Cafe Car Attendants ... Thomas ... Wesley ... Ms6oh1 ... Winnie ... Carl

While a few bad and good employees are listed below, I wish I had kept a simple sequential list of trains and stations with two lists of employees, good and bad. The good would outnumber the bad. While one could list all employees, the goal of promoting and improving Amtrak would not be enhanced. However, a simple listing of the good employees would be an acknowleged without using up to much ink or time. Next time.

Bad Employees of Amtrak:
Coffee, Tea or Worse

Fortunes have been made and academic careers launched based on the what makes bad employees. Few Amtrak passengers don't have a negative opinion of Amtrak employees. Separating out the complaints of the disregardable constant complainers, one hears some surprising things. One sober, rationale passenger told this writer of a new riot on an Amtrak train in response to the rudeness of the employees. I thought citizen riots only occured in China. Guess not.

Don't antagonize an Amtrak employee. If you think service is bad before they know you, wait till they get you in their eye sight. Knowing potential Amtrak employee problems can save you time and money. Afterall, it is their train. They can say that in the interest of public safety that you are a security risk to be de-boarded at next stop, possibly with police waiting--see LA Patriot Act or Fist-Pounding Jumper.

In general, bad examples of Amtrak employees consists of two classes, cafe car attendants and conductors. It is hard to have a bad experience with an engineer since one never sees an engineer. Of course, if an engineer gives you a bad experience on Amtrak, it might well eclipse all the other ones together.

As a rule, the remaining class of Amtrak employees that one meets on a train tends to be pretty good, that is, the car attendants. In fact, the most consistent positive employee experiences I have had has been the coach attendants. There may be a simple reason: They are the newest employees, that is, unjaded and untainted. One of the best employees I ever met, Winnie, was a cafe car attendant.

An exception was the tall, good-looking guy [Robert Taylor] who woke me in the middle of the night talking to girls in then darken coach with his resonating voice. A request for quietitude during sleep time was met with "I doing business" after which their social conversation resumed. I knew I was not wrong in my conclusion when I observed the other car attendant frantically marking tickets and boarding new passengers with a non-whispered exclamation, "Where is he now?" He was a few feet away seated at the back of the coach talking with another group of girls. Now that is a job I would liked to have had when I was young and good-looking, getting paid to travel and talk to girls while "doing business."

While not train-based, ticket-issuers can issue the ultimate bad employee complaint: No tickets to travel. Based on the experience with bad employees and conductors as well as public information on Amtrak's managment and board, a Guideline for Public Relations of Amtrak has been deduced for your review.

Personal experience provides many examples of people who find a job that they like well enough to not engender anger from others who meet them because of their attitudes. Having a bad day is sad. Making a life of bad days is a tragedy, especially when shared with others.

One telling sign of a person experienced in having bad days is their refusing to give their name when you complain and ask for their name. For this writer, there was the "I got no name" station master who would not sell me a ticket because it was past closing time despite the train being four hours late instead of arriving on time before closing time. Another nameless person was one of the three officers who detained me under a threat of the Patriot Act because I had complained about safety and service on the Southwest Chief as it came into Los Angeles.

Cafe Car Attendants

Unfortunately, cafe cars have two essential ingredients necessary to work: electrical outlets and tables. Most long-distance coaches only have one outlet which experienced travelers rush to monopolize. And, the cute little TV-dinner flip-down trays don't safely support a 17" laptop. The lounge cars above the cafe cars do not have tables with outlets.

Often the cafe car is used as a private railcar by the cafe attendants. Quite often, the bathroom is privatized by locks or box blocks as seen these photos. Equally effective is filling up the cafe bathroom with empty boxes. Of course, the empty boxes could have been flattened as would eventually be the case. However, the cafe car attendant was either to busy on his computer or used the boxes to block ready access for bodily function which he did several times while the writer was working. (The pictures were taken in the middle of the night because of the previous experience with the pictures and the Patriot Act.) Note the boxes on seats at the right and the mop blocking the doorway.

Navigating cafe car attendants is an art if one wants to work on a train. In the following accounts, numerous deadends are found to thwart working on a cafe car. It is a waste of time to ask if you can use the tables. The best thing is to buy something, sit down and work. If duct tape is on an outlet, remove it.

Taped Over Outlets, bottom center

Three bad employees are listed: T, W and 6oh1. Many more were encountered but after a few you stop wasting pen, paper and pixels. The experience with one good employee, Winnie, is described.

