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Making friends in confined spaces.

30 Jan

Last week I committed two faux pas while riding the rails from Boston to DC. The first occurred on the Boston to NYC leg. The timing worked out so that I needed to eat dinner on the train, so before sitting down, I went to the Café Car. If you’ve never taken the train, let me assure you: the Café Car on Acela is not like what you see in movies.

NOT the Acela.

There’s no white tablecloth, and definitely no silver. While it’s not fine dining, there are still some decent options, which is how I came to order Legal Seafoods’ Clam Chowder. Since we were departing Boston, it seemed fitting.

That’s about as much thought as I gave it – until I sat down back on the Quiet Car and removed the lid. At which point, the seafood smell of it rose up like a fist and punched me in the face. Yes, I was that person. The one who buys a tuna sandwich and opens it up on a plane right after take-off, ensuring the entire cabin smells like fish.

Horrified, I channeled my embarrassment back at Amtrak in the form of outrage: Why on Earth would they offer this on their menu? This should only be served at establishments with open-air patios! Fortunately, since I was on the Quiet Car, I knew no one would actually confront me, so I just kept my eyes on the bowl so I wouldn’t have to endure any angry glances.

Not wanting to make the same mistake on the NYC to DC leg the next day, I picked up a quesadilla at Penn Station for the ride. Once I was settled into my seat on the train, I began producing the items for my meal: quesadilla, salsa, napkins, soft drink, fork, Purell.

That’s right: Purell. Have I mentioned that I’m slightly OCD? And that I get sick almost every time I travel? Those two factors have combined to make me a religious user of  liquid hand sanitizer. I have a refillable dispenser that looks like a highlighter and sprays the Purell almost like a squirt gun.

So as I tucked into my meal, I pulled out my Purell highlighter, gave it a few pumps and rubbed my hands together. And — nothing. There was no Purell on my hands. I looked at the dispenser to see if it had run dry, and then I realized: the spray hole hadn’t been lined up with my hands.

No. It had sprayed out fine. Just not on my hands. With a sense of dread, I started looking around to see where it might have landed. And that’s when I saw two quarter-sized blobs running down the laptop screen of the man seated next to me. Gah!

Fortunately, he was standing up at the time, placing his coat in the overhead bin, so he hadn’t seen me spray down his MacBook Pro. Hoping to eliminate the evidence, I leaned over with my napkin and started trying to wipe his screen discreetly. About this time, I noticed the man across the aisle scowling at me, clearly thinking I was tampering with a stranger’s laptop. Which, in fairness, I suppose I was.

I gave him my most disarming smile (which, I believe, looks I’m channeling Amelie from the French movie, but actually probably more accurately looks like a baby filling its diaper) and abandoned Operation Wipedown, turning to stare out the window. At just this moment, my seatmate sat back down and began typing.

I continued to face the window, my shoulders shaking as I silently giggled, praying that he wouldn’t ask me why his laptop had a clear schmear across the screen. And I could not stop laughing. To say it tickled my funny bone would be an understatement. I sat there, silently shaking, until I had tears running down my cheeks.

At one point, I thought I had composed myself well enough to apologize, but I turned around saw the schmeary outline of the gel on his screen and just lost it. He gave me an odd look and returned to his work, no doubt wondering what kind of nutjob he was sharing a seat with.

Ultimately, I wasn’t busted. But I can’t exactly say I got away with it. Because I’m pretty sure he was sitting there writing a blog about the freakshow next to him who alternately sprayed Purell and convulsed for the duration of the ride.

Actually, now that I think about it, he probably should’ve thanked me for the material. Or at least for disinfecting his screen. You’re welcome, Amtrak Stranger! Now pay it forward…