Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Tale of Three Conferences - Part 1

It was a whirlwind time from Wednesday, April 23 through Sunday, May 4. Planes, trains, cab, and my own two legs took me to New York City for the Good Experience Live and PodCampNYC conferences and then to Chicago for SOBCon08, the Business School for Bloggers. A series of travel adventures wrapped around some nuggets of good experiences and good conversations, meeting old friends and making new friends, with plenty of stories accumulated to replay beginning here.

I drove from Franklin down to Providence, RI to pick up the Amtrak Northeast Regional train down to New York’s Penn Station. It was easier to drive there, parking at the Providence Place Mall next to the train station than to go into Boston via car or train. This shortened the trip by at least an hour on each leg out and back. The Providence Place Mall provides covered parking with security and a location that works. The walk is a short one to the train station. I picked up my boarding pass from the automated teller and participated in a couple of conference calls while waiting for the train. I could have timed the drive differently. This way helped me balance work and travel.

The train was a few minutes late out of Boston but generally ran on time from Providence until just outside of NYC where we got held up due to construction which limited the trains to a single track. Once by the construction, Penn Station was only a few minutes away.

The return trip on Saturday was a slightly different story. While Amtrak boarded us on time, a series of announcements kept changing the story on departure time. We were going to be the “Last train to Boston” that night. The train that was supposed to take us had broken down earlier on the run up to NY. Amtrak had sent an Acela train to transfer the passengers from the broken unit to bring them to Penn Station. We needed to wait until they arrived before leaving. Fortunately, while we were already on a train, we wouldn’t have to leave. The Acela we found out can only stop at stations with high platforms; it doesn’t have the stairwell to reach ground level platforms. So we could sit, in relative comfort and wait. The announcements kept changing on how long we were going to be delayed. Initially it was one and a half hours, it shortened to 15-20 minutes and then lengthened back to one hour and three-quarters. We actually left two and a half hours after we were scheduled to. Watching the Amtrak folks, security patrols, etc. provided some entertainment during the wait.

As a study in contrasts, Southwest could provide a few lessons to Amtrak. The flight to Chicago was delayed at Providence due to a nasty set of storms rolling through the Midwest. At one point both airports (O’Hare and Midway) were closed. As the storms cleared and travel resumed, the Air Traffic Control centers in NY and Cincinnati clogged up delaying us further. Through all this, Southwest was marvelous. We had boarded and taxied out. They brought us back to the gate and allowed us to deplane. They kept us informed with updates every 20-30 minutes or when ever there was a significant development. Once airborne, the pilots really worked to keep us on an even flight path. It was one of the bumpier flights I have experienced. When we did touch down successfully, the passengers broke out into applause. The return trip via Southwest was uneventful. We left on time and returned early in much better weather.

What can one can about the New York City subway? It works. It is not glamorous. The architecture is interesting. The diversity of people are well worth watching.

I used the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) for the first time. The Orange Line runs from Midway Airport into downtown Chicago with multiple stops and connections along the way. It is reasonably priced at $1.75 per person one way. It is odd though that the fare card machine does not provide change for two one dollar bills. Keep that in mind for future travel to have some quarters handy. The CTA was clean, more presentable than NY, and operated effectively. The CTA personnel in the stations were quickly to help the obvious traveler in need. The Orange Line was completely above ground, indeed “elevated” in the famous Loop area, and as I was traveling in daylight, I was able to take a good bunch of photos.

to be continued...