Last week, my time was bookended by two weekend conferences. The first was in the Chicago suburbs, the second in Baltimore.
I live in Oakland, California, and the prospect of flying back and forth to California in between conferences seemed both ridiculous and exhausting. So instead, I decided to stay east, visiting friends in New York City and Poughkeepsie for a few days before heading on to Baltimore.
This made for a logistically complex week of getting around. All in all, door-to-door, I used 15 discrete transportation systems to shuttle between five different cities. It sounds like a giant hassle -- but as a transportation reporter, it was great. I loved every minute of it.
I started my journey on a 4:30am BART train ($2.25) to the Oakland Coliseum. It was one of the first trains of the day—BART doesn’t run overnight, much to the chagrin of many Bay Area residents. It also doesn’t yet run all the way to the Oakland Airport (that’s coming soon). So from the Coliseum station, I transferred to a BART airport shuttle bus ($3 in exact change). The process is a little murky unless you’re a local, and I ended up explaining how it worked to several bleary eyed travelers. I even gave one guy a dollar bill just so he could board the bus before it left.
Even at the crack of dawn, the security line at the airport snaked through all the pylons and into baggage claim. I made it through with just enough time to make my flight to Chicago. Got a window seat (my favorite), and watched the sun rise over the beautiful bridges of the Bay before we burst above the cloud layer.
Once in Chicago, I met up with some fellow conference attendees and we split a cab to the distant suburb where the conference was being held ($22 each + tip). On the fare sign in the back of the cab we noticed a special charge—a $50 “vomit clean-up fee.” Must be rough driving a cab in Chicago.
Several days later, it was time to head on to NYC. This time, I caught a ride to the airport in a Town Car driven by a guy with a long ponytail named Kenny ($50 cash + tip). He called me a couple hours before he picked me up just to say hi. We had a little time before my flight, and I hadn’t really seen anything at all in Chicago, so he drove me through some of the neighborhoods where he grew up, past his high school and family church, and then cruised along Lakeshore Drive, while he told me about the water pumping stations out in the lake and gave change to every single stoplight panhandler we encountered. “There but for the grace of God,” said he.
The flight from Chicago to LaGuardia was uneventful (dimmed lights and a hushed cabin) -- as was my late-night cab ride to Brooklyn ($35 + tip).
The next day I took the F train into Manhattan ($2.25) and strolled the beautiful High Line for the first time. In the afternoon, I went to Grand Central Terminal, where I took the audio tour of the station ($7— and by the way, radio producers, we could make that tour so much better!) and got a great shoeshine ($7+tip) before boarding the 4:45 Metro-North train to Poughkeepsie ($36 RT). Traveling alongside the Hudson, looking at fiery red maples and crumbling architecture, I noticed that many of the conductors and passengers were on a first name basis.
Listen: Metro-North conductor
After a night and day in Poughkeepsie, I headed back to the city -- this time to Penn Station, where I was due to catch an Amtrak train to Baltimore ($70). I loved Penn Station. I arrived in the morning to a cacophony of newspaper vendors calling and singing to us as we streamed into the station. “Good morning, everybody! Get your AM New York right here. Read all about it. Buenos días, mami. AM New York!” (Editor's note: Penn Station doesn't usually inspire such affection -- but some people can find the hidden pockets of grace there.)
Listen: audio from Penn Station
Grabbed my one and only cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee (one cream, two sugars), and hopped on board the train to Charm City. Out the windows, I watched the compressed East Coast fly by—Manhattan, Newark, Philadelphia, Baltimore. Next stop Washington DC.
Took a cab from Baltimore’s Penn Station to my hotel ($14 + tip), and was immediately swept off my feet by the nicest cab driver ever, who told me about growing up in a freezing cold basement and never wanting to get out from under the covers in the morning to go to school. Note: no vomit fees in Baltimore.
A couple days later, and it was time for more travel. Took the Baltimore Light Rail ($1.60) to the airport for my flight home to Oakland, where my kind next-door neighbor picked me up in his car and drove me home (free). As cliché as it sounds, my week really was all about the journey.