63 - The Maple Leaf

With service from New York City (Penn Station) to Toronto, stopping in between at Yonkers, Croton-Harmon, Poughkeepsie, Rhinecliff-Kingston, Hudson, Albany, Schenectady, Amsterdam, Utica, Rome, Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, Niagara Falls, St. Catherines, Grimsby, Aldershot, Oakville. A few things worthy of note; they still call 'all aboard' at Penn station, and Via rail still uses steel-wheeled pull carts to transfer luggage. There's a big whistle that still blows hot air out its nozzle to give warning that something big is coming along fast and there's not much chance it'll stop if you're in the way. And the conductors still banter on wittily with passengers who are eager to make small talk. The train is still a classic mode of transportation, and offers an affordable luxury to those who are not opposed to spending a day travelling.

The Maple Leaf runs an old route out of Manhattan under the George Washington Bridge, along the Hudson river Valley, up through the Finger Lakes Gorges and right near past the Great Falls of Niagara, parrallel with the Niagara escarpement and into the golden Horseshoe, coming to settle at Union station. Its predeccesor was the laudable Empire State Express, which was inaugurated in 1891. The Maple Leaf provides its passengers with twelve hours of roomy bliss, provided that you enjoy finding something productive to do with yourself while sitting in a recliner for half a whole day (examples of productive activity might include reading, listening to music, imaginatively opening and exploring small sacks of ponderables etc), soft scenery, moderately priced pre-packaged foods and beverages, and the rickety-roo toilet game. It comes even more highly recommended if you're willing to take the risk of getting stuck sitting next to some blind old goat who has nothing better to do than bother you with their absolutely assinine running commentary of whatever stream of thought comes dripping off their tongue when they open their gummy mouth.

If you don't mind having to answer questions like "You said you're from Toronto? I'm thinking of maybe going to Toronto, Maybe moving there for a bit. Yeah, it's nice. It's been a while since I been there. I'm just headed back to Rochester. Ooh, yep, my sons gonna be home when I get in, and he's gonna bug me you know, about dinner, first thing when I come in the door. He moved back in recently, back home, after school. He's doing some courses and he's gonna take his public service exam pretty soon now. I don't think he knows exactly what he wants to do. But he thinks he's smarter than me, now that he's finished school. He's always telling me to focus. I tell him, that's not why we paid for his education. When I want to know something, I'll ask it, hehe. But you say, you said a good place to live in Toronto is Dale..." at this point you could repeat the same thing you'd said before a few times - "Parkdale." And he'd chime in "that's where you live." And you'd say "Yep" even if it wasn't where you live, because getting him to remember the name of the neighborhood where you live is a whole nother dog and pony show. And he'd continue "And then you said, on the West, no, East side...." and then you'd state, methodically, the name "Riverdale". "Right Riverdale" He'd say. "Or LeslieVille" you'd add, cause you're trying to anticipate his next question, cause he's already asked it about three times now. "Right, LeslieVille..." and so on. and if you don't mind showing this blind old gruff back to his seat everytime he gets up to take a piss or get a little stretch going, then you're going to have a blast.

And then on the way back, if you don't mind seeing a gaggle of old broads get on your car in Albany, and hearing one distinct voice that's louder and more obnoxious than the rest, already complaining about something - the temperature or the seating arrangement or the location of the stairs and the little differences between this train and the last one they were one or whatever; if you don't mind somehow by the luck of your self-absorbed bookish behaviour getting picked by this old galloot to be seat buddies, and having to deal with the retelling of every scrap of detail that a weekend at the VFW (Veteran's Fund for Women) state legislative assembly entails - for example, the pain and agony of an uncomfortable hotel bed and what walking a mile has done to the woman's back, and the mental anguish suffered unjustly but dutifuly by the woman due to the selfish and anal behaviour of each of her fellow legislators at various points throughout the event. And if you don't mind having your reading interupted at steady intervals by reminiscent diatribes lasting anywhere from two to thirty some-odd minutes, then boy oh boy are you in for a ride.

I didn't mind dealing with the old folks (they've got big hearts, its just that their brains have gone rusty), and and the constant stopping due to freighter priority (you see the rails on which many Amtrak trains ride are owned by another company; in the case of the Maple Leaf the tracks are owned by Conrail, and as a result any of their Conrail trains - freighters for the most part - get to head on uninterrupted while the Maple Leaf has to stop and wait), and the long wait at the border, and I had myself one hell of a ride.

The following set of four photogrpahs I took are pushed and grainy, and they are meant to act as antiqued compliments to the softer photos you've seen so far, that might look old, but not quite so old. The majority of these photographs were taken during the first leg of the trip back to Toronto on an impressively foggy Tuesday morning.