Saturday, July 24, 2010
Some notes on Amtrak and the easy-going travelers gone amuck
Our lovely customer service rep, Lynn, (who is paid to walk through the train and make sure everyone is happy with their trip) edumacated us a little on train travel in the US.
Apparently when Americans started traveling by rail, passenger train companies paid to ride on freight tracks. But as train travel grew more popular, the government laid track exclusively for leisure travel and commuting. (Amtrak = America Track)
Every four years Amtrak applies for subsidies from the federal government. Depending on the administration, trains get more or less in subsidies.
Prior to 9/11, train travel had dropped off to next to nothing and the government was considering pulling the rug from Amtrak altogether. Now rail ridership is up.
We pass ride alongside the San Andreas fault line. The conductor has a soft spot for puns. “If you experience an earthquake while riding this train, it is not Amtrak’s fault. It is the San Andreas fault.” Or later close to Monterey: “There are many types of birds in this area. Along the shore here you will see seagulls, but closer to the Monterey Bay you will see bay-gulls (bagels).”
After dark, the lounge car gets interesting. We play Bananagrams and can’t help but listen in on the drunken conversations, especially one in which two young guys hypothesized whether the other is homosexual:
“Just imagine, Dude, one of us could be on this trip and discover we’re gay.”
“Do you find me attractive?”
“Nah. I mean I don’t know. Because I’m not a girl.”
“But you said you could be discovering you’re gay.”
“I’m not gay. I just mean one of us could turn gay like that on this trip.”
“Do you find me attractive?”
Three other inebriated travelers share stories at another table. One of these three is traveling with his teenage daughter who, visibly embarrassed, sits at a separate table, trying to seem as if she were traveling alone. In between discussions about his jobs working for various environmental groups, the father addresses his daughter. Here’s one exchange:
“What’re ya eatin’?”
(Daughter ignores him.)
“That’s ok. Sometimes.” (to his new buddies) “I let her eat that crap sometimes, but mostly she eats real good. Veggies and stuff.” (to his daughter) “Eat yer whole foods, b****! (laughter).
You get the idea.
So after a night of intermittent sleep in the EZ Boy-esque recliners, we wake up (Day 2!) and walk through the lounge car. It now resembles a hen house, the floor evenly littered with sunflower seed shells. Some of the guys sleep face down at their table.
But the sun is up and Mount Shasta’s glaciers gleam above us. We cross a valley, glide alongside a river. We eat scrambled eggs and grits in the dining car while watching fat cows begin their day grazing in lush meadows.
Two of the larger guys wake up still drunk and belligerent and are kicked off the train.
We haven’t hit the border of Oregon yet. But it’s coming.