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A Flâneur in New York (and a bit of New Jersey) via Amtrak in COVID mode

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MARC Rider

Conductor
Joined
Apr 5, 2011
Messages
2,235
Location
Baltimore. MD
I read that Gov. Cuomo took my home state of Maryland off the New York "list of shame" and we from the Old Line State were now free to enter New York without a need to quarantine. This, combined with the improving weather, seemed to be a good opportunity to see what Amtrak has done to the NEC in these days of Corona and also to play the flaneur on the streets of Old New York.

What's a flaneur? Well, one might call him a "bum," except that he's a little to prosperous for that designation. Rather, he is a man of leisure, who has the opportunity wander the streets of the metropolis with no other purpose than to make acute observations of industrialized urban life. The term got its origins in 19th century Paris. Women can do this, too. The classic French term was "passante," though modern academics tend to use the term "flaneuse." The activity is known as "flânerie." See, isn't this great, all you need is to give something a French name to make "bumming around the city" into a fancy, high class intellectual adventure. I did have a few goals, though -- a visit to the Strand Book Store, a Pastrami sandwich at Katz's Deli, and some rail geekery.

There are only a few cities in the USA suitable for hard-core Flânerie. My home town of Baltimore barely makes the grade. Other East Coast cities that qualify are Washington, Philly, New York, and Boston. Chicago is also good, and on the west coast San Francisco. It's possible Seattle and Portland qualify, but I've never been there. Everywhere else (except for a few smaller neighborhoods) American cities are more built for driving around than walking around. It's a little hard to make "acute observations of industrialized urban life" when you have to watch out for oncoming traffic.

When I fired up the Amtrak app to get my tickets, the first thing that hit me was how many trains they've cancelled on the NEC. I could either take a 5:30 AM train, or I would have to wait until almost 8 AM for the next one. Well, I've had it with taking 5:30 AM trains, so I opted for NER 172, leaving at 7:50 something. The other thing was that this was the day after Labor Day, so all the morning trains were still at fairly high bucket. I had to pay $128 for a coach ticket. The return trains in the evening were much cheaper. Everything was $69. I decided on 55, the Vermonter (which apparently was only running from New Haven, if the departure board at New York Penn Station was correct), which was supposed to leave New York at 6:45 PM. I made the mistake of splurging for business class for this leg, as I though I might be able to luxuriate in the 2-1 club seating. Of course, I didn't get that, but all business class in the Corona era gives you two seats to yourself anyway. What was interesting is that they don't assign seats for business class on the Vermonter, unlike the Northeast Regional trains. Not that it mattered, in the end.

On the appointed morning, I awoke at the much more reasonable hour of 6 AM, and, after showering and dressing, I went outside and seated myself in our 19 year old 2001 Honda CR-V, which really needed some time on the road, this allowing my wife the ability to use our much newer Toyota RAV4 while I was off being a flaneur. It was actually a bit cool out, but the sun had not yet come up. The traffic into the city was, for it being the morning rush hour, very light. I quickly found my way to Baltimore Penn Station and found a spot in the (empty) parking garage right by the stairs. I then exited the car, donned my mask and went upstairs to the station.

20200908_073356.jpg
Is this Penn Station Baltimore, one of the 10 busiest stations in the Amtrak system? The departure board shows how the normal number of trains in America's busiest rail corridor has been trimmed back. Well, at least the Silver Meteor is running early ready to discharge arrivals from one of America's top COVID hot spots. :) Maybe it really is better that the place is so empty.

20200908_074606-crop.jpg
Down on the platform, here's a MARC MP36PH-3c pushing off for Washington.
20200908_075003-crop.jpg

And, finally, the Amtrak Sprinter heading up train 172. The "corona consist" appears to be 7 cars -- 5 coaches, a cafe car, and a business class car.

--to be continued
 

MARC Rider

Conductor
Joined
Apr 5, 2011
Messages
2,235
Location
Baltimore. MD
To ensure maximal social distancing, I took a seat in the first car of the train. This seemed to work pretty well, at least until Philly, where quite a number of people boarded. However, at no time did I have a seatmate, so Amtrak is probably telling the truth about only selling 50% of the seats on the train.

