Can Amtrak read minds? Or—more likely explanation—are our thoughts so very unoriginal they can be anticipated by the geniuses in the Amtrak marketing department? Just when I’d decided, in an effort to be more frugal, to learn to love the bus, a package of Amtrak upgrade coupons and a Guest Rewards card arrived in the mail. Between that and the $100 voucher that was sent by way of apology for a minor December travel debacle, I found myself not on a $20 Megabus eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but, for nearly the same price, in the first-class compartment of an Acela earlier this week, with a cloth napkin spread on my lap and a bevy of attentive waiters asking at what time, precisely, I would like my lunch. As I feigned camaraderie with the Bloody Mary-drinking German bankers in front of me, I decided this was not the worst way to traverse the northeast corridor.
That first-class train travel is way more pleasant than the bus was not much of a revelation, however. The real discovery was the existence of ClubAcela—a secret haven tucked inside select train stations where cardholders are sequestered from the madness, offered food, drink, comfortable chairs and, perhaps most astonishingly, an attentive Amtrak employee who can answer questions and assist in changing reservations. I may not have a functional library card or a membership to Sam’s Club but apparently I now belong to this exclusive society, where, among the greatest perks of all, members are given a head’s up to the train’s arrival so as to escape the crushing lines.
I may have to rethink this whole frugality thing. I don’t need a whole lot by way of luxury—forget the big rocks or the summer homes or the luxury cars. Just tell me what track the train is on, and then, in a perfect world, make it move.
Author’s Note: A pair of black women’s shoes have been lying at the bus stop near the intersection of Porter and 34th streets for more than a week. Rained on, snowed on, frozen, defrosted, and now awaiting the next storm. Whomever they belong to, I hope you have some boots!