Long Train Running

Remember yesterday when I said that hell was being in a car for fifteen hours? Well, I changed my mind. After sitting on an Amtrak train for nineteen and a half hours, I don't even think, like Jean-Paul Sartre says, that "hell is other people." Oh no, I've discovered what hell really is. Hell isn't other people, hell is watching other people play Tetris and not knowing them well enough to be able to show them where they're going wrong.

When Sean and I got on the train at one this morning, we spent the first 45 minutes staring through the crack in the seats at the computer screen of the girl in front of us, who had downloaded Tetris onto her iBook. “Hmm, she takes risks, this one,” whispered Sean as we breathed a simultaneous sigh of relief upon the ultimately successful---but nevertheless nail-biting!---maneuver that scored her double points. We were transfixed. We couldn’t look away. We tried to have a conversation between ourselves that didn’t revolve around whether she should have placed that oblong where she placed it, but it was useless. That poor girl. Hell isn't other people for her, it's other people breathing down your neck in the seat behind you, feverishly whispering “no! no! no! What are you doing putting it there? It’ll never fit!” while you’re trying to play a nice quiet game of Tetris on the train at one in the morning to pass the time. Luckily for her—and actually, for us, since we’d probably still be watching her, we'd probably have INVITED HER INTO OUR HOUSE so we could continue watching her---she got off the train in New York. Or maybe she just got out and moved to another carriage, which would certainly be understandable. I guess we’ll never know.

But if it isn't one thing, it's another, and we soon had something to take our mind off the Tetris Girl, because we had Pyscho Crazy Lady in the seat behind us. (I wish I had the energy to give her a better name than Pyscho Crazy Lady, but really, it's 10 o' clock at night, I only got home an hour ago after traveling all night and all day, my cats are a million miles away at a Summer Camp which we all know isn't really Summer Camp, I'm supposed to be packing up my house tomorrow but have managed to successfully avoid it for another day by scheduling a hair cut, WHICH WILL ACTUALLY PROBABLY BE MORE STRESSFUL, and I'm having a vodka tonic and one of those take-and-bake baguettes and half a tub of cookie dough ice cream for dinner, because there's nothing else in the house. So Pyscho Crazy Lady it is. Alright?)

So Sean gets his camera out around two in the morning, because Sean always has his camera and he gets paid money to take pictures of things, and so if he decides that the long, empty, eerie rows of seats in front of us might make a good photograph, then good, this is fine, because then maybe we will be able to afford to go to Starbucks this month instead of saying "it's okay, we have perfectly good coffee at home". But Pyscho Crazy Lady takes offense to the fact that Sean has taken a few photographs of the empty seats in front of us---and Pyscho Crazy Lady is sitting BEHIND US---and she starts mumbling to herself about people taking photographs, and how no-one is going to take a photograph of her, and how the next person who dares to take a photograph of her? Well, she is going to blow them away, motherfucker.

She says this, yes. And I am making wild and crazy Gesture Eyes at Sean---you know Gesture Eyes: they are when you can't actually gesture gesture and so you try and overcompensate by opening your eyes really wide in fear and panic---and PCL is still muttering and then she gets on her cell phone and dials someone (who is probably like, "oh, Jesus, it's two in the morning and PCL is calling me AGAIN.") and she says this: "Hi. There's a problem with the New York train. There's this couple and they're taking photographs of me. Nobody takes photographs of me on the New York train. This is a problem. I just thought you'd want to know."

And then there is peace and quiet for, ooh, four minutes, until Sean happens to glance behind him to see if that is the way the restrooms lie, and PCL says, "are you looking at me? Why are you looking at me?" And Sean says "sorry?" And PCL says "what?" and Sean says, "Oh, nothing, sorry, I thought you...." and PCL says "DON'T TALK TO ME. WHY ARE YOU TALKING TO ME? NOBODY TALKS TO ME ON THE NEW YORK TRAIN!" And Sean says, "Oh...no... I....I just thought you said something to me, I just..." and PLC says "IS THERE A PROBLEM WITH THE TRAIN? DO YOU HAVE A PROBLEM WITH THE TRAIN? BECAUSE I AM GOING TO CALL THE CONDUCTOR! I AM GOING TO CALL THE POLICE! NOBDOY TALKS TO ME ON THE NEW YORK TRAIN!"

