Thursday, September 21, 2006
I went to the Newark train station to pick up my Amtrak tickets. I'd tried to get them at New York Penn Station yesterday, but the line had been too long.
That's what happened to me in 2001 too. I had a vague recollection of taking the PATH to Newark from 9th Street in order to avoid the enormous queue.
When you have nothing more than a claim code, you have to go to the ticket window. The machines only work if you are buying a ticket. In 2001, I had a journalist's discount. This time, I am working and my ticket is part of the job.
The job is for Amtrak. Sad but true--considering I've written three books, copy, and dozens of magazine and web articles--it's the first time I'll have been paid a living wage for a writing gig. Even sadder? Every penny of my compensation will go to the new roof my building does not need.
I waited in line at Newark for 40 seconds, then read my claim code out to the woman behind the counter.
"JAAA-vins?" She asked.
"Yes." It's pointless to correct someone's pronunciation (JAY-vins) when you'll never see them again.
"Where's your voucher?"
Er... wha..? Act like you have no idea what she's talking about. Easy to do, since I had no idea what she was talking about.
"Voucher? I don't have one. Do I need one?" I thought back... had there been an attachment to the email? I wasn't sure. I hadn't looked closely.
She eyeballed me suspiciously.
"You're going to Montreal on the 10th and coming back the next day?"
"Yes." Should I explain to her that I was on assignment, writing for her very own employer's website? No, explaining too much always makes trouble. My mind went back to Turbo at the Niagara Falls border post, where he cheerfully volunteered that he was visiting me "in New Jersey" right before I presented (swearing internally) a California driver's license.
She reviewed my itinerary in silence.
"Do I need a voucher?" I asked again.
She pushed a few buttons, then got up to collect a printout.
"I don't know if you need a voucher, but you're acting all clan-des-tine and stuff. You gotta talk to me."
When she returned, I babbled "I'm writing about the autumn leaves for the Amtrak website."
That made her happy. She smiled and handed over my tickets.