Tag Archives: Amtrak

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…

Top 10 Reasons: Rail Travel Rocks

26 Jan
Like the Acela, but cooler.

Like the Acela, but a wee bit slower, and with less leg room. Still better than flying.

Top 10: Reasons Trains Beat Planes in Rochambeau*

  1. Even when someone reclines their seat, I still have an extra foot of arm-room for my laptop.
  2. I don’t have to wait for a flight attendant when I’m thirsty. Two words: Cafe Car.
  3. No seatbelts. Or annoying announcements from the pilot telling you to put them on.
  4. The bathroom is large enough to install a phone and conduct business. Tip: If you board at the originating station, consider locking yourself in the commode and treating it as your private office for the duration of your trip. I think this is – literally – where the term “Squatter’s Rights” comes from.
  5. The Quiet Car: no one can talk, use a cell phone, play music without headphones, etc. While you might think this is awesome because you can work uninterrupted or take a nap, the real reason it rocks is witnessing the enforcement of the rule. If you’ve ever wanted to see an introvert on a power-trip unleash a can of whoop-ass, this is where to sit. For supporting evidence, read this
  6. If you’re not in the Quiet Car, the best thing is eavesdropping. Last night I overheard one woman describe the BRAT diet and a guy get quoted $900 for a one-day rental car. I also heard someone offer up their credit card digits (including the security code and expiration date) and wondered how many people actually wrote it down.
  7. No TSA workers to flag me for a random screening. Getting to board without taking my shoes off, pulling out my laptop and removing my coat? Amazing. Not having to limit my liquids to 3 oz in a plastic baggie? Priceless.
  8. No “unplanned landings” caused by obnoxious passengers midair. On Amtrak, if someone becomes unruly, they can just get tossed off the train at the next stop without delaying anyone.
  9. My seat cushion doesn’t double as a life preserver. (BTW: is that not like the most twisted version of “Would You Rather?” Your options: would you rather a) Drown after surviving a plane crash, or b) Float in icy, shark-infested water with a cushion that has absorbed countless farts pressed to your face?)
  10. When the train shakes, I don’t worry that we’re going to fall out of the sky.

*Using my best Cartman voice: If you don’t know what Rochambeau is, then dude, you totally need to watch this clip from SouthPark.

I suppose this justifies kids owning cell phones.

24 Feb

When I was in second grade, a McDonald’s opened in my small, five-stoplight midwestern town. It was a pretty big deal, so pretty much the entire town’s population – including my mom, my seventh grade sister and me – turned up for the grand opening.

Middle school is not the time when you want your little sister clinging around, so Alicia did her best to ditch me and hang with her friends as soon as we entered the restaurant. My mom had other plans, however, so after securing our tray of food, she seated us at a table next to where my sister sat with her friends.

Alicia tried to ignore me. I tried to pretend I was part of her table. My mom tried to mediate, making us each a bit more accommodating of the other.

And then I went to the bathroom.

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Where the strangers are friendly… and pogo sticks are helpful?

13 Jan

Today my work brought me from Chicago up to Milwaukee. I’ve been here two other times, and each time, it has left me wanting.

Not because there’s anything inherently wrong with Milwaukee, it’s just that I expect to see two people (specifically Laverne & Shirley) dancing down the streets on their way to work at a bottling plant. And it hasn’t happened. Yet. (I remain hopeful.)

This morning I was debating between the 6am or 8:30am train from Union Station in Chicago. I harkened back to my last visit, and remembered the odd desolation of Union Station at 6am. I arrived at 5:30am and the place was DESERTED until 5:55. If memory serves, I went so far as to take off my belt in case I needed to clock someone in the head with the buckle.

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