wife. "It's my turn today — I am making gyros."
Going Home — Waiting Again at the Train Station 
     
Train Station at Rouses Point
The train station at Rouses Point
     Finally — the train arrived — and the I.C.E. agents boarded the train. I had been joined at the platform by this very loquacious guy who was waiting for a friend whom he hadn't seen in a decade or more. No one could board or get off until they did their job. The I.C.E. agent did notice me, however, and he said to me, "You know why I asked you so many questions a couple of days ago?" No. I said. I did not know. "Well. I saw that you were staying at that ratty motel on Lake Champlain, and I wanted to tell you how much of a dump that place is." I laughed to be polite, but I resented his friendliness that seemed after-the-fact. He told me he lived in Rouses Point and apparently, his house was very close to the motel where I was staying.

8.10.18

Travel Diary: Waiting for the Train in Hudson, New York

In this post, I post a video of my Mom and me waiting for the train — we saw the Adirondack pass through, and then, later, we hopped onto the Empire Service.
Waiting for a Train
Watching the New York-bound Adirondack Amtrak train load up passengers and disembark. It left us alone on the platform waiting for the Empire Service to Poughkeepsie.
Hudson, NY
Hudson boasts a small platform for Amtrack trains north of New York City. Because of its proximity to the city and to the shores of the Hudson station, the little station serves three Amtrak lines to Vermont, Montreal, Niagara Falls, and Toronto, respectively. The town itself is quaint, and it boasts a charming business district.

2.8.18

Short Time Lapse Video of the Garbage Train that Runs from Bushwick to Virginia

A CSX garbage train rolls underneath 41st Avenue in the Elmhurst neighborhood of Queens. Waste collected by New York City's Department of Sanitation is picked up by the train in Bushwick, then it wends its way through Middle Village, then into Elmhurst, and in Astoria, it crosses the Hell’s Gate bridge where CSX takes that trash to Virginia - the home of cheaper cigarettes.

20.5.11

Journey to Montauk: Feeling Strangely Homeless on the Long Island Railroad

If you live in New York City and happen to be bereft of living quarters for a night, try this relatively cheap alternative.
RIDE the LIRR!
On My Way to Montauk!
Get Your Ticket at Penn Station
Yes, get your ass over to Penn Station. Take a Montauk bound train. You'll have to transfer at Jamaica, though. The seats are not terribly comfortable. So, try to find one of those facing seats so you can prop your legs up for the ride. If you take the midnight train the initial thirty-five minutes will not afford you much sleep time because you will be sharing the train with night-time revelers. Mostly Long Island kids with a penchant for partying in Manhattan. They're mostly white kids who may or may not stumble into your car seat half-drunk. Mostly harmless.

Since you are bereft of a home for the night, make sure your backpack has a toothbrush, toothpaste, extra pair of socks and some reading material. Also some snacks. the Long Island Railroad does not have a snack bar on board. You can load up on stuff at Penn Station but the prices are steep. I suggest buying your food somewhere else before you head to the train station.

A one-way train ticket to Montauk will cost you about 18 dollars one-way. That's off-peak prices. The return ticket will cost the same unless you return to New York City during peak hours (any time from like 8 until 10:30 in the morning and rush hour in the evening (4-8). It's not a free night on the LIRR but it is a helluva lot cheaper than a hotel room.

I have to stop here by saying that one could probably find a cheaper room to stay in New York City. The LIRR to Montauk suggestion is only for those lazy sons-of-bitches who just so happen don't have room accommodations -- or did not take the time to scour the city for a room, or just shit out of luck and rather not ride the L train all night (did that, not going to repeat it: Canarsie is scary).

There Are Toilets in Almost Every Car!
The good thing about LIRR trains is that they have toilets in every other car. Don't lose your ticket though. It's gold. The conductors are vigilant about checking. So keep it handy.

From Penn Station to Montauk is about four hours. If you position yourself right you can get about two and a half hours of sleep. The lighting is harsh on the train (a double-decker!). So put a towel over your head. At one point I had my shoes off and I had occupied four seats all around me with my backpack and other such stuff. The key is to make yourself unapproachable. If you are traveling the LIRR for living space you don't want neighbors. All you want is a place to sleep.

I didn't calculate this SNAFU but once I got to Montauk (I had left NYC at like midnight) it was like four in the morning and the next train to NYC wasn't scheduled to leave for another hour and a half.
Photo by Bridget Shevlin on Unsplash
Montauk is Really Beautiful at Four in the Morning!
That really sucked. BUT. Montauk is beautiful at four in the morning.

1. There were no people
2. I am not used to this reality
3. I saw three deer on the road
4. The air is crisp and clean
5. Birds singing!
6. No people
7. I was dancing and singing!
8. The pretty manor in Montauk is awesome.
9. Too bad I am broke and can't stay there

Take the Return Trip and Feel New York City Again (Blechhhhh!)
The return trip was quiet until the train reached the New York City area and the car filled up with early morning commuters. Some kids who live in the Hamptons got on board and did their homework. A perky businesswoman sat next to me and filled out boring reports. I had to pay an extra six dollars because I returned to NYC during peak hours.

Here Are Some Practical Tips
The trip is about 45 dollars. The benefits are:

1. Toilets!
2. More comfortable than the subway
3. No one bothers you
4. Fewer stops

The negatives:

1. No vending machines
2. Long layovers
3. I could probably find a cheaper hostel
4. The seats do not recline

On My Trip to Montauk, Though:
Next time I go to Montauk, however, I think I am going to check out the lighthouse.