This was the 7th annual SPECIAL TOPICS WORKSHOP, taught by veteran NSTP instructor Paul LaMonica, and held each year on the last Thursday and Friday in June in Williamsburg, Virginia (I overheard a couple at dinner the first night saying this is because Paul has a timeshare in Williamsburg). It was the first workshop held at the Holiday Inn Patriot on Route 60 (Richmond Road), as the previous location had received too many complaints from workshop participants.
I had been to Colonial Williamsburg as a child about 45 years ago. My most vivid memories of the trip are watching Lloyd Bridges in SEA HUNT and Darren McGavin in RIVERBOAT on tv in the motel.
I was pleased to learn that Amtrak had a stop in Williamsburg. It has been a while since I have “ridden the rails”. The Amtrak #95 Regional was scheduled to leave Newark at 10:52 am for the 7-hour trip. However after I lost at least 5 pounds in the oppressive heat getting from Jersey City to Newark via bus and PATH it turned out the train was delayed in NYC’s Penn Station for some reason and was about ½ hour late. While it was a bit crowded at various legs I was lucky to manage to be able to have the two seats to myself for the entire trip. As is common nowadays, I was forced to listen to one side of several cell phone conversations over the course of the journey, and on two occasions both sides. While I tried not to pay attention to the multiple phone calls, the phrase “must register as a sex offender” perked up my ears at one point!
For some reason the train ran very slowly between Alexandria and Richmond VA, causing us to be about an hour and a half late getting into Williamsburg. There was a stop in Quantico, VA, and I took special notice of those who boarded at this stop. At the Richmond stop passengers were invited to hop off the train for an extended “smoke stop” (Virginia being a tobacco-producing state I suppose).
At the Williamsburg train station there were no taxis waiting, so we had to queue up at the payphone. The first person who called for a taxi told the company that there were quite a few people who needed cabs and asked for several to be sent. She was told that each individual party had to call separately. The taxis arrived promptly and it turned out that my hotel was only about 5 minutes away. Since it was rather late when I finally settled into my room I had a late dinner of Virginia Ham Steak in the hotel’s Plantation Restaurant and retired for the evening.
The workshop ran all day (8-4) on Thursday and half (8-12) of Friday, giving me a day and a half of free time. We were provided a free full breakfast buffet (not just continental) in the Plantation and adjoining Back Nine Bar and Grille on each of the mornings and a free lunch on Thursday. It was a full workshop, with practically every seat taken in the seminar room by the 240+ participants.
The hotel was also the host for what I gathered was the “American Classic Miss” pageant for children and teens. There was no publicity (and I could not find it with an online search) but there were handmade posters with pictures pasted on sleeping room doors on my floor and young girls walked around wearing gowns, crowns and ribbons. This pageant continued through at least Sunday.
The hotel was 1.5 miles from Colonial Williamsburg, 1 mile from the College of William and Mary, 3 miles from Busch Gardens and Water Country USA, 10 miles from Jamestown Settlement, and from .5 to 3 miles from various outlet malls. However, as I was without a car I thought I was pretty much stuck at the hotel. The only thing in comfortable walking distance (too hot to go too far) was an OUTBACK STEAKHOUSE (where I dined one night) next to the Motel 6 which was next to the Holiday Inn.
But on my second night’s dinner at the Plantation Restaurant my waiter told me about Williamsburg Area Transport, a series of bus lines, designated by color, using the Williamsburg Transportation Center (Amtrak Train Station) as a hub, that ran throughout the area from 6:00 am till 10:00 pm Monday through Saturday. The Blue Line stopped every hour in front of the Motel 6 with stops at various shopping outlets and centers up and down Route 60. One could change at the train station for various other lines to go to Busch Gardens, Colonial Williamsburg, the College of William and Mary, and Water Country USA. All this for $1.50 ($1.25 plus .25 for a transfer)!
The waiter also told me about New Town, a new shopping area with a multiplex theatre, and Presidents Park, an outdoor museum of the US Presidents, both of which I could get to using the bus lines. The College of William and Mary is home to the Virginia Shakespeare Festival, but the Festival’s current show was ROMEO AND JULIET, not a favorite of mine.
My last night’s dinner was in the hotel’s Back Nine Bar and Grille, where I introduced still another bartender to the Stinger (Brandy and While Crème de Menthe mixed 3-to-1). The bar had excellent greasy potato skins! On Friday and Saturday evenings beginning at 9:00 pm the bar has a live oldies band.
Were it not for a member of the housekeeping staff at the Holiday Inn the trip would have ended a complete disaster!
I checked out at 8:30 am on Sunday morning and requested a taxi to take me to the Amtrak station to meet the 9:26 am train that would bring me back to NJ. The desk clerk called a local taxi company and was told a cab would be at the hotel in 20 minutes. This seemed to be a long time, but I did not complain as it would still get me to the train station in time.
I waited outside of the hotel and when no taxi had arrived by 9:00 am I began to panic. The desk called the taxi company again and was this time told it would take another 10-15 minutes. Another company was called, but it would still take 10-15 minutes.
By the way, the website for the hotel advertised a free train station shuttle, but none was offered to me. And as it was Sunday the Williamsburg Area Transport busses were not running.
I must point out that there is only one Amtrak from Williamsburg to Newark per day – so if I missed the 9:26 I would be stuck in Virginia for another day! I told the desk personnel when my train was scheduled to leave and about my worries, but there was no concern expressed about my situation. Their silence basically said, “it ain’t our problem, buddy”.
Having traveled Amtrak extensively over the past 25 years I am well aware that the trains are more often then not late, like my departure from Newark on Wednesday. But with my luck the one time I wanted it to be late it would, of course, probably be early!
While standing by the front door again waiting for the taxi to arrive a member of the housekeeping staff who was cleaning the windows, an older oriental woman, said hello and asked me how I was. I told her of my predicament and, unlike the front desk staff, she expressed sincere concern. After 5 more minutes of standing there with no taxi in sight she told me she would drive me to the station. We literally ran through the halls of the hotel to her car parked in the back. We were lucky with the traffic lights and she got me to the station with about 5 minutes to spare. I offered her a “gratuity”, but she refused to accept any money for her good deed.
I have written to the Holiday Inn Patriot, as well as the home office of the parent company, to tell how this employee went “above and beyond the call of duty” to help a hotel guest by doing what the front desk staff should have done. I guess there is still hope for the world!
Of course the train was a little over a half hour late getting into Newark. I was back at my apartment by 6:00-ish – the GD extensions still awaiting me!
More on the content of the workshop in a future posting.