20200908_084933.jpg

Because the Dunkin Donuts in the station was closed, I was going to need to get some breakfast from the cafe car. As soon as the conductor scanned my ticket (we were still in the tunnel), I popped up and headed to the rear. Of course, wouldn't it be typical that at that point, the power went out. It popped back on again, and then, by the time I got to the cafe car, it was out again.

"Sorry," the very nice cafe attendant said as he was busy doing setup (45 minutes after departure from Washington), "with the power off, there's no coffee, and I can't toast your bagel." He also told me his hours had been cut back, so he wasn't able to do setup until the train left Washington. I waited for a while, and the power didn't come back on, which was a bit weird, because the train was still moving, at times pretty quickly. Usually when the interior power dies, the engine eventually comes to a stop, but we were still moving along. Finally, I decided to return to my seat, and wouldn't you know, when I was halfway through the second coach, the power came back on. So back to to the cafe car, where the nice attendant prepared me a toasted Am-bagel, cream cheese, a strawberry Greek (style) yogurt (made in New York State), and a cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee. There was no fresh cut fruit, as has been discussed elsewhere on Amtrak Unlimited. Fortunately, I had been prepared for this eventuality by ingesting some Metamucil before leaving home.

20200908_081244.jpg

The rest of the ride was pretty uneventful. There was some track work that slowed us down a bit a little beyond North Philadelphia. As we passed the work locomotive (and, apparently the end of the track work), our engineer tooted the "shave and a haircut, two bits" tune on his horn. I don't know whether that's regulation, but it was an amusing entertainment during the ride.

Once we got to Trenton, though, our train became the equivalnet of a NJT express. We stopped at Princeton Junction, New Brunswick, Metropark, Newark Airport, and Newark. I'm surprised we didn't stop at Secaucus Jct.! I'm sure I've taken 172 in the past, and I don't remember it making all of these New Jersey stops. Despite all of the stops and the fact that we mostly loafed along at 100 mph, occasionally hitting 110 and 115, we got into New York on time. In fact, we had to wait in the tunnel a bit until they could clear a platform at Penn for us. All of this explains why this BAL-NYP run was scheduled for 2:50 instead of the usual 2:40.

20200908_101635-crop.jpg

A view of the monorail at the Newark Airport station.

20200908_104538.jpg
Ascending from the platform at New York Penn. Seems like we're skating on the edge of the social-distancing protocols, but everyone was masked.

20200908_104611.jpg

The Amtrak concourse at New York Penn. Looks a bit crowded, but it's nothing like the usual crowd at 10:45 AM on a weekday. There are Labor Day stragglers here, too.

20200908_105511.jpg
On the other hand, here's the Club Acela. Totally empty. It seems to have recovered from its nadir of the last few years. The coffee machines are working (though it's Dowe Egbert's coffee concentrate), there are cold drinks in the fridge, and an array of pastries in the morning and chips in the evening. I just did a quick pit stop here upon arrival, and then it's time for flânerie on the streets of New York.

--to be continued
 

PVD

Conductor
Joined
Jul 8, 2015
Messages
4,897
Location
NYC/Queens
The D-E machines can be very good if the concentrate purchased is a good one. They sell different blends and it makes a big difference. So does the water.
 

MARC Rider

Conductor
Joined
Apr 5, 2011
Messages
2,235
Location
Baltimore. MD
As I said, the Club Acela at New York Penn has been improved from my visit last year, but I am still eagerly awaiting the completion of the New Moynihan Train Hall or whatever they're going to call it...

Fortified by my pit stop, I headed east through the underground labyrinth (well, it's actually a pretty straight walk from the Club Acela) to the 7th Avenue entrance. Up the escalator, and on to the street20200908_110023.jpg
What's this? Midtown, Seventh Avenue at 32nd St. at 11 AM on a weekday? Kind of empty here, but everyone who is out is wearing a mask. (I later found that many people don't wear them if walking alone and with nobody nearby, but compliance inside stores and subways and such is pretty much 100%.)

