Funny Moments ... No So Funny ... Libraries ... Electrical Outlets

Memorable Moments on a 30-day Rail

Trains are fun and full of fun if you are a fun-focused person. A polite, pleasant "Good morning" or a "Having a good time?" will open many enjoyable conversations pregnant with possibilities. The lessons of laughter learned from funny foreigners are the Fort Knox of happiness from which you will draw deposits for many years to come.

Funny Moments

The following are a simple listing of funny things that could have been anything else anyplace else.

  1. Eau de Toilette: East Coast Amtrak Trains use scented blue water to flush toilets. Long-distant trains use either plain water or no water.
  2. English Who? Amish and Mennonites are frequent passengers. Other passengers unfamiliar with them ask some amusing questions. One lady asked a group what language they spoke. "German," said one. "No, Old German," said another. A third said "Pennsyvania Dutch." The lady added, "Oh, so you throw in English." I could not withhold saying, "No, they throw out English." My quip prompted an initial laughter that became a group riot with one member pounding the side of the chair until he stopped laughing. [For the unaware, when an Amish member leaves the commuity, it is said that they have gone English.]
  3. Geocentric Americans: When the early rush hour Skytrain packed with workers came to a halt between stations, passengers moaned and groaned. When the noise settled down, I expressed, "It's my fault. Nothing works anymore for us Americans." More laughter which was followed by, "Yes, it is like you Americans to think you are the center of attention." Guess this is why Vancouver has reputation for unpleasant citizens that rivals Montreal.
  4. New Zealand's Flat Tax: Discussing economics with a couple from the North Island I learned of a "flat tax" referendum on the national ballot to tax the green house gases from cattle and sheep flatulence. (Animal generation of greenhouse gases)
  5. Say what? Listening to heavily accented Arnold Schwarzenegger describe his job as  "Governor of Can I fornicate." Along these lines was my perplexed look each time I saw a couple exiting the uni-sex toilettes which had only one commode. Was there more than bad rails for why the train was rocking and rolling?
  6. Beating the odds: Two trains leave Miami in the morning at about the same time in the morning. The Silver Meteor is scheduled for 7:15am and the Silver Star at 8:50am. By schedule, the Meteor has fewer stops and is faster to New York by five hours ... normally. When it was announced the Meteor was two hours late, I was not concerned for my safety time for the next connection (Cardinal) was five hours. When a three-hour delay was announced a few mintues later for Meteor I switched my ticket to the slower Star which detoured through Tampa. As the Star approached Washington, I realized it would be too late for the Cardinal so I bailed at an earlier common stop, Alexandria. Running down the eastern ramp to u-turn up the western steps to the station, I huffed and puffed as I heard the arrival announcement of the Cardinal. The ticket window was empty. A little noise brought a Amtrak employee ... a new one who was unfamiliar with rail passes. The station master preparing for the boarding, when called by the newbie, said that I was about five minutes too late to get a ticket whereupon I said my lateness was far less than the train that just left. Understanding the
    Amtrak origin of my lateness--quite different than Seattle Slew--he punched out a ticket for me. As I was boarding the Cardinal, a train I had barely met by less than ten minutes, the PA announced, "The Silver Meteor will be arriving after the departure of the Cardinal."
  7. Taxi Cheat: While it is the case that I organize my life to live like a chicken, that is, "Cheap, cheap, cheap," I always try to pay my fair and proper share if I choose a service. If I take a taxi, I always seek to pay a tip based on the conversation. In Miami, a couple with a child (met on the train) agreed to share a taxi to Miami Beach, in part on their part, because they wanted me to query the driver about hotels. During the ride, little of the normal cultural, economic or political exchange occurred as questions on inexpensive, safe hotels close to the beach went back and forth between me and the heavily accented Carribean driver and the Indian couple. Looking at the fare meter--$36.90--I told the husband that I would pick up $20 of the fare. He handed me $16 which indicated he had looked at meter. He turned quickly to leave. I laughed. There was no ninety cents nor a tip for the driver who could have been listening to music or me instead of being grilled as an information bank on local lodging. Nor was it like I had the 3:1 body ratio benefit from the taxi ride. Better to be a cheap trip chooser than a cheap respect looser. (P.S. Can't tell you about the great hostel in Miami I used--you might get the last room just before I ring up the concierge.)
  8. Life imitating jokes: Montreal prompts a question, "Which comes first, the cold weather or the cold shoulders?" When I asked college-age girl in a terminal coffee shop if she would watch my computer while I visit the toillette, she said, "No, I don't want the responsibility." This was the first time in over twenty years in owning a portable computer that a person has said no to this request. But the general unpleasantries were forgotten when a Redcap proved to a jokester extraordinaire. Not only could jokes be exchanged but anticipated as we skipped over successive peaks of mirth. No sooner had he told me to congratulate the other Redcap on his sister's Olympic performance than I ask if she was handicapped. Deja Vu! Life imitated jokes. A few minutes later I met Alexi. While the Redcap was a pleasure, Alexi, a twelve-year old confined to a wheelchair, had a Hollywood smile that might be the real cause of global warming. For almost an hour, I had the pleasure of making her laugh with the reward of even bigger, brighter and warmer smiles. Told her I looked forward to reading about her achievements in the art world. What a refreshing refutation of refuse recluses. As I said goodbye, I asked of their travel destination: "Back home to Toronto."

