Funny Moments ... No So
Funny ... Libraries ...
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.
The following are a simple listing of funny things that could have been anything
else anyplace else.
Eau de Toilette: East Coast Amtrak Trains use scented blue water to
flush toilets. Long-distant trains use either plain water or no water.
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
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.
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
generation of greenhouse gases)
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?
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.
Amtrak origin of my lateness--quite different than
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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
Wrap cords around charger or device.
Please, no sphaghetti mess.
One hour maximum to optimize all benefitting.
Violators will be thrown off the Taranteum Heights,
into the Tiber River or under the train.
Twenty-five Martian dinari, or,
A smile for the next person you meet.
Service Provided by Bob's Traveling Back Ward
Mental crutches for Freudian slips.
Jug bands booked.
Riots quelled (or started).
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.