Home, safe. Well, reasonably so. I didn't manage to get caught in the latest blizzard, although I gave it the old college try. My 7pm train that was meant to arrive in Boston at about half midnight hit South Station just before 2:30am, We spent three hours stopped right in the middle of a track block, about fifteen miles southwest-ish of New Haven, for no immediately apparent reason. With all but the emergency lights out. And no wifi.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we are having some mechanical difficulties," said the conductor over the PA system, and then offered an explanation of, "we don't know what's wrong." It was a refreshing change from when we got stuck in Connecticut on the way down to New York, where they just sat there and repeatedly rebooted the damn train for half an hour before making any announcements.

Just for y'all's edification, when you are stuck on the track somewhere exceedingly boring in rural Connecticut, in the dark, with no amenities and very little hope that you will live long enough to see this situation fixed, it takes Amtrak about 45 minutes to apologize by cordially inviting you to loot all of the non-beer parts of the café car.

I'm always struck by the casualness with which commuter trains run. My original paradigm for transit that gets many people from point A to point B is an airplane, and airlines have been scrupulous about accounting for every seat and every passenger since I've been alive. Lately they're at least pretending to be scrupulous about bags as well. They overbook everything, so the stop you bought your ticket for is the stop where you are going to disembark, period, because they need that seat, and they need to throw your suitcases into the luggage-mangling machine.

The Amtrak people make some effort to ensure you have a ticket and you're getting on the matching train, but once you're there there's only a kind of a vague reminder to get you off it again somewhere in the vicinity of the marked stop. My train left from and technically came back to Back Bay Station downtown, but the conductor goes through and collects the last of the punched tickets from over the seats as soon as you leave RI. They're only concerned that you get off the train somewhere in the state of Massachusetts, and they don't really care where. What you do with yourself from that point onwards is not their concern.

The subways in Manhattan are confusing. I assume there was at one point some logic applied to naming and mapping the lines, but that the MTA gave up when they consolidated everything into a public utility. The signage down there appears to have been generated by feeding a MegaHAL a combination of IKEA assembly instructions and federal tax code. They say things like "← N Uptown/Queens for svc to B'way R after 8pm every second Thursday NO LIVESTOCK". I am deeply thankful for the Boston subways now. All Orange stations run only Orange trains, and all Orange trains make all Orange stops. The MBTA has many problems, but our maps are color-coded and simple enough to be read by drunks and imbeciles.

Our organizer tasked me with getting another attendee back to the place we were both staying, after we had all spent three hours drinking at a wine bar on the sponsor's tab. Not only was he from out of town, he had just flown in from Germany, so he was working with exhausted boozy English-as-a-second-language. "I love how you keep following me like I know what I'm doing," I said to him, on the platform of the first random subway stop we found that had a letter I recognized from Fulton St that morning.

I half figured it out on the last day when someone finally told me explicitly that the MTA names trains and not lines, but by then it was too late to be useful. And it still doesn't help all that much unless you memorize the route map, which is beyond even me, at least without considerably more experience in the city.

NYC subway platforms are terrifyingly narrow. Even moreso than the very old platforms in Cambridge, like Central and Kendall. I am not keen on it. I'll survive, mainly because I am not generally drunk and don't feel the need to hang my head into the tunnel to see if the train is pulling in yet, but it makes me nervous.

Comments