No Ticket ... No Pass ... Disappearing Luggage ... Texas Doodle ... Patriot Act in LA

Bad Conductors

I have learned certain rules when complaining about bad employees. A bad employee reflects a bad manager. On a train, complaining about a bad employee to a bad conductor is a waste of time, e.g., Thomas and Wesley. Therefore, one of the first things to do when you have a complaint is to assess the nature of the conductor. More than likely, if you find a bad employee on a train, you will find a bad conductor who has allowed him to be bad.

Why would a conductor tolerate a bad attendant over a passenger requesting fair and deserved treatment? Because the passenger will get off the train while the cafe attendant will be there to irritate and hassle the conductor. That the attendant was bad at all is a reflection of the conductor's management skills.

If you complain to a bad conductor, you are taking a risk. As noted below, you could find yourself confronted with law enforcement officers questioning you under the auspices of the Patriot Act. Nothing on a train is worth complaining about if it would result in your being de-boarded without reason or cause in a strange, out-of-the-way place--see Fist-Pounding Jumper.

One of the reasons that I don't have more bad conductors is the simple fact that, as noted, if things are bad the conductor will be bad. Like most complaints, if you raise your voice you will make the listener defensive. Raising your voice is like calling someone a racist. If they are innocent, they will resent your accusation. If guilty, they will become more racist as will the bad conductor exhibit bad treatment of you.

No Rail Ticket: Seattle Slew

Before one boards a train, one needs to buy a ticket from the conductor of the train station better known as a station master. Sometimes station masters won't sell you a ticket for the oddest of reasons. For Amtrak's Coastal Star being four hours late into Seattle is not uncommon. Aggravating being late is a station master who will not sell you a ticket because the time is a half-hour past station closing hours. If the train had arrived on time I could have purchase ticket. Seattle Slew would not have won races if it had been denied tickets for which it had paid entry fees.

No Rail Pass

At 10:30, one Sunday morning [Feb6,2000], I arrived at the Richmond, VA, Amtrak station to buy a 30-day pass. I had purchased one in the previous year. I approached the same person who had sold me the previous one [D. Male]. She conveyed that she really didn't want to do it. I said she had done it for me before. She started doing it. About ten minutes later, she ask me to go to the back of the line so she could wait on other people. I was first in line, but figured I had enough time since I had arrived an hour and half before my departure time. About twenty minutes later she started serving me again. About 10 minutes later she said she wouldn't do it, and that I should pick up the phone when it rang in the lobby.

Initially, I talked to a Ms. Barrett who kept saying that I needed to buy a non-citizen rail pass. Sometimes having the remnant of a speech impediment is a handicap like having colored skin in a group of racists. I kept saying, I am an American citizen. I told her that I wrote on economics and politics and that I had worked to change policy on Amtrak. She said she needed to record the call.

A few minutes passed. Another person came on line who I identified herself as A. Premis. I asked what city she was located in; she said Philadelphia. She proceeded to talk about my needing a passport. I said, I am an American citizen with a passport who wants the same rail pass I had purchased in the prior year. She then said I needed to specify my itinery. I told I wanted to catch the Cardinal. She then said I needed to set a trip to Canada. I told her Montreal. At that point she said she couldn't help me with my itinery and that she was short-handed and had other customers to wait on.

When I got off the phone, it was 5 minutes to noon with Ms. D. Male announcing the loading and departure of my transportation with both agents facing lines of 10 to 15 people. Needless to say, I did not may make my transportation.

Overall, station clerks and masters were nice. On more than one occasion obvious extra effort was made to accomodate an out-of-date traveling fool with an out-of-date computer system. Especially memorable was Stan, the conductor on the Crescent, who shepard a ticket for me via his cellphone. Likewise, in New York Penn Station, a Sonya helped me not only once but twice with a smile and a chuckle.

Disappearing Luggage

On a train trip from Richmond to New York City, I had a rude discovery when I returned from working in the cafe to my coach seat. My luggage was gone. Quickly finding the conductor, I was told that someone had become suspicious of my unattended luggage and initiated a "see something, say something" invocation of the Patriot Act. A public announcement was made said the conductor. I asked if he remembered how he had talked to the cafe car attendant about the PA not working in the cafe car? He said the announcement was made ... no one showed up ... the Wilmington, Delaware, police had removed my luggage. I guess the deaf person is responsible for his death when he doesn't hear his co-worker shout fire instead of grabbing him.

The only thing worse than an idiotic use of the Patriotic Act is despotic abuse. Consider the following idiocies:

  1. My ticket stub was above the seat.
  2. My seat was six back from the front of the coach which was attached to the cafe with me sitting in the first half seat close to the coach car.
  3. The conductor did not come into the cafe to asked working people if their luggage was a backpack with food and a red pillow-size mesh bag containing a parka--real dangerous terrorist tools.
  4. My roll-along containing a second computer, LCD projector, bubble-jet printer/scanner, and all other kinds of electronic paraphanelia was above my seat.

Why did they take only my backpack and mesh bag and not the electronics crammed roll-along? Why didn't the conductor walk up to the cafe car and make an announcement?  Because of my tight schedule, the luggage could not catch up with me. In Penn Station's sub-basement K-mark, almost $100 was spent to replace the luggage and contents. This was not an instance of the Patriot Act but of idiots acting.