Thomas' Private Castle of Box Walls and Trash Gates (0511)
Thomas was a character. He blocked the staircase with trash boxes to deter passengers from transitting from the lounge deck down to the cafe area. He covered the tables in the cafe area with supply boxes so people could not sit--picture. Where he did not have enough boxes, he expanded the disposable trash to cover the seats.

Trash Gate
Box Walls

As a character, Thomas not only used trash boxes but he talked trash about passengers after they paid for their food. A non-Amtrak individual was constantly bantering with Thomas as passengers were served. As each passenger left, Thomas and his friend would critique the departing passenger dress and speech. They did not seem to care that the next passenger knew he or she was about to be the next customer on the cutting block. What a character!

Using trash boxes to limit passenger options also occurs in the coach cars where and when some attendants don't want passengers sitting close to them. Note the space behind the seat where the trash box could have been placed. Do you put your trash cans on your seats a home? Can you imagine this car attendant's home or ward?

It was Thomas' low customer service and high safety violations that prompted a complaint to the conductor on the Southwest Chief who responded by reporting me to the LAPD, TSA, and Homeland Security as a terrorist threat--see Patriot Act in Action In Los Angeles

Wesley, 0704 trip
Consistently, the Southwest Chief, was the train with the most frequent employee problems which is why California-connected trains have a unique bad rep when talking with Amtrak employees. I met Wesley in the cafe when the PA announced an hour after departure that the cafe was open. Normally, it opens within a few minutes.

Wesley was asked if it was ok to buy some coffee and to sit and to work. He said no. Said it was against the rules. Said inspectors were constantly coming on board and checking. Said he had a perfect record which he did not want blemished.

"Said, said, said, said" were Wesley's death by a thousand qualifications. As I asked him why, his answers became more convoluted indicating that he was ad hoc'ing on the spot. Based on people later found to be using the tables for lengthy cardplaying and no evidence of purchases, one has to wonder about Wesley's motives.

It was the cardplayers which prompted this writer to speak to the conductor, Rick Cavanaugh. When queried why it was ok to play but not work in the cafe, the conductor said he was not in charge of the cafe, Wesley was. He said it was not his decision who used the table. I pointed out an old man standing on the upper level using his laptop at the unused wetbar when tables were empty downstairs.

Old Man Standing Up Computing, My Computer on Right

The conductor said it was not his problem and he had other things to do whereupon he left. This play over work preference in the cafe cars of Amtrak is another example of why America does not work.

Ms. 6oh1, Coastal Star, 070501
Woke up at 4:30am and went to the cafe car to work. At 5:50 the car attendant came into view whereup I gave one of my cheery, "Good morning" to which the car attendant snapped, "It's not 6:01, yet!"

What a sad life she must live as expressed in not only how she snapped but what she snapped. Did she snap, "I'm not open" or "It's not 6 o'clock"? No, she snapped "6:01," that is, "six oh ONE!" Oh, what a sad life Ms. 6oh1 must live.

Biting my tongue as my hero ole Abraham must have done many a time, I bided my time till she did open ... at 6:05. Because I need a table upon which to work, I recharged the cheerful batteries and calmly walked into the cafe with a bubbly, "Good morning, again. May I have a cup of coffee." A few pleasantries were met by grunts. Maintaining my cheerful demeanor, I left a dollar tip because I need a table.

One quip of mine upon leaving a tip is "This is not a tip but a downpayment for the needed counseling resulting from my jokes and quips." Gets lots of laughs. I did not say this to Ms. 6oh1 even though the need of counseling, caffeine or sleep was in abundance.

NUB: I wonder if she has ever snapped, "It's not six point one inches!" Could that be the source of her unfulfilled frustrating life?

Winnie, A Real Winner
Among the great Amtrak employees I met was "Winnie." She was a well-read cafe attendant  who was promoted to trainer. Encountering always gave a chance to throw out an introductory insult, e.g., "I see they still let rifraff work for Amtrak" which produced a similar rejoinder, "As long as they sell tickets to rifraff like you." Then in her high-pitched voice, she'd say, "Hi, Bob!"

While the many conversations of politics and economics were enjoyable and meaningful, it was the bowling ball moment that standsout. At 6:45am, I was in the cafe car with Winnie the attendant and Steve, a sleeping car attendant who was sitting. A series of popping noises preceeded the train suddenly shuddering and grinding as a sense of inertia indicated rapid deceleration. Steve, who was sitting, yelled to Winnie, "Winnie, sit down and grab hold. It's the emergency brakes." When Winnie was seated, she shouted to me, "Bob, grab hold of something. This is an emergency and we don't know what is going to happen." The grinding sound of locked wheels scraping cold ribbons of steel faded as the train came to a halt.