No So Funny Moments

  1. Worst Joke: Throughout my trip, I always tried to make people laugh. When I asked one young fella what was the worst joke in the world, he replied, "Bush. He killed my brother." He was a college music major returning from the funeral of his soldier brother killed in Iraq.
  2. Disappearing Luggage: Went to work in the cafe car only to discover upon my return that the conductor had had police remove my luggage because some passenger thought it might be a bomb.
  3. Rape: Standing at the head of the line at the bottom of Superliner waiting to deboard as we came into Chicago's Union Station, a noise was heard from behind. A girl in early twenties was forcing her way through the waiting passengers banging luggage against luggage. When she squeezed past the man behind me, I asked where she was going. She said she was going to get off. I said she could wait her turn at which point she screamed that I had groped and molested her. Notwithstanding that I was holding luggage in both hands, she persisted in shouting which prompted the attendant at the door of the still moving train to call for security. When the train stopped, police detained me as the girl sprew out her accusations. Fortunately, the man behind me who had been shoved aside by the self-centered me-first girl spoke up to refute the girl's claim and support my telling her to wait her turn. At that point, I asked the officer to arrest the girl for false accusation which he offered to do if my witness and I were willing to return for the arraignment and trial. While I was at liberty to so do, the witness expressed that he could not do it without incurring great inconvenience. I said let it go. As we walked away, I thank the witness for hanging around and stepping forward. I asked him why he had not objected as the girl pushed by him. In so many words he said, "Been there done that. Can you imagine what would have happened to me, a black man, if that white girl had accused me and if there had been no witness?"
  4. Class Action Suit: After leaving Houston on the Sunset Limited heading for New Orleans, the train stopped with passengers emerging to lull around a wasteland. Curious, I deboarded and wondered what the problem. I asked the attendant why we had stopped in the middle of nowhere. He said, "This is the Beaumont stop." Without doubt, of the hundreds of train stations and train stops I've seen, Beaumont is in class of its own with a train stop that isn't even worthy of being called ugly and decrepit. Beaumont's station is a baren stretch of rubble and concrete with no sign of civilization in sight.

    As we pulled into New Orleans, I struck up a conversation about the train ride with two little ladies, Nettie Whittingham and Rose Ceasar. They described arriving two hours after the scheduled time after calling Amtrak for the trains standing for four hours waiting for the train in Beaumont, Texas. "It was hot and the sweat poured as we stood in the sun," said Rose. Indicating the lack of facilities in as delicate of a way as she could, Rose described how they had to crossed her legs. Adding, insult to injury, exclaimed Nettie and Rose, was watching for an hour and a half as the Sunset Limited sat 100 yards beyond the end of concrete and just beyond a cross track as freight train after freight train passed in front of the stationary passenger train. Guess train dispatchers don't have grandmothers, mothers or sisters. Nettie, in her sixties, said she would have walked to the train but the weeds contained poison ivy. Both expressed sympathy for passengers who lacked friends to accompany them during the wait in the out-of-the-way urban zone of blight. Nettie said she was blessed with friends who gave going to church to sit with her.

