The Race to the Start Line


I begin this blog with a smattering of text messages both incoming and outgoing over a 24 hour span that may add some contextual color to my story.

Arielle: can you reforward the confirmation email? Nothing was attached.
Me: Ughh. A typical Amanda move. I’m prompting for 3 more hours. Fail. Here’s my email password don’t make fun of it you can just log into my gmail and get it yourself okay thanks again
——-
Mom: Grandma says make sure your stuff is close by when you are sleeping on the train.
Me: Thanks not my first rodeo.
————
Arielle: What are you going to do with your stuff when you get to dc? Remember last year they made you empty your entire backpack?
Me: Well I’m just planning on packing really lightly and if I don’t have time to drop my stuff off I’ll just run with it over my shoulder.
Arielle: Umm okay I can give you pajamas and like soap and whatever else obviously also.
——-
Kristen: So like 8:15? Where should I pick you up?
Me: yup that’s perfect! Lets just meet at building 9.
—–
These all stemmed from my travel plans in which I booked a trip to DC. Despite limited time off from work (a day), I decided to go anyway.
Lamenting to my mother on the phone about my lack of time off, she replied, “So you have Sunday off and the race is Sunday, right?”
“Yes mom.”
“And you don’t work until Monday at 5:30 pm?”
“Yup.”
“Then what’s the problem?”

This is where I get it from. That same week, my dad went to Australia for less than a week to visit his brother. The Anderson motto has always been “better to go than to not go at all.” One time in we squeezed a day trip in 3 hours away all before our flight at 2 in the afternoon.

So it was without much hesitation that I booked a one-way train from New Haven, CT to DC and a return flight to Hartford on Southwest. A little on the pricey side for a trip lasting just over 24 hours, but I justified it because I was booking it for health purposes. I was running in Washington’s Cherry Blossom 10 Mile race with my Maryland friends. As much of a cheapskate as I am, with a little justification I can splurge on anything if I spin it correctly. In fact, on my Mint.com budget tracker, I actually have a category tagged as “investment in self.” So I simply tagged the flight and train accordingly and never looked back.

It’s funny how few precautions actually cross my mind before I do something. This trip was nothing short of impulsive. I guess you could say I am at that critical time in my life, a midlife crisis if you will. I’ve been working for nearly 5 whole months, and well, that means I have just a few more until I invent the next Sunggie/marry rich/win the lottery. Problem is, these have not panned out yet, which has my hand resting on the panic button, or in this case, my mouse on the “book now” button on Amtrak.com.

But the real issue at hand was I hadn’t been to Maryland and DC since I graduated 9 months ago, and the real world takes a toll on me. The fact that I need to ask permission 2 months in advance to go somewhere for a day hangs like a constant cloud over my head and weighs every step I take down with a ball and chain. I have always I prided myself on my stellar disappearing act. Though not a rebellious-my-parents-were-helicopters college kid, I would take a Megabus up to New York and then call my parents from 5th Ave to let them know I made it.

“Made it where?” They’d ask.

“Oh, I didn’t tell you? I’m visiting Kelly in New York for the day.”

“Okay have fun, honey.”

I disappeared without telling people so often that one of my roommates in college was convinced I lived a secret life moonlighting as the matron of a prostitute ring, which to me was nothing short of a compliment. It sounded way cooler than my unpaid internship at a foreign policy magazaine in D.C.

So for old times’ sake, I didn’t tell anyone my intentions until a few days before my trip, I guess because I hadn’t really devised a solid plan until then. Luckily with a little help from several friends, I was able to get as close to a functioning plan as possible. I first texted my friend Diego at 1 in the morning to see if he could drive me to work in just a few hours later at 8:00 am the next day, because my other friend Kristen volunteered her entire Saturday night to drive me from work to the train station about 45 minutes away. Throw in Arielle picking up my race packet on Friday and Kelly picking me up at Bradley Airport upon my Monday return, and I have an itinerary. And some pretty great sucker friends.

The game plan I came up with was this: get off of work at 8 pm, take a midnight train from New Haven, CT arrive at Washington’s Union Station at 7 am. Run Cherry Blossom 10 miler at 7:30. Hang out in DC in the day, College Park at night and stay over at Arielle’s (my little for those of you fluent in Greek life) apartment. Fly back, shower go to work a few hours later. What could possibly go wrong?

