First, I got on the over-an-hour-late train and the conductor assigned me a seat. Kind of weird, right? This is a train, not elementary school. But whatever. If it’s good enough for planes, it’s good enough for trains.
So I get to my assigned seat, and who do I find there? None other than the scourge of the Amtrak community: the person sleeping across two seats. There are few things more enjoyable in life than righteously waking someone who’s rudely sleeping somewhere that inconveniences others. It falls somewhere on the personal happiness scale between “continuous multiple orgasms” and “open bar.”
I smiled and gently nudged her. “Excuse me…excuse me? Hi, they assigned me the seat next to you.”
The bleary eyed traveler rubbed the sleep from her eyes and processed my apparently complex message. “What? They don’t assign seats.”
You got me. The jig is up. I lied. This “assigned seating” thing was all a scam invented by me. If I’m being 100% honest…I like you. And I mean “like” like. I don’t know what it is, Stranger Obnoxiously Taking Up Two Perfectly Good Seats On A Crowded Train, but when the second I laid eyes on you for the first time, a half a second ago, I knew this was meant to be. There’s no way I could let a woman as gloriously rude as you get away. I mean, unless a woman who finds away to lay across the aisle taking up THREE seats comes around, you’re pretty much the apex of train rudeness and therefore impossible to top. So I panicked. I made up some bullshit assigned seats story and hoped you wouldn’t call me on it. I’m sorry I began our courtship with a deception, but if you can find it in your heart to get past this maybe we can take a quick date to the Cafe Car and split a bag of peanut M&Ms.
I convince her this assigned seating this isn’t some clever ruse and take my seat. After that we’re cordial and friendly. I get nervous because I’ve got a tuna salad I brought on the train with me. I don’t want to stink up the joint and draw the ire of my new found seat buddy. While I’m pondering this moral quandary, she proceeds to pull out a bag of SALT AND VINEGAR CHIPS. It’s like she consulted the “horrible smelling food” index and went with whatever was right below tuna. Her next choice had to be garlic hummus eaten off a bum.
Having enough of this, I decide to get up and take a walk to throw away my water bottle and use the restroom. As I’m walking by, this other lady says, “You going to the trash?”
I do a double take, because, you know…I’ve never met this person asking me a question a friend or relative would ask. “Uh…yeah?”
“Would you take this with you?” She doesn’t just hand me a bottle, or a bag. She hands me a whole tray full of garbage. It’s like she’d just eaten Thanksgiving dinner.
I couldn’t believe it. What am I, the cabana boy at your country club? The worst part though had to be when I laughed, said yes, then sarcastically said, “Anything else I can do for you?” and she responds, “No sir,” totally missing the dig. I’m not surprised a person asking strangers to throw away garbage for them would lack the mental capacity to understand a joke, but it falling flat disappointed me just the same. In case you’re wondering, I disposed of the refuse flawlessly, showing that I may yet have a future as a train waiter.
Finally, we get to DC and I switch seats to have a seat to myself. I say goodbye to Sleeping Beauty and move on. She takes out her phone and calls someone. I move two seats ahead of where we were, in front of some married couple. The wife asks her husband a question. He says, “Can’t hear you.” She repeats it. “Can’t hear you.” One more time. “Can’t hear you. This woman behind us is talking on the phone so loud, I can’t hear anything.” He then sighed loudly and passive aggressively complained, “She’ll probably be yakking away all the way up to New York.”
The thing is, each train has a quiet car. What they don’t have is a policy stating everyone must speak in hushed tones or not at all in the presence of this guy and his wife, the noble Duke and Duchess of Amtrak. I think he expected everyone to bow before him as he made his way down the aisle, us his loyal serfs and he the benevolent ruler of the car.
The ironic thing? By complaining about her continuous talking, HE annoyed ME with his continuous talking. I was then forced to loudly complain about him, annoying the passenger in front of me. He then complained about me, enraging the guy in front of him. The circle of life continued.
The guy’s wife is frantically trying to get him to shut up, and he finishes with this gem: “God, Amtrak is FULL of trash. I told you, we should have taken the bus.”
I’m not going to dispute the claim that Amtrak has its fair share of real winners, but dude…HAVE YOU RIDEN A BUS BEFORE? You won’t be confusing a group of people piling out of a Chinatown bus with an Algonquin round table anytime soon. Amtrak passengers are what bus people aspire to be. Whenever you buy a Megabus ticket, you’re automatically sent a poster with the word MOTIVATION under a picture of an Amtrak conductor pointing and laughing at you.
All kidding aside, Amtrak may not be the form of public transportation we deserve, but it’s the one we need right now. And I for one am glad we have it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the food car. I’ve got a hankering for walking past a bunch of people with their shoes off then buying a $38 Twix.