Monday, December 04, 2006

Midway Between Crazy and Normal Lie the Tracks of a Train

On the crazy-o-meter, the train is midway between an airplane and the city bus. So as my family boarded the train to Chicago this weekend, I felt like Goldilocks tasting baby bear's porridge. It was not too crazy. Not too normal. It was just right.

Why the crazy factor? My only guess is the time element.

You can't take a train if you're in a big hurry. Passenger trains do not have the right of way on the tracks, so if enough freight trains need through, you might be three hours late.

So my hypothesis is that once you cross time off your list of worries, you get carried away. You scribble out things like "don't wear a long black costume wig as part of your day-to-day ensemble if you are a man" and "Don't shave your face while sitting on the train (if you are a lady)" and "While out to dinner, don't tell people your darkest secrets until they've sat down at the table. Pace yourself."

You see, the community seating in the dining car creates some interesting dinner parties.

A young drunk guy looked up to see an older couple sitting across from him.

"Oh, I wasn't expecting this," he said.

Thinking a formal introduction was in order, he cleared his throat.

"I'm a slob," he said. "So have fun."

But his blase attitude toward his dinner guests was purely for show. He soon was entertaining them with his life story. They showed their interest by fixing their gaze on their menus and not saying a word.

Long story short, he was a child actor who just got out of rehab. Isn't everybody, these days?

A lady also helped this guy find his seat not once but three times.

People also do things on trains like give people cash out of the blue and buy strangers cookies. In the observation car, a man who looked like Santa Claus pointed out deer and coyotes and eagles to Johnny and Richie. Strangers share stories of their travels through the country and through life.

We saw snowy farms that looked like Christmas album covers for country singers. We saw seagulls on the Mississippi River in Illinois.

J.J. fared best as we wandered the aisles of the train. I guess because his center of gravity is closest to the ground.

In addition to the dining car, there's the snack bar.


At the beginning of the ride, the attendant kept making announcements over the loud speaker along the lines of...

"This is Fred. It's going to be 45 minutes before I open. At the last stop, I got all these boxes that, frankly, I wasn't expecting. I'm dealing with it."

"Hi, it's Fred again. I'm still not ready to open, due to circumstances beyond my control. I'm coping."

"Hey everybody. It's you know who. Still buried in boxes. So through no fault of my own, I am closed for business. I will be open for breakfast."

Breakfast being in just 14 hours.

It didn't take that long. The boys wanted candy, so when he finally opened, I got the chance to discuss the box fiasco with him in person.

There was an argument with a secretary, wrong serial numbers, a tangled chain of command, the danger of a potentially long line upon opening late, etc.

To sum up, he threw his hands in the air and said, "It's all part of the romance of the railroad."

That's the word I was looking for: Not too crazy. Not too normal. Romantic.


Anonymous mom said...

So true and funny. I thought the smiling wanderer was a real crazy on the train too! They all probably thought we were wierd!

4:24 PM  
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