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IBIT Trip Log: NY to GHANA

Second in a series

Acela Express train at Union Station, Washington DC. $copy;IBIT Photo. All rights reserved.

Acela Express train at Union Station, Washington DC. $copy;IBIT Photo. All rights reserved.

Twenty-four hours of planes, trains and automobiles en route to West Africa.

06 NOV — OGO
By far, the highlight of my weekend in New York City was my reunion with my friend, Ogo, of Senegal. We met five years ago when he graciously included me in his group going to the Gambia for the International Roots Festival. We had not seen each other since then.

Like me, professional roots in journalism. Like me, passionate about Africa and African travel. But he’s been toiling in that vineyard a lot longer than I, with tireless optimism. Unlike me, he doesn’t look as if he’s aged a day in five years.

We go on a brief walking tour of his Brooklyn neighborhood before heading for El Rey II restaurant for a leisurely catch-up chat over a couple of bowls of sancocho.

07 NOV
0600 New York — hello and good-bye

My 26.5-hour travel day starts now. I bid a fond farewell to the Fairfield Inn in Astoria, Queens, across from LaGuardia. Basic, comfy, zero bedbugs.The next time I hit a bed, God willing, I will be in Africa.

The ride from Queens over the Queensboro Bridge to Manhattan is a glimpse of New York in microcosm. Students with backpacks and quilted short-waisted jackets over hoodies. Construction workers in big-toed boots and grimy jeans, orange safety vests and decal-covered hardhats. Office workers in their unisex autumn uniforms — black slacks, long black coats and gray wool scarves. The streets are full of Yellow Cabs, the sidewalks flowing with people full with grim Monday morning purpose.


0740 — NY Penn Station

My first time here. Before, I knew it only by its reputation with the New Yorkers who use it daily, much of which cannot be repeated in polite company. Simply put, they hate this place. It seems to function well enough, but saying it functions is not the same thing as saying it works.

acela-interior

Some of that hostility is explained by the history. The original Penn Station was a gem, an elegant palace of rail travel, on a par with Grand Central Terminal. It was razed to make way for Madison Square Garden and replaced with…this mess. Large, bewildering, with all the charm of a bus garage.

If your first experience with NY rail travel is Grand Central, this place will leave you cold, at best. It’s an artless, soulless structure, utilitarian and nothing more. Grand Central makes you want to hang around. Penn just makes you want to get out as fast as you can.

0900 — aboard Train 2151, Amtrak Acela Express
My first time on America’s fastest train, and what passes for high-speed rail in the United States. Think of it as semi-high-speed rail, because the train doesn’t travel anywhere near as fast as t’s capable of. Blame the antiquated rails of the Eastern Seaboard for that.

Still, the speed is enjoyable. In the time it takes me to drink half a small bottle of water, we’re in New Jersey. Given a choice between this and flying, I’d do Acela every time.

Still, it’s not exactly perfection on rails. Acela may be faster than anything else Amtrak owns, but the ride will not remind you of the smoothness of the French TGV or the German ICE train. How rough is it? If you recall the shaving scene from Airplane II: The Sequel, you get the idea.

1340 — Washington-Dulles International Airport (IAD)
Check-in at South African Airways was buttery-smooth, as it always is. Boarding starts at 1630, wheels up at 1740. Getting work done and killing brain cells a the first bar I’ve ever seen with electric outlets.

NEXT: Welcome to Ghana

Greg Gross is the Publisher/Sr. Editor of “I’m Black and I Travel!,” and the owner of the Trips by Greg travel agency, specializing in cultural and heritage travel worldwide.

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