Friday, March 13, 2009

Car Free Travel

When planning a recent weekend trip to Harpers Ferry, WV, I looked at all modes of transport to deliver us there. By far the most it economical and as it turns out entertaining option was the train. The round trip cost was $40 for the family. We caught the MARC train; it is the Maryland Transit Administration’s (say that 3 times fast) commuter train. The timetables and services are limited to 3 routes, Brunswick, Camden and Penn Lines (two of which we had already caught from DC to Baltimore and back) with a further downside of only running during the week (commuter train…it is not just a clever name). For us it was a perfect excuse for a long weekend. Leave on Friday afternoon and come back Monday morning, getting to experience the true commuter lifestyle.

On Friday after work I meet Teeny and Bloke at the Silver Spring MARC station, which I can see and hear from my office so all that was missing was boarding it. The train was on time, which on that particularly chilly Friday afternoon was a good thing as the Silver Spring MARC station is an outdoor platform and we boarded the big steps. We were the only ones traveling with luggage and a small child. They certainly do not mind if you bring luggage but there is not a whole lot of storage capacity. We actually sat on two separate bench seats. Teeny and I on one, with Bloke and luggage on the other. Everybody else was a commuter, with their compact laptop bags (again commuter train…not just a clever name).

Unbeknown to us we sat in the party car (NB: there is a quiet car – ask the conductors to point you in the right direction if you or your teeny travelers are noise adverse). Being in the party car really is carte blanche to make noise. Not that Teeny was feeling terribly noisy that afternoon. She quickly settled in with her DVD player to watch whatever princess epic she was obsessed with that week and nobody really noticed when she screamed a question in my direction overcompensating for not being able to hear herself speak because she was wearing earphones and listening to the movie too loudly.

I on the other hand forgot to bring entertainment for myself, no magazine, no book; it looked like I would have to rely on my Bloke for stimulating conversation for the one hour trip. There was too much excitement and chatter all around us and the time went by quickly. We were sitting on the first level but the open plan second level was where the real party was happening. The commuters up above were obviously seasoned pros, they came prepared not with luggage but with beer, snacks and lively anecdotes, greeting and fare welling friends at the various stops along the way. Discussing upcoming weekend plans, taking polls on how much to gamble at Charles Town race track whilst knocking back more beer. The conductor made a show of saying, "you guys better be drinking root beer up there.”. It was as if they were all personally introducing us to the delights and characters of West Virginia.

Bloke was a touch upset he missed out on a good Friday afternoon beer drinking opportunity and later confessed he was most tempted to offer to buy a beer from one of the regulars…I think West Virginia is already rubbing off on him.

Historic Harpers Ferry Train Station
All the while Teeny was oblivious to the chatter around her, intent on watching her DVD. Before you knew it and certainly before the end of Teeny’s movie, we had arrived at the recently restored Harpers Ferry Train Station. It looks exactly as I imagine it did when the trains first started rolling through Harpers Ferry - a small charming red timber building. To gain entry into the building and begin our weekend in Harpers Ferry we took a cue from the locals and crossed the tracks after the train had departed instead of using the underground crossing tunnel….that’s for tourists.

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