There are plenty of blogs you can read if you want to see pictures of people sitting in seats in business class on their way to 15 minutes in Bangkok. I’m not stopping you from reading those (please, read away!) But most of us spend most of our business travel time doing trips like New York to Philadelphia – a trip I took earlier this week.
And, though I risk having my blogging license taken away, I took the train, and I am going to write about the train, because if it’s not ridiculous to spend 1,400 words writing about a seat on an airplane, it’s no more ridiculous writing about a seat on a train.
Oh, Amtrak. Tens of thousands of words are written by bloggers about flying through the air in what amounts to a comparatively uncomfortable seat, while going through the nonsense at security, and treating that experience as if it’s as sublime as your first date with your wife. Amtrak, the bar for you to hit is so low, and yet…and yet…
At New York Penn Station, which is Amtrak’s busiest with more than 8 million annual riders – double the number at their second busiest station (Washington DC) – passengers are greeted with the state-of-the-art 19″ Trinitron screen seen above which, as ancient as sad as it is, fits in perfectly with the decor of the Station, which can best be described as Homeless Shelter Meets Public Toilet.
I took the Keystone train, which is a non-Acela service, because it was $53 rather than the $99 they wanted for the Acela. The extra $46 would get you in to Philly roughly 15 minutes quicker than the slow service for the 1 hour and 22 minute ride, and it buys you a slightly nicer seat. I felt that was not worth $46 of someone else’s money. You may not feel the same way.
Passengers kind of mill about, waiting for their train to be called or posted to the giant board in the middle of the station, and when the train track is posted, a scrum ensues at that gate, cutting off access through the terminal for people (like me on a normal day) who cut through the terminal to get from 7th to 8th avenue. I knew better than to wait on that level, instead going with Slate’s solid advice of waiting in the little-discussed mid-level terminal. The track was posted and I boarded the train unimpeded by dozens of others pushing to the same set of stairs.
This is what a seat on a train looks like. I find that to be equally as interesting as looking at seats on an airplane, which is to say, not. But who am I to say? You can walk around the train as much as you want, and there are no seatbelts, which seems a little crazy now that I’m typing it. They also have free wi-fi, which used to be so slow that you wished there was no wi-fi, but they seem to have fixed that issue so that it now mostly works. And it’s free!
This is a photo of the seatback tray, which is where you would place something to eat or drink, except they don’t offer anything to eat or drink. You can argue amongst yourselves whether no train food is better than some airplane food. The Acela does offer food, but you have to pay for it. And if you cannot go 75 minutes without eating you have bigger problems.
The situation at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station is much better, though you still end up with a pile of people waiting to take stairs down to the train. The station itself, though, does not resemble a homeless shelter (or at least it would be a really lovely homeless shelter).
This is a bench one might sit on before boarding. Oh, does that seem silly for me to include a picture of a bench? Is that any sillier than a picture of an airplane business class lounge?
And here we have what amounts to security. TSA doesn’t care so much what you do on a train.
I stayed at the Hotel Palomar, which is part of the Kimpton chain and is like all the other hotels in the Kimpton chain, which is to say quite nice with a slightly funky vibe without being obnoxious about it (I’m talking to you, several W Hotels I’ve stayed in). My room was smallish with a view of absolutely nothing, though the gentleman who checked me in told me it was a “deluxe” room, which makes me wonder what a non-deluxe room could possibly have as a view. Even so, I spent roughly 52 minutes awake in the room, so I’m not sure it really mattered. They do have a nice happy hour in the lobby where they give free wine (or wine that is built into your room rate, because nothing is free) and some truly delicious truffle something something popcorn.
And here’s a crazy Philadelphia story: the prior day I was down in Chinatown in Manhattan eating hand-pulled noodles with my children at Lam Zhou (per Gary Leff’s brilliant suggestion). As good as it is cheap, which is to say very (or suspiciously). We ate lunch next to a father and his 10 year old son. Fast forward to Philadelphia, where I walk out of the hotel and I bump into the same 2 people. It’s a small world.
I was in town for a conference for my regular job, and as has become de rigeur at ecommerce conferences (per the movie Up in the Air), they had an old(ish) school rapper perform, in this case Busta Rhymes. Before Busta came out, though, the company sponsoring the event – for reasons that are still not clear to me – brought Evander “Real Deal” Holyfield out on stage and gave him some sort of award for affiliate marketing. It was not obvious that Evander had ever used a computer before, and Busta kept referring to the crowd as “you technology people.” I’ll share this terrible photo with you as a record of the moment.
And there we have it – Hotel Palomar is perfectly nice; a kinda have a crush on Philadelphia – it’s underrated; and the train is just a delightful way to travel.