Bad Passengers on Amtrak

Complainers ... Profaners ... Stinkers ... Smoking Fools ... Fist Pounder ... Spinning Dervish ... Values

Bad train travel begins with bad passengers. As a frequent railrider, the most common bad passengers are complainers, profaners, cesspoolers, cigs and pigs. The verbal extreme leaves as bad an impression as the physical extremes.

Complainers: Some people would complain about the accommodations in heaven to Jesus. They clearly have traveled very little. Those who reference, "Next time I'm going to fly" either have never flown or forgot the hassles of flying. Train travel is not about being faster than flying. Given the poor on-time arrival records of most airlines, to complain about Amtrak lateness is odd. The turbulence on a train is nothing compared to the turbulance on a play that can defy the law of gravity as items float in a dropping plane.

I don't complain about the bathrooms, because I leave them cleaner than I found them. If a stool is plugged, I asked the attendant for the cleaning tool which usually initiates a cleanup by some, but not all.

Complaining about sleeping on a train is a matter of attitude. Like walking on a rocking train, if you fight it instead of going with the flow, you will have a tired, worn out body. While Paul Simon sung "50 ways" to leave a lover, I learned 50 ways to rotate in a rail seat to always find a comfortable sleeping position. However, like the cold in Minnesota, I don't mind rail-sleeping but I don't miss it--all hail the joy of home sweet home in your own bed.

Food is expensive bland fare on the train. I don't buy or eat it even when people offer to pickup the cost to continue the conversation. I find it efficient and effective to do canned soup and my spinach/noodle dish.

If you listen to the complainers long enough, you will discover one or two things. They have a sports activity in which they rough it, e.g., camping. Or, you hear them complaining about everybody and everything. Sure trains are rough in some ways. However, a little "roughing it" is ok now and then, a roughing it that is nothing like the roughing it of our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I think some complainers are like racists who put down other things and other people so as to affect a sense of superiority. As a racist does not impress me nor do hypochondriacs and hyper-complainers. Invariably, the rich complainer will throw out that he is going to have his lawyer sue Amtrak. Lawyers, if they exist, have better things to do than litigate complaints against Amtrak. If you want a lawyer to represent you, pray for an limb-losing accident.

A special class of complainers is the group that complains at night in the coach cars after the lights have been turned off. If one is going to talk after lights-out, one should move to the lounge car. While it is bad waking up to loudmouths complaining about Amtrak between 10pm and 7am, it is not as bad as waking up to a woman complaining about someone waking her up at home by talking to loudly in the next room. I sweat that is true.

If you are going to be a moaner and groaner who complains that you are never going to take a train the rest of your life, remember:

  1. Today is the first day of the rest of your life.
  2. Each step is the beginning of a new life.
  3. Practice what you preach--get off the train at the next stop.

Profaners: Other than a locker room or small private agreeing groups, there is no place for profanity. Profanity in front of non-asking, non-agreeing groups is the sign of a small, bullying, disrepectful mind. Riding the rails exposes one to a lot of unrequested profanity. Potty mouths are like potty graffi. The latter don't clean up after themselves with a resulting collage of Jonathan Pollard graffiti on the seats and floors. Likewise with potty mouths, their verbal diarhhea leaves dirty impressions on capitve audiences.

Stinkers: Any trip is less pleasant if the accomodations stink. Amtrak trains stink for several reasons.

