Day 1: October 3, 2014
Sleepless in the Capital

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Despite getting to bed really early, my excitement over the upcoming choo-choo ride resulted in just three hours (two 1.5 hour bursts) of sleep before that alarm went off at 1:00 AM. That was the wake-up time I decided would get me on the road around 2:00 for the scheduled 3:27 departure from Union Terminal. I checked the Amtrak website shortly after waking up and again shortly before leaving. The first check showed the train one minute late and the second showed eight minutes. Not great news but nothing at all disturbing. However, by the time I reached the terminal, it had grown to "about four hours". That wasn't from the website, which now contained an "unable to provide information" type message. It was from Amtrak and security personnel at Union Terminal giving unofficial estimates that the train would be two to four hours behind schedule at Cincinnati due to a problem in Indiana. I had picked up a cup of Speedway coffee on the way and sat down at one of the tables in the rotunda to ponder the situation.

If the four hour estimate was anywhere near accurate, a big change in my evening's plans would be required but it was too early in the situation to judge things and too early in the day to do anything about them. I did need to burn off some time, though, and what better way to do that than a visit to nearby Camp Washington Chili. I couldn't bring myself to order a 4-way and opted, instead, for breakfast. It was, of course, a true Cincinnati goetta & cheese breakfast.

Back at Union Terminal, some more solid information had become available. A disabled freight train blocked the Cardinal near Indianapolis. Another locomotive arrived at the scene to get things moving and a 6:30 Cincinnati arrival was predicted. Wet track, the need to drop a car for west bound use, and general railroad stuff kept stretching the time. In the end, we boarded and rolled out of Cincinnati at 8:03, missing the schedule by 4 hours and 36 minutes.

That four and a half hour time shift was hardly the only thing messing with my dream trip. It was a little early in the season and not much color had yet appeared in the leaves so that the trees were mostly green. Overhead, water filled clouds were the standard of the day so that the skies were mostly gray. In light of all that, maybe it didn't really matter that I couldn't get a window seat on the almost full train. This was what I saw for much of the ride.

Color did pick up a bit as we moved east and prompted me to grab a few shots with little between me and the dirty wet windows. The shies were still gray, however, and the rain even seemed to increase almost in synch with the color. The overall scene remain pretty dull.

Even so, there were some really cool things to be seen. A couple of waterfalls flashed by as did a beautiful wooden bridge. Flashed is a key word here. On a ride through unfamiliar territory, there is little or no time to point a camera at passing bridges and falls. That's just the way it is and I'm OK with it. I saw them.

Around the trip's midpoint, my plans really started to unravel. Actually, I suppose I just started to realize that they had unraveled long before. I had a car reserved at Washington's Union Station and anticipated driving a couple of hours north to watch a guitarist perform. Don Evans appears on most of Dirk Hamilton's early albums and the two still perform together whenever possible. I find it hard to believe that I've still not seem Dirk with a live band let alone one that included Don. Dirk would not be with Don on Friday but I still had looked forward to seeing him live. From the beginning, I had considered Amtrak's noted lack of punctuality but calculated that the train could be a couple of hours late and I could still make the show. That part of the trip had passed out of reach while I ate my omelet. Now I realized there were bigger problems.

I called Alamo to tell them I wouldn't be there until at least 10:30 and I don't think I was all that surprised to learn that they, and every other rental agency at Union Station, were closed by 10:00. Those at Reagan Airport were open later and I might be able to pick up a car there but I had little hope and canceled the reservation. There was no motel reservation to cancel as I had saved that till the last. We reached Union Station a few ticks ahead of midnight. About 5 hours and 52 minutes late. I asked for directions to get to Reagan on the Metro and even fueled up my ten year old SmarTrip card in anticipation of making the run. But, when I reached Alamo by phone, I was told that all the counters at Reagan had just closed for the night. There were taxis and I could have taken one to a motel if I could pick one to go to.

Initially, I think my lack of action was aided by the fact that there were people with luggage sprawled randomly around the station and it looked like a popular place for waiting. But one by one the sprawlers vanished and, around 2:00, a guard told me and a trio of college student types that the area was closed. Taxis still offered an out and I still didn't take it but spent the small hours of the night milling about in front of Union Station with a few other travelers, the occasional worker, and a few homeless. Never quite comfortable but never quite uncomfortable.

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