My plan was to not immediately head for the subway to get where I was going, but rather savor the (less crowded) streets of the city on foot. I was headed for the Strand Bookstore at 12th and Broadway. Google Maps said it was about a 30 minute walk. The temperature was warming up, but it never went above 85. On the shady sides of streets it was quite peasant, but on the sunny side, the brain could get a bit fried. I had packed only 1 small 330 ml bottle of water comped to me the last time I rode the Acela first class. Fortunately, there are lots of places in New York City where you can buy bottles of water.

I headed east on 32nd St and instead of turning at Broadway, I walked another block through Koreatown, as I was formulating a plan to have some Korean cuisine for dinner and wanted to check out what was available,

20200908_110746.jpg
Lots of places were open with the parking lanes reserved for alfresco dining. Very little was open at this point in the morning.

I turned south on Fifth avenue...

20200908_111544-crop.jpg
While gawking at the Museum of Sex at 27th St. (No, I didn't go in), I didn't notice the van parked alongside that appears to be festooned with a nasty ethnic slur, at least not until after I looked at the picture later. There must be an explanation . . . the thought occurs to me that it might be "Geek," and not the word I think it is. After all, I can understand how nasty slurs can propagate in the dark corners of the Internet, but posting such an obvious one on a van in New York City would be inviting vandalism.

20200908_111656-crop.jpg

Here's the Flatiron Building, across from Madison Square.

20200908_113847.jpg

Here's Union Square, 14th and Broadway, with the top of the Empire State Building in the background. Almost at the Strand!

I shouldn't have bothered rushing. I arrived at about 11:40, and the store doesn't open until 12. I fiddled around with Google maps to decide that maybe I should just go to Katz's and come back, but it seemed like too much walking, and the subway wan't much faster. So I hung around.

20200908_115440.jpg
The spaced the book carts 6 ft apart along 12th St, and we lined up, social distancing waiting to enter. They opened on time, and I had a fun time going through the books, even finding a few, fortunately lighter paperbacks, as I was going to have to carry them in my backpack the rest of the day.

Soon it was time to go, but first I needed to attend to "nature's call." But what was this? All the restrooms were closed? For "health reasons?" Uh-oh. Well, on the the street and down 4th Avenue, and then the Bowery towards Katz's. My first though was to get a drink at Starbucks and use the restroom, by, no the restrooms were closed! Then I went into a CVS, and unlike the drugstores in Charm City (aka Baltimore), New York drugstores don't seems to be equipped with public restrooms. You might have thought, what the heck, I'm on the Bowery, why not do it.... but, no, the Bowery is actually kind of gentrified these days. Yes, it seems like parts of Manhattan have problems with restroom availability, which is a bit of a downer for a guy who is not only getting older, but who is also taking diuretics for treatment of blood pressure. More on this pressing issue later in the day.

All I could do was soldier on to Houston Street, past the Yonah Shimmel knish bakery and the Russ and Daughters appetizing store. The knish shop was closed, and there was a socially distanced line out into the sidewalk at Russ and Daughters. Another block, and I arrived at Katz's. Finally to sample the trifecta of New York Delis, specifically their pastrami.

I have already sampled The Second Avenue Deli in Midtown and Liebman's Deli in Riverdale, the Bronx. These two are kosher; Katz's is not. All of them have really good pastrami, pastrami that beats anything I can get in Baltimore or even Philly, Chicago, Miami, whatever. (Not that the other stuff is bad.) The next best pastrami I can think of is from Loeb's NY Deli in downtown Washington.

The Katz experience has been a bit altered because of COVID. The large dining area is now empty, and there are some tables on the sidewalk, though I think most patrons are just doing carryout. They also now have online ordering, which means that their long tradition of cash only has ended -- I paid with a credit card. But otherwise, it still works the same. You enter and are given a ticket and are directed to a "cutter" for your sandwich.

20200908_134525-crop.jpg

You order your sandwich, "pastrami on rye with mustard" (never mayo!), and the cutter cuts the meat. By hand. With a knife. None of these fancy circular deli slicers here. He gives you a couple of pieces of cut meat on a small plate for you to sample. Mmmmm-good. After he puts the sandwich together, he takes out half the pickle barrel, and you get 2 half-sours and 2 well-done pickles. He takes your ticket marks it, wraps everything up, and sends you with your sandwich to another person who gives out drinks. I got a can of Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray Tonic, the only thing to drink with a pastrami sandwich. Then over to pay. At this point, I found out that Katz's restrooms were, indeed open, a great relief for me!

