Thursday, January 6, 2011

Baby Tourist Rides the Rails

So for those of you haven't heard, in June of this past year, I had a baby girl.  I am happy (but in no way smug) to report that she is healthy, beautiful and gloriously friendly with everyone she meets. Seriously, she's a smile machine.

All through my pregnancy, (as I visited such destinations as L.A., New York, Singapore, Edinburgh, Hong Kong, etc.) I was assured by many loving and well-intentioned associates that the impending birth would be the death of my globetrotting.  "You won't be able to travel with a baby!" was practically the chorus of my 2010.

Needless to say, these loving and well-intentioned associates (some of whom never travel more than 20 miles at a time themselves) were all dead wrong.  My baby travels.  She travels because she's healthy (danken Gott), because her family is scattered throughout the U.S., and because her mother likes to.  At almost seven months, she has been to Alaska, California, Delaware and New York, and she has ridden the train seven times.

Five of those trips were on Amtrak Northeast Regional trains.  Some thoughts on the experiences:

1. It's all about the café car. When she was brand-new, (about six weeks old) I thought nothing sitting in a regular coach seat and holding her in her baby wrap for the whole trip.  Now that she's bigger and we're slightly sick of each other, we like the extra space provided by nabbbing a seat in the café car.  Baby can stretch out on her back on the table and take a nice nap while you sip some it-could-be-worse Amtrak coffee.  (Warning: always keep a hand on your baby lest the train brake suddenly and baby go flying.)

2. There are NO changing tables in Amtrak Northeast Regional trains or Accela trains.  None.  To add insult to injury, there's a depression in the wall of each restroom where you can tell the changing table was supposed to go.  Amtrak loves to tout how family-friendly it is, but I ask you: how family-friendly can you be when your passengers must balance their babies on slippery plastic toilet-seat lids in order to change their diapers?

(Side note: you can also use the folding side panel near the toilet (designed, I guess, for the ease and comfort of disabled passengers) as a changing table, but that requires you to crouch on one knee in the restroom, as opposed to bending over at the waist.  Oh, the choices!)

(Side side note: I also once found myself on a United flight that had no changing tables, but that's a rant for another post.)

3.  People see you with a baby on the train, they will talk to you.  It doesn't matter if you're reading or your baby just fell asleep.  Babies are like celebrities.  In their presence, most people have to stop and say something obvious.  If you take advantage of the café car, this will be especially true.  Also, if you stand up, or move at all, someone (most likely a beaming older woman) will offer you help.  If you don't need help, if for example you are just adjusting your Moby wrap and trying to remember which pocket contains your wallet, this might confuse or even startle you.  Don't worry.  This woman is probably not going to proselytize to you or try to sell you Mary Kay.  Odds are, she's just fondly recalling her baby days and wants a little taste of what you've got.  Be gracious.  Simper.  Say, "Thank you."  Whenever possible, allow her to "help" you.  Because before you know it, you'll be her.

4. Don't be such a big shot: ask for the Red Cap service.  Even if you're traveling light and don't need it, mention to the conductor that you'd like Red Cap service when you arrive at your destination.  You can even couch this request thusly, "I'm not going to need a 'Red Cap' per se, but..." and the conductor will get it.  This will ensure that you have enough time to get off the train, which with a baby in tow can often take a little extra time.  Not much.  Maybe an additional thirty seconds.  Point is, you don't want to miss your stop or have to stand in the dangerous vestibule with all its metal handholds (conveniently placed at chest-height or the height of a baby's skull while being carried) when you could be sipping the last of your not-terrible-when-you-really-consider-it Amtrak coffee and double-checking the seat to make sure that none of Baby's many many accessories are about to be left behind.

5. Amtrak employees are kid-friendly.  While the restrooms leave a lot to be desired, all of the Amtrak employees that I have encountered since I started traveling with a baby have been kind, friendly and patient.  Now it might help that my baby is an established smile-machine and could probably charm a smile out of Dick Cheney himself, and it definitely helps that most Amtrak employees have good customer-service skills in general (in my humble tourist opinion), but it is still worth noting that they have been especially courteous since I strapped a little one to my chest and climbed abroad.  Here she is with her new friend, Greg the engineer.  Greg wasn't even working that day but he graciously watched the baby for me while I fetched myself another cup of you-really-can't-complain Amtrak coffee.

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