  1. Stinking Food: Some people bring food on that should be eaten in the lounge or cafe. The cafe should have a seat assigned to outside food with a 30-minute and open, communal seating. Also, attendants should have a 8am, 2pm and 8pm cleanup call over the PA system as well as the requirement to ask sloppy passengers to cleanup on demand.
  2. Stinking Passengers: This is a tough one.
  3. Stinking Bathrooms: Between passenger education (see Passengers' Rights and Responsibilities and Train Toilette Etiquette) and attendant management (see Bad Conductors), stinking bathrooms can be a thing of the past. This rail-rider always leaves the bathroom clean than he found it. If wet or dry urine is on the floor, a paper towel is daubed with soap with my foot moving it around. If a dry corner is not available to gingerly and daintily transfer it to the trash bin, another towel is sacrificed to the science of pleasant rail passage. Stinking bathrooms stink up the whole train which are bad mile after bad mile. Better passengers, attendants and conductors can remove this.
  4. Stinking Babies: She was a cute blond teenager with two kids crossing the continent to return home to mom and dad who had said: The babies and you but not your job quitting boyfriend. My sympathy and assistance disappeared when I saw her change a baby in the coach after which she pranced with a smirk on her face to the coach trash bin where she dropped the unsealed, stinking diaper. She never used the toilette changing tables. It seemed she knew her actions were selfish and inconsiderate but that her cute, smirking prance would reward the nose-offended passengers. Stamped on her personality in every aspect was "spoiled child" who had been allowed to ignore the rules of decency. Every few hours, the little dance was repeated with the soiled diapers stinking up the coach more and more. Yet, between the prances was the grimaces of a lonely child with babes who was living, if not learning, that ignorance is bliss until the ignored problems ruin your life.
  5. Stinking Cleaners: Didn't clean the train. Hate it when at the beginning of the train's run, the cars and toilets are dirty.

Smoking Fools: As a cigar smoker, I don't object to smokers. Like profanity, however, there is a place and time for smoking. Forcing bad words or breath on others is plain wrong.

Smokers have rights when and where the smoke does not affect non-smokers. As a smoker who knowing indulges in a vice that triggers bodily harm, I try not to interfere with others' choice to avoid the loss of freedom from smoking.

Except for the Autotrain from Lorton, VA, to Orlando, FL, Amtrak does not allow smoking on its trains. Smoking stops are every few hours for five to fifteen minutes, insufficient time for a cigar smoker to do justice to a good stogie. Despite public signs and announcements, many nicotine-addicts think they can outsmart the car attendants by smoking in the alarmless bathrooms. Duh. With a ventilation system that blows the lower level air up into the seating level, the alarm is an immediate smell of cigarette in the whole car. Long before the covert fool has finished his quickie ciggie, the attendant is standing in the passageway looking at the little yellow occupation light waiting for the fool to exit with an accompanying demi-fog of smoke and faggot stench. Smoking fools!

When smokers are given smoking stops, they invariably soil their own nest and freedom. Despite the public announcement about not dropping cigarette butts on the ground at the station, smokers grind them out under foot. The cities or towns that own the stations end up requesting Amtrak not to offer smoking privileges at their station. Smoking fools!

It was fun for awhile to watch smokers argue with attendants and conductors about their right to smoke because they had bought a ticket. The logic of other ticket-buyers' right to clean air is not a right they want to admit. At a certain point, the conductor cuts the conversation short with "You can get off at the next stop if you want and smoke all you want." Smoking fools!

More than one person has been observed being detrained at the next stop with the inconvenience of waiting till the following day for the next train. Disruptive smokers who will not detrain peacefully will find law enforcement agents of the next locality removing them in handcuffs for some initially free room-and-board in the local smokeless jail. Smoking fools!

Now, being a king-of-the-rails with insightful knowledge, I readily offer the complaining smokers a simple way to puff without the tell-tale smoke attracting attention. In the bathroom, genuflect to the commode with your head below the ring. Each time you exhale, flush the john so the vaccuum pumps pulls your smoke into the honeypot.

Fist Pounder

To list all specific bad passengers would be boring waste of time for we have all encountered them elsewhere. And, excepting for the reader and me, everyone is boring except for when I look in a mirror and realize that only you are interesting. Why would you read me?

The vast majority of bad passengers are people who pass briefly and inconveniently through your life. Occassionally, you meet one that raises your awareness like hearing a ticking when you sit down in car. The fist pounder was a ticker.

Sitting down in the cafe car to commence beating up my laptop's keyboard, I could not not notice the short fellow across the aisle with a grimace on his face as with tensed muscles he pounded his right fist into the open palm. Making little noise while he clearly seemed to be interacting with someone or something. Not wishing to disturb him nor incur any transferance from his conversational partner to me, I moved up to the lounge.

