East Coast 2003

Saturday, March 8

The trip started out as expected: catching the 4 a.m. Flyaway bus to LAX, going through security (real smooth now with the new TSA people) and making my way to the dimly lit Frontier Airlines terminal.

Around 6:30 it was time to board. Frontier had bought some new Airbus planes (A320) with seatback TV's ($5 per flight segment). The TV's offer a small selection of satellite channels, plus a map/altitude view (free). (An aside, LAX was about 0 feet above sea level, when we landed at Denver it indicated about 5200 feet! I forgot that Denver was the "Mile High City"!)

The second segment to Washington DC was also a smooth flight.

Unlike last year, I was going to New York first, then back to Washington for a conference. To get there, I could have taken Metro to Amtrak, but since air shuttle flights were relatively cheap ($70 one-way) I decided to try that instead. So I got my boarding pass, and walked through security again to get to the American Airlines terminal.

The shuttle flights are operated with small planes ("Regional Jets"). Ours was an oily-smelling Embrarer with 2 and 1 seating, and limited baggage space (most carry-on items had to be checked at the gate). The plane performed no differently than a full size jet, and the flight went without a hitch (although the no-standing-while-within-30-minutes-of-DCA meant that we were seated for the whole flight, as 30-minutes out of DCA means time to land at JFK!)

We landed at JFK on the tarmac some distance from the actual terminal, so a large shuttle bus was used to move us (and all of our luggage) to the building. Then it was a 10-minute walk to the Ground Transportation desk, where I flashed my SuperShuttle voucher (purchased from Expedia for about $10) and boarded a blue van.

(Was it worth it? Well, considering circling the airport for more passengers, and traffic on the expressway, and dropping off everyone in Manhattan, the entire trip took about an hour. Maybe next time I'll "take the A train!")

But once checked into my hotel, I was so glad to be in New York, I took a subway ride to Times Square and back!

March 9

I was going to Bronxville (a suburb north of New York) to visit a relative. To do this, I took the subway over to Grand Central Station. After a light lunch, I took a Metro North Harlem Line train. We passed through Harlem, with an additional stop at 125th St. After that

I was advised to deboard at the Fleetwood station, rather than Bronxville per se. From there I met my relative, and we walked around Bronxville, Mt. Vernon, and Sarah Lawrence College. (Buses serve this area, but service is frightfully infrequent)

We both took the train back to Grand Central, walked around a bit, went up into the Empire State Building (and even rode that "Empire State Building" ride) The observation deck was absolutely freezing, with patches of snow. We didn't stay long up there.

Mar 10

Today started out with a ride on the #M-7 bus to Macy's, to buy a much-needed long coat. (I found one there for half-price). On the way there I had breakfast at a fast-paced deli; coming back, I bought my Amtrak ticket for tomorrow's travel at Penn Station.

Later that day, I took the #M-104 bus (via Broadway and 42nd) over to the United Nations building. (The flags weren't out for some reason-maybe it was too cold?) From there, I took the #M-15 bus south on 2nd Ave. to Downtown. About halfway there, traffic really started to back up due to some problem (a fire? Smoke?) in the subway. I rode downtown to the Staten Island Ferry terminal, but decided not to take a boat.

The balance of the day was spent with a walk through Tribeca, and dinner at a deli near the Holland Tunnel, before catching the subway back uptown.

Mar 11

Today's mission, visit a friend (ex-coworker, actually) at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore on my way to Washington DC.

I checked out of my hotel and caught the subway to Penn Station (but not after tangling with getting me and my luggage through the revolving door faregate).

On the way to Baltimore, there were still patches of snow on the ground. In fact, when I arrived at Baltimore Penn Station, there were snow flurries. I checked my luggage at the station and went outside, looking for a direct bus to JHU. (JHU runs a shuttle between Penn Station and the campus, but apparently it is not for the general public) So I took the light rail (handily located at the station) to downtown, deboarded and looked for the subway station. It was about a block or two away from the light rail stop, and in a not-too nice neighborhood. (Cops were busting people right before my eyes!). Fortunately, I did find the subway.

