Monday, June 11, 2012

A Long Day's Journey into Night

I hope Eugene O'Neill will forgive me for stealing the title of his great play for the title of this blog, but nothing seems more appropriate right now. At 8:03 Sunday morning I boarded the Amtrak train at the Trenton, NJ station bound for Washington, Dc. The main purpose of my journey was to take in the Folger Theater production of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew at a two o'clock matinee. It was the last day of the production and I didn't want to miss it. Since the train would get in at 10:30, I would also have some time for shopping at Eastern Market and lunch at one of the many good restaurants in the Capitol Hill area.

I settled into my comfortable seat, opened my iPad to the Sunday Times and declared myself content. At about 9:15 AM, with the train just south of Wilmington, the conductor came on the loud speaker to announce that a drawbridge over the Chesapeake was stuck open and the train would be delayed indefinitely. "Oh well," I thought. "I have plenty of time and if I can't get in the shopping I will surely make it to the play." At 11:00 PM it was announced that the bridge had been fixed, but electricity was out on the bridge and we were waiting for a diesel engine to come push us to Washington. At about 12:30, we were informed that all was repaired and we were on our way. If I am lucky, I thought, I might be able to catch a cab and make the show. I went forward to the club car and bought a sandwich and diet Pepsi (no nice lunch on this trip).

As I got back to my seat with lunch, the train lurched to a halt again. After a few minutes, a very apologetic and exasperated voice came on the PA to announce that while the bridge was fixed, our engine had broken down and we were now waiting for a new engine. "There goes my play", I thought. Also I had read the entire Sunday Times from cover to cover and was now casting about for reading material. I downloaded the Times Sunday Crossword and settled back in for the wait. The crossword proved challenging, but now I was in a real panic, my iPad was losing power and I had not packed the power cord (who would need it on a one day trip to Washington?). My biggest concern was having no reading material to entertain myself on this endless journey.

Finally about 2:30 the train started moving again and we arrived in Washington Union Station at 4:15. If I had rushed I could have made my way over to the Folger Theater to see the audience walking out of the production. Instead I went to the nearest bar and had a stiff Tanqueray on the rocks.

With the museums closing at 5 on Sunday and with my return train two hours away from leaving, I decided my trip would be confined to a visit to the Barnes and Noble in the station and dinner at one of the many restaurants. I wanted to be sure I had some reading material for the return trip with my iPad now down to 10% power.

I moseyed through the Barnes and Noble, found a magazine that looked interesting and sat down to a leisurely dinner at the Pizzeria Uno. At seven I took a seat in the waiting room, to wait for the call to board my 7:20 train home. Sure enough, at 7:15 an announcement came on that the train was delayed (I know you all saw that coming). Fortunately, this gave me time to use the last 10% of the power on my iPad to send a nasty email to Amtrak customer service. When the train still was not called by 8:00 PM, I settled back to read the recently purchased magazine. The train finally was called and left the station at 9:30 PM. I arrived in Trenton at 12:05 AM a sadder but wiser traveller, having spent nearly an entire 16 hour day sitting on or waiting for a train and I never even got to my play!

Other than giving me a chance to vent, what does all this have to do with a reading blog? Well, somewhere in the fog of my last two hours on the train, I began to wonder about what I would have done with all that time without the very special gift of reading. This may have been the longest amount of time I have had to read since I was 8 years-old and would hurry home form school to ensconce myself in bed with my latest favorite book. I learned a lot on this day, because I had time to indulge a favorite past time.

Here are a few things I learned:

There is a wonderful magazine out there called Mental Floss. I picked it up in the train station and had time to read it cover to cover. The thing I like about it as a reader is that it is full of entertaining trivia and takes a witty approach to it all. Even better as a reading teacher, I think this is just the magazine to help teachers of middle school and high school reluctant readers. It will keep them engaged and provide background information for all kinds of future learning. Check it out:

Secondly, from the New York Times Book Review section, I learned of two books that are now on my summer reading list and should be on yours too. First is Canada by Richard Ford, the newest book from one of this country's greatest contemporary writers. The second is The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, a first novel that has a baseball theme, but apparently is about so much more.

Here is some other stuff I learned along the way of my journey:
  • Stan and Jan Berenstain wrote a book called How to Talk to Your Children About Sex!
  • It costs zoos a million dollars in yearly rental fees paid to China in order to be allowed to exhibit Pandas.
  • The "rockets red glare" that Francis Scott Key wrote of in The Star Spangled Banner were actual Congreve rockets hurled at British ships from atop 15 foot bamboo poles. Unfortunately, they were not very accurate and were as likely to destroy US ships as British ships.`
  • That kids at highly competitive schools are self-medicating with the "good grade pill" Adderall. Scary.
  • Words like "egg" and "bee" have three letters even though two would be sufficient for spelling and pronunciation, because the redundant additional letter makes these nouns more substantial words and distinguishes them from function words like "of" or "to."
So the next time you wonder about the importance of helping each child become a reader, think about my long day's journey and remember you are equipping them to be be their own best entertainers and learners.