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Diary of an Escort – Part III in a series January 12, 2010

Posted by Fritz in Travel.
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I knew our train was sold out and while not every seat departing from Chicago was occupied, I was sure we would fill to capacity as the train moved westward and made it’s stops through the night. Being my first long haul train trip I was excited to see how everything worked. I quickly determined that the seat, while larger than a first class airline seat and equipped with more comfort features, (an extendable leg rest and foot rest and a decent recline angle) was no match for having a 350 pound seat mate.

2010 Rose Bowl Champs

We exchanged greetings and names, I’ll call her Pat, and quickly settled in to making the best of our home for the next 43 hours. There is simply no PC way of describing how unfortunate it was that I got seated next to an extra large person.

Pat was a 40ish Latino grandmother returning home to L.A. from visiting her mother for Christmas. When I first sat down she was on her cell phone. A cell phone that I would come to loathe. Through out the entire trip, Pat would take or make a call to one of her three children or their spouses, or a multitude of cousins, or a grandchild, or her mother and God knows who else. In short order I overheard how her sisters were jealous of her and how she was her mother’s favorite, that one daughter-in-law was a bitch and one was an angel. But most of the conversations were trivial chatter that filled her time. Unfortunately they filled mine too. I soon realized I wouldn’t be sitting in this seat for much of the trip.

I am sure, even as big as the seats were, Pat must have been very uncomfortable and I felt sorry for her. But I also felt sorry for me since she was sitting in about a quarter of my seat. Finding another coach seat was not an option. Time to explore the lounge car.

Our group was in the middle car of the three coach cars. To get to the lounge car you needed to go forward, through the third coach car. The stainless doors between the cars were pneumatically controlled. With the push of a button they slid open giving access to the next car’s door. It was almost Star Trekky how they worked. For much of the first 24 hours the ride was bumpier than I had expected, I would come to learn that the tracks east of Albuquerque were not in as good of shape as the ones west. This was explained by the amount of traffic and the correspondent upkeep they received. Traversing between cars was a bit of an adventure if you happened to be crossing during a particular rough patch of rail.

The Lounge car became my new favorite place on the train. The back half of the car was made up of somewhat randomly spaced seats, on angles, that afforded conversation and broader views through the big windows and curved skylights. The front half had booth seating, perfect for playing cards with a group, eating or using your laptop. This was where our group, or at least the rowdies in our group, hung out. In the middle of the car was a stairwell down to another lounge area and the snack bar, our source for lite viddles and beverages. The snack bar was manned by Greg; an affable guy in his early 50’s. During one of my many visits I gleaned he was based in L.A, a relative newbie to Amtrak and loved his job. He also had been a singer in the entertainment biz.

One of the benefits of traveling by train is the opportunity to meet interesting people and having the time to enjoy their company if you choose. I was able to do just that when I met a very unique young man in the Lounge car on the first morning. I was in a conversation with one of our group that involved lamenting the current state of youth in America. I noticed the young man squirming, looking our way and obviously wanting to engage in the dialogue. Finally he could stand it no more and got up from his seat two tables over and plopped down across from me in my booth. He proceeded to nervously make a fairly eloquent speech rebuking my only half-serious attack on his generation.

When I asked him his name his response floored me. He said his friends called him Persephone. I asked him why and he said he didn’t like his given name and asked them to give him another.

‘Persephone’ was obviously very smart and way beyond his years, which turned out to be 15. He immediately reminded me of Harold, the character played by Bud Cort in the 1971 film Harold & Maude directed by Hal Ashby. The film, featuring slapstick, dark humor and existentialist drama, revolves around the exploits of a morbid young man who drifts away from the life that his detached mother prescribes for him and the ensuing relationship with septuagenarian Maude played by Ruth Gordon.

Not only did this young man act like the character but he was a dead ringer for the younger Bud Cort.

I could tell the poor kid was bored to tears with obviously no other teens aboard. Not that he would have much in common with anyone his age anyway. We would spend quite a bit of time together during the trip playing cards (with a deck of Russian Army issued cards—his), discussing politics and sharing stories. This was my perfect excuse for not having to sit back with Pat.

Oh, I almost forgot the drama we experienced late that first night.

Dinner is served formally in the Dining car each evening beginning around five with multiple seatings until about eight. Since I still had half of my Giordano’s pizza left I didn’t plan on partaking that night. (I would on the second night)  The Dining car is forward of the lounge car which is forward of the coach cars. There is no other way to traverse the train except for walking through each car. The last dinner seating was wrapping up and since I was in the Lounge car reading I could see everyone from coach making there way back after dinner. It was almost 9pm when I heard a slight commotion as several people were exiting the Dining car and coming into the Lounge. I noticed a few people hurriedly heading aft. About 15 minutes later I saw two car attendants and the Conductor make their way in to the Dining car. They reemerged several minutes later heading aft with a purpose. I didn’t think much about it until I overheard another passenger say someone caused a problem during dinner.

I hung out in the Lounge until just before Midnight. I dreaded having to cram myself back into my coach seat but that was really the only place to actually get any sleep. I was barely settled in when the train started to slow for a quick stop in the middle of Kansas. As the train passed into the lights around the station I could see it was snowing. I had no idea where we were. Stops at these remote stations had been very short—barely enough time to hop off and board. As the train came to a stop the Conductor and two attendants came into our car from the car ahead. The car’s lights were dimmed for sleeping but I could see the Conductor had a small flashlight. All three passed by me and congregated near the stairwell in the middle of the car leading downstairs and to the exits. I heard additional voices now and turned to see two uniformed policemen speaking with the Conductor.

Flashlights now arced through the car. They were definitely looking for someone. Even though the train was stopped I couldn’t hear any of the conversations talking place but I could determine someone was in trouble. After a few more minutes the cops had a guy in handcuffs and were escorting him off the train.

The next morning the Lounge car was all abuzz over the scofflaw who thought he could get away with skipping out on paying for dinner.  What was this idiot thinking?  He’s on a train for God’s sake. There’s no place to hide.

Too be continued…

Next: Broken down

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