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Monday, August 31, 2009

Hell, Thy Name Is Amtrak

Well, maybe not quite hell, but at least purgatory.

Today I traveled from Charlottesville, VA to New York City via Amtrak. The journey was scheduled to start at 7:20am and end at 2:06pm. The good news is that it left one minute early and got in ahead of time at 1:20pm. But, that is about it for the good news. I would have sacrificed the early arrival time to have avoided what was a journey that became a study in why people, for lack of a better term, suck.

Here's what happened:
  • Upon boarding the train, we were greeted with the sweet siren song of a wailing baby. And I mean wailing. Listen, I get it...babies cry. It's what they do and we all did it when we were babies. But when you have been up since 5:30am and are boarding a train before 7:30am, the last thing you want to hear is banshee wails piercing your ears. Don't pretend like a crying baby on a plane, train or bus hasn't made you wince before.
  • Accompanying and outlasting the crying baby (I didn't notice what stop the baby got off the train as I had my trusty iPod on), was a crying, whining, yelling little dude of about 5 or 6. He hit his peak at an extended layover in DC while the train switched engines. I have no clue what exactly was transpiring, but all I and everyone else on the train was hearing ad nauseam was "But, I want to watch a video!", "That was my seat!" "I can't see the video!" and variations on those themes. The mother, god bless her, was trying the 'speak calmly and try to rationalize' approach....and it was failing miserably. Even the kid's (I'm assuming) brother and sister chimed in to try and calm him down, but to no avail. Finally, the guy behind us bellowed "WOULD SOMEONE PLEASE SHUT THAT KID UP!!!!" Inappropriate? Absolutely. But he certainly was expressing other passengers sentiment...he just should not have gone about it that way. What followed was some back and forth yelling between him and the mother and the other adult woman that was with her. The mother did get up and talk to the man in a calm manner and expressed that she was trying to quiet the kid and that she felt the man's yelling was rude. He more or less was shut up at this point and I hope it was because he was a little embarrassed with himself. Who knows though. Either way, the kid kept at it with the whining for at least another 45 minutes before something happened (I'm not sure exactly what) that shut him up. I'm not a parent, so I'm really in no position to criticize, but that mother might want to rethink her technique when her son is having an outburst in a public place.
  • The train rolled on until it hit Trenton, NJ. As we pulled out of Trenton, two elderly women started screaming at the conductor that they had missed their stop and he was to blame. I didn't catch all the dialogue, but from what I gathered, there had been an announcement that only certain doors would open at Trenton and anyone deboarding should make their way to a door with a conductor present. Apparently, these ladies interpreted this as wait at whatever door is most convenient for you and a conductor will come let you out. You want to believe people aren't that stupid, but they are. Anyway, they were yelling and screaming that the train needed to be turned around immediately and that they were deceived by the conductor and it was basically anyone's fault, but their own that they missed their stop. Mercifully, the train was not turned around and something was done to accommodate them.
  • Another, and probably the worst, nuisance was the toilet. Public toilets in 99% of cases are an unpleasant experience, but on trains they are all the more tough because you are getting tossed around due to the high speed you are moving at (it is the one time that, for a man, being able to pee standing up puts you at a severe disadvantage in terms of relieving oneself easily). These toilets were in particularly bad shape....the locks didn't work, there were puddles all over the floors (which I kept telling myself was just water), used paper towels strewn everywhere and of course a horrendous odor. I don't need to elaborate more....we all hate public toilets and one that is moving multiple miles per hour in a shaky train car is all the worse.
  • The cherry on the sundae was arriving in NYC and having the doors get jammed for 5 minutes and the conductors having to come around and open them manually.
The majority of things that happened on this trip Amtrak can't be held responsible for because they can't be accountable for the behavior/stupidity of who they sell tickets to (although wouldn't it be awesome if they could be?). To be fair, the only thing Amtrak can be held accountable for was the doors getting jammed upon arrival at Penn Station. You could argue that they are responsible for the bathrooms being clean, but with that many people on the train being inconsiderate slobs, I think it is fair to put it back on the passengers.

There is an old saying that the best way to see the country is by train. I'd say take a car.

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