On the way out, I surrender my ticket to the doorman and show him the credit card receipt. In the traditional Katz's experience, you'd eat first in the dining room, then pay (cash only) on the way out. Don't lose your ticket! I went out and was lucky enough to find an empty table on the sidewalk that was even in the shade. Here I enjoyed my sandwich. At $23 a sandwich, I'd better enjoy it!

20200908_135329 crop.jpg

The pastrami was really, really good, but boy do they give you a lot. I couldn't finish the whole thing, so I wrapped it up and had it the next day. I think Katz's pastrami is the best, but just to be sure, I'll have to go back up and retry the Second Avenue Deli and Liebmans again.

Now, with a full belly, I was fortified and ready to start the next stage of my flânerie, New York railfan geekery.

-To be continued.
 
Last edited:

PVD

Conductor
Joined
Jul 8, 2015
Messages
4,897
Location
NYC/Queens
Geek Squad vehicles are from the "Best Buy" electronics stores....Love Katz's, my need to reduce sodium intake keeps me away more than I like. There are a number of places that still have very good corned beef, but the purveyors of really good pastrami are few and far between. Miss my trips into Manhattan just to wander around. For many years I worked out of offices either on 34th or 35th street, and have had NY Rangers tickets at MSG for 39 years, so I used to be in that area all the time. Also not far from NYP is B&H Photo/Video, one of the best stores around. (they have a great website, but actually have an enormous selection on display and available to handle)
 

Bob Dylan

Conductor
Joined
May 31, 2009
Messages
20,486
Location
Austin Texas
As I said, the Club Acela at New York Penn has been improved from my visit last year, but I am still eagerly awaiting the completion of the New Moynihan Train Hall or whatever they're going to call it...

Fortified by my pit stop, I headed east through the underground labyrinth (well, it's actually a pretty straight walk from the Club Acela) to the 7th Avenue entrance. Up the escalator, and on to the streetView attachment 19093
What's this? Midtown, Seventh Avenue at 32nd St. at 11 AM on a weekday? Kind of empty here, but everyone who is out is wearing a mask. (I later found that many people don't wear them if walking alone and with nobody nearby, but compliance inside stores and subways and such is pretty much 100%.)

My plan was to not immediately head for the subway to get where I was going, but rather savor the (less crowded) streets of the city on foot. I was headed for the Strand Bookstore at 12th and Broadway. Google Maps said it was about a 30 minute walk. The temperature was warming up, but it never went above 85. On the shady sides of streets it was quite peasant, but on the sunny side, the brain could get a bit fried. I had packed only 1 small 330 ml bottle of water comped to me the last time I rode the Acela first class. Fortunately, there are lots of places in New York City where you can buy bottles of water.

I headed east on 32nd St and instead of turning at Broadway, I walked another block through Koreatown, as I was formulating a plan to have some Korean cuisine for dinner and wanted to check out what was available,

View attachment 19094
Lots of places were open with the parking lanes reserved for alfresco dining. Very little was open at this point in the morning.

I turned south on Fifth avenue...

View attachment 19095
While gawking at the Museum of Sex at 27th St. (No, I didn't go in), I didn't notice the van parked alongside that appears to be festooned with a nasty ethnic slur, at least not until after I looked at the picture later. There must be an explanation . . . the thought occurs to me that it might be "Geek," and not the word I think it is. After all, I can understand how nasty slurs can propagate in the dark corners of the Internet, but posting such an obvious one on a van in New York City would be inviting vandalism.

View attachment 19096

Here's the Flatiron Building, across from Madison Square.

View attachment 19097

Here's Union Square, 14th and Broadway, with the top of the Empire State Building in the background. Almost at the Strand!

I shouldn't have bothered rushing. I arrived at about 11:40, and the store doesn't open until 12. I fiddled around with Google maps to decide that maybe I should just go to Katz's and come back, but it seemed like too much walking, and the subway wan't much faster. So I hung around.

