Chronicles Of A Writer In USA: First Rising Action

DAY 1:

Thursday, 7 April, 2016

Yup, seems like I would be stuck in Newark for a while, as you have probably read in my previous post about my first solo trip to USA, Chronicles Of A Writer In USA: Exposition. After I got off the turbulent plane and collected my luggage, I had to find the Amtrak train to get to Connecticut. Supposedly, it was prepaid by the GAPP school, but for some reason, the train info and number was not written, and I did not have an identification card (specifically a credit card) to be able to check my name on the system and print my ticket, so I had problems printing my train ticket…

I went around trying to find the a place to verify my train reservation, and then around again to find the proper platform. All this while dragging a big luggage bag, carrying a backpack, and holding a cross bag and my papers at hand. After several trials, one of the personnel told me to just wait for the train as usual and maybe the conductor will have my ticket number on her list. So I dragged my heavy luggage down almost 30 stairs to reach the platform. I cannot believe how they do not have a slope for people with luggage! Anyway, I kept waiting and waiting then I had doubts if the train will ever come. So I dragged all of my belongings up and down the stairs AGAIN to make sure I was on the right platform. This was my first time to smell the USA air. The weather was a bit chilly, but not too cold.

Image result for amtrak platform newark airport
Here comes the train. Place: Amtrak station, Newark Airport.

When I went down again, I saw an Arab veiled woman with her husband and children. She looked maybe Syrian or Iraqi. For some unknown reasons, we both smiled at each other without saying a word, then she hopped on her train and left. I don’t know if it was because of my veil or my Arab-looking self, but I felt this bond of solidarity that made this long, long day a bit easier.

The train finally came and I hopped on. I told the woman conductor the whole story. She tried looking for my name but in vain. She apologetically told me that I’d have to get off at the next stop, since we cannot document the payment of my ticket. I began to be a bit worried because it was getting dark, I was exhausted from the long trip, and I didn’t know what the hell I’ll be doing in New York Station.

I got off the train with all my luggage and I was incredibly overwhelmed. Masses of people running around in every corner to get to their trains. Wide diversity of individuals: those wearing casual, those wearing formal, those wearing Hindi, young people, old people, middle-aged people, those with luggage, those without, simply every kind of person you can imagine. I felt that I was the only person who did not know where to go. And the station was huge. I was stupefied for some moments.

I struggled until I found the Amtrak desk. I tried asking the clerk for my ticket number again but no luck, so I had to buy a new one. It was almost 6 pm then. My train was to depart at 6:45 pm so I had some time to spare. I walked around the station to get a sense of where I was. Again, I am in complete awe by the tremendous diversity of people there. I kept wondering about what people thought when they saw me, a solo veiled Arab young lady. Were they afraid? Were they curious? Who knows?

I bought myself an iced macchiato from Dunkin’ Donuts to calm myself down a bit. I got my drink and stood in front of this huge black screen where platform numbers and train destinations appear. Apparently, the platform number only presents itself just 10 minutes before the train departures. So people are just gawking at the screen until the number is shown, then they rush to the gate as quickly as they can. I decided to do the same.

Image result for new york train station amtrak
You just cannot take your eyes off the big black screen, or your train will leave.

I FINALLY got on the train heading to Connecticut. The trip was to take approximately two hours. The train was very neat and clean. Chairs was spacious and comfortable.  Everything was organized. I really wished we had such amazing public transportation. It would save so much effort, money, and petrol. The times I used public transportation in Egypt are almost close to null, which is unfortunate indeed.

Anyway, the tranquil train ride gave me a chance to relax a bit. A great advantage was finding free WiFi almost everywhere I go. I was able to research anything I wanted at the blink of an eye and call and text my mother to assure her that I am doing okay. The minute you get on the Amtrak and open your browser to connect to the internet, you will find a detailed schedule of the train’s route, with the exact time at which you will arrive at each station. Fascinating!

The iced macchiato wasn’t the best thing I tasted but it was okay. Taken by: Shaza Walid.
America, you have your unique ways of impressing me. Taken by: Shaza Walid.

