There are two distinguishing features of any vacation I take.
One is that there’s lots of travel. I’ll make as many connections as I can and take the longest route possible. Getting there isn’t half the fun; it’s the whole point. Which, I guess, makes me a transportation junkie.
The other idiosyncrasy is that all my belongings are carried in a backpack that I sling over my shoulder. I don’t know if that’s the latent beatnik in me or a silly sense of pride that, even at age 60, I don’t need no stinkin’ roller bag.
That’s how I set up my most recent vacation, a trip that included two days in Chicago, two days in Miami and a train ride back up the East Coast. It’s my kind of vacation, so I have only myself to blame for what it became.
It began with a 5:31 a.m. flight to Chicago, through Washington. The ticket was a leftover that could only be used on a flight of the airline’s choosing; thus the unusual departure time. For a guy who rarely goes to bed before 3 in the morning, this led to a strange meshing of yesterday and tomorrow. Once in Chicago, I had to linger around O’Hare for several hours waiting for my hotel room to become available. I later wondered if that elongated day didn’t leave me vulnerable to whatever got into my system.
The next day I went to a pro softball game in Rosemont, Illinois, a good 25-minute walk from the CTA Blue Line station. That didn’t concern me — again, the journey is part of the appeal — but by the time I got back to the hotel, I felt strangely uneasy.
The following morning, I had a headache. I felt lethargic. I just wanted to stay in bed, which is a bad sign for a guy who loves to travel and had a flight to Miami that day (of course, I had passed up the direct flight to get a layover in Atlanta). But what’s to do? Changing your itinerary during the middle of summer travel season can be unbelievably expensive. If I could just get to that hotel in Miami, maybe it would all blow over.
I got to the hotel in Miami. It did not blow over. I woke up the next morning feeling worse than the day before. Anytime I lifted my head from a pillow, the spot felt like a hot coal. And my neck hurt.
Something about the combination of fever and neck pain set off alarms in my head. The front desk helped me dig up a medical establishment open on a Saturday evening. After a long taxi ride ($65 round trip, including tip), I was at Baptist Health Urgent Care in south Miami.
My temperature was 100.3, a low-grade fever. The doctor seemed unconcerned. Probably a common virus. He advised pain medication, lots of fluids and no strenuous physical activity.
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I brought up the train trip, and the doctor thought it would be OK. There seemed to be no other option anyway. The only alternative was to stay in Miami at $150 a night for something that could take several days to clear up, and then pay gobs of money to fly back on an unrestricted ticket.
The next day meant hoofing it to a Metrorail station, riding to the north side of town, then walking another four blocks to the middle-of-nowhere Miami Amtrak station. The doctor’s no-strenuous-physical-activity advice went running down my back in a pool of sweat beneath the backpack.
Urgent Care doc said “no strenuous physical activity” last night. I’m guessing that lugging my backpack and plastic bag with other essentials (I just HAD to get the Sunday NYT) halfway across Miami to this remote Amtrak station falls into that category. pic.twitter.com/wXVJvY7dZQ— Greg Brownell (@glensfallsse) August 18, 2019
I was on the Silver Star, a 1:50 p.m. departure that would travel up to Tampa before cutting back across Florida, then heading up the coast overnight before dropping me off in Washington. I actually felt fine as the train started northward, except that my little roomette felt cold. By dinnertime I had on two shirts, a jacket and sweatpants.
At least, I figured, this must be a good sign that the fever is gone. But my store-bought thermometer displayed a temperature of 103. The chills turned into sweats, then back into chills, and my mind turned to mush. What was going on? I sure didn’t want to be on a train.
I pondered my options during a night stop in Orlando. Was it really a good idea to ride a train through the night with chills and fever? But I also knew if I got off and went to an ER, they would probably tell me it was just a virus and I’d be the stupid person with no way left to get home. Sick and distressed won out over stupid and stranded. I got back on the train.
That was a long, sleepless night. The roomette that I usually think of as my private little cocoon instead felt like a prison cell. I had no interest in the scenery going by outside. Just let it be over.
Once in Washington, it was three stops on the Metro Red Line to my hotel. I had somehow mistaken Dupont Circle for Logan Circle, and the hotel ended up being a 30-minute walk in 88-degree heat. Just what I needed; another dose of strenuous physical activity.
The next morning I skipped the Metro and took a taxi back to Union Station. I had an uneventful train ride to New York, a quick connection to the Albany train and then back to Glens Falls. Good thing I made it. I was wearing the only shirt left that didn’t stink of sweat.
The fever dissipated after a couple of days, replaced by a nagging cough, which now seems to be tapering off. I’ve been checked out by the doctor’s office ... blood tests came back negative, so the south Miami doctor probably pegged it right.
Note to self: You’re not getting any younger. The roller bag, a gift from a nephew a couple of Christmases ago, comes out of the closet for the next vacation. No more 5:31 a.m. flights. And maybe flying straight to your destination city wouldn’t be such an awful thing.