Martha’s Vineyard: The Island From Heck

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Valley DeerTaking a biking tour of Martha’s Vineyard on the Sunday of the July 4th weekend was not such a good idea. It was a great idea!

100 degrees. 100% humidity. 100 miles… uh, 30 miles. The shirt on my back all sweaty. Members of the group staggered across several miles because some were not as fit as others. Stopping at beaches to take a cool dip and then continuing on around the island. Eating burgers at a convenient food shack on the way. Racing back to catch the last ferry. Legs all sore but I’m feeling great.

Best darn trip. Ever.

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Amtrak: The Train To Heck

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Two days before July 4th, I took an Amtrak train from New York City to Boston. Suffice to say, this was a pretty dumb thing to do since the Boston fireworks usually drew everyone and their in-laws on the East coast.

street_shotIn short, the train was packed like a thimble of sardines. There was no seating; there was no floor space. If you were lucky you got to sit/stand on the floor. If you were unlucky, you got to stand in the stairwell of the space between the train cars.

I’m not an expert on trains but it seems to me that Amtrak was breaking several safety laws by overbooking and forcing passengers to stand in the area between cars. I shuddered to think of what would have happened if the train had to make a sudden stop.

To make things worse, the weather that time of year was hot and toasty, approaching and surpassing 100 degrees. And the area between the train cars did not have air conditioning. I don’t want to be that close to the mass of humanity again; exchanging moisture is not my idea of a good time.

In summary the trip took six hours. I stood for 3.5 hours near the car door, where I kept a flow of water from the dispenser to the poor, unfortunate souls stuck outside. Then I managed to sit on the floor for 1.5 hours. Finally, I got a seat for the last hour.

Here are some interesting excerpts.

I talked to a college student who told me, “I’m going to refuse to hand over my ticket. What are they going to do?” He ended up hiding in the bathroom. The ticket collector (TC) didn’t even bother checking the bathroom. Darn, wish I had thought of that idea. [By the way, the bathroom is a good place to take a breather from the crowding. Just don’t breathe too deeply.]

“I don’t understand how they can overbook. I mean, the computer tracks the ticket purchases so they should know when all the seats are taken,” a nerd said. Wait, that was me.

A man asked “Is it always like this?” An elderly woman responded, “Yes, every year.” Her elderly companion added, “They’re just greedy! There’s no other reason.”

When the TC finally came (it took her a while to climb over people), the passengers were surprisingly restrained. Only a few spoke out.

Man: “How could you overbook like this? There aren’t enough seats!”
TC: “We guaranteed passage, not a seat.”
Man: “Isn’t there a law against this?”
TC: “Like I said, we guaranteed passage, not a seat.”

After I got back home, I sent a letter to the Massachusetts and New York State Board of Transportation, the Federal Board of Transportation, the Boston Amtrak office, and the New York Amtrak office. I never got a reply from the government offices, but I did get an apology letter from Amtrak plus two $56 coupons.

Have I redeemed those coupons? Nope, it’ll be a cold day in Heck….

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Empire State Building: The Tower Of Heck

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dirigible_empirestatebuilding_unidentifiedartistSo I was in New York and I figured I should visit the Empire State Building. Unfortunately, so did every tourist on Manhattan Island. To reach the top, you must demonstrate great will power and resolve by standing in a long corral, eventually moving in a line which went round and round, up and up a windy staircase.

The so very long line was punctuated by several tiny elevators which every now and then, took you up a few floors to join other lines (what the hey?). Guides with magic wands controlled the elevators.

Eventually, I was almost there, about to go outside. I was in a long line which went back and forth, separated by cordons. So I was waiting patiently and a foreign European couple cut in front of me through a gap between two posts. They knew that the line was there but they just chose to ignore it. (If you hear Europeans complain about rude Americans, ignore them; they ain’t no saints either.)

Of course, when people cut lines, there are always lemmings more than willing to follow. So, I preemptedly reached forward, grabbed one of the post, and pushed the gap closed, blocking off two teenage girls who were about to cross. The people behind me laughed.

The lesson here is that there are better things to do in New York City then to waste several hours trying to reach the top of the Empire State Building. The same advice applies to the Statue of Liberty.

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The Whale-Watching Trip From Heck

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pushypenguin.gifRiptide, based in Half Moon Bay, offers whale-watching trips. Captain Smitty of the Riptide is the owner and operator of the 40 feet long ship, able to carry 20 whale-watching passengers.

On Saturday, Jan. 30, 1999, 16 passengers showed up. One passenger told Capt. Smitty that some of the fishermen had radioed-in that the waves were 4-5 feet high. Capt. Smitty reassured him that everything was going to be okay. So we left the harbor and from there, the trip went to heck. The waves tossed the small ship about, we were crammed into a tiny cabin with not enough seating, bodies were thrown about and bruised, and folks starting throwing up left and right.

Capt. Smitty and his mate were enjoying themselves up in the spacious cockpit, talking about what jobs they held in the past (I was right underneath and could hear them), and were totally oblivious to what their passengers were going through. Finally, we told Capt. Smitty to turn around.

When we got back, we were informed that there will be no refund (partial or otherwise). Sorry, Capt. Smitty said, when we came here in the morning, there weren’t a lot of wind. We left quickly, glad to be back on land.

On Monday (February 1) I sent an email to Capt. Smitty asking that we get a partial reimbursement (we had only used less than 2/3 of the time and fuel that we paid for). To date, I have not received a reply. Perhaps Riptide should change their name to Ripoff.

So, if you want to go whale watching, I recommend you go to Monterey Bay or Santa Cruz where huge whale-watching boats leave every hour. If you do decide on a small boat, make sure to get a weather report from an independent source. There’s bound to be another greedy skipper like Capt. Smitty out there.

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