Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Riding the Rails

I am an advocate for public transportation but sometimes enough is enough. Last Friday I headed out to Fire Island Pines where I have a share in a beach house. Since I had volunteered to cook dinner that night, I needed to pick up supplies to prepare dinner for 10 people.  Grocery shopping at the Pines is limited to one small convenience store which charges very inconvenient prices so I decided to buy everything in the city and take it with me. I also needed my requisite case of beer, multiple wardrobe changes, a steamer case of skin care products, my CPAP machine and a jug of distilled water for same. In short, I was not travelling light.

My journey began by rolling a carry-on bag and a luggage cart, to which I strapped a 48 quart cooler and the case of beer, along the sidewalks of Astoria to the elevated train where I was greeted by 4 long flights of stairs up to the platform. It was impossible to carry both the cart and the suitcase so I had to relay them up. The train wasn’t too crowded so the ride into Manhattan was uneventful.

At the great labyrinth which is the Herald Square station I discovered how frustrating it must be for the handicapped. Just finding the hidden location of the elevators is hard enough and it’s unlikely that they are working once you do find them. More steps to drag my stuff up.

The two block schlep to Penn Station was difficult. Everyone else on the sidewalk was going in the opposite direction and showed no sympathy for me as I huffed and puffed my way along with the cart in front of me and the bag in tow.

Once inside Penn Station I found my way to the sub-basement where a disorganized throng of Long Island Railroad commuters awaited departure announcements. When my train was called there was a mad dash for the platform while I stood waiting for the elevator. I finally tugged my caravan into the train where I immediately discovered that the aisle was just wide enough to allow me to get everything hopelessly wedged. I could go no further forward. As it turned out, I couldn’t back up either.

My fellow passengers were an impatient crowd. “Would you mind getting out of the way?” someone demanded. Soon there was a chorus of contempt as I struggled to free my trapped baggage. With a terrific tug I lurched my carry-on bag overhead only to discover that the luggage rack was designed to hold nothing larger than a brief case. Now drenched in sweat, I let if fall onto an empty seat.

“May I please pass by!” another infuriated passenger demanded.

“Yes,” I shot back at her. “Just turn around and go out the exit, walk up the platform, and re-enter the train.”

I finally managed to get everything off the floor and onto seats and I slumped next to the cargo. I thought for sure the conductor would object to my using the seats as a luggage rack but I guess he took pity on me because he only muttered something unintelligible.

At least I was on the train and we were underway. It would have been nice if the next stop were along side the ferry but life is never that simple. I had to change trains in Babylon. Realizing the hassle that awaited me, I began relaying my bags and cooler and carts to the vestibule well ahead of time. To my delight, the transfer was across the platform. No steps.

I was not so foolish as to enter the car body on the second train. I decided to stand in the vestibule. As we rolled through the Long Island countryside I began to relax. The worst was behind me. Soon I would be enjoying a carefree weekend on Fire Island. At that moment the train lurched and the cart with the beer and the cooler toppled over. The cooler opened up and spewed all the ice and groceries all over the vestibule floor.

Somehow I managed to collect everything and eventually get it from the train to the shuttle van and finally on to the ferry. As I struggled with the last of it, I watched a car pull up to the dock. The occupants unloaded all their paraphernalia onto the dock then drove across the street and parked. They looked fresh and happy whereas I looked disheveled and deranged.

Next time I drive.

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