Saturday, March 28, 2015

Still Life With Robin: What's the Best Way to Get to NYC?

Photo by Bill Adler
by Peggy Robin

Now that I have a daughter living and working in New York City (outer borough) I am pondering the many modes of transportation that can take me there for occasional visits.

The Washington Post has from time to time assigned a quartet of travel writers to race from DC to a meeting place in New York City, one by train, one by bus, one by plane, and one by driving a car. (The Washington Post web search function is so poor that I could not pull up any of those past articles – but that’s a subject for another column in itself.) Those articles are never any help to me, anyway, because the test conditions never match the peculiar demands of my specific trip.  Take, for example, the time my daughter asked me to bring her several boxes of stuff from home. Lamps, quilts, books – more than could be fit into a suitcase or two. I contemplated boxing everything up for shipping, but after calculating the mailing costs and the harder-to-quantify inconvenience at both ends, the answer seemed clear: I should load up the car and drive, and then unload at her front door.

Then there was the time that moderate snowfall was predicted on the day I wanted to go. I had been thinking of going by bus, but as the date drew nearer and the odds of heavier snowfall increased, I decided to play it safe and book the train instead. It was a wise move: on the morning of the trip, even some trains had been cancelled. Though I got to Union Station half an hour early, the line to board the train was already running the length of the concourse. By the time I got on, there were just a few seats available here and there. I was happy to find a seat in the “Quiet Car” but unhappy to discover that quite a few of the car’s occupants that day were seated there not by choice, and consequently, had no inclination to follow the quiet car rules against cell-phone yakking.  On the packed train, the conductors, usually efficient and diplomatic enforcers of the quiet rule, were too harried by all the passenger ticketing problems and complaints to spend any time shushing the loudmouths. That made for a long, uncomfortable trip. Arriving in the city forty minutes late, I felt fortunate to have made it at all.

Then there’s the bus. It’s my go-to option if I don’t need to make efficient use of time. I know that it’s always possible for a four hour trip to turn into six or seven hours. No matter the weather or the occasion, an hour-long backup  of traffic on I-95 can always materialize for no discernible reason. On most bus lines the seats are of an uncomfortably scratchy fabric and they’re crammed close together. I’m short, but I still need at least a modicum of legroom.The wifi is out more often than not, and the electrical outlets unreliable. But the price is twenty bucks. Or even five bucks, if you can nab a special rate. Or no bucks, if you have a frequent-rider card and you’ve made enough round-trips. For the frugal-minded, that’s reason enough to keep on booking. It’s only when I’m two-and-a-half hours into a five-hour trip, with my overheated laptop balanced on one knee and a falling-apart sandwich leaking mayonnaise onto the other, that I recall the truth of the old cliché, “you get what you pay for.”

Which brings me back to the car. When you’re the driver, you can’t work on your computer (obviously) and there’s nothing more boring than staring at lane markers for hours on end; even the most compelling book on tape can’t make you glad to be on the road. But a co-driver can do a lot to ease the hardship -- assuming that person shares your ideas about speed, frequency of bathroom breaks, and accompanying audio track. Still, a good co-driver is hard to find.

So back to the title question – what’s the best mode of travel to get from DC to NYC? Here’s the answer that seems most truthful to my own experiences: There is no best way, only a lot of not-so-great ways. Depending on the conditions and requirements of the trip, one way may be more practical than another. That just makes it less bad – not best.  

Will the choices ever improve? Where’s that jet-pack we were promised so long ago? (You may find one answer to that question here: ). When we will get our Google Self-Driving Cars? (An answer for that here: The thing I most wish for? “Beam me up, Scotty!”


Still Life With Robin is published on the Cleveland ParkListserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

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