View attachment 19098
The spaced the book carts 6 ft apart along 12th St, and we lined up, social distancing waiting to enter. They opened on time, and I had a fun time going through the books, even finding a few, fortunately lighter paperbacks, as I was going to have to carry them in my backpack the rest of the day.

Soon it was time to go, but first I needed to attend to "nature's call." But what was this? All the restrooms were closed? For "health reasons?" Uh-oh. Well, on the the street and down 4th Avenue, and then the Bowery towards Katz's. My first though was to get a drink at Starbucks and use the restroom, by, no the restrooms were closed! Then I went into a CVS, and unlike the drugstores in Charm City (aka Baltimore), New York drugstores don't seems to be equipped with public restrooms. You might have thought, what the heck, I'm on the Bowery, why not do it.... but, no, the Bowery is actually kind of gentrified these days. Yes, it seems like parts of Manhattan have problems with restroom availability, which is a bit of a downer for a guy who is not only getting older, but who is also taking diuretics for treatment of blood pressure. More on this pressing issue later in the day.

All I could do was soldier on to Houston Street, past the Yonah Shimmel knish bakery and the Russ and Daughters appetizing store. The knish shop was closed, and there was a socially distanced line out into the sidewalk at Russ and Daughters. Another block, and I arrived at Katz's. Finally to sample the trifecta of New York Delis, specifically their pastrami.

I have already sampled The Second Avenue Deli in Midtown and Liebman's Deli in Riverdale, the Bronx. These two are kosher; Katz's is not. All of them have really good pastrami, pastrami that beats anything I can get in Baltimore or even Philly, Chicago, Miami, whatever. (Not that the other stuff is bad.) The next best pastrami I can think of is from Loeb's NY Deli in downtown Washington.

The Katz experience has been a bit altered because of COVID. The large dining area is now empty, and there are some tables on the sidewalk, though I think most patrons are just doing carryout. They also now have online ordering, which means that their long tradition of cash only has ended -- I paid with a credit card. But otherwise, it still works the same. You enter and are given a ticket and are directed to a "cutter" for your sandwich.

View attachment 19100

You order your sandwich, "pastrami on rye with mustard" (never mayo!), and the cutter cuts the meat. By hand. With a knife. None of these fancy circular deli slicers here. He gives you a couple of pieces of cut meat on a small plate for you to sample. Mmmmm-good. After he puts the sandwich together, he takes out half the pickle barrel, and you get 2 half-sours and 2 well-done pickles. He takes your ticket marks it, wraps everything up, and sends you with your sandwich to another person who gives out drinks. I got a can of Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray Tonic, the only thing to drink with a pastrami sandwich. Then over to pay. At this point, I found out that Katz's restrooms were, indeed open, a great relief for me!

On the way out, I surrender my ticket to the doorman and show him the credit card receipt. In the traditional Katz's experience, you'd eat first in the dining room, then pay (cash only) on the way out. Don't lose your ticket! I went out and was lucky enough to find an empty table on the sidewalk that was even in the shade. Here I enjoyed my sandwich. At $23 a sandwich, I'd better enjoy it!

View attachment 19101

The pastrami was really, really good, but boy do they give you a lot. I couldn't finish the whole thing, so I wrapped it up and had it the next day. I think Katz's pastrami is the best, but just to be sure, I'll have to go back up and retry the Second Avenue Deli and Liebmans again.

Now, with a full belly, I was fortified and ready to start the next stage of my flânerie, New York railfan geekery.

-To be continued.
We all were saddened when Katzs New York Deli closed here in Austin!

For some reason Delis just cant stay in Business here, but the Bagel places seem to do OK since Austin has so many imported " Yankees"!;)
This makes me think of last years Gathering in Dallas when so many AUers ate @ Cindis Deli across from Union Station.( I know its not as good, but you said it was OK!)
 

Barb Stout

OBS Chief
Joined
Mar 13, 2019
Messages
529
On the way out, I surrender my ticket to the doorman and show him the credit card receipt. In the traditional Katz's experience, you'd eat first in the dining room, then pay (cash only) on the way out. Don't lose your ticket! I went out and was lucky enough to find an empty table on the sidewalk that was even in the shade. Here I enjoyed my sandwich. At $23 a sandwich, I'd better enjoy it!

