Friday miscellany: What goes right and wrong on a complex day

Yesterday was a longish day, requiring some logistical planning to make the pieces fit.

I agreed to go into NYC to be on a panel hosted by my publisher for some younger journalists (who had won a fellowship I’d won many years ago). This gave me the opportunity to say hello to people at the publishing house and to folks in the fellows program. Very efficient!

When I go into NYC, I like to meet with other folks too, so I set up meetings with the editor on Off the Clock, and with my speaking agent.

On the home front, Thursday was also back-to-school night for my elementary-aged kids. Our school wisely splits the grades over the course of the evening (there are lots of people with at least 2 kids there). So I had the second grade open house from 6-6:45 p.m., and the fourth grade around 7-7:45 p.m. or so.

I also had choir practice from 7-9:30 p.m. and I needed to run my mile (well, 1.1 miles, per my particular streak rules). Yesterday was day #992 of the streak. I have a very strong interest in sticking it out to at least #1000.

In any case, I ensured I had kid coverage for the whole day. I woke up early to run my mile on the treadmill and get ready. While traffic was thicker than Google maps predicted, I got on a 7 a.m. train to NYC (with 7 minutes to spare…), and was marvelously productive the whole time. I took the subway north from Penn Station to Columbus Circle made it to my 9 a.m. breakfast meeting. I made it to my 10:30 coffee meeting. Both were great! I even took a call from a magazine writer at 11:30, and then went to my lunch and panel. I got back on the subway to go to Penn Station, arriving around 3:35 p.m. for my 4:02 p.m. Acela, which would deliver me to 30th St. Station in Philly at 5:10. That way I could get in my car and drive straight to the elementary school, arriving in a pleasingly prompt way for the 6 p.m. open house.

At least, that was the idea. Alas, Amtrak conspired against this plan. My train was delayed to 4:05 p.m., which didn’t seem bad, but this number then proceeded to go up in 3 minute increments, maddeningly, over and over. Turns out there were downed wires somewhere between NYC and New Haven (north of the city) so nothing southbound was going through for an uncertain amount of time.

Fortunately, as a veteran Amtrak rider, I had strategies. I tried to switch to the Keystone line, which originates at Penn, and runs to Harrisburg. These trains would not be affected by a north-of-NYC problem. Alas, this 4:03 train was sold out, with the next one scheduled quite a bit later. Then, after a fashion, I figured out that the 4:35 p.m. Northeast Regional train also originated in NYC, and so it would be on time even as the Northeast Regionals coming from Boston would be delayed. Miraculously, there were a few seats left when I made this discovery — I heard another passenger say it sold out promptly thereafter — so I grabbed one.

I was happy to be making southbound progress, but this was not a pleasant ride. On sold-out trains you use all seats, and this particular train had some unfortunate configuration (where I could find a spot) where two sets of seats faced each other but there wasn’t a table in between (as there is on the Acela versions of these). My foursome had our legs crammed against each other. OK for me as a 5’5″ person. I was feeling for the two young German men traveling to DC who were next to me and across from me and appeared to be 6’6″. Oh my goodness. There was much grumbling, which was then perpetually hushed by other riders because it was the quiet car.

Anyway, I couldn’t pull out my laptop so I scrolled on my phone, generally wasting time (I did read a book for about 20 minutes). We got into 30th St. Station shortly after 6 p.m. I got my car and drove in the rain and traffic toward the elementary school, hoping to make it in the 6-6:45 p.m. window. Then I realized that my past self had not been kind to my future self and…I was almost out of gas.

I pulled into the service station near the elementary school, and put about half a tank in, which is something I almost never do (so much more efficient to fill it completely) but I was making a calculation that the extra minute or two might matter.

I should note here why I was so intent on making it: many teachers have the students write the parents a note for the open house night, and then you write a note responding to your child, which the kid can read in class the next day. I needed to get to the classroom before my daughter’s teacher left for the evening so I could leave a note. If I failed at this — but did make it to my fourth grade son’s classroom — there was going to be unhappiness.

I pulled into the mess of cars at the elementary school at 6:47 and raced to the classroom where, happily, the second grade teacher was still answering parents’ questions. I got to say hello and write the note, festooned with little hearts and smiley faces. Victory!

Then it was on to the fourth grader’s room. I wrote his note, heard from his teacher, then drove to choir practice, arriving only 1 hour late — less late than I anticipated. We sang, and I got home at 9:40 p.m. My big three kids were still awake so I tucked them in and said goodnight and made it into bed myself by 10:30 p.m.

So the day mostly worked. While things didn’t go perfectly, I did accomplish my objectives. Getting to and from Philadelphia to NYC can work well, but sometimes it doesn’t. In this case, I’m glad my years of train travel management have taught me some useful lessons in triaging a situation. There are also other alternatives: NJ Transit to Secaucus or Newark and then taking an Uber, or doing Uber all the way from Penn (not so great, because you have to go through the Lincoln Tunnel, which almost always takes longer than the train).

Today I am pulling together all my small business taxes from 2018 to send to my accountant ahead of the October deadline (6 month extension from April). Perhaps I should have just done this all at the beginning of the year but…I guess my past self felt like sticking it to my future self again. Oh well.

One thing my past self did do well was purchase Hamilton tickets in the approximately 2 minute window they were available for the Philadelphia engagement. My husband and I are taking the two older boys this weekend — I’ll report back how it goes!

Photo: Apples. We went apple-picking last weekend, though it seems this photo is actually from 2018. 

5 thoughts on “Friday miscellany: What goes right and wrong on a complex day

  1. I’m pretty sure I would have bailed on choir practice after the day you had! But all in all you definitely accomplished a TON and made the most of a bad situation with the trains. (As a Midwesterner who never commutes via train, that explanation of figuring out which train to take sounded incredibly complex, but you clearly know what you’re doing!)

    1. @Sarah K – it’s all about where the train originates, and its line…Trains are great, but there’s usually only one northbound track and one southbound track, so wherever the block is, it affects everything that would pass that direction through that spot…

    1. @Marthe- good question. A bowl of soup from a take-out place in Penn, plus a Think bar I’d stashed in my purse. Not great, but not horrible.

      1. Well, at least you got something 🙂 I usually short-term-treat myself to the guilty pleasure of a certain global fast food chain with burgers.

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