Boston and a Blackout

Friday, August 15, 2003

I’m sitting in traffic on a Greyhound bus we weren’t supposed to take, doing our best to get to where we were supposed to be yesterday. A few lights go out and the whole place is a mess!

But let’s start with me telling about the Boston part of the trip.

I love Boston. I spent a summer there during college and fell in love with it then… and my feelings haven’t changed. For this trip we decided to try a bed and breakfast, Taylor House, in Jamaica Plains. Though the breakfast left a little to be desired (continental, and only for those who arrived first), the house, built in 1853, was just beautiful. Living in Oklahoma, I’m fascinated by these buildings that are so old. The innkeepers had done a wonderful job of furnishing and decorating — interestingly enough, using art with a modern theme. We wouldn’t have minded if it had been a little closer to a subway stop… but we enjoyed the 20-minute walk past the old houses with their nice little lawns. And besides, we’re getting good at walking!

The first evening in Boston we decided to go into Harvard Square. It rained, of course, but we quickly ducked into Club Passim, a folkish club that was having an Open Mike night. We saw some very impressive talent, and it made us wonder where we might find something like that in OKC. Harvard Square was pretty deserted because of the rain, so we just took a quick glance around before heading back to our room.

The next day we had time to briefly stop in at Davis Square (near Tufts University, where I’d spent my summer) before heading to our afternoon whale-watching tour. I recognized quite a few of the places (the delightfully artsy-casual Someday Cafe, the movie theatre where we watched Chasing Amy), and wished we’d had time to stay a while.

The whale-watching tour was wonderful. We left from the New England Aquarium. After an hour or more of windy, chilly riding going about 35 mph (according to the handy-dandy
GPS), we arrived at an area known to be frequented by whales. The ride was amazing, of course — there’s just something about the wind in your hair, the exhiliaratingly-cold salt water spraying in your face, that can’t be matched on land. Once we reached our destination, we spent the first 30 minutes or so watching two young humpback whales that were in a “resting pattern” — mostly resting, with the occasional dive down into the deeper waters for food. In the distance, we saw 5-6 whales that other whale-watching boats were gathered around. Those whales looked more active, and for a while I envied the folks on the other boats. After the other boats left, though, and a storm started rolling in, I started to appreciate our own boat. Apparently the cooler temperatures that come with a storm cause the whales to be more active. A smaller minke whale near our boat started splashing around, which also causes other nearby whales to be more active. After all the other boats left, we got quite a show. Several whales “breached” (jumping entirely out of the water), some waved their flippers at us, some flapped their tails back and forth. They said we saw a total of 14-16 whales, some of them incredibly close to the boat. We caught a pretty good storm on the way back, but the experience was more than worth it.

After the whale watching, we went to dinner with a friend of mine I’d met during my internship. Dan and his fiancee Amanda told us about a Boston restaurant called Fire + Ice. It’s similar to a Mongolian BBQ — but with more options and a lot more fun. We’re sorely tempted to open one in Oklahoma City. It was great fun, and we enjoyed catching up with my friend. It was obvious he and his fiancee were very happy together, and we enjoyed spending the time with them. They also took us to Harvard Square, where we enjoyed an ice cream dessert at Herrold’s.

And that brings us to today. We had time to explore Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market near the Boston Harbor before catching the train. We made sure to try some seafood — Billy had a lobster roll and I had clam chowder — and we bought a souvenir or two. We also tried tapioca iced tea, which we didn’t especially care for… the tapioca balls were a little much. And then we went to the Amtrack station to catch our train.

Everything went well until about half-way through our trip. In fact, we had been discussing whether it would be possible to bypass planes altogether and use only trains, since the train rides had been much more comfortable, convenient, and on-time than our plane rides on this trip.

And then the “Blackout of 2003” started. We first heard someone talking on a cell phone to her husband about it, then the Amtrack folks came over the loudspeaker and said we were fine for the time being, but that they would keep us posted. Not long after that, the interior lights on the train went out completely and the train stopped. They told us they were switching to manual power and that we would continue soon. We didn’t go any faster than about 15 mph after that, since there were no functioning track signals… which meant we couldn’t go over any bridges without knowing for certain whether another train might be coming from the other direction.

We made an unscheduled stop in Old Saybrook, Connecticut. After sitting there for a few minutes, the Amtrack folks came over the loudspeaker again. They told us we could either get off in Old Saybrook and be taken to New Haven, Connecticut, by diesel train, or we could stay on our current train and be taken back to Boston. The train would no longer be going to Trenton, NJ (our original destination). They told us we had 2-3 minutes to decide whether to get off the train. Having no more information than that, we (and everyone else on the train) decided to find a conductor and ask more questions. Would there be trains from New Haven to Trenton? If so, when? Would Amtrack be refunding the money for our tickets? When would the diesel train arrive? There were no answers, of course, and the conducter seemed irritated that everyone was asking questions. (Provide all the essential information, or you’d better expect questions!) Reasoning that New Haven was closer to where we wanted to be than Boston was, we decided to get off and take our chances.

We got off at Old Saybrook, a tiny station seemingly in the middle of nowhere. In a dramatic touch, another train pulled away a few minutes after we got there to reveal a nice view… of a cemetery. We wondered if that’s what had happened to the last folks who had waited there for the diesel train.

The 2-3 minute decision thing ended up being quite an exaggeration. Our diesel train to New Haven didn’t arrive for about 2 hours. When we left, the original Amtrack still hadn’t left for Boston. We made it to New Haven, which fortunately still had power… but which had no public transportation options for going further. There were no rental cars, no buses, no trains. We got the next-to-last hotel room in town (we were grateful to get it!), and we spent the rest of the evening watching news, calling family members who had seen the news and were worried sick about us, and doing laundry. We started calling all the various options as soon as we woke up in the morning. Still no trains, since power hadn’t been restored yet. My brother offered to pick us up, but that seemed a bad idea from what we’d heard of traffic New York. Finally we settled on a Greyhound bus that would take us as far as Penn Station in NYC, and a train that would take us from Penn Station to Trenton.

And that brings us to where we are now, sitting here watching a strange movie that you really shouldn’t start in the middle of (“The Truth About Charlie”), and sitting in all the traffic headed toward NYC. A NYC that’s still mostly without power. Fun, fun.