It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Tuesday, already?

Sorry! Totally lost track of time. It’s March Break, see, and I have the week off! No toddlers in the house. The potty and the high chair and the sleeping cots are all in the back porch. The blocks and puzzles are stashed away. My home looks like … a house! Instead of a toy sink.

And I, meanwhile, am NOT in Ottawa. I am in a mid-sized city in southern Ontario which I’m not sure if I’m allowed to identify, visiting with my oldest child. Who has her very own apartment! And her very own cat!! And her very own boyfriend!!!

I hugely hate long drives, so I opted to take the train, which I have always vastly preferred. You can gaze out the window at the passing scenery, you can walk up and down the aisle, you can snooze, you can read — none of which you can do while driving.

So I board my train at 12:20. Right on schedule! Which, given the weather here in Ottawa last weekend, was nothing short of a miracle.

And you really can’t demand more than one miracle in a day, can you?

My official itinerary was: four hours to Toronto; hour layover; one hour to destination, arrive in time for dinner with Haley.

Too bad about the unofficial freight train which a) needed to pass before we could go and b) broke down, requiring a NEW ENGINE. That took about two hours. We chug into motion, there is great cheering from the cluster of kids in the group seats at the front of the car and affectionate chortling from the rest of the car in response. It was cute.

Enthusiasm dissipated somewhat when we halted 200 metres down the track. “Ladies and gentlemen, I regret to inform you that the switch ahead is frozen. It will take about ten minutes.”

And it did. Okay, then.

Unofficially, after the unoffical frozen switch, there was ANOTHER freight train, and ANOTHER wait.

And then, unofficially, there was A THIRD DAMNED FREIGHT TRAIN. And we had to wait for it. I’m sure hoping that somewhere there were freight trains waiting on us. Just to balance out the karma.

And you know what? THAT freight train ALSO needed a NEW ENGINE.

And when we finally started moving again, and then stopped a few metres later, when the announcer-lady came on for the umpteenth time, she was sounding distinctly reluctant as she informed us that … the switch ahead had frozen.

We have sat three times waiting for freight trains, two times waiting for frozen switches, and now two times waiting for entire new engines. By now we are closing in on four hours delayed. It is past 8 p.m., and we are all still on a train that we should have vacated at 4:30.

So, when we heard this news, letting us know of this most recent delay?

We laughed.

What else could you do? There’s nowhere to go. There’s no way out.

We laughed. Why get angry? Who’s to blame? Not Via Rail, only doing their best despite the havoc caused by the 50 cm snow we got the day before. (I didn’t hear of any planes taking off from Ottawa AT ALL on Sunday, so, nyah.) Not at frozen switches because this is Canada. In March. (Which in these parts is still Dead of Winter.) Not at the poor weary crew, who have all been on the train EVEN LONGER than us.

I got to Toronto at 9. Got in line to my next train at 9:05; on the next train at 9:30; moving at 9:45.

And it’s only an hour’s trip! I’m almost there! Except for the hour-long sit-on-the-track. I forget why. It was all sort of blurring together by now, and besides, I was sleeping, mostly. And then, when we did start moving? WE WERE GOING BACKWARDS!!! A university student up at the front sing-songs “WRONG WAY-AYYYY!!!” And there are slightly hysterical giggles throughout the car. We are going backwards.

It was not a dream.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I really, really regret to inform you that the switch ahead is frozen, and we will have to back up to the previous switch.” Her voice cracks with tension. I’m thinking there had been a tussle in the microphone room and she had lost the toss. Someone is standing behind her, threatening to kidnap her children if she doesn’t MAKE THE DAMNED ANNOUNCEMENT. “I am really, really sorry. Thank you so much for your patience. We really, really appreciate your understanding.” I think she’s trying to plant some subliminal seeds, poor woman.

We backed up to the LAST STATION. Not Toronto, an intermediary station, whose name a totally and completely forget. Because by then I had no brain.

We pulled into my destination at 12:40 a.m.

My six-hour trip became a 12-hour marathon.

And my daughter was waiting at the station. Bless her sleepy heart.

And that, boys and girls, is how I came to lose track of Monday.

(Oh, and I still prefer trains.)

March 11, 2008 - Posted by | Canada, holidays, my kids, Ottawa | , ,


  1. You lost TRACK? Hee hee…
    Have a great week off. Not that you’re escaping any snow.

    TRACK? Booo… Nope, there was lots of snow there, too — and they seem to view clearing sidewalks as an optional event, so walking anywhere (and we walk EVERYWHERE in our family) was an adventure. But it was lovely to see the girl!

    Comment by kittenpie | March 11, 2008 | Reply

  2. So up there in the arctic you call it “March” break and not “Spring” break? I just can’t fathom it. Down here in Atlanta GA my daffodils are blooming, the trees are leafing out and migrating birds are in their spring colors. I will try not to groan when it rains yet again (anyway, Atlanta desperately needs the rain) since rain at 60degrees F. is so so so much better than snow at below zero.