    Beaumont's city fathers apparently don't care about the impression wrought on passerbys of their city. Amazingly, America's capital of class action litigation cannot afford a simple bus stop bench with a rain or sun cover for people waiting ever lengthening hours for the late Amtrak train--six hours on May 6, 2007. Maybe a class action suit against the classless class action city would prompt Beaumont to mount a beautiful bench for passengers. Or, they should change the name from beautiful mountain to ugly hole. The only thing worse than the empty physicality of Beaumont and empty psyches of Montreal would be a place with both: Crawford, Texas?

    While four hours late at Beaumont, the Sunset Limited was eight hours late to New Orleans. Go figure. In a distance less than one-tenth of the total LAX to NOL trip, the train lost as much time as was lost in the previous 90%. Like Chicago voters, Amtrak aims to be late early and to be late often.
  5. An Old Fella: Reminescent of the boat man in Hemingway's "Old Man and the Sea," an old gentelman took the seat behind me in Vancouver. Like me, he didn't shave every day. From his rubbled face came broken English in response to my questions but poured forth fluent French as the bi-lingual attendant answers his excited questions. Brenda, the attendant, said he had lost his luggage. Later, in the trip, she informed him that luggage was on a bus heading for his destination. In Edmonton, standing in front of me, he was told that credit cards were not accepted. As he walked away, I asked the vendor what was in the sack and how much. "Sandwich and drink, $4.50." Adding the bag to my candy bar and postcard purchase, I went in search of the old man with the quaint provincial aire. His "merci, merci, merci" was met with my atrocious "Il nie a n'est pas." Where for $4.50 can you get the satifisfaction of thinking you did a good deed. Later, two-thirds the way to Toronto, we had an extended stop for re-fueling the train. When the horn sounded followed by "All aboard" I saw consternation on the faces of the two car attendants in the vestibule. Looking back, the old man was not in his seat nor in the aisle. As the train began to move I searched the streets of the little hamlet ready to yell out, "There he is!" While the train would not and could not delay departure to search for the old man, it would have stopped for someone to rush out to bring the man aboard. Later, I learned he had been found and placed on a bus. He and his luggage should have taken the bus together from the start rather than ending separate apart.

Libraries:

Libraries are like borders when it comes to being homeless in fact or in facade. I travel as a neo-homeless person for reasons of personal safety. I avoid traveling as a suit wherein I have been in five robberies.

Arriving mid-day in Tampa, Florida, before my friends ended there teaching day, I directed myself from the old downtown station to the public library.

"Sorry, we don't let homeless people in here"

"I'm not homless. I'm visiting"

"I know. But we still don't let homeless people in here."

So I found a coffee shop and worked. The next morning, the library at the local statue university was not so restrictive. A later trip to Hartford, Connecticut, had the same "no homeless" policy at the library. Protestations notwithstanding, appearance does matter. James Whitlock played "Black Like Me" while I have played homeless like them.

Electrical Outlets:

Trains cars used for long-distant travel tend to be the older cars in both the states and Canada. While more comfortable, they lack sufficient electrical outlets for all the modern toys. I early on learned to gravitate toward the outlet before the neophytes arrived at the last item on their boarding thing-to-list: Find an outlet.

Being prepared and being first is a curse unless you take it one step further. You won't get any work down if you are constantly interrupted by requests to use your outlet. The simple solution is to carry a electrical strip with six outlets which others can use. Your popularity will drop matched with a greater rise in your productivity.

Moral of the story

To further deflect questions of electron sources, I produced a small lime-green sign which I posted to assist electron seekers. I prompted a lot of laughter. Canadian conductors left it up while half of the American conductors tore it down.

Electrical Charging Service

Rules:

  1. Wrap cords around charger or device.
    Please, no sphaghetti mess.
  2. One hour maximum to optimize all benefitting.
    Violators will be thrown off the Taranteum Heights,
    into the Tiber River or under the train.

Payment:

  1. Twenty-five Martian dinari, or,
  2. A smile for the next person you meet.

Service Provided by Bob's Traveling Back Ward

  1. Mental crutches for Freudian slips.
  2. Jug bands booked.
  3. Riots quelled (or started).
  4. Maidens defleured.

The electrical outlet is a metaphor for that segment of humanity who think that personal security is in being a back to nature survivalist. As the electron seekers always found me at the only available outlet so will starving city folks find the survivalist. The only solution to humanity's worsening problems is not isolation but a strip extension cord with many outlets for many people to solve their problems: Better democracy.

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