And Sean is just looking at her, like, lady, you have more problems than people talking to you on the New York train.

And then---this is the best part, at least I think so, but I was watching the whole thing from the safety of my seat, alternately giggling incredulously and making panicked Gesture Eyes---PCL roots around in her bag, pulls out her umbrella and brandishes it at Sean, and says "I AM GOING TO BLOW YOU AWAY." And Sean is like, "what, with the BAD LUCK FROM OPENING YOUR UMBRELLA INDOORS?" (Except, sadly, he doesn't actually say this part out loud, he just thinks it and tells me later. I know---maybe I should break up with him right now.)

So we decide to just get up and move carriages---the Tetris girl is probably scurrying ahead again, upon seeing us approaching---and we settle in to our new seats, half-laughing at the insanity of PCL and half casting nervous glances backward in case she should come into our new carriage and attempt to chop us up into little pieces with her raincoat or something. And the rest of the train journey is really kind of uneventful apart from that, except a little bit later, when everyone is asleep, a new conductor gets on and comes into the darkened carriage, where everyone is asleep with blankets over them BECAUSE IT IS THREE THIRTY IN THE MORNING, and starts whistling and shouting at people like some deranged drill seargant, and saying "you guys excited to be on the train? Wooh-hoo! Whose suitcase is this? This is a great suitcase! Hey, this your suitcase? Guess what, guys? Now I am going to whistle and shout and make you want to STAB YOURSELVES IN THE EYES WITH THE SHARP CORNERS OF YOUR TICKET STUBS BECAUSE YOU ARE TRYING TO SLEEP AND IT IS DARK AND YOU ARE COVERED WITH BLANKETS, AND SLEEPING ON A TRAIN IS HARD ENOUGH WITHOUT ME IRRITATING THE EVERLOVING CRAP OUT OF YOU, ISN'T IT?"

And do you know what I did to this annoying conductor? I shushed him! I hissed "sshhhhh." I don't think I have ever shushed anyone in my life! It was thrilling! But only for a second, because he stopped his inane babbling and his whistling and what was probably about to turn into him grabbing passengers by the shoulders and shaking them awake, and he said "who shushed me?"

And of course I lay there, pretending to be asleep, pretending not to have shushed this beast of a man, and he said "Come on! Who shushed me? The nerve of you! I'm a conductor! Don't you see my hat? I can do what I want. Who shushed me? Who was it?"

And I guess I'm telling you about Pyscho Crazy Lady and having to shush the whistling conductor and arriving in Charleston two hours later than planned and the toilets backing up and the absolute abject misery I felt over the last nineteen and a half hours, so that you never, ever, ever in a million years think it might be a good idea to take an overnight Amtrak train. Or any train in general. Or any journey, really, where you have to sleep with your laptop bag tied to your wrist.

Jun 16, 2006

I am sorry you had a miserable trip, but I truly enjoyed your telling of it!

Jun 16, 2006

Oh, I am so happy I found your site! Your writing is wonderful and this entry really made me laugh. Thanks for that; I can't wait to see what happens next...

Jun 16, 2006

Oh my gosh I am laughing so hard! You are too funny!

This also reminds of the time when my mom was in the hospital and I went down to the cafeteria to get some food and I ran into smelly crazy man. He started talking to himself shouting about all the women he could pull and how he could have anyone he wanted in that cafeteria. He went around the room pointing at said ladies saying I could have her, I could nail her and then he points right at me and says and I know I could do her. Ahh crazy people are fun.

Jun 16, 2006

Holly, when you're halfway between Bukit Tinggi and Jalan Pesat, squeezed into uncomfortable proximity of a Malaysian farmer with no teeth and two dozen dead chickens, aboard a truck running solely on sugar and water, you are going to WISH you were on the Amtrak train next to PCL...

Great story!

