The trip down is usually pretty easy. Shortly before the train arrives, you haul your stuff down to the proper platform and wait for the train to pull in. Providence is the third stop on the Northeast Regional line after it leaves Boston’s South Station for Washington, D.C. Because the train is almost never full when it reaches Providence and a number of people usually exit here, it’s nearly always easy to find a seat, or even two seats together.
It’s the return trip I dread. Amtrak has a waiting area at Penn, and it’s sparse and utilitarian but somewhat comfortable. So if you have enough time to kill that you’d like to sit through, but not enough to grab a beer somewhere, the waiting area is a reasonable option.
Just outside the waiting area, there’s a concourse, and it’s always full of people awaiting trains to Boston, Pittsburgh, Washington, Chicago, or wherever. Just a vast jumble of people watching the arrivals board to see whether their train’s delayed. But what everyone’s waiting to hear is the platform announcement. On either side of the long concourse are sets of escalators leading to and from the platforms. I suppose if you ride a given train on a daily basis, you may be able to make an educated guess about which platform your train will be using, but for the occasional rider, it’s a crap shoot.
So the PA announcer calls out your platform number: “Amtrak regional train 94 to Boston is now arriving on track 9E.” And suddenly there’s a stampede of people to the escalator for 9E.
If you just happen to be standing near that escalator, maybe you can be near the front of the line. Otherwise, you’re screwed, and you wind up near the middle or back somewhere, watching impotently as people cut the line in front of you. If you’re traveling with your family and a lot of bags, it’s even more difficult because you have to keep track of your people and your shit. Then you jostle down the escalator and file onto the train, hoping you get to actually sit with your traveling companion.
Saturday afternoon, however, on our return to Providence, my wife had a revelation. We were sitting in the waiting area, Julian in the Bjorn on Jen and me guarding our heaviest bags. “See whether we can get some help.” So I approached a red cap, one of the Amtrak station porters who assists passengers with boarding and stowing luggage. He asked me to show him where we were seated and said, “Stay right there, I got your back. I’ll come get you when the train arrives.”
Sure enough, about 15 minutes later, he came over with a hand truck, picked up some of our luggage, and motioned us to follow. He also assisted a woman traveling with a girl, and two young women traveling together, thus killing my assumption that porters were only there for the elderly, infirm, and families with babies. He took us down the elevator (which unfortunately smelled like urine — yay, Penn Station) to the platform, got us seated on the train, and stowed our heaviest baggage. I tipped him 10 bucks, and believe me, it was worth twice that.
We settled in, and it was at least 10 minutes before other passengers started to board. I’d so do this again, baby or not.