In retrospect, I should have conveyed my concern to the conductor. And, thereafter, I always did when someone seem to indicate a persistent perculiarity. As a preculiar person--how many sane people dress up in hobo chic to spend 30 days bumping around on the rails--I give people lattitude as long as they don't hurt themselves or others. Before going to sleep, I saw the fist pounder had moved to the upper deck of the lounge car. I awoke to noise and the sound of the train suddenly decelerating. "What's happening?" I said to a passing girl. "This guy started tearing open the emergency window saying he was going to kill himself."

In light of the score and a half of college students killed some time later, we were lucky that the fist pounder was self-destructive rather than other-destructive. If an gunman boarded a train, a universal signal like "fire" needs to be available to rally people to roll on a moments notice. I nominate "Ambert Alert" or "Ambert Attack."

The "Ambert Alert" has been increased to serve more sudden help situations. Whether in a classroom, a plane or a train, Americans needs to learn an automatic attack mode on assailants. As history shows, the alternative is silently and singularly slaughtered like deer frozen by a bright light.

As a rule, trains and classrooms are safe places. When they are not, failure to have a productive survival response is non-viable.

Spinning Dervish of Saskatoon

While rail riders meet many friendly and some unfriendly fellow passengers, most are lost to the fog of fading memories. A few stand out. On the second cross-country leg, the suicidal fist-pounder will be recalled. Disappointedly, Courtney on the last leg on the easterly Empire Builder will be fondly recalled--gee, if only I was younger, rich, single and more than a parody of Brad Pitt. On eastbound Canadian of VIA a young man was met of whom questions linger about his well-being.

The young man, I think he said he was 23 from Vancouver, was one of the many people who gravitated toward the guy glued to a laptop mile after mile. Introductions invariably were either "How did you get internet access?" or "Must be a good game that you are playing." The best intro that leads to conversation is "What are you working on?" When it comes to computers, I am a snob. Since my initial training in telecommunications in 1968 and my computer bonding in the mid-70's, I have never played a game on a computer. The old personal computers purchased in the late 1970's make wonderful door stops or boat anchors, but they are virgin game machine.

Working in the activity car on the VIA Canadian, a young man approached me. (Yes, VIA not only has an activity room but an activity director who coordinates events as well as shows movies for free. As noted in discussing the Rail Media, the rental of DVDs, Amtrak stopped showing free movies in October as they introduced DVD rentals for twenty or more dollars.) With the young man, attempts at having a logical conversation on a mutually meaningful topic failed despite the best intentions on both of our parts. Somewhat miffed at my request for solitude to keep working, the young man asked if he could charge his laptop off my cord while I watched it since he had to pack for deboarding in Saskatoon.  

"Saskatoon? You got family there?"

"No, seems like a good place to visit."


A short while later the train came to the Saskatoon. It was a designated smoke stop so there would be a break of fifteen or more minutes. Tunnel-visioned on my laptop's screen, I realized there was a repetitive movement to my left, outside the train. There, waving good-bye, was the young man from Vancouver who moved on after I acknowledged his farewell. There, across from me on the table, was the youngman's charging laptop. Knowing no good comes from free things in life, I did not hesitate to put feet in motion, racing back three cars to the open (doorway). Besides, I was already traveling with two laptops and a third would just be added dead weight.

Ascertaining that I had enough time to run to the station which was at the front of the train--a little forlorn building in the middle of nowhere. Saskatoon may share a name with a large Canadian province--Sassy Catch a Wand--but does not have a train stop at a station in the middle of the town.

Running faster than my fat index warranted, I found the young man in the station. It took a few minutes to convince him that he had left his laptop charging across from mind. Excusing himself to run rather than join me in walking back, he took off. Walking back to the activity car after boarding the train, I was surprised to see the young man talking to coach attendant rather than proceeding to his laptop. I learned later that he was asking the attendant why he had reboarded the train. Eventually retrieving his laptop, we adieu'd again.

A short while later after the train was once again in motion, I stopped the coach attendant--Brenda--to tell her about the funny youngster who almost left me with another laptop. She said I missed best part, saying my story was only half of the story with the second half funnier and sadder than my first half.