The Girl Who
Jun 16, 2006

So, I was on the New York train and I was totally minding my business... you know, talking to my invisible friend Zonk.. that's when Zonk's invisible friend Weez pointed out the couple in front of me was taking pictures of our other invisible friend Jeppa who was asleep further up in the carriage. Zonk had told her to move because her tin foil hat annoyed him and he wanted her to take it off and she refused because she said the aliens would get her if she did and so there she was, up in the front of the carriage sleeping when this perverted young man starts taking photographs of her! The nerve! I said to Zonk, if he tries to take a photo of me I will blow that motherfucker away! I immediately got on the phone with the President, who is a closer personal friend and advised him about the situation. Then the young man with the camera begins talking to me. I said “DON’T TALK TO ME. WHY ARE YOU TALKING TO ME? NOBODY TALKS TO ME ON THE NEW YORK TRAIN" which of course, everybody knows. And this boy and his girlfriend (who incidentally must have an eye condition because her eyes were doing the strangest things) continued to harrass me and so I whipped out my umbrella which doubles as a shot gun and they very wisely left the train... after all NOBODY TALKS TO ME ON THE NEW YORK TRAIN.

Jun 16, 2006

Ohhh my! So sorry about your trying journey! But I was absolutely CRACKING UP reading about you shushing the conductor! oh my! "who shushed me?" ... Tears-in-my-eyes-laughing! Get some rest!

The Girl Who
Jun 16, 2006

Obviously, I'm having trouble sleeping... Great post Holly.. thanks for entertaining me in the wee, small hours.

Jun 16, 2006

Good Christ, girl! Next time do yourself a favor and hand them round an Ambien with a dry martini to wash it down. That ought to buy you some peace.

Jun 16, 2006

I sure hope you have less eventful train rides in Southeast Asia. But...somehow I doubt it. Good luck with the packing.

Jun 16, 2006

Thank you for getting yourself into these predicaments so that we can read them from the safety of our cushy, leather rolling chairs while eating soft chocolate chip cookies and snickering. We heart you for this.

Jun 16, 2006

I'm so glad that PSL didn't cut you up with her raincoat. *snort*

Jun 16, 2006

Tell me that you at least got to eat something tasty in DC! TELL ME!

Nothing But Bonfires
Jun 16, 2006

No! We were so tired, having not slept because of the whistling conductor, that we did a loop around Union Station, waved feebly at the Capitol, and collapsed into the first place we saw that had COFFEE in large letters outside of it. Phillip's Cafe, it was called, and it was pretty much nothing to report back on. But there were bagels, and that was enough.

Jun 16, 2006

Sorry for laughing at your ordeal, Holly, but it truly cracked me up. Thanks for the tip though. Looks like I won't be taking Amtrak anytime soon. However, if you REALLY want to witness the insanity of our fellow citizens? Try taking the Greyhound bus from NYC to LA. It's like a horror movie freak show!

Jun 16, 2006

Oh, I feel your pain. I rode from Chicago to Austin on Amtrak, which takes so long I can no longer even remember how many more than 24 hours I was on that train. We had a woman with her four small children behind us. Well, she spent all of her time in the club car once she had taken the rollers out of her hair. Her children and the one bucket of KFC she left them for sustenance rode behind us.

Jun 16, 2006

Seriously. I love that you shushed him and he talked about his hat. You are totally my favourite train person. And I WISH SEAN HAD ACTUALLY SAID THAT.

Jun 16, 2006

Thanks for reminding me that a train journey up the coast is not nearly as relaxing and romantic as it may seem. I took the train from Philadelphia to North Carolina once (a mere 8 hours) without an ipod. I listened to pop-top's popping, chips crunching, and people talking too loudly on their cellphones. And everything smelled like fried chicken and bologna. (Maybe the KFC lady from the comment above sent her kids to camp). And you know why I took the train that time? Because my last trip had be sitting on I-95 in Northern Virginia for 6 hours. Perhaps this is a trip that just shouldn't be made.

Jun 16, 2006

This can't be true. This is true?

Why are the things that happen to me never as hilarious as the ones that happen to you...? I'm so jealous of your huge arsenal of party stories!

