Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee

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Day 8: Canada Bound

After examining the Great Northern RS3 Alco-built diesel sitting in a park across the street from our hotel, Lisa and I checked out and rolled down the hill to the Schenectady Amtrak station, arriving about half an hour before our scheduled departure time. The train was running about ten minutes late, so we hung around the air-conditioned waiting room until ten minutes before the revised train time. Then we made our way to the platform by way of one of the slowest elevators I've ever used. It took almost a full minute to move just one floor. While waiting on the platform for our train, we chatted with a National Park Service tour guide who explained to us where to sit for the best views.

The train arrived and I wrestled my heavy bag aboard. As we were boarding, we immediately encountered one of the people going to Montreal – Andy Porter. I suppose I may have come across a little brusquely to him, but he was trying to engage me in conversation and tell me all of the things the NPS guide had already told us while I was trying to wrestle heavy luggage and dodge all of the other people trying to board. Fortunately, I was able to find a space behind the seats on car 2 where I could stow the bag. The boarding vestibule of a train while it's in the station is not really the best time to chat. Andy may not have understood why Lisa kept insisting that she must sit on the left side of the train even though the better views are on the right northbound – it's because she wants to be able to hear, and with her left ear out of service, she prefers to sit so that her left ear faces the window and her right ear is open to everything else.

Unfortunately, there were no seats on the train that we could find. (There might have been some, but people had piled luggage on the seats and there certainly were no pairs of seats left.) Heading toward the back of the train, we went into the café car, where the conductor invited us to sit in his "office" – the table at one end of the car where he was doing his paperwork.

Another fan traveling to Montreal, Dave Howell, joined us at the conductor's table as the conductor went off to "work the train." The three of us chatted about all manner of things, such as his challenges in getting this year's Hugo Award bases built and delivered to Montreal, before the conductor returned and Dave went off to play a card game with other fans.

The conductor sat and talked with us for half and hour or so between stations. We were very taken with him. I knew we were going to get along well when the first thing he said when he noticed my handheld radio was, "Channel 66" and confirmed that this meant 161.100 MHz. When he had a chance to talk, he examined my radio (an ICOM 2-SAT) and Lisa's (a 2-SA – the "T" in mine indicates that it has a keyboard). He expressed admiration for our equipment as we demonstrated how it could receive railroad signals but not broadcast them. "I don't want to broadcast when I'm tuned here," I said, "It would violate my license!"

We had a very enjoyable discussion with him on various facets of railroading. We told him about our experience with the would-be Defender of Homeland Security on Metra the other day and he was almost as annoyed as we were. After our rattling experience in Chicago, this Amtrak conductor was a real antidote. He made good, clear announcements, and when the train had delays (such as when we had to wait for a freight to pass) or other problems (a short glitch in on-board power caused by the locomotive switching to power-saving mode when idling in the siding), he explained it to people, reducing confusion and improving passenger morale noticeably. Amtrak needs more people like this serving as their public face. The only bad part that we could see is that he had just interviewed for a Roadmaster (supervisor) position, and if he's as good as he came across to us on this trip, he'll certainly get the promotion. With luck, he will instill in the employees he supervises the same customer-focused attitude we observed. We plan to write a complimentary letter to Amtrak about him when we get a chance. It's all too easy to complain – I do it often enough – but not so easy to compliment.

Alas, our trip was riddled with slow orders, signal malfunctions, and maintenance delays, and we were already more than 90 minutes late as we made the stop at Plattsburgh NY and headed for the Canadian border. Earlier, the assistant conductor came down the train and handed out Canadian customs forms. I had earlier asked the conductor if we needed special tags for our luggage, and he said that we did not. Lisa has had some of the paper Amtrak luggage tags on her bags at times on this trip, but they keep falling off.

After Plattsburgh NY, the café car closed because the Customs & Immigrations people use it for any passengers they want to inspect in more detail. When we reached the Canadian border, the train stopped and a pair of Canadian C&I officers boarded the train and began working their way through the car, asking each person for their passport and customs entry form (one form per household). If they didn't like your answers, they'd take you back to the café and grill you.

Screening Lisa and me seemed routine. I answered, quite truthfully, that we were going to attend the World Science Fiction Convention in Montreal, would be there for a week, staying at the Holiday Inn Centre-Ville, and that while yes, we have lots of friends in Canada, we were not bringing any gifts to give to them. I pointed out which pieces of luggage were ours and that was that. They didn't even stamp the passports. Not everyone on our car was as lucky, although as far as I know, none of the Worldcon-bound people were troubled.

After more than an hour of C&I inspection, our train was were released and allowed to continue to Montreal. The café car reopened for a short time, and Lisa went back there and, after spending a long time talking with the café car attendant, returned with a meatball sandwich that she shared with me, on the grounds that we might not get dinner on time. She was right. Apparently she really hit it off with the woman running the café car, who earlier gave her a hug when Lisa explained in detail how much she appreciated the attendant's heavy, paperwork-laden, workload.