But that morning, I woke up wishing I had never made these arrangements. I was tired from work, had nothing packed, and was about to work 13 days in a row starting 3 hours after my return flight lands. Not to mention I was throwing a good amount of post-grad-cant-mooch-off-my-parents-anymore cash at this poorly planned “vacation”.

Kristen waited for the first final four basketball game to be over before she came and got me, closer to 8:30. I told her this wouldn’t be a problem, as I calculated that this still left me 3.5 hours to go 45 minutes. No problem.

Upon our arrival in lovely New Haven, we parked the car in a nearby garage (combined we are a sheltered suburbanite and a southerner, therefore neither of us can parallel park) and went to Buffalo Wild Wings to watch the second final four game. We drove past the train station so we knew where it was, about 5 minutes away.

As we sit down and order chips and drinks, we both remarked at how nicely this little scheme of mine worked out. Kristen was still able to have somewhat of a Saturday night being social and watching basketball, albeit sitting with just me at a less-than-glamorous B-dubs eating chips. Life doesn’t get much better.

The game was pretty good too, aside from these obnoxious middle-age female Kansas fans. They made it very clear to the rest of the establishment that they went to Kansas, flipping out after every turnover, free throw, or even a quick glance of their stupid bird. But what was not clear was why the heck a bunch of Kansas single middle aged natives had relocated to New Haven. Then again, I suppose Lawrence, Kansas is about the only place you could be from in order to consider Connecticut a step up.

The wait was minimal for our tortilla chips and Diet Cokes, my pre-race dinner of champions. No hydration, no protein, but some light carbo-loading, which is questionably necessary for a wimpy 10 mile race.
The game ends, and I insist on staying to watch to postgame interviews. I wanted to see Sullinger cry and see what obnoxious thing Bill Self was going to say.

“Are you sure we’re okay on time?” Kristen asked me.

“Of course, of course, Kristen, we have a half hour to drive five minute. Stop worrying!”

“Alright, I just want you to let me know when you wanna go,” she said.

“Sure thing, it’s not a problem. It’s just that I’d rather sit here with you than at the train station alone waiting for time to pass.”

I have a power over people around me, not that they do my bidding, more that when they are around me they do stupid things that they normally wouldn’t do. Things break when I am around, people lose their way more easily, and routine tasks become slightly more difficult. Kristen, already one of my own, walked into the men’s bathroom, with men full on at the urinal. Classic. We sat and laughed our heads off, asked for the check and I went to the bathroom, too (the correct one).

But before we knew it, it was 11:48. So we nag the waiter one more time, who was being kind of slow for an 8 dollar bill that I’m just putting on my debit card. Suddenly, we head out and I start power walking. Everything seems further, the parking garage, the car, the train station. We walked up the parking garage ramp, the part where pedestrians def aren’t supposed to walk, but given my severe lack of direction, I couldn’t find the pedestrian entrance. Kristen is lagging behind because she is trying to pull up the directions on her phone before we get to the car. So I look like a total jerk walking in front of her, my driver and ride, as if she is holding me up.

Despite my power walking, I reassure Kristen that still, we have 8 minutes to go 5 minutes. The math is on our side. But we have to pay for parking. I can’t find my debit card quickly enough, so Kristen just pays. I can tell she’s pretty anxious and upset, but I pretend not to notice it and just laugh that I do this all the time and that we have nothing to worry about.

She hands me her iPhone and asks me to navigate. For any normal 22-year-old this would not be a problem. Except that my phone costs $20 and the only game it has is snake, meaning that when it comes to using the iPhone navigation app I am worse your mom. I try my best, but I can’t even navigate out of the parking garage. Aside from holding up the phone in front up Kristen’s face while she drives, I am utterly useless.
As I begin to panic, I wonder what Kristen is really thinking—perhaps something along the lines of “I did not sign up for this crap” or “how did I get stuck with the one person in the world that would miss a train being 5 minutes away from it and 3 hours early?”

