Seems to me that I had best get to writing about my vacation before so much time goes by that I totally forget what happened when and where, huh? After all, it's been over two weeks since I boarded a southbound Amtrak train in New London and made my way to Jacksonville where I met up with Barb for the rest of our journey to West Palm Beach.
For those wondering why I chose to take the train rather than fly to Florida, long ago in what now sometimes seems like another lifetime but which was actually 2002, I took the train from Sacramento, California to Worcester, Massachusetts and had always wanted to take another long-distance train trip. Of course, there are a couple of differences between taking a train across the west and taking a train from north to south with the first and foremost being that when I took my first long-distance train ride I had a sleeper car. For this trip I did not and trust me, there is a HUGE difference in having a sleeper car and traveling reserved coach. The scenery is also vastly different but that's to be expected when you're traveling across the mountains and desert versus the eastern seaboard.
Anyhow, with the assistance of family friend Amy who not only drove me down to New London at a darned early hour but who opened up her home to Jamie while I was gone, I got to the Amtrak station in plenty of time to catch my train. It was cold and wet and downright nasty - the perfect day to head to warmer climes! I was just glad that it wasn't snowing as I took my seat in the Business Class section of the Northeast Regional train. See how much room there is in the picture above? Nice, huh? Yea ... you don't get that in reserved coach which is where I was sitting on the next leg of my journey after I changed trains in New York City's Penn Station.
I didn't get any pictures in New London but I did manage to snap a quick shot of the sign at Union Station in New Haven on our way through and the weather looked about the same as it did in New London! Matter of fact, that was about the only picture I took on my way south - I was not exactly being an intrepid photographer but I was enjoying the trip. Until New York ...
I had about a 50-minute layover at Penn Station which gave me just enough time to take my luggage over to Baggage Check and find something to take on the train with me for a late breakfast. As they called the track number for my train and we began to line up for boarding, I noticed that there was a lady in front of me with three kids, a HUGE stroller, lots of luggage, and a traveling companion who was wearing fleecy pajama bottoms and fluffy slippers. Ut-oh ... Occasionally having a 6th sense of impending doom, I was pretty sure those people would somehow be seated close by and sure enough, I found myself sitting directly behind two little girls that looked to be all of six and seven years old while across the aisle were the two women and another little girl who appeared to be about 14 months old or so. Ah, this could be bad. Sometimes I really hate it when I'm right.
Even while still sitting in Penn Station waiting for the train to leave, the kids were raising quite the row and I knew it was going to be a really, really long ride to Florida as the two older kids jumped up and down in their seats while the youngest began screaming her head off. Rather than quieting her child down, "Mom" announced to everyone within earshot that the kid was a screamer. Ya think? I thanked God for ear-buds and iPods as I turned up the music to drown out the noise.
By the time we got to our first stop in Newark to pick up more passengers, the little hooligans in front of me had already thrown the safety travel cards at me while they were bouncing up and down in their seats while having a grand old time playing with the reclining mechanism. At that stop, a gentleman got on the train and took up the seat next to me which I wasn't surprised about as the conductor had said that they train was sold out and packed full. My seat-mate introduced himself as John and then proceeded to tell me about how he comes up to visit his kids who are currently living in New Jersey with his wife while they try to work out some issues with her older son from a previous marriage. He seemed like a nice guy that I wouldn't mind sitting next to for the upcoming 18+ hours but I had a feeling that the passengers in front of me were going to be a problem.
Without going into all of the painful details let me suffice it to say that Trina (as "Mom" turned out to be formally known as) and I exchanged a few words after the little darlings slammed their seat into my knees for the second time. Trina told me that if I didn't like it then perhaps next time I should take my private jet as she had paid for her tickets and "kids would be kids" - and apparently lousy parents would be lousy parents. Well, nothing for nothing, but I paid for my ticket, too, but I wasn't throwing things at her or slamming a seat into her knees or screaming at the top of my lungs though I was beginning to think that might not be a bad idea. John, bless his heart, was just about to step in and tell Trina to pipe down when she finally turned around on her own and grumbled to her traveling companion about those who thought they were better than others.
The conductor was no help whatsoever as the only thing he did was tell Trina that the kids couldn't run up and down the aisles. Yea, thanks, fella. John and I looked at each other and quietly rolled our eyes so as not to invoke another tongue-lashing from Trina who had by now pulled out her cell phone and was loudly bemoaning to her mother that it might be too long of a ride for the kids all the way to Florida as there was nothing for them to do and the oldest had what sounded suspiciously like the Whooping Cough and refused to take her medicine.
As we pulled out of Philadelphia, Trina finally got "The Screamer" and the other two settled down for a nap after repeated threats of dire consequences that were never followed through on and I was able to take my headphones off for a little while. When I got up to walk around and stretch my legs I was offered sympathy by everyone else in our area of the car for having the bad misfortune to be seated directly behind the zoo as we all enjoyed the peace and quiet for as long as it was going to last which was - of course - nowhere near long enough.
