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Life's Immutable Rules

Sunday, 24 April 2022

Life operates under certain immutable rules. You've surely experienced them:

* The other line always moves faster.

* If it's on sale, the person in front of you will get the last one in stock.

* The motel will rent the room above yours to the family of tap-dancers preparing for a recital.

To that lawbook, I propose adding another rule: The simpler your travel plans are, the more of an adventure it will become. I forsook airplanes to instead start this parks trip via an Amtrak ride to DC. Rather than driving to the Philadelphia train station, I reserved my seat from Wilmington DE (which is closer anyway). On a Sunday morning, traffic didn't concern me. How could I know that they'd schedule a 5K Fun Run down the very street that would take us to the station. What to do when GPS tells you to turn where the cop says you can't?

Compared to flying, train travel is a pleasure. No cranky TSA agents or x-ray screens, no getting shoehorned into a middle seat, no air turbulence the moment you put your complementary drink to your lips. You can lean back and let the scenery (or lack thereof) pass by. Your mind can roam freely, thinking about the little things you forgot to pack - a book to read, a cable for your mp3 player. Nothing critical, thankfully. The time passed quickly, and we rolled into Union Station on time.

Being a novice at train travel, I had no idea where to collect my checked bag. Someone directed me to the carousel, which had no bags and no one waiting. A couple of redcaps saw me waiting with a worried expression, and promised me the bag would appear soon, which it did. Lesson 1: people on Amtrak never check their bags.

My karma - or should I say 'car'ma - really kicked as I headed to Avis for my wheels. The signs said, "Rental cars on the 2nd level," followed by a 'Rental Cars' sign to the right. After searching the dark hall, I noticed a closed-and-shuttered storefront with an Avis/Budget sign and no employees in sight. With no benches around, I plopped myself on the floor to call Avis. After five minutes of navigating voice mail, I got an agent on the line at the same time a security guard came up to roust me. "You want Avis? That's another two levels up on the escalators, then go the left."

Those directions led me to the Hertz/Alamo kiosk in the garage, with no Avis in sight. "You want Avis? Okay, see where that car is coming out? Go around the corner, walk down the ramp, and you'll see Avis to your left." By the time I reached their kiosk, it felt like I has just reached another level on a video game.

The agent handed me the keys for an SUV - you know, a car with no trunk. Since I would spend two nights with the car parked at a trailhead - where rangers told me to not leave any valuable visible in the car - that didn't work for me. Back to the kiosk, where she put me in a Corolla with a trunk. Before driving away, I tried to pair the Bluetooth with my phone, but failed. So I called the maintenance man over, who also failed (did he do that so I wouldn't feel like a loser?). "Maybe it's because we're in the garage. Try it again when you hit the street, I'm sure it will work then."

Any bets on whether it worked later? Not only that, but I couldn't bring up the radio either. After escaping the immediate environs of the DC metropolis in dead silence, I detoured to a Toyota dealership that was thankfully open on Sunday. The salesman tried his hand at it, and after five minutes of fumbling around (I know, to make me feel better) he got my phone paired. The radio he brought up easily... and then told me to forget about ever hooking my mp3 player into the car - "They don't make cars with AUX inputs anymore." (Great - no sooner to I get used to AUX to replace the CDs I liked to use, than modern technology races past me again. Call me a technosaurus.)

Those delays set me back nearly two hours. Still, I got into Shenandoah NP, Skyline Drive milepost 81, by 5:00. Time to get my next National Park adventure started. Time to turn my luck around.

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