But she says neither. Instead she says she’ll drive me to Washington if I miss the train. Quite the offer, I should have asked her to do that in the first place and we could have avoided this mess. I keep telling her that it’s my fault. I’d given up hope as well but had to stay positive for Kristen.

With Kristen on the verge of tears, we finally get to the train station. I estimate it’s 27 seconds into 11:58, leaving me a solid 100 second countdown. I give her a hug, leave my coffee cup in her car, slam the door and run into the station. 30 seconds go by. Past the schedule board that says the track on it. 10 more, gone. I stopped for about 3 seconds to see what track my train was leaving from, but my head was spinning that everything seems blurry and I couldn’t decipher a thing. I look at my watch: 11:59. So I run and figure I’ll be able to pinpoint a trickle of people heading to a certain track or hear a train whistle.

Nothing. I frantically run up and down every single train track, looking desperately for a train to no avail. Maybe there’s another track on the other side of the station I tell myself.

This can’t be happening.

Actually it can. I have missed a total of 4 flights in my lifetime. As my friend Lotte tells me, that is quadruple the tally of the average person. Missing a train would simply diversify and complement my resume for the biggest F-Up Traveler Award.

My heart is pounding as I run across the entire station to the other side, searching for another magical track that will have my train on it. Maybe its platform 9 and ¾ and I need to ram my head into a brick wall to find it.

Just as I am about to launch myself into the wall, two security guards stop me. They don’t quite restrain me, but before even asking me what the heck I am running from/at, they tell me to take a deep breath. I am panting from running (not a good sign considering I am running 10 miles in a few hours.) I look like such an idiot that their consideration of me as a potential terror threat is a short-lived one.

“See all these customers sitting and waiting?” The security guard points at all the benches full of people waiting around.

“Uhh yeah.” I say, still not quite calmed down yet.

“They’re all waiting for the same train as you. What makes you think you’re so special?”

I guess he didn’t recognize that I am in fact, “special.”

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“That train’s not leaving until 12:30. Can’t you read signs?”

I thank him for his help, tell him I am in fact literate, but that I’ve n ever been on a train before, and that I have a severe travel anxiety. Questionable.

“Well miss, whether it’s your first train or your thousandth train it still works that same every time.”

Thanks, dude. He tells me to calm down once more, and I casually sit down on a bench like nothing happened. I feel people’s stares like individual bullets pelting me one at a time.

I call Kristen, who is convinced I missed the train and on standby to turn around and drive me to DC. She answers the phone after one ring.

“Did you make it?!”

“It doesn’t leave until 12:30, so unless I can’t walk 50 feet, yes”

Kristen is overjoyed and then tells me she was even more nervous than she was letting on. We chat on the phone for the next few minutes, catching up on the last 30 minutes we weren’t able to talk about because we were both freaking out about making it to the train station.

I curl up on the seat and try to sleep, but I am so frazzled I can’t sleep. My leg is shaking; I had to take in what had just happened. I decided it would be funny to text this saga to anyone that would listen and be interested in my saga at 1 a.m., ie my sister, my dad, and my friend Kelly.

They all respond to my 8 messsage long texted version story with similar themes of “you would” and “haha you’re hilarious” much to my chagrin.

I grabbed my running clothes and sweats and change out of my work clothes in the lovely train bathroom and shove them (with my leather boots) into my flimsy drawstring backpack. My mom would be so pleased to know how I treat the things she buys me.

I listen to some podcasts on my iPod, only to realize that my iPod has about a 20% charge left. Probably not enough, unless I keep up with the Kenyans and finish in 45 minutes.

I dozed off to sleep with my black North Face over my head. I hear calls for the Newark stop but am still asleep. I don’t want to give up my two seats which allow me to stretch out and lie down.

“Sir!” someone taps the side of my leg. “Excuse me, Sir!”

There’s no way someone is talking to me right now. My ticket is clearly displayed and besides, I’m not a sir. I pretend to still be sleeping.

“Siiiiiiiiiiiiir” the voice is louder this time.

This is not happening. How many people get on a train to Norfolk Virginia at 2 in the morning? It is not a conductor tapping me, rather a passenger. I was stunned there weren’t enough double seats for everyone. On top of it all, I’m being called a man.

I remove my jacket from my head to reveal that I am not in fact, a sir.

