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Nina In New York: Finally, Traveling In Style

Amtrak Train (Photo by Donald Bowers/Getty Images for Amtrak)

Amtrak Train (Photo by Donald Bowers/Getty Images for Amtrak)

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By Nina Pajak

As a child, I found travel unbearably exciting.

If you were getting on a plane or a train, you were invariably going somewhere cool. Because when you’re a kid, everywhere you go outside the same ten-mile radius in which your entire life takes place is cool. Leaving your school district is cool. Packing, going to the airport, stocking up on comics and toys and gum and magic coloring books to keep occupied on the journey, the anticipation of the cart coming down the aisle with all manner of tiny foodstuffs–all part of the fun. With the exception of the nagging concern in the back of my mind that we could crash into the ocean and get eaten by sharks (valid), and of my little brother forgoing material activities and choosing to pester me as in-flight entertainment (he still does this), it was all so magical.

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Of course, over the years, the thrill wanes. Between the hassle of getting to the airport, enduring prison intake-style inspection at security, delays, turbulence, and stories like the now-infamous “vomitorium” JetBlue flight out of Vegas, air travel has mostly lost its glamour for me.

But there’s still something about the Amtrak.

Last week, I went to D.C. to visit a friend and decided to take the train down. I hadn’t done it in years, and now I can’t remember why. Oh yeah, it’s psychotically expensive. Right. Okay, but that aside, what a way to travel. It’s exactly as I remember it being from ten and fifteen years ago. And yet, not dirty or fraying or aging so poorly that they have to cancel the whole damn thing because a light went on in the dashboard. I could (and did) extend my legs fully, locked knees and all, without kicking the guy in front of me. Oh wait, there was no guy in front of me! Or next to me, or behind me. I got free wireless the whole way down. I could turn around in the bathroom without banging a shoulder or knocking over six things. I had a footrest! And there’s just something about the cache of a cafe car that makes even a $4 yogurt taste good. This. This was luxury.

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Although, unlike at an airport, there did seem to be an inordinate amount of confusion at Penn Station. Give me Grand Central any day.  One woman, mistaking me for a frequent train traveler due to my long dress and smart-looking suitcase (seriously, this is what she said), spontaneously confessed to me that she was from out of town, heading to D.C. and didn’t understand why her train track hadn’t been posted. I explained the “system” to her, and then when it was announced, I accidentally sent her to the wrong gate. When I realized my error and saw her nervously bobbing towards a train bound for Trenton, I sprinted after her, grabbed her elbow and pulled her out of line in the nick of time. Initially I felt I could count this as a good deed, but in retrospect feel that I probably just cancelled myself out. Then I listened as a girl attempted to get help from a security guard–who had offered to help–because she couldn’t figure out which train was hers. The guard stared at her ticket for what felt like an extremely long time before looking up, shrugging and saying, “sorry, I don’t know how to read a ticket.”

Ha. Excellent.

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I considered stepping in to consult but thought better of it, lest she wind up in Trenton, too.

Anyway, I’m hooked on the train. I wish I could say it makes me feel like I’m still part of some bygone golden time in this country when bar cars had white linen tablecloths, and passengers shared a sense of adventure, and men with handlebar mustaches fought on the rooftops, and mysterious romances were kindled in private cabins as the amber waves rushed by outside the window. Nah. At least, not on the Northeast Corridor Regional. But nevertheless, I shall ride the rails until my husband’s Amtrak rewards points burn into oblivion. Then I’ll stop, because seriously it’s ridiculously expensive.

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Dear Readers: While I am rarely at a loss for words, I’m always grateful for column ideas. Please feel free to e-mail me your suggestions.

Nina Pajak is a writer and publishing professional living with her husband on the Upper West Side.

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