I finally arrived at Connecticut at 8:15 pm after almost 24 hours of travelling. I was dying to to change my clothes, take a shower, and lie on a bed. Simple demands, eh? I had read there would be a hotel shuttle bus with specific timings, so I waited for 15 minutes before realizing that I had to order it beforehand. It was getting late, streets were getting emptier, and I was getting a bit worried, so I took a cab to the hotel. The driver seemed quite nice but I was on the edge of my seat. I tried to memorize the licence number just in case. I also paid great attention to my surroundings and the roads we took. I’m not gonna lie to you, I was a bit paranoid riding a taxi in a foreign country alone at night. But I finally made it to the hotel, Clarion Hotel & Suites Hamden-New Haven (notice how many ‘finally’ I said so far, I was dying to reach the hotel after such a long day).

The hotel’s main entrance was under renovations so I had to enter from the back door. I was so looking forward to checking in and throwing myself at the bed. But another bump on the road was waiting for me. I had booked my hotel through with no prepayment. I put my dad’s credit card as a prerequisite in case I do not pay at the property at the designated date I chose. This is pretty much the dialogue that took place between us:

Hotel Clerk: Could you please give me the credit card you entered on our system?

Shaza: I’m sorry, I do not have it with me. 

HC: Do you have your credit card?

Shaza: Sorry, I only have cash. 

HC: Sorry, the hotel’s new policies state that we only accept credit cards and never cash. I cannot check you in. 

Her words were like sharp poles thrown in my face. What was I to do now? It was 10 pm already. I did not know any other place to go. There was absolutely no one to call. Even if I tried going to another hotel, they’d still want a credit card. Since it was almost 4 am in Egyp, mom’s worried because she wants me to call her from my hotel room to make sure I arrived safely. Oh my God, this was so unexpected and uncalled for…

I had to think fast. I flipped through my printed reservation to see if there was any hotel policy I missed about only accepting credit cards. Then I read my savior line, “Cash deposit or credit cards accepted.” When I showed it to the hotel clerk, she told me they changed the policies. I told her it was not my problem and that I should have been informed beforehand. She kept apologizing and telling me that there was nothing she could do. I thankfully stood my ground and told her that I came all the way from abroad, that I’m on my own, and that I’m here to attend the journalism conference nearby. A really nice lady sitting behind me offered to pay my hotel room using her credit card and then I pay her n cash. But the hotel clerk refused saying that it was not possible because the card’s info would be different from the one I put on the system. After several negotiations back and forth, and calling the hotel manager twice (I talked to him on the first time and explained my situation), she finally agreed to make an exception, as supervised by the manager, and accept my cash this time only. I breathed a sigh of utmost relief as I paid her the money and received my room keys. This utterly exhausting day is finally coming to an end.

HALLELUJAH! A BED AT LAST. Taken by: Shaza Walid.

Being in a physically stable place (given that I’ve ridden two planes, two trains, and a taxi in one day) made me quite happy. The room was great for a short stay. All the essentials were available in the bathroom. The bed was comfy. The room was warm enough. No proper kettle, a bummer. Other than that, it was just right for a person staying for three nights. The room did not have a balcony, but rather a huge glass window overlooking the hallway. Given that I’m travelling solo, I had to be careful. I closed the curtains really well so no one could see through the window. I locked the door well. I took a shower and FINALLY changed my clothes to PJ’s after 24 hours of travelling.

I needed to rest as soundly as possible. Tomorrow is a big day. Tomorrow the first day of the Region 1 Mark of Excellence Awards and journalism conference at Southern Connecticut State University. It is supposed to run for two days, Friday 8th and Saturday 9th. I leave on Sunday 10th. Crazy, right? But I hope it will be worth it insha’Allah. I need a good night’s sleep now. Can’t wait for tomorrow and after!!

Wanna know what went down during that conference and whether it was worth this hubbub? Look out for my next post to find out.

-All images are hyperlinked to their original sources unless otherwise stated.


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