Dave Howell had come to our seat before the border stop, returning to his own seat when the inspectors came to our car, and he came back after we whistled off for Montreal and we passed the time companionably the rest of the way into Montreal Gare Central. Lisa explored the rest of the train, chatting with other fans, in particularly a group of Norwegian fans with whom she hit it off.

We would have preferred to let everyone else off the train before us, given the weight of our bags, but several of our pieces of luggage were trapping other people's bags, so we needed to be there to release them. We joined the crowd on the platform working our way up to ground level. Lisa looked for an elevator. It appears that the only elevators require an attendant with a key, presumably only for use for cargo or people in wheelchairs. There are escalators, which Lisa dislikes using with her wheeled luggage because it sometimes gets hung up in the treads, which it did (albeit only slightly) this time as well.

Getting unstuck from the crowd and moving to one side, I invited Lisa to take in the main hall of Gare Central. "Now this looks like a proper railway station!" she said.

We exited the station and passed the crowd of people queuing for taxis. I hope none of the Anticipation attendees made the mistake of taking a taxi from here to the Delta, which is about 200 meters away, a couple of blocks down the hill. I did a similar sort of mistake once at a different convention, not realizing that the convention hotel was pretty much out the door and down the street a short distance, and it's embarrassing, not to mention annoying to the taxi driver.

I could have taken a taxi to the Holiday Inn, which is close to 1 km or so away, but I wanted to first get some Canadian cash from the ScotiaBank ATM that's near the station. (They don't charge Bank of America customers an extra "foreign ATM" surcharge.) Lisa examined the maps, getting her own bearings. I knew where we were and how to get where we were going, but Lisa wanted to figure it out on her own so she wouldn't be dependent upon me all the time to find places. That was okay with me; I didn't think were in a hurry. We towed our bags up the hill a couple of blocks and I got us some money. Then we rolled back down the hill to the Delta and walked from there to the Palais.

(Those who know the area will recognize that this was not the most direct path, but I wanted Lisa to get used to the path that she and I will be using the most often, that being Holiday Inn – Palais – Delta.)

Not surprisingly, we almost immediately started running into people we knew. When we went into the Palais, as Lisa was examining the map, Randy Smith and John Hertz came up and said hello. Registration had closed, so we couldn't pick up our badges tonight, darn it. (If the train had been on time and we hadn't done the ATM detour, we might have been able to register if we'd went straight to the Palais.) We walked through the ground floor of the Palais and I pointed out shops to Lisa, particularly the little convenience store. After our Japanese trip in 2007, Lisa and I tend to call all such stores konbini.

Although I don't consider the walk from Gare Central to the Holiday Inn to be terribly long, it was a bid of a drag with our heavy luggage. We were quite relieved to check in and get to our room. My platinum-card upgrade worked, and I ended up one room down from where I stayed on my trip here a few months ago. The room does have a fridge, which is a great relief.

We did a quick "first draft" unpacking, and then decided we should go back to the Delta for any pre-con parties. First we went up to the IGA grocery store, but it closed at 21:00 and it was too late to get anything, so we popped back to the shop in the Palais to get a half-gallon of milk and some other minor supplies, took them back to the room, and then went to the Delta. Crossing through the Palais, we once again encountered fans we knew looking for their hotel. Thanks to our brief foray to the (closed) grocery store, we were able to give detailed walking directions to the Travelodge to a friend of Lisa's.

At the Delta we of course were surrounded by fans. I showed Lisa the Auditorium where we were first asked to hold the Business Meeting. (I declined on the grounds that the room wouldn't be able to hold the max load I expect for the Semiprozine debate, and that it didn't look safe for an SRO crowd with its raked seating.) Then we went up to the 5th floor and hit the Reno Worldcon bid party. We stayed less than an hour, and I'm afraid I'm not going to list off all of the people with whom we met and talked, in part because I clearly was starting to crash and needed some more solid food than half a meatball sandwich.

Returning to the room, we dropped off the Train Drivers Scarf that James Bacon gave me at the Reno party when he handed me an invitation for a party on Friday. (James had asked me a while back if I was interested in any UK train drivers' kit, I expressed an interest, so James decided to be quite generous to us.) We then went around the corner into Chinatown, where many of the restaurants are open until the wee hours of the morning. We picked out one, and when we sat down to eat and looked at the menu, we realized that we were both zonked, and ordered a couple of small dishes for take-out and took them back to the room.

That brings us up to the con. Whether I'll be able to report in this much depth from the con itself is unlikely, I fear. Too many things, too little time.
Tags: amtrak, anticipation09, lisa, train, travel, worldcon

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