Upon exiting the train after retrieving his laptop, the young man had skipped, hopped and bounced down the steps. Following the law of inertia, the laptop took flight upward before observing Newton's law of gravity, crashing and cracking into several parts. What the young man did next earned him the title "Spinning Dervish of Saskatoon." He proceeded to dance, jump and spin around the destroyed laptop which drew not laugher but concern from the VIA personnel. Inquiring of others who had spent time with the young man, he had apparently ingested some hallucenogenic mushrooms before arriving in Saskatoon. A good samaritan call was made to the local gendarmes to collar a traveler who was clearly not up to maintaining his well-being is freezing weather. 

Echoing and expanding on the first paragraph of the first article, where can one for $21 a day get transportation and sleeping accomodation as well as entertainment? While the services were not explored, on some segments going between major cities are young ladies who will provide entertainment for a fee. These lasses don't take rail passes.

Forest Gump, Amber Alert and Foodfight

If an emergency occurred on the train, would you rather be in the company of new friends or total strangers? If a madman starts harming others, what plan do you have? Paralyzed deer staring at the growing lights of an approaching train? In these days and times with high schools, colleges, trains, planes, malls, and skyscrapers being the locations of mass murders of unresponsive victims, rail-riders need a pro-active as well as reactive plans.

  1. My Name is Forest Gump: When standing in line to board the train, do you waste your time and life by being as dumb as a doorknob? Or, do you introduce yourself to the people in front and back of you? Are you an accomplished toastmaster or potential burnt toast? By conversing during the normally the dead-time of wait-time, you increase your probabilities of a happy trip. Groups of people who act like isolated strangers are more likely to invite individual or mass attacks than groups that convey a community. Furthermore, if you attempt to talk to a person who is unresponsive then you have initiated the process of "See something, say something" which Amtrak has posted everywhere. If you want better security on a train, start it by being at talker with others before you board the train. Don't wait until you are in a situation with fewer escape routes to realize the person near you wants to kill you. Ice-breakers while you are in line are many:
    1. "Hi, my name is ... I looking for a few people with whom I can have a mutual back-watching circle on the train when I have to leave my luggage or am going to sleep."
    2. "I'm from ... and going to"
    3. "Where you from and going?"
    4. "I'm a ventriloquist and if you don't start talking, I'm going to put some words in your mouth."
    5. "My name is Forest Gump. Life is box of garlic. You don't know who you might have kissed."
  2. Food Fight: Should a situation arise in which a person or persons start harming others, a number of things can be done to decrease the final death toll. First of all, pop the emergency windows on the train. If you can get to the emergency brake, pull it. It will stop the train and alert the engineer to an emergency. DO NOT PULL THE EMERGENCY BRAKE UNLESS THERE IS AN EMERGENCY. HALF THE TIME THE TRAIN WILL DERAIL! Any passing Amtrak train with missing windows is a 9-11 call for any passerby. Secondly, if you have a cellphone, call 9-11. After the call, hide the phone after turning it off. Don't hide it in your luggage. Use the curtains or some other place. Trains contain sledeghammers in emergency cubicles. Use it if you can. If a fellow passenger starts killing others, don't be a damn, dumb deer waiting for the slaughter. Start yelling, "Ambert Alert ... Food fight ... Ambert Alert ... Food Fight" and start attacking the killer. If you hear these words, you should join in yelling and attacking. You have a better chance of survival with a lively noisy offense and than dead silent defense. Virginia Tech's massacre can be blamed, in part, on the docility of the students attending an expensive public school without the common sense of common defense.

Values: In summarizing a basic distinction between good and bad passengers, one can conclude whether the passenger values free time or more material as the basis of their happiness. If one recognizes that the freedom from stress and duress is the goal of a happy life, one will more readily enjoy the leisure time of a train rolling through the countryside. Oppositely, if one has imprisoned oneself to the debts of living beyond one material means in pursuit of material happiness, one will view train time as wasted time. Verily, those who waste their time in materialism are right to conclude that train time is wasted time for them who are wasting all the time of their lives and others in wanting more material waste. Behind global warming is a CO2-sinning matrix of too many people wanting to waste too much energy-dependent material. Objections to reducing green house gasses are voiced by those who value the economics of wasteful materialism. Farming needed food produces little CO2 compared to the flatulence of a Rambo wanna-bee humvee.

(I'd like to think, based on feedback from most Amtrak personnel and fellow passengers, that I was a better than average passenger.)