Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Riding the Tide

The Tide in all its glory

Last Saturday Jeff and I had a totally frivolous day. Hampton Roads recently spent $338 million dollars on a brand new light rail, a commuter train to help alleviate some of the crazy car traffic. It came under a lot of flak because it was two years overdue and cost about double what it was originally supposed to, but now that it's up and running, the ridership is already twice what was projected. I love trains, I love's so convenient not having to worry about parking your car, being able to read or eat or put on makeup or tweeze your eyebrows while you're driving. Yeah, sure, there's never a bus coming for twenty minutes and then there's three, but overall, I'm very pro mass transit. Right now the Tide, as the train in Norfolk is lovingly called, only has about ten miles of track, but there's already talk about extending it down to Virginia Beach...I hope they do. As nice as it is not to have to pay for parking in downtown Norfolk, it would be REALLY nice not to have to park a car in Virginia Beach.

So, I wanted to support the Tide. First, we had to drive for an hour. Then we parked (for free), bought our tickets from a machine (Jeff, who's a bit of a coin collector, was geeked out that the change came in dollar coins), and settled in for the ride. The Tide is brand spankin' new, shiny and clean. Cleaner even than the Waterloo line in London. The train is really only fifty feet long, with a bend in the middle to get around the trains that remind one of caterpillars.

First we meandered through Norfolk suburbs, before sailing high over Norfolk State University. Then we gradually landed in downtown Norfolk itself, and disembarked near MacArthur Center. The Tide is small enough that it has to obey traffic signals and it even has an electronic trolley bell to warn pedestrians its near. Our tickets were also good for the ferry that goes across the Elizabeth River to Portsmouth, so we headed across for dinner at one of our favourite restaurants, the Biergarten. As the name suggests, it is a German restaurant, and yes, there is bier. 306 varieties at last check. Although we've had good meals there before, this time was a bit of a letdown. Too many kids in one warm room plus disappointing schwarzewälder kirschtorte made for a long meal. Still, bier. Also! I finally got to see inside a store called Skipjacks, which is nautical themed, with lots of antiques. If had several thousand dollars and several living rooms to decorate, I could have spent DAYS in that store. And they have a dog named Jack...I didn't ask, but I suspect that he may have been named after Jack Aubrey.

Here's a map in case you're getting confused. Click on it to make it bigger...we got on at Newtown Road and off at MacArthur Center. Not shown: the Bier Garten and Skipjacks, which is south of the Elizabeth River. It's important to be specific, because normally when you say "south of the river" you mean the James, which is where we live. There are a lot of rivers in Hampton Roads, hence the name "roads."

The weather was absolutely wonderful, warm and sunny, even when we were on the ferry, which is an adorable fake paddlewheel. Honestly, I would live in Portsmouth and work in Norfolk just so I could commute on the ferry every day. The best part about riding the Tide was not reliving the happy rides of time past, but of watching people who had never been on a train before enjoy it. You could see parents relaxing as they watched their kids frolic on the turntable bed in the train's floor...ladies of a certain age wearing hats, headed down to MacArthur Center for some shopping...a Navy guy in an Admiral's uniform (hockey, not dress blues) headed to a game. More than anything, this made me cheerful and happy too. I hope that everyone who was riding--especially people who ride every day--will see how great trains, buses and even ferries can be and then maybe we can saturate this country will mass-transit, like it is in Europe.

I'm definitely enjoying this whole not working in the evening far this week I've cooked dinner twice and reveled in dishes duty. Ah, domesticity! How I have missed thee.

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