Wednesday, June 29, 2005

#46 - Trainologue

I wonder if Amtrak ridership is up this year. I base this thought on our own experiences with the train coming up here to Vancouver, Washington this summer. We actually left from Oxnard, as it was the nearest station to family where they had luggage service. The train was already a half hour late just getting to Oxnard, and they were already full. This caused us no small consternation since this was the Woodyettes' first real (non-excursion) train experience, and we wanted it to be special. No sooner were we aboard than the attendants were herding us up to the Observation Car while they tried to find us four seats together. It took them until Santa Barbara to find us some seats, but they messed up and found only three, and they weren't really together. We expressed our displeasure with this arrangement, and they promised to fix it. They finally did once we reached San Luis Obispo. The rest of our ride north was as smooth as could be expected in coach class.

One side note here, and maybe I read too much into what I saw. As I was sitting in the Observation Car with the girls, I noticed one empty seat a couple of seats away. An older woman was just about to take that seat, when a younger man jumped in front of her and said something like, "I'm sorry, I was sitting there." He had left no marker that I could see, and the seat certainly looked empty, but it was "his" all the same. The lady gave a startled "Oh, I'm sorry!" and quickly darted away.

That episode left a bad taste in my mouth. I had one weepy girl on my own lap or I would have stood right up and offered the seat to her myself. But it was the man who really bothered me. I could make some stereotypical comment about his liberal demeanor; he had the pierced ear, permed hair, and self-absorbed look that I often associate with young college liberals in Orange County. But what bothered me most was his complete lack of concern about the lady he had just brushed away. She was old enough to have been his mother. Even at a tender age, I knew that ladies were always to be offered every consideration, even in a day when some of them resent the offer. Still he sat there with a self-satisfied look on his face as if capturing that seat was a fete accompli. There was no hint that he had just inconvenienced another soul, especially a lady worthy of every respect. Just the vapid, vacant expression characteristic of someone who cares only of himself and no one else. Complete freedom from social responsibility. A sad statement indeed.

To return to the travelogue: The Woodyettes were, as expected, enthralled with the idea of the train. The younger one was fussy when we weren't able to sit with Mommy, but soon settled in once our seats were together. Mrs. Woody was well prepared for this trip: She had wrapped several surprises for the girls to open at strategic moments to help keep them from getting bored. They also followed Daddy to various points of interest on the train, although these points were primarily the toilets, the snack bar, and the kiddy room. We received at least one compliment from one older passenger who said the girls were wonderful travelers, with which we heartily agreed. They really were champs, and the only difficulty we had was when we decided to let the girls sit together on one side of the aisle, while Mrs. Woody and I shared a snuggle. This lasted for all of two hours. Having one girl sit with either parent, and having them switch parents every so often was really the best way to go.

Coach class means, of course, that you sleep in your seat. While train seats are far roomier and more comfortable than airliner seats, sleeping is still no small feat. For one thing, people are constantly moving up and down the aisles, running to and from the snack bar. For another, at every stop, the train de-trains and boards passengers, and the commotion kept Mrs. Woody awake at every stop. I was able to snooze, if fitfully, but "sleep" is not what I would call it. The Woodyettes did just fine, thank you very much.

The only other dark spot of the trip, aside from our trying to get seats together, was on the very last leg of the trip. At Portland we picked up a new crew, including one conductor who had absolutely no people skills whatsoever. As soon as we left Portland for Vancouver (a half hour ride), he made no bones about getting the Vancouver people down to the doors so we didn't "hold them up in Vancouver." As if the train itself hadn't delayed us for over three hours by that time. I'm sorry, but by that time a few more minutes' wait one way or another wasn't going to make an appreciable difference. I never caught the gentleman's name, but even the other attendants understood our frustration. Their own profuse apologies on his behalf helped mollify us, and I'm still looking forward to our return trip.

We get a sleeper on the way back.


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