Irony Queen
Jun 16, 2006

Oh my good god. I am ever so glad that when I took the Amtrak between DC and New York it contained mostly businessman types and students. I got enough of the crazies on the Metro every day.

Also, Holly, are you SURE that Southeast Asia isn't somehow fully covered by wireless internet service? I don't know if I can survive without you!

Jun 17, 2006

I love you, Holly. So much. I extend the fondness to Sean, too.

Back in community college, I was eating lunch in the cafeteria while reading my Literature book. Because you'd think, right, that reading signifies 'leave me alone'?

Of course it doesn't! Instead of having a clue, a woman with questionable hygiene decided to sit across from me and give me OB/GYN advice.

That was pleasant.

Jun 17, 2006

carriage. i've never heard them called that before....and as i'm chuckling thru your post and you referenced "carriage" the first time i had to laugh b/c it caught me off guard, and then i started thinking maybe it was a british thing b/c for some reason i always read your blog with an english accent, which i think you mentioned at some point you had, or didn't. i don't know.

but nonetheless, it was very funny, as your writing usually is.

Jun 17, 2006

Oh how much do I love you for shushing that conductor?

It's only a shame PCL didn't mangle him with her umbrella.

Sorry your trip was hideous...hilarious in the re-telling - but hideous.

So sorry too about having to leave your cats behind. So sad. I sobbed when I had to give mine up to friends in the states, just before we left Canada. I put a pair of Dave's socks in the cage to soothe him on his journey.

That was pathos. Those socks in the cage. And his big round cat eyes blinking at me as I said goodbye.

Jun 18, 2006

Haha I liked how, while getting in the mood of writing about PCL you called her PLC, it's kind of like TLC. Also, is the official name of the train, "The New York Train?", I mean, isn't it called like, the nine o' clock from New York to Stamford or something like that, or like Amtrak number 37. Anyway maybe PCL was being nice when she said "I'm going to blow you away", like I'm going to blow you away with how nice I'm about to be. When I thought back to this story in my head, I imagined PCL saying "I'm about to blow you away" which would have been even more funny!

Nothing But Bonfires
Jun 18, 2006

There's no reason at all it should have been called the New York train, because it was coming from Boston and going to DC -- New York was just a stop in between! That's what made it so random... And she didn't even GET OUT at New York; we saw her again in the departure lounge at DC and she even got on the same train as us, which was going down to Savannah. I've no idea where she got off, since both Sean and I averted our eyes like crazy from her, for fear of getting shot with her umbrella again. For all I know, she lives in Charleston, which is probably another great reason to be leaving.

Personally, I think it was Angelina Jolie in disguise. Or some other celebrity -- the "don't speak to me! don't look at me!" reeks of famous people.

Jun 18, 2006

Been there done that. B'ham Al. to New Orleans LA. Typical drive, 7 hours; On the train, 12 hours! Rural Southern route, in sealed carriages, with 75% of the inhabitants chain smoking Marlboro Reds...

Jun 19, 2006

i'm about to lose battery power but ...

keep taking the train - these things never happen to me and I want to read your stories

and ... now i have to go or risk LOSING EVERYTHING

Jun 19, 2006

As I think you know, Tom and I did a month of solid Amtraking. In the UK, people complain when the trains are frequently 10-20min late, so having them come several hours late was a bit of a jolt... we did a three-day epic from San Antonio to LA, featuring two buses and nine hours in El Paso. That was a world of fun.

Liberal Banana
Jun 21, 2006

Ha! I started reading this on Tuesday before I had to leave the house to travel back to DC from visiting family in NY, after just having written a Crazy People on the Train post myself! People are f*$%ing nuts!

We took an overnight train from France to Italy and us 4 girls were stuck in a carriage with 2 men, who slept by the door. It was about 100 degrees in there. I tucked my small purse between my seat and the wall while I slept, and when we got to Naples, I forgot the purse. I lost my passport, camera, 200 Euros, and my train pass. That was pretty much the most awful day I've ever had.

Jun 22, 2006

OH. MY. GOD. The train was infested with crazy people! WTF was up with CPL? And the 3:30 a.m. conductor...wha...???