My Weekend Train Ride

I rode trains this weekend.  I didn’t do it to reminisce about my Europe trip long past, I just didn’t want to drive my car to visit my friend.  It turns out that unknown to me, the light rail that runs close by my home ends its route at the train station.  So for $2 I bought a ticket and climbed aboard and rode the train through the city to the station.  It took about 20 minutes.  I de-boarded and went into the Amtrak Station where there were three windows open with people selling tickets.  I looked over at some electronic kiosks where one can buy a ticket with a credit card and could see that both machines were announcing that they were “Out of Order”.  So I got in line and soon was at a window with a pleasant woman who took my card and wrote me a ticket.  Yes, wrote it.  Not typed, not computer generated and printed, she hand wrote the ticket on a multiple carbon document.  I guessed that all of the computers were down or that the purchase order for computers was deep in the stacks on some dusty desk in Washington.

Next I had some time to kill so I bought a soda from the nice immigrant in the corner with the snack bar. He appears to be living the American Dream with a big smile on his face.  I went and sat down to do some reading for a business project.  The terminal is large like most train terminals seem to be with soaring ornate ceilings and a wonderful mural on one wall facing me.  It was a pastoral scene of the golden spike being driven into the final segment of the transcontinental railroad back in 18- whatever in Utah.  Fortunes were made on this ambitious project and the names of the industrialist railroad builders are still all over California, Crocker, Stanford, Huntington to name a few.

I sat back on the slatted oak benches very pleasantly reading and alternatively watching people be people.  I saw young people with skateboards impatiently pacing around the terminal, an old lady and her son and daughter-in-law with three grandchildren all eating hotdogs and soda supporting the newest American in the building.  A little pudgy pink girl with red cheeks was more intent on exploring that listening to Mom.  Two old ladies sat down in my row, apparently more comfortable in my graying white male presence than with the tattooed and hairy young man who was talking on his cell phone a row over.

One of the old ladies approached me to borrow a pen seeing that I was industriously writing.  She wanted to fill out her baggage tag so I of course gave her a spare to use.  She returned my pen appreciatively later and I felt I had fulfilled my inner need to be helpful for the day so the rest of the world was going to be out of luck.

The time came for us all to move out to the platform beside the great beast that would carry us to the SF Bay Area.  Trains are massive, impressive machines and this one was silver and shiny with great black wheels and dark windows.  I stood beside it looking at the wonderful wheels and springs of undercarriage, hearing the spurting hiss of compressed air and the low rumble of the waiting diesel engines. 

I couldn’t understand why the crew didn’t open the doors earlier than they did but we all had to stand waiting for some time.  This is annoying to me as an early arriver who does so for a purpose.  We early arrivers like to get on board first; we like to find the perfect seat.  We do not like to have to form a queue with late arrivers who are inevitably daft as hell about where they should stand and who was there before them; even when we are all standing there when they arrive like a bunch of cows waiting for a bundle of hay to fall off the truck.

Late arrivers with small children are the worst.  They arrive with every conceivable contraption known to man which are supposed to make child-rearing simple.  These conveniences of modern parenthood should enable them to be an early arriver I think.  But no, they arrive with bottles and shoulder bags and strollers and car seats and roller bags.  They have one arm around a sagging, squirming child who’s already bored with the train experience and wants to play with its wheels on the tracks which should possibly be allowed in some cases.  The adults are red-faced and haggard and when they arrive at the line by the door of the train, they simply dump all their possessions and their sniveling brat at the front of the queue looking pathetically for sympathy from the early arrivers who sneer back at them.  Late arrivers with children are not impacted in the least by a sneer.  Early arrivers are fastidiously tolerant people so the parents and their spawn and all related equipment are tolerated and allowed to board first.  We early arrivers – so efficient and unburdened – are not happy about this turn of events but we are too gracious to complain about it in public.

As I waited in line, I was again accosted by one of the old ladies who was mortally confused about the boarding procedures.  We were told that the café car door would not be opening for boarding and that boarding would only be permitted on cars in front of and behind the café car.  I explained the procedure to the old dear and she was fully satisfied toddled off with her purple multi-day pill case and bottle of water in hand.  I decided that to reduce confusion for senior citizens they should be allowed to board any door on the train and I shall write a letter about the topic to the railroad supervisor.  It is enough for them to be burdened with multiple day pill boxes and late arriver parents and spawn.

A man came onto the PA system to announce the imminent opening of the doors and the subsequent open boarding of the train.  The doors parted in the middle and slid back with a hiss.  The parents were madly scrambling to collect their dirty genetic duplicates who by now had gotten filthy crawling around the platform.  They managed to grab up all of their baby shower accessories, none of which had managed to keep the children either clean or in order while on the platform, and they schlepped their loads like Sherpas climbing Everest and were gone.  I entered the car and climbed the narrow staircase to the second floor of the car confident that neither old ladies nor late arriver parents would brave the upper floor where there was neither a bathroom nor a snack bar.  I was right of course and spent a comfortable and uninterrupted passage to my destination.

To be continued…