With a packed train there was nowhere to move to though John had quickly fled to the lounge car for a little peace and quiet and eventually conned the conductor into moving him to a seat that was vacated when another passenger got off in Baltimore. I teased him about abandoning me but I can't say that I blame him! Speaking of Baltimore, I did manage to get the shot above which doesn't exactly show the city at its finest. Still, I have fond memories of previous trips to Baltimore with Amanda and it was nice to see the city again even if it was "the wrong side of the tracks".
The rest of the trip is rather a blur except for the nice gentleman that I ate dinner with in the dining car as we made our way through Virginia (he lives on Long Island and was quite familiar with the Mohegan Sun Casino and thought it was fascinating that I used to be a blackjack dealer there). Even though I'm not much of a drinker, I decided that self-medication via alcohol might be the best way to get through the rest of the trip ahead so I ordered a drink with dinner and followed it up with a couple more before I made my way back to my seat. When I got there Trina was telling her oldest child that if she didn't settle down she was going to take her into the restroom and beat her - a threat that she repeated at least another three times before I got my earphones back on and turned up the volume in an attempt to drown them out.
At 10:00 the lights were turned down in the car and I had no problems falling asleep as the rocking of the train and the numbing effects of the alcohol kicked in. Unfortunately my sleep was interrupted in Raleigh, North Carolina when I found myself presented with another seat-mate - a 75-year old gent named Beebee who was going down to Florida to visit his brother before he went in for knee surgery. Even though he was a nice enough fella, Beebee not only snored but talked in his sleep and kept grabbing my knee which would jolt me awake. There was no end to the fun on this trip!
We were scheduled to arrive in Jacksonville, Florida around 6:45 but to my delight we pulled in early around 6:15 so while Trina, "The Screamer", and Beebee were still sleeping I gathered my things and exited the train while the other passengers around me congratulated me on making it through the entire trip - something I probably never would have done were it not for the magic of Facebook and texting. A big thank you to everyone who helped me on my journey south!
As soon as I got off the train Barb met me with a big hug probably made even bigger as she had followed my adventures through my frequent Facebook updates and probably figured I was in need of a good hug! As we waited to collect my checked baggage I snapped a couple quick pictures of my ride south. It was a lot longer of a train than I thought it was but then again, I hadn't seen the outside of it since we left New York City!
Jacksonville looked pretty much like it did when I was there in June for Jamie's graduation from FLYCA though as Barb and I made our way to Interstate 95 and the almost 5-hour drive to West Palm Beach it was a bit overcast. Not exactly what I was expecting for Florida weather but there was neither rain nor snow or the need for a jacket so I was quite happy. Plus there were no screaming children, old men with groping hands, or moms who threatened their kids but never followed through! Ah, bliss!
It was also really nice to be the passenger in a car for once rather than the driver and as we ventured south, blue skies and puffy clouds appeared overhead. Now this was more like it in spite of the stop we made in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere at a Stuckey's that looked like it had seen much better days. As I waited for Barb to come out of the ladies room I could've sworn I heard the banjo music from "Deliverance"!
I don't know if it did for Barb but the drive seemed to fly for me and we were in West Palm Beach before I knew it and making our way to the home of the Traveling Bells in their very nice motor home park where we met up with them before heading down to Lake Worth and the famous John G's on the Beach for lunch with Empress Bee and Sarge Charlie. Jamie and I had the extreme pleasure to eat breakfast at John G's when we were in West Palm Beach in June so I knew exactly what sort of treat we were in for!
Still not being a very intrepid photographer though I was dutifully carrying my camera, I only snapped the two pictures above and a quick one of Dick who was wearing his official John G's t-shirt. My sincerest apologies but there are no pictures of Bee & Charlie or Sandy & Barb or anyone else that you might know - just a bunch of strangers enjoying what is probably the best food in Lake Worth!
I also took a picture of the beautiful beaded earrings that Bee made for me - aren't they gorgeous? She also beaded wine charms for all of us that are just adorable. She really has quite the talent and I think that Sarge should give her free reign to get as many beads as she wants as she could quite easily go into business!
Following a delicious lunch of some of the best fried shrimp I've had in ages (nope, no picture of that either!) Sandy and Dick drove us over to our hotel for the evening - the Holiday Inn at West Palm Beach Airport. It was a lovely hotel that I got a good deal with through Priceline and had a nice bar where Barb and I relaxed with drinks later in the evening. They were out of of Sam Adams so I introduced her to Yuengling which is a favorite of many of the folks I work with but not available in Connecticut (much to their dismay). Just to show what a small world it was, I found myself talking to several people from the New Haven area including the Administrator of Saint Raphael's Hospital which we occasionally transport patients to.
Pretty soon it was time to call it a night and head upstairs to get some sleep. Barb had been up since the very wee hours of the morning and I was ready to get some sleep lying down rather than in a sitting position! Barb was asleep before her head hit the pillow and I'm pretty sure I followed quite soon after even without the rocking motion of the train to lull me to sleep!
The next day dawned bright and beautiful over West Palm Beach and soon we were on our way back to meet up with Dick and Sandy for our drive down to the Port of Miami and the beginning of our cruise ...