day in the life

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A Travel Day in the Life

It doesn’t take much to feel like you’re in a movie. Buying a bus ticket for an hour and a half ride from New Hampshire to Boston for a train departing in two hours and ten minutes, for instance. You considered traffic, yes, but did you consider it enough? Do you ever consider it enough?

The movie part: Running through South Station for your train (for it IS yours, in your mind – the next one, leaving in two hours, is someone else’s, dammit). Not knowing the track, just knowing it’s the Acela and not the Regional. Backpack strap digging your shoulder, luggage wheels jumping like Jiffy-Pop on every crack in the station’s bumpy-as-Boston terrain, heels kicking up like the hundred yard dasher you were decades ago.

Is there any feeling as sweet as jumping through a train door just before it closes? Just before the car takes its first lurch forward? Just before you feel the smooth and friendly slide of track somewhere beneath your shoes? It’s as if you’ve liberated a damsel in distress called Two Hours of Your Day, and she’s showering you with gratitude and you don’t want an umbrella.

Amtrak has this marvelous invention called the Quiet Car. It’s no match for humans, however. Humans are social animals. Sometimes the accent is on social, other times it is on animal, but in neither case is it a good thing for Amtrak inventions. 

The first two seats in the car face each other. Why, a logical type might ask, would a Quiet Car include facing seats if designed to thwart social animals? Two not-so-gentlemen sat facing each other and talked blithely away. I figured it would last a few minutes at best, but no. These two were like ladies at the clothesline, coworkers at the water cooler, gossips bursting with goods to share and little time to share it. By God, they had staying power (“staying” defined as “Boston to New York”).

You would think that the conductor would say something. You would think that people who paid for Quiet Car seats close to them would say something. And finally, the thought occurs to you that maybe YOU should say something. 

The problem, of course, is politely asking them to shush or, more discreetly, pointing at the signs hanging over the aisle that say QUIET CAR, is not without some danger. After all, we now live in the Age of Individual Rights. Motto: “Don’t tread on my individual rights, I’ll tread on your community rights.”

It’s like road rage. Express displeasure by rolling down your window or signaling with your bird finger at your own risk. In cars, the glove compartment is now known as the Second Amendment Compartment.

So it comes down to ear plugs, the last resort of that drying pool we call common courtesy and respect. Remember them?

Meantime you’re chugging along for New York City en route to our nation’s capital. And it happens to be the day that a certain former president is being indicted by a certain district attorney for certain hush money paid to a certain porn star. That’s one of dozens of charges, really. And there are other investigations going on at both federal and state levels — all leftovers from four years of “We Interrupt This Program to Bring You Projection, Gaslighting, Narcissism, and Greed” (known in Revelations as the Four Horsemen).

Are any of these passengers getting off here to exercise their first amendment protest rights (kind of like exercising your right to run for trains), you wonder? You also wonder because humans are not only social animals, they’re wondering animals. You? You chiefly wonder when it ends and truly goes away.

There’s nothing peculiar to New York today, though. No sign of pro- or con- crazies dying to exercise their First Quiet Car rights. Just the usual 20 minute layover. Change of crew. A few people running for the train with a backpack strap digging into their shoulder while wheeling luggage that bounces like a colicky baby behind them (sound effects left for you to imagine, as it’s a silent movie outside your window).

Not much left to this day, then, other than the usual taped announcement about turning off phones and not talking on phones. And oh, yes, the usual phones going off with any number of creative tones and far-from-mortified folks not only answering but talking in tones East of Hushed (the town next to Eden). This is the Age of the Cellphone, after all. The Pleistocene is no match.

All this is what you come to expect from a travel day, though. Your reward? Getting there in one piece with little delay. Not quite as sweet as jumping through a train portal before it moves on the track, but still, the announcement that Union Station is nigh, that you can gather all your belongings, that you can join the huddled masses (“Got any change?”) at a station well south of South Station and the track run that started your day.

In a courteous way, you mean. Respectful, trying-to-set-an example way. Like salmon leaping upstream, maybe.