Monday, July 25, 2005

Trak Hack Attack

We were in DC last weekend, finding the new, flash, most important and exclusive places to own. We started off with the Washington National Cathedral, where we had nuptials to witness. The Cathedral's an imposing structure, and like St John The Divine, here in New York, is a purpose-built Anglican/Episopal Cathedral. The ones in the UK had usually started life as Catholic churches, before being converted as part of the Reformation.

But we must say that the differences are negligible, if only because the wave of Episcopal church-building in the US took place in the nineteenth century, when the Gothic revival was in full swing. There are important differences with Catholic churches in the US, since interiors tend to be more spartan, but in outside appearances Episcopa structures are much of a muchness with their Papist counterparts. We were prevented from conducting a closer examination by virtue of being hideously late for the aforementioned holy matrimony, although we still got to sit in the spot reserved for the headmaster of St Albans National Cathedral School For Boys. Rock.

We trooped out past the grockles in the nave of the church and into the party bus, imagining that few moments that day would be as rockular as our time in the choir of the National Cathedral. And then we were dropped off at the Hay-Adams Hotel, and ushered up to the roof. Where we could quaff gin while looking down onto the gardens of the White House. Fortunately, the weather was fine, there was a slight breeze, and no-one was dim enough to wave any cardboard tubes around. So the drinks, and a dinner, passed off without a hitch. Now, normally drinks afterwards mere feet from actual cannon at the Army & Navy club would be a really big deal, but we just sort of went blah and drank vodka and smoked cigars instead.

We did find time to totally control and get there first to both L'Enfant (good-ish crepes and cheese, and Bordeaux. Lots of Bordeaux), and La Fourchette (likes babies, buttery mashed potatoes).

And so to the train back, and the tender mercies of Amtrak. Now Amtrak's got the security bug, and that's no bad thing, although we note with sadness the news that the Met shot an innocent Brazilian at Stockwell last week. And we note in advance of this rant that Amtrak's website does indeed have a list of times when it will ask for ID.

Which is what makes the behaviour of the conductor that day all the more dispiriting. We had presented a UK Driver's Licence to the chap along with our tickets and an ID belonging to Cutesome. In return we got a "what is this? I need a passport" from him. We explained to him that this was considered a valid ID since it was issued by the United Kingdom (it is possible that the EU flag, denoting that this is a form of ID used by a potential half billion people, confused him). At this point it s hard to work out whether he turned stupid or sarcastic, since he asked "what is this United Kingdom? Is it a state? This is worthless in this country. You know, we got terrorism now."

The big problem here is that it appears from the above-linked page that a UK licence, which has got us money at a bank, a rental car and entrance to the finest office buildings in the country, is indeed acceptable ID. The only places it will not take you are an aeroplane and ESPN Zone. The latter, as you can imagine, channelling Groucho Marx and images of rampaging guidos, is not causing us much lost sleep. The former we quite understand, since ID requiremments are applied consistently and vigorously before we even get on to the plane. Not in the form of mumbled insults halfway between DC and Baltimore

It is we guess, an inevitable part of the war on terrorism that sundry functionaries will feel enpowered as agents of National Security to act like fools. And by talking very slowly and being white we were able to convince the guy to drop it. But it's the nearest we've come to viewing first hand the effects of having poorly-trained and blinkered people providing Uncle Sam's outward face. We've been screwed several times by consular and immigration staff, but they, at least, kept it polite and professional while doing it.

Tell you what, Amtrak. You go and enforce universal ID requirements, do it consistently and professionally, and tell us exactly what you require. And in return we will go and take the plane, or maybe a nice immigrant-run Chinatown bus. How about that, you patronising scumclowns?

We just remembered this series of books from the 80s called The Amtrak Wars whereby Amtrak provided the kernel of a post-apocalyptic society on earth. At first glance the dapper uniforms might lend some weight to this idea. Having seen how their personnel react to unfamiliar pieces of paper, let alone nuclear weapons, we are much less convinced.

Coming up. Just how bad is Urb Magazine?


Post a Comment

<< Home