The Baltimore Metro, as it is called, is one of the newer heavy rail subway systems (like BART, WMATA, LACMTA, etc.) There's a single line, from the northwestern suburbs, through Downtown Baltimore, and on into JHU. (More were planned, but money was in short supply, so the Baltimore transit agency built light-rail instead). Access is by faregates, activated by magnetic strip tickets that look suspiciously like Paris Metro tickets. Even if you use a light rail all-day pass, a strip ticket is still needed to go through the faregates (free "exit tickets" are available from the station agents in each station for this purpose)

Subway stations are rather elaborate, with artworks. However the train, at least the one I boarded, didn't seem to be handling that many passengers. I got off at Johns Hopkins (the end of the line), met my friend, explored the University campus, and had lunch at an open-air market not too far away. After that, we explored the Waterfront, and a few other nicer places in Baltimore. Then it was time for me to catch the light rail back to Penn Station, and continue on to Washington DC.

From Baltimore to Washington, I used a MARC commuter train (much less expensive than Amtrak). At Union Station, I took the Metro to Dupont Circle and my hotel.

Mar 12

Most of today I spent at the conference. But I did ride Metrobus #42 to Downtown DC, visiting the city library and walking around in the area of Ford's Theater.

Mar 13

After a morning of conference, I decided to try out the Virginia Rail Express, DC's other commuter rail. So again, I headed downtown (with another quick stop at the library) and on to Union Station to buy my VRE ticket (Note: unlike Metrolink, VRE ticket machines only take credit cards). The first train didn't leave until 3:38 p.m. I walked around the Capitol grounds (under heavy construction because a "Visitor's Center" is being built).

Eventually I walked back to Union Station and caught the VRE. Although VRE runs all the way south to Fredricksburg, I was riding only as far as Lorton, since that's about as far as one can go and catch a bus back to DC proper.

There were only a few other passengers when we left Union Station, but the train started to fill up at L'Enfant Plaza, then really got full at Crystal City. Alexandria looked like an interesting downtown, but mostly the train passed through wooded open space.

I got off at Lorton at 4:17, and waited in the light rain for the Metrobus #9A back to "civilization". I had just missed the 4:40 run, so I had to wait until about 5:40 until the next #9A showed up. The route looped through the developing suburb of Lorton, and the Fort Belvoir military base (ID Check 100%!) before hitting the Richmond Hwy. It was a long ride, and traffic was heavy. The original plan was to ride all the way to the end of the line at the Pentagon station, but at some point I had decided that I had had enough and caught the Metro at Huntington instead.

Mar 14

I was mostly in conference today. It was very rainy too, so I didn't do much sight-seeing.

Mar 15

My last day in DC. My plane wasn't going to leave until around 6 p.m. so, after checking out of the hotel, I decided to visit a few "new" places along the Metro Red Line, north from Dupont Circle.

My first stop was Adams Morgan. The neighborhood seemed similar to that at Dupont, but a bit more subdued (not so much a "party" atmosphere). Adams Morgan is known for its restaurants, so I made a mental note to try some of them on my next trip.

The next stop I decided to explore was Tenleytown . The first thing I noticed when I got out of the station, was a large public library. (The American University campus is within walking distance as well, but I didn't go that far.)

The area near the Friendship Heights featured a large health-food store, various other shops, and perhaps a few other things as well. I didn't linger long.

I spent a little more time in Bethesda (where I had stayed on my first Washington DC trip back in 2000) just walking around, munching on ouzo burgers, and checking my e-mail at the local bookstore/internet café. After about an hour in Bethesda, I returned to Adams Morgan, bought a few souvenirs. then took the bus (Metro across the "Duke Ellington Bridge" and along U Street (a redeveloping, gentrifying, former depressed area). From the U Street Metro Station, I took the Green and Red Lines back to Dupont Circle. After a quick stop at the hotel to collect my left luggage, I got back on the Metro and headed for the airport.

The plane was delayed for at least two hours (it had come from Chicago, and had been delayed there) But at least they gave us free TV for this flight segment. At Denver, the rest of the planes were waiting for us, and I dashed, bleary-eyed over to the Los Angeles-bound plane. A whole planeload of people, waiting for me!

I don't recall much after that, other than making it to LAX, the Flyaway bus, and home in one piece!

Transit | Home Page