“Huh?” I act really confused, as if I haven’t been pretending to ignore this person for the last 2 minutes.

“Would please move so I can sit down?” The strong-voiced woman seems to be a part of some sort of Church mission group, as there are several other women sitting nearby. I apologize, move over and go back to sleep. I tell the woman just to push me if I move over to her side.

“Don’t worry I will!” she says, way too jollily for 2 in the morning.

After lulling myself to sleep with some NPR podcasts (so informative yet so sleep-inducing), I woke up in DC.

“Game time,” I whispered. Or so I thought. My seatmate glances over at me to see if I was talking to her. I told myself that if I pulled this off and made it to the start line in time that would be a greater accomplishment than actually running 10 miles. I was a little bummed I was a cheapskate when I signed up and opted out of ordering a $20 medal. Now I wanted some hardware.

I power walk through Union Station, taking in its familiar sights. As I head to switch to the Metro, which will drop me off closer to the race start, a voice calls after me.

“Excuse me!”

I turn around and look not at the person, but the ground. What did I drop—my keys, wallet, train ticket?

“Are you going to the Cherry Blossom run?” a girl around my age asks me, another one standing next to her.
I look up. “Why yes I am,” I try and sound super calm and matter-of-fact.

“Want to share a cab with us?” the other asks.

“Wow, that’s a great idea, thanks for the offer. I was just going to take the Metro but this is much more convenient.”

It worries me that the thought of taking a cab NEVER crossed my mind. I mean, how much sense would that have made since I had 15 minutes to get there? My first choice plan was to get off the Amtrak, switch to the Metro’s red line, buy a new ticket, go three stops, exit and then walk to the starting place at the Washington Monument.

I take a few steps with them, until I realize that I don’t have a dime of cash. I tell my two new nameless friends apologetically and trudge toward the Metro.

“Well, we’re going to take a cab either way, and there’s three seats, so you may as well just come with us.” The girl seems kind of ticked, and I feel like a total jerk. But I soon win them over when I recount my adventure.

“Dang,” girl number 2 exclaimed, “you need a cab more than we do. We thought we were toughing it for waking up and taking the MARC from Baltimore.”

So what would have taken me a good 20 minutes was cut to five. I call Arielle and Deirdre, who are both impressed that I am so timely. They give me their location and I head to meet them near baggage drop, of course, not before I walk in the wrong direction for five minutes. But I still have time to find them and empty my entire purse and backpack into the government-authorized clear plastic bag, which is literally about to explode (no pun intended).

It’s times like this I am still pissed at Osama. Because of him, I have forgone deodorant, a jacket, decent clothes to wear tomorrow and educational reading material all for the cause of fitting my vacation belongings into a tiny clear bomb-threat-proof bag. As my mom says on our family vacations, “It’s not a vacation when you travel as primitively as we do.” Again, all true.

My sister and I most recently won the Paul H. Anderson lightest traveler competition by packing for two for a 12 day trip in a single carry-on. So I am used to being without such basic necessities. One time my dad took us to some glacier in the middle of nowhere New Zealand. We left at 5 in the morning, and nothing was open for breakfast yet. When we were driving through, it was too early for lunch. After an entire day of hiking the glacier, we didn’t leave until 9 pm and by the time we reentered civilization every restaurant was closed. There was, however, an apple in the parking lot that rolled out of an old lady’s car next to us. My dad picked it up, brushed it off, took a bite, and then gave it to me.

When my mom asked where he got it, his response was, “It was a gift from God.”

I was feeling similar hunger pangs this time around, as the pre-race Kashi cereal I had packed for breakfast had been stress-eaten the night before at the train station. But it didn’t matter, I was there. The race had not even started yet and I had succeeded. It didn’t matter that the last time I had run 10 miles was last year’s race. The sun was up, the Black-Eyed Peas were blaring out of the speakers, and I was with my best friends. Thousands of runners packed within the narrow ropes separated the watchers from the doers, and gosh darnit I was a freaking doer. All was good in my favorite city in the world.

