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Way back in 2015, we had planned on attending my elder son’s wedding in Philadelphia. We had to back out because my spinal stenosis was just too painful for the trip. Amtrak gave us a voucher for the trip we paid for but did not take. However we had a year to use it. The year was coming to an end, so we booked a trip to Baltimore for this past weekend. We had planned on visiting the National Aquarium at the Inner Harbor and just relaxing.

We left Thursday. Our train was scheduled to depart Richmond at 7:00 PM (1900Hrs). However… Good Old Train #66 from Newport News was stuck behind a disabled freight train on the single track that runs from Williamsburg to Richmond.  Sooo…. CSX, who owns the track and runs the freight traffic has to send a locomotive down the line to pull the disabled freight forward in order that Good Old #66 can complete its mission. Around 9:30 (2130 Hrs) we finally leave Richmond. It’s fairly obvious now that a crimp has been put in our meticulously planned getaway. We climb aboard, choosing the quiet car. I was hoping the conductor in the quiet car wore black tights, white face and white gloves, like a classic French mime, but it wasn’t that quiet. He scans our ticket and off he goes.

We proceed, stopping at all the stops between Richmond and Washington; Ashland, Fredericksburg, Quantico, Woodbridge, Alexandria.  It seems like an eternity. And we have to pull to a siding to let a freight pass (all part of the “fun” of being delayed two and a half hours).  All of you East Coast rail connoisseurs  know that trains  switch power from diesel to electric in Washington for the trip further North, reversed the opposite way. That’s another thirty or so minutes for the switch.   Off we go. It’s now 2:00 AM (0200 Hrs). We’re tired, wondering what we did to piss the travel gremlins off.  We stop in New Carrollton,  Baltimore BWI, and finally Baltimore Penn Station. It is now 3:00 AM (0300 Hrs) and unbelievably hot still.  The easiest piece of the travel epic so far is the speed with which a taxi arrives with a very courteous driver, an African immigrant from, I suspect, somewhere in West Africa.  He promptly takes us to our hotel and we check in around 3:30 AM (0330 Hrs) Friday morning.

Our room is an homage to minimalist decor, and not at all unpleasant in its sparseness. There is no dresser, desk, or superfluous chairs.It does have a nice comfortable king-sized bed, honking big TV, and more electrical outlets than I (or anyone else, for that matter) can possibly use.  The hotel people did their market research. It was set up for people who travel with lap tops, tablets and smart phones. And, more than likely, Hitachi wands, given the outlet placements.

We are thirsty and discover that there are two, yes two, plastic cups in the room for our use. There is minimalist and then there is out right, fuckin’ stingy.  Then I discover the ice maker and drink machine is one flight up.  Fortunately they work.  With ice and sodas, I return. We sip our sodas and soon are trying to fall asleep in a strange room with an incredibly noisy air conditioning system, in a city where, at Four AM, every vehicle operating seems to be an emergency vehicle.   It seems like we are in a corner of Post Modern Hell.

Our first trip to the Inner Harbor is for breakfast. We schlep down in the heat. Thankfully, it is a very short distance. We find a  Cheesecake Factory that looks like the Cheesecake Factory at home with the same menu and the same prices. Nice. I order the Huevos Rancheros and coffee.  The service is slow, not terribly so, and the server is courteous and friendly. The food tastes the same as the one at home.

In case we were afraid that everything would be the same as at home, a few thousand of our closest friends decided to stage the Otakon 16 Convention on this very same weekend. We had all these twenty somethings traipsing about in their favorite anime` character  costumes. Being  old and indifferent, the only character impersonators I could recognize were the Sailor Moon wannabes.  All in all, it was fun to watch. Hallowe’en on steroids.

The Inner Harbor has a shopping mall as part of the attractions. The Inner Harbor is a James Rouse project from the 1980’s, when folks imagined the affluence would never dry up.  Today there are plenty of vacant stores. Given that a shopping mall is a shopping mall is a shopping mall, we got the idea fairly quickly of what was there.

It did not, all of a sudden, get cold in the hour we were at breakfast. The lack of sleep was taking its toll. We went back to the room and slept, in anticipation of our trip to the National Aquarium at 6:30 (1830 Hrs). The sleep came easily. Evidently, people having emergencies sleep during the day. I heard not nary a siren. Mrs CorC? decided that watching a Gray’s Anatomy  rerun would tickle her fancy, so I tried to sleep while all these actors were playing doctor.

Finally we get to the National Aquarium and the experience was well worth the aggravation, inconvenience and pain. The place is brilliant in concept, design and execution.  Realizing one visit won’t do it justice, we are already planning a return.

As a finale, we dine at Phillips Seafood Restaurant. It is definitely a little high end in the chain restaurant spectrum,but the food is well worth it. We had the ceviche`. I had the grilled rockfish, she the crabcake and scallop.

By the time we get back to the hotel, all I want is an ice pack at the fusion site and two naproxen gel caps. As non-cable viewers at home, we take advantage of the cable offerings.  We watch HGTV’s House Hunters, amused at what the house hunters are looking for and what they have to spend. They must choose from condos in St John’s, The Virgin Islands, and they are bloody picky!  I would be tickled to death with indoor plumbing and a refrigerator, but their standards are higher. The shoppers are reminiscent  of characters from a Christopher Guest mocumentary and we can imagine Jane Lynch, John Michael Higgins, and Parker Posey as the prospective buyers.

We sleep through the full complement of sirens and cooling systems . Saturday morning comes and I have resolved to leave Baltimore earlier than our 6:17 PM (1817) departure on train 97, The Silver Meteor, to escape the heat. I may as well sweat at home.  The train switch to Train 195, is simple. This cabbie is also polite and efficient. We are at the station in plenty of time for the train’s arrival.  We discover it is late, but only about a half hour.  We climb aboard, find seats, and sit.   Heat is the culprit in these travel delays. It plays havoc with the equipment. We arrive home a mere hour past the scheduled arrival.

A mini-vacation in 21st Century America is completed.  Recovery from this fun-filled extravaganza takes all of Sunday.

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