I was looking over the last post and many parts are pretty cryptic, as one would expect trying to cram an entire week's worth of events into a relatively short post. The whole travel experience into New York was stressful. I had really wanted to get into New York early, so that we could visit relatives in Brooklyn in the afternoon. So we were up fairly early to get to Porter for the 9 am flight. (My wife drew the line at 9 and not trying to catch the 8 am flight, which is definitely just as well, as it was cancelled!) Getting to Porter and getting through security was a breeze, which is why I will always take Porter if it is a viable option. That was just about the only thing that went right on Sunday (aside from the time spent with relatives after we finally did arrive). Though no one got sick, motion sickness or anything else, so that was a major plus as well.
Because the flight landed before 11, border security was incredibly understaffed. All the international and US passport holders were all put in one line together and only served by three agents, and there were several people ahead of us that seemed to have visa problems, so that took far longer than it should have. Then the train from the airport to the AirTrain station was incredibly slow, and we watched a NJ Transit train take off, while we were stuck outside the station. Then the gates to let us into the main station were basically malfunctioning. My son's ticket would not register, and there was an attendant there who refused to help, just saying over and over, press it hard against the reader area. Given how slow the handicapped gate was, I finally had my son just walk through (with the agent still refusing to help). I don't know if there is a general malaise hanging over the East Coast, but the transit agents in New York and Philadelphia were uniformly unhelpful and actually rude most of the time.
The train from the airport into Penn Station wasn't too bad, but it was still on the slow side (and very crowded), mostly because the train tunnel link between New York and New Jersey was so damaged by Hurricane Sandy.* We actually ended up backing out of Penn Station Newark to make the connection, which I'm fairly sure added time to the trip.
We were so tired of trains by the time we got to Manhattan that we just walked up to the hotel in Times Square. I already mentioned how unhappy I was with the Paramount Times Square. The line in the lobby was ridiculously long. They of course didn't have any rooms ready, and this was the first time I heard that they added a "facility fee" to the booking. I suppose it must have been in the fine print on the Hotels.com website, but this was a fairly hefty nightly facility fee (over $30!), and I would have chosen a different hotel had I been fully aware of it. Live and learn I suppose. Then the line just to drop off our luggage was quite long.
Finally, we were ready to tackle the subway. I had been warned just how bad it was and had even gone off to look at the weekend service plan, which clearly said in one location the 2/3 went to Brooklyn and in another said that there might be further service disruptions. After making it to the 2/3 platform, it became clear that the 2/3 was being diverted to South Ferry (in Manhattan) and that we would have to take a different train (I think we ultimately took the Q), which was further from where we wanted to go, but at least was walking distance to Park Slope. After all this, we made it to Brooklyn by 2 pm. And it felt like we only managed to do that with heroic efforts. Every step of the way took far longer than it should have (and probably it did take an hour longer in total than it would have taken 5 years ago). It was not a great welcome to New York City, and I do think it will be quite a while before I go back.
The subway during the week was a bit slower than I remembered and often crowded (though it has been crowded as long as I can remember). But at least it went to the places I expected it to. If I do visit again, I will have to remember to take the terrible weekend service into account.
The Amtrak train between New York and Philadelphia was full, but it was a smooth ride and arrived on time. That was probably the highlight of our transit experience. We mostly walked everywhere in Philly, though I did splurge on a cab to get to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, but we walked back to the hotel after touring the museum.
I was investigating whether we would take SEPTA from the hotel to 30th Street Station (and then take a train to the Philadelphia Airport) or cab it (either to the main train station or to the airport). So I walked over to the SEPTA station next to the City Hall. I saw some police officer run up with her taser drawn, yelling at some homeless guy to get down on the ground. Another couple of officers backed her up, then a cop car drove right up onto the sidewalk and that officer got ready to intervene. It really did seem like something right out of the Wire. After that, I spent some time looking at just how many police cars there were in the downtown (something like 1/3 of all the parked cars seemed to be squad cars) and just how many police there were on the sidewalks. It really was a pretty daunting show of force. The follow-up was that I did go into the station and overheard a different homeless guy talking to his buddies about what had just happened. The underground passage into the SEPTA station was overrun with 8 or so homeless men, most of whom appeared to be strung out on drugs. And this was 9:30 am, just steps away from the City Hall. It was very distressing. There was no way I was going to have my family run that gauntlet. In general, the poverty in Philadelphia seems to have hit a new high and seems spreading to the city core, and the city seems to be sinking to Baltimore's level (at least those were my impressions). We had a good time visiting, but I no longer think I could live here, an idea which I did entertain from time to time, 10 years or so ago. Somewhat surprisingly, I was asking the desk clerk at the hotel about how long it would take a cab to get to the airport, she said that the train to the airport actually stopped just a block away and then it continued on to 30th St. Station and thence to the airport. In the end, we did take the regional rail, which was super convenient (and only a few minutes behind schedule). On the whole, the days spent in Philadelphia were a bit more relaxed and generally more fun than the days in Manhattan (and certainly the day spent getting to and from Brooklyn). Something to consider next time, though I am hoping that Porter restores direct service to Pittsburgh, since I'd like to go somewhere new on our next trip.
* Apparently, the spending bill that Trump so reluctantly signed finally puts some money towards this vital piece of infrastructure, and there are all these conservatives howling about it (as if red states don't get all kinds of direct assistance from the feds). I'm actually quite surprised at how many people were (foolishly) taking to LinkedIn to complain about this in the comments under an article about the bill. This is a prime example of how you shouldn't let your outrage overwhelm your common sense. The fact that you have now strongly identified with one side vs. the other in the U.S. cultural and political "wars" means that potential future employers will screen you out because 1) your values are not in step with theirs, 2) people with very strong views are hard to work with even if those views are more or less aligned with the top people in the company, 3) you are the type of person who spends too much company time on LinkedIn or 4) because you have poor judgement in leaving a very public trail of your online activities, particularly on a platform that is primarily fueled by the need to stay open to new career opportunities due to how many times people change jobs in this era. So foolish. With a very few exceptions, I think political rants should be kept off-line because they will trail you forever once you post them on-line.
I guess the real problem today is that so many things have become controversial or political, as there is someone who will take umbrage at almost anything you write. This is definitely one of the downsides of the internet era, which is magnified by the fact that the press lives for finding someone with an opposite view on virtually anything, so contrarian voices are really elevated now in newspaper articles that are often little more than a rehash of Twitter spats. (Can you tell that I have basically lost whatever respect I used to have for reporters?) Somewhat surprisingly, I had some anonymous person comment I was completely ignorant about contemporary poetry because they disagreed with one of my reviews. Needless to say, I didn't see fit to allow that comment to post as it was just abusive and didn't contribute to any dialogue about the work itself.