Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Getting to Connecticut

Crossword puzzles frequently make me laugh. The humor therein is usually pretty corny and often its based on wordplay. And there's nothing I love more than corny puns. (Here's an example from the NY Sun: "Incapable of littering?" NEUTERED. Ha-ha-ha-ha.) Sometimes I laugh out loud -- I think I laughed out loud at least once at the tournament this weekend -- if I remember what it was that prompted that reaction I'll tell you about it.
Today's New York Puzzle made me laugh -- not because it was funny, it wasn't. The theme was pretty straightforward, four signs you don't want to see on the highway: ROAD WORK ONE MILE, LEFT LANE CLOSED, REDUCE SPEED NOW (which, now that I think about it is not a sign I've ever seen before -- I've seen "Reduced Speed Ahead" in lots of podunk speedtrap southern towns, but never one that demanded you reduce your speed immediately; And I hope said podunk traffic enforcers never realize they could give you a ticket for not reducing your speed as soon as they think you've had time to read the sign they hid behind a shrub) and FINES ARE DOUBLED.
I know, not exactly knee-slapping. And my laughter was of the rueful variety. Because the very last word I filled in was 66 Across and the clue was about how to avoid these traffic signs and resultant headaches. And the answer was "TRAIN."
And the reason that gave me a mirthless laugh was because I took the train to Connecticut and I can tell you that you're not avoiding headaches, you're just exchanging one set of headaches for another.
So I want to tell you all about the tournament and how I did, and all the highlights and lowlights of my first (but hopefully not last) crossword puzzle tournament.
But first let's talk about tracks, baby:

One of the the reasons I have not attended the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament before even though I've wanted to for years is because I am a sun-worshipping, winter-hating, Southern boy. By the time I have sneezed and sniffed my way through South Carolina's admittedly pretty mild winter, it just goes against my instincts to go north. In past years, even after planning to attend and once actually paying to go, I usually end up going to Florida to see some Spring Training baseball games instead.
Another problem was how to get through the 800.86 miles between my humble abode and the Stamford Marriott. I hate to fly. It scares me and I usually lose my hearing for 24 hours after I land. It seemed like it would be a big disadvantage to not be able to hear, "Ready, set, solve!" And I have the world's worst sense of direction, a bad relationship with Mapquest (he's lied to me too many times) and a bad habit of slowing down to about 10 mph and looking as stupid as humanly possible when I am confused (as I am always on unfamiliar roads in big cities) which past experience has shown me Yankees don't have much patience with.
So a train seemed like a great solution. I could actually do crossword puzzles all the way to the tournament and be in real fighting trim by the time I got there instead of getting screamed at by irate Northerners or copiously wetting myself and wondering if I'll ever hear again.
And it actually was pretty good on the way up. I could solve crosswords even though I couldn't really read what I wrote because my pencil kept getting derailed by all the bumps, thumps and jostles. You can drink on the train too, but you can't drink much unless you're wealthy cuz beer is $5.00 a bottle, and you might not want to drink much even if you can afford it, cuz train restrooms are only maybe a step above Port-a-potties. Trains in the South are nicer than trains in the North. They're cleaner for one thing -- although one Southern train has a big oniony red stain on its carpet where my chips and salsa flew from my hand and onto the floor. And they have more leg room and nicer footrests -- and better scenery out the window. In the South there are rivers and houses and people and dogwood trees to look at. Up north all you got is garbage, rust and graffiti. Admittedly, trains don't run through the best parts of town. I'm sure there are some lovely rivers and trees up north. (I am equally sure that those rivers and trees are covered in grafitti.)
But anyway we slept most of the way up, left Charleston around 9:00, got into Stamford about 1:00 on Friday afternoon, after having lunch at Penn Station in New York.
It was the ride home that was the problem. There were only two trains leaving Stamford after the tournament heading South. One left at 1:00 in the afternoon on Sunday and I was worried about missing the big play-off and the banquet, so I bought tickets on the other train which left at 1:00 in the morning. I thought it might be all right to and around Stamford, see a few sights, have a leisurely dinner at a nice restaurant. What I didn't know was that right after the tournament the adrenalin I'd been running on would leave my body and all I would want to do was sleep -- and I still had 10 hours before I could board the train and a nineteen hour ride after that. It was a long night and a looong next day. Our train was delayed by a freight train derailment on the tracks ahead of us and we were three hours later getting back to the Promised Land. A tad the worse for wear, as you might imagine.
Next year I'll fly. To Brooklyn. In February.

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