Trainventure: Yet More Character Sketches

These were taken on the train ride from Chicago to Seattle.


Lots of Amish women and children wandering up and down the train on the way to Seattle. Didn’t see any going up to Chicago. Saw a few couples all sitting together in a coach car: stereotypical beards, shleykes (suspenders) on the men, white hats reminiscent of lampshades, crisp and pleated, on the older womens’ heads. Kids wearing what looks like it might be homemade clothing; if it is, there’s a business model somewhere that should be looked into.

Two men in their bowl haircuts and vests came in with a little boy in his little vest. He’s been coughing all over the place at his seat in the lounge. Hope it’s not the Black Plague.

Medieval Fatigues

Wild, wiry gray hair, a blouse-like shirt, slightly wild eyes. Wandered down the lounge car.

Nerds On A Train

Sat down with dinner with a 24-year old pre-med school, post-baccalaureate student, a nurse supervisor, and a retiree who ran a print shop. Within five minutes the former two and I were involved in a discussion about EMR software, which turned into a discussion about MUMPS and then IPT-10 code humor. W.TF.

The Stop Singer

John was the conductor working without a net – an assistant. Short, rotund, balding white hair with a short-trimmed beard. We started chatting in an open area in the crew/passenger sleeper downstairs, while I stretched in the open space. Like most Amtrak folk he was very passionate about what he did: a priest of the worship of the iron horse. He spoke with a moderate stutter. Nothing big, but certainly a sentence stopper when he got to certain words. Except when he got on the PA system to tell people about upcoming stops. Then his voice turned mellifluous and warm, smooth as cool honey pouring from ceramic ewer onto plush, steaming pancakes. No trace of a stutter in that well-modulated, cordial, ‘I own this train’ patter. Didn’t collect model trains. How odd…

Queen of the Lounge Car

Most of the Amtrak folks are, at least, perfunctorily polite. The woman running the bar downstairs in the lounge did her best to provide a comparative exception. Grimly professional, rising not to politeness nor small humor (okay, my humor can be very small, I agree). I asked about Advil™ and she looked at me as if I’d asked about buying meth: “Sir, we don’t sell any medications on this train.” Okay then.

Later… Was eating breakfast with two passengers: one a young man studying criminal justice, and another guy. The subject of the lounge car came up.

“What a bitch,” one said. The other nodded.

“I mean, I’ve been a waiter, and she’s just rude as hell.”

Quote from her on the PA system: “And please remember: shoes, shirt, and courtesy must be worn at all times in the lounge car.”

The Trump of the Train

The Seattle-bound train is built interestingly, to best suit the majority of passengers, and not the sleeper folks:

From my berth in the crew/sleeper car, the dining car is the closest car with tables on which I can spread out. I found an empty table and started spreading out. “What are you doing?” came the sharp question. The conductor.

“I can’t work here?”

“No,” she said, with a distinct Dakotan twang. “This is my office. I sit here.”

“Okay, I figured this was less of a deal than the tables in the sleeper car.”

“What tables?”

“The ones downstairs in my sleeper car. With the open space?”

“Well, that’s my office too. You can’t sit there.”

I forebore from asking if her last name was Trump. But only barely. I packed up as she primly spread a white towel on the seat I just vacated and carefully plonked herself down in front of the magazine or crossword puzzle – I didn’t stick around to see which was her next office chore.