View attachment 19101
Wow, I don't think I can open my mouth that wide to eat that.
 

PVD

Conductor
Joined
Jul 8, 2015
Messages
4,897
Location
NYC/Queens
I'm thinking about sending a shipment out to my sister in Phoenix. They ship overnight. Not cheap, but who cares. There are a couple of decent Kosher style delis in Phoenix, they aren't cheap either, they have the market top themselves. I used to teach Solar and Alternative Energy for electrical apprentices at a satellite facility we had just North of the Trade Center site. I used to drop off one of the other instructors at his apt near Katz's just so I had an excuse to stop.....(if Glenn wasn't teaching, I used to go home a different way and stop at a deli on Queens Blvd that was almost as good. They even had a segment on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.. (Owner retired, they are sadly gone.)
 

railiner

Conductor
Joined
Mar 20, 2009
Messages
8,277
Location
Palm Beach County
I'm thinking about sending a shipment out to my sister in Phoenix. They ship overnight. Not cheap, but who cares. There are a couple of decent Kosher style delis in Phoenix, they aren't cheap either, they have the market top themselves. I used to teach Solar and Alternative Energy for electrical apprentices at a satellite facility we had just North of the Trade Center site. I used to drop off one of the other instructors at his apt near Katz's just so I had an excuse to stop.....(if Glenn wasn't teaching, I used to go home a different way and stop at a deli on Queens Blvd that was almost as good. They even had a segment on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.. (Owner retired, they are sadly gone.)
Are you old enough to remember the "Host" and the "Royal" in the neighborhood? ;)
 

PVD

Conductor
Joined
Jul 8, 2015
Messages
4,897
Location
NYC/Queens
Host was Kissena Blvd, and where Napoli Pizza is now was the other deli, was that Royal or Star?
 

PVD

Conductor
Joined
Jul 8, 2015
Messages
4,897
Location
NYC/Queens
Ben's Best on Queens Blvd was a pretty good deli. Used to stop sometimes when I taught at 25 Park Pl. Got bonus miles on AA when I went their. Losing the parking lane killed them.
 

Dakota 400

Conductor
Joined
Mar 5, 2014
Messages
2,178
Wow, I don't think I can open my mouth that wide to eat that.
Me neither! Anymore, most burgers and other sandwiches that are available at restaurants are so thick that they are nearly impossible to eat as a "sandwich". What's the point of making so large?
 

PVD

Conductor
Joined
Jul 8, 2015
Messages
4,897
Location
NYC/Queens
Thank you to all who gave me the idea....Just pulled the trigger on the gift box for my sister and brother in law...1 lb brisket w/gravy 1lb of pastrami, 1 lb nova lox, 6 bagels box of rugelach, 4 knishes, qt of pickles, and a half a loaf of rye bread...
 

jiml

Conductor
Joined
Feb 27, 2019
Messages
1,738
Location
Toronto area
Thank you to all who gave me the idea....Just pulled the trigger on the gift box for my sister and brother in law...1 lb brisket w/gravy 1lb of pastrami, 1 lb nova lox, 6 bagels box of rugelach, 4 knishes, qt of pickles, and a half a loaf of rye bread...
Cost.jpg

;)
 

PVD

Conductor
Joined
Jul 8, 2015
Messages
4,897
Location
NYC/Queens
$150 with the guaranteed overnight for delivery (I scheduled for Friday) There are other options, that one looked about right for them...
 

jiml

Conductor
Joined
Feb 27, 2019
Messages
1,738
Location
Toronto area
$150 with the guaranteed overnight for delivery (I scheduled for Friday) There are other options, that one looked about right for them...
To a devout deli fan that sounds like a bargain! Dunn's in Montreal used to do something similar (and perhaps still do), but some of their key items are sporadically available at Costco here.
 

PVD

Conductor
Joined
Jul 8, 2015
Messages
4,897
Location
NYC/Queens
To bring this back to walking around NYC, there is a Ben's location at 38th St just West of 7th Ave, no indoor dining for a few more weeks...takeout and delivery...
 
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