    Best wishes for a soon-to-come spring!

    We call it March because it’s obviously March, but it sure ain’t spring. Spring doesn’t arrive, even officially, until the 22nd; the snow won’t be completely gone for 2 – 4 weeks after that. But we’re within spitting distance, hard as that may be to fathom today!

    Comment by Jill | March 11, 2008 | Reply

  3. At least the extra 6 hours were worth it…and it’s no wonder you lost track.

    Never having taken the train ever and recently spent two days in a car traveling to and from Nova Scotia (in the wintertime), I’ll concede to your wisdom and say the train is likely the much better option…even with the delays.

    Yes, the extra six hours were worth it. We once took the train to Nova Scotia — sitting up. Our budget doesn’t stretch to berths! It takes 24 or 26 hours, and it was lovely to be able to watch the scenery pass by without having to DO anything to get ourselves there. If I were to take a trip any longer than that by train, however, I’d sure like to have a berth.

    Comment by Zayna | March 11, 2008 | Reply

  4. I mean, two days there and two days back, for a four day total.

    Comment by Zayna | March 11, 2008 | Reply

  5. Well, at least you made it. I haven’t really done long-distance train travel, but if I were going to be stuck and delayed that much, I think being on a train would be preferable to a long car trip (sitting in stuck traffic, worrying about running out of gas and keeping warn…). I hope your trip home is much less eventful!

    That was the nice thing. There was never any doubt I’d make it. I just heard of a friend-of-a-friend who, because the airport was shut down on Sunday night, was not able to fly to New York as planned — thus missing the departure of their cruise to the Carribean!! There’s no way to make that up.

    Comment by Florinda | March 11, 2008 | Reply

  6. Keep your ticket stub/receipt! It’s probably good for 50% of the cost of your ticket, since you were delayed more than an hour. If you’re going to travel on Via again in the next six months, give the ticket agent the ticket stub and they’ll be able to look it up and give you a discount on your next ticket.

    Yes, you’re absolutely right. I didn’t include that bit in the post, but one leg of my trip earned me an equivalent of 50% of the fare off, on my next trip; the other leg, a full 100%. So that’s another silver lining! Seeing my daughter, knowing I’d get there, being able to walk around or sleep, and a reduced fare next time I travel — it wasn’t so very bad, all in all.

    Comment by Robyn | March 12, 2008 | Reply

  7. 6 hours, not too bad. And besides, now you’re with your daughter so all is well. Enjoy your vacation.

    Six hours late on a six hour trip. That’s kinda bad. But all ended well, and wait till I tell you about the perks of being the mother of an aspiring RMT. You’ll be pushing encouraging one of the kids to go to massage school…

    Comment by mamacita tina | March 12, 2008 | Reply

  8. I’ve traveled from Winnipeg to Toronto by: airplane, train, bus and car.

    Train wins. Even with dumb delays, there’s no vile security, I can bring liquids (booze, shh) I can walk around and go buy lunch, sleep all night long (I’m young enough to sleep sitting up comfortably) and I never have to worry about killing myself by falling asleep.

    I’ve actually experienced more delays with airplanes, but usually because of faulty connections. Buses are by far the hardest on luggage. Oh and the buses can just “decide” you can’t get on, I got a surprise 6h delay that way once.

    That’s pretty much my reasoning, too. Trains always get through — slowly, perhaps, in extreme conditions, but you get there! — the security is much more relaxed, your luggage travels right there in the car with you. (Well, mine always does.) Walking, toilets, sleeping, scenery, internet. Though, having made one overnight train trip without a berth, I think I’m just on the bad side of whatever the dividing line is on “young enough to sleep comfortably sitting up.” Sigh.

    Is bringing ‘liquids’ a problem, given that they sell them? (Because, Blue Light, ugh. Don’t blame you for bringing your own.) Never mind, silly question. You’re not allowed to bring booze into most restaurants, even if they’re licensed. But of course, who’s to tell if that dark liquid in the Coke bottle is Coke or red wine?

    Comment by Joel | March 12, 2008 | Reply

  9. I’ve found that the train to and from Ottawa ALWAYS has to stop for a freight train. And still I’d rather go by train. I had one of those train trips on VIA where I was delayed 4 hours on the way to Ottawa and 2 hours on the way home in the same weekend. I must admit — I think that is kind of unfair.

    So I am sending good travel home vibes. And trains that are at least only an hour late???

    Comment by Cindy | March 13, 2008 | Reply

  10. I’m coming to this a bit late, but judging from your train itinerary, I’d hazard a guess that you were in MY town to visit your daughter!

    That was some snow last weekend, eh?

    Comment by karyn | March 17, 2008 | Reply

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