I started posting "Working in Cafe", when I leave my luggage at my seat, which was an invitation for a thief to rifle my luggage. So, now, I tell the conductor that I am going to be working in the cafe/lounge car. Of course, I precede my introduction with a few memorable bad jokes including the offer to assist the engineer in getting the train moving if it stops too long. The "movement assistance offer" is paired with the presentation of a can of prunes.

Texas Doodle: No Water

The worst train trip was on the Texas Eagle from Chicago to San Antonio. After leaving St. Louis the stench of unflushed commodes began to fill the coach cars. The culprit? No water to flush the commodes.

Because there was no water on Amtrak Texas Eagle [060511] there was no flushing of toilets or washing of hands. The toilets filled up with human waste. A cesspool smell increasingly permeated the car, a car filled with a majority of small kids and elderly citizens.

When found sitting in the dining car talking with other Amtrak personnel, the conductor said--honestly--"If you had told me there was no water, we could have got some in Little Rock. Now we must wait till Ft. Worth--eight hours." This stunning statement begs innumerable, revealing questions.

  1. Why doesn't Amtrak personnel check systems as preventive measure, that is, replenish supplies when they get low not until they are empty?
  2. Why must passengers perform duties that Amtrak's on-train personnel could checkout if they were not sitting on their duffs talking about whatever ....
  3. Why doesn't Amtrak have signs to put on the toilet doors saying that the Toilets are out-of-water, use other passenger car? And, why doesn't Amtrak personnel use their keys to lock the toilets to prevent accumulating mountains of doo?
  4. How can the Bush Administration promise to prevent a bird-flu pandemic when they can't even keep an Amtrak train hygienicly safe from airborne infections of feces-laden air?

The Texas Eagle incident is not isolated. On my recent 30-day pass, I found conditions worse than last year. The Richmond-Miami train had stinking, stuffed toilets when I got on. I went to the front of the front car to have the stench behind me. How many people are getting sick on Amtrak trains? These conditions do not exist on Canadian trains where I ride the rails about 25% of the 30 day pass.

Patriot Act Abused

An unfortunate experience marred an otherwise beautiful trip into and out of LA. Over the years, it was noted by this writer and others that from 25% to 50% of Amtrak's personnel should not be working with the public. This personnel problem shows up in different ways.

About fifteen minutes before the Chief arrived in LA, I asked to see the conductor to complain about safety violations and service failures. In about three minutes I listed my concerns, e.g., trash bins on the spiral staircase to the cafe service as well as boxes, crates and supplies on all of the tables in the cafe area--see pictures in Thomas. Anyone who interacted with me on the train knows that was consistently matter-of-fact. Often, I counseled fellow .... on being cool, e.g., smokers. I know that nothing is to be gained when you can be taken off the trian.

Imagine my surprise after merely complaining so as to mitigate potential litigation and complaints to find myself tapped on the shoulder by a Los Angeles PD officer with his hand on his gun who told me to come with him and not make any sudden moves. Deboarding the train, I also found a Transportation Security Administration and a Homeland Security Officer waiting for me. Afterwards, I wish I had ask "Where's the Coast Guard?"

With hands on their holstered weapons, I was told to put my stuff down slowly and not to make any sudden moves! The LAPD officer then asked for identification and reason for travel to which I provided my 30-day pass, US Passport, VA driver's license and Veteran's Administration ID card. When asked if they could search my luggage, I responded only if I was under arrest in which case I wanted a lawyer. When asked for the pictures that I had taken, I said that they were private property like my luggage. Furthermore, given that Amtrak advertising the picture-taking experience of rail travel, how could they take what I had been encouraged to do? One of the officers responded that under the Patriot Act they did not have to provide me with a lawyer nor observe my claims of privacy.

During this time, I expressed how it was a waste of taxpayers' dollars to tie up three officers to investigate a rail passenger who had only complained about safety and service violations--see Thomas, Bad Employee. When I asked for their names and badge numbers, one of them was not forthcoming, turning sideways when he saw me copying his badge number. The primary benefit of freedom of speech is to free us from problems. Intimidating people is not a problem-solving tool.

LA Names and Numbers of Patriot Act
  1. LAPD 411 Areni
  2. Homeland Security: #445 R. Thompson
  3. 5855 TSA inspector would not give name
  4. Conductor: Ruben Bravo
  5. Attendant: Irene Aqula

Play versus Work

  1. If he had done his job
  2. In less than three questions, he was saying he did not care where people slept. He simply had gone from being a objective conductor to a subjective denier of my rights, passenger and constitutional. DK Lee is not qualified to be a conductor. For me
  3. In summary,  
    1. I approached the conductor about a possible passenger safety issue--an inactive person in a lock room--and misuse of a work room (sleeping and playing). On Canada's VIA, all expressed concerns are met with an appreciative courtesy for a simple reason: If one out of a hundred customer safety concerns is real then not only are the passengers safer but so are the railroad employees. This simple math eludes most Amtrak employees, DK Lee in particular.


In three sentences:

  1. I am working, not playing or sleeping. I don't care.
  2. I am working on a project to increase funding for Amtrak. I don't care.

Conductor on bigger train

Robbed 5 times as a suit



All I said to the girl was that it was inconsiderate of her to use a work space for sleep. The next she gets to use it but it is locked after she leaves.

Enclosed are several essays intended for publication.

Conductors should be eliminated from trains for they are like cabooses. Useless, costly items. VIA got rid of conductors.

No Conductors ... VIA ... 2/3 of time never see conductor, always a sign that the quality is going to be less.