The cafe car was in a tunnel under Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University with the front half of the train in daylight beyond a diagonal crossing only 75 feet from the tunnel exit. Winnie said we were lucky that we had apparently not hit anything or anything that was big. A college student had tried to park too close to the tracks and got a tire wedged into the tracks.

Winnie said we were lucky that no passenger cars had tipped over which is common with emergency stops tripping airbrakes. The normal rocking and rolling cancels out extreme shifts of the center of gravity along the length of the train. With locked wheels, this self-correction is replaced by the train's mass straining against one of the rails and buckling the rail. If we had been on a curve the car tipping would have been a given.

Based on a later view, when the train hit the car, the car shot out like a bowling ball toward the vehicles parked ahead. Several were severely damaged. The train-booted car had rocketed to rest under a truck. Fortunately, the college student gave up trying to unwedge the car and was uninjured. What appeared to be a grey car was in fact a green car with an extemporaneous coating of silver courtesy of Amtrak.

Carl, The Demographer

In the initial article, the observation was shared that Amtrak has three divisions based on personnel attitude: East, Midwest/West and California with the latter being the worst.

Early one morning after the noise of the cafe attendant, Carl, woke me up from sleeping in the former smoking lounge--long flat cushioned benches (don't tell anyone for there is only room for three sleepers), I told him I would not have slept in his kitchen if I'd known he was going to be up so early making so much noise. True to his nature, Carl chuckle a little, not a lot. Another passenger commented what I had concluded which elicited from Carl, "I just want to make sure I do my job."

The previous day on the Crescent, an extremely bright, inquisitive young fella by the name of Raymond, was buzzing about my work space where I was talking with another passenger about politics and economics. Occassionally, this 12-year old would inject comments that were astute and prescient. Pegged my personality in one comment that prompted a double-take. Apparently not happy with the level of attention, he disappeared, reappearing with a DVD that he played loudly. A request for observing Amtrak's earplug policy of noise devices beget a series of Raymond trying to play around the rules. Smart, but not experienced smart to outsmart a former smart aleck. Off Raymond went to Carl, apparently complaining about the mean old man. In walked Carl with Raymond's agenda. After a few quick comments, Carl saw Raymond's game and restated what I had said about the DVD.

Later, not wanting a young bruised ego wanting attention to be ignored, I approached Raymond at the cafe counter where I said that if he promised not to try to play Carl against me that he could have my binoculars to check out the rail scenery. A silent, stubborn shake of Raymond's head said no. I laughed. Carl expressed how Raymond could not game us. Later, with Raymond's mom and Raymond, I returned in kind Raymond's favor of assessing my personality: Raymond is a very stubborn and very intelligent mind that didn't like anyone telling him what to do. A great mix for either great things or great errors. Been there, done that.

Carl reinforced an observation I had made in the initial article about Amtrak having three divisions based on personalities: East, Midwest/West and California. His reinforcement came after I told him that, based on hundreds of train trips, the African-American Amtrak employees were consistently nicer than the white employees. I can think more of white meanies than black meanies among Amtrak employees. Fortunately, each group batted far better than Ted Williams. Carl said it was more of a geographical thing, East, Midwest\West and California. Bingo. The East, of course, have a higher percentage of blacks. Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Is there some significance from the historical fact that most train attendants (porters) were black? For blacks, rail service has always been an honorable, esteemed profession which might not be the case consciouness of whites.

I must take some of the blame, in part, because of my neo-homeless accoutrements which I feel elicit less backlash from blacks because of their greater empathy for judging by the character not by the cover. My attire can seem bizarre or affected, e.g., a poor "crack a joke yankee" imitation of Crocodile Dundee. My attire, however, is functional. The floppy bush hat primarily serves as a sunscreen for reading the laptop screen with the various seamstress modifications make it more handy for convenient placement of cellphone, pills, matches, cigar, pen and notepad.

If I quickly relate the account of the conductor who said, "At first, I thought you would be a problem until I realized that you were just eccentric as hell," Amtrak employees seem less bad. (Perhaps this explains the consistent mistreatment of me by those black-shirted Canadian border guards.) Having seen more than one ill-dressed rowdy bring a train to a stop for local gendarmes to interrogate and search the passenger, perhaps I prompt an elevated alert level among Amtrak employees, moreso the whites than the blacks.