Not one to crown herself a champion before a race even starts, Dee went in an earlier wave, aiming to not to finish behind the 57-year-olds who followed the couch to 10 mile plan like Arielle and I were going to. The two of us decided to just do a casual jog and just enjoy ourselves. Aside from the fact that there were no cherry blossoms in bloom this year to distract me (thank you global warming), it was great because as long as we both could breathe, we got to catch up and talk the entire time, or at least, through the first few miles.

Arielle gets a text from Dee: Hey guys I am done I’ll be sitting at the bag check to meet you!

“Dang,” I huff and puff to Arielle, “We are only at mile 6! Way to make me feel good Deirdre.”
We eventually crossed the finish line. By the time we finish they are almost out of water and all the good snacks so I settle for a muffin and a banana. We headed to the bag drop off to our things.
————-
I check my phone after the race. Back to the text messages.
Kristen: I’m so glad you made the train! Watch out DC Amanda has arrived!
Mom: Did you make it?

Kelly: Run! Run! Run! You can do it!!!!….#encouraging morning race text for you 🙂

Me: yes I made it! I am pretty impressed with myself for being so amazing…

Surprisingly enthusiastic text from Mom: yes you are! Good for you! Enjoy the rest of your visit, say hi to Dee. Do you have a place to stay?

Me: Yup, all good staying at Arielle’s.

Mom: Crap! I accidentally had 2 dresses from Zappos shipped to your apartment. Can you send them back?
————–
That’s more like it, Mom.

After the race, the three of us take a few awkward and sweaty photos before heading to DuPont Circle in search of brunch. I pause to grab my phone and send a few more updates to all my fans, only to find I am missing it. Nothing surprising, I figure it is at the bottom of my purse or bag.

Arielle and Dee both insist I stop and dump everything out. My drawstring backpack resembles a magicians box where all these huge objects come out of this seemingly tiny bag—two pairs of boots, my bra, my purple underwear, toiletries, all strewn out on the National Mall as I search for a $20 go-phone from Walmart.
I can’t find it, and insist to Arielle and Deirdre that it isn’t worth going back and looking for. This, I explain to them, is exactly why I buy cheap phones. No stress, disappointment, or liability when I drop it in the toilet/leave it on a train/overload it with data so it crashes and dies (all true stories).

They both reiterate to me that I will be travelling alone, and therefore, would require a cellular device.

“Oh my god, Amanda, you threw it out. You threw it out didn’t you?” Arielle repeats. Although she is my little and 2 years my junior, she nicely complements Deirdre, my big, as my second big sister.

I have no idea what she’s talking about.

“Yup you threw it away with your clear plastic race bag and all your other garbage. You had to have,” Dee chimes in.

“No, no, no,” I retort. “If anything I left it on the bag check table, because I checked my phone as soon as I got my things back. I’m sure it’s still there, because not even a homeless person would steal that. Besides, the only thing in the clear plastic bag was a banana peel”

“Let’s just go back, Amanda,” Dee is pretty adamant. “We have no place to be, so let’s just turn around. It’ll take 5 minutes.”

It’s two against one. Now I’m getting pissed. I don’t need to be lectured. I cursed my phone. Even in its absence my phone, which doesn’t accept picture text messages, have ringtone options or even a keyboard is inconveniencing me. I wanted to go to brunch.

The first place we go is the garbage. Still certain it’s not there, I stand back as Arielle goes through the garbage can, as I don’t want to be associated with these garbage-picking nutcase friends of mine. She digs through a bit and pulls out a plastic bag with a banana peel in it. And a black go-phone.

We all start laughing uncontrollably, the two of them exchanging bouts of “I told you so!” at me.

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4 thoughts on “The Race to the Start Line

  1. Love it!!! Laughing all by myself and thinking so typical of you, Amanda. The great thing is that you laugh at yourself! Keep writing, love to hear about your adventures!
    Love, Aunt Sue

  2. Amanda,

    I’ve said it before and I’m saying it again…you are an amazing writer!!! Love your stories! You had me smiling and laughing all the way through it. Does ESPN have a place for sports related stories like this? You really should get your stuff published.

    It occurred to me when I was reading this, since you often change phones, maybe you didn’t have my phone number in your contacts anymore. One of your birthday greetings yesterday was from your dad’s oldest brother. Happy 23 big girl! You’re awesome!

    Love you,
    Uncle Mike

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