Another train story

... all aboard!

by Jerry Norton

Readers may recall a couple of previous yarns this writer has offered on the subject
of train travel. This little tale, while it does concern the same mode of
transportation, it is more about people than trains … sort of a case study of human
behavior. It is occasioned by a junket from which my ever-lovin’ wife and I have
recently returned.

Let me say at the outset that my New England sense of thrift (bordering on
frugality) brought this all about. On previous long-distance train rides we have
always enjoyed privacy and convenience in sleeping car accommodations, as they were
for trips lasting two nights or more. This one was merely from Tacoma, Washington to
San Francisco, with only one overnight.  Why, I reasoned, pay the enormous
difference in the fare from coach to sleeper? And so she reluctantly agreed.

On boarding we found the downstairs compartment of our designated coach to be quite
comfortable, with only twelve passengers assigned and the conveniences nearby. We
were only a short time into our journey, however, when we became aware of a male
voice from a seat across the aisle and behind us. It seemed to prattle along without
interruption to someone who happened to have been seated seat next to him. This
loquacious passenger was painting a very boastful picture of his financial holdings
and contacts to people in high places. It was droning on long enough for my wife to
finally steal a glance that way and determine that his disinterested target was a
lady who said almost nothing in return, but too polite to know how to escape.
Fortunately for her she was going only as far as Portland, Oregon. When her seat
became vacant he immediately turned his attention to two ladies seated directly
behind him with some kind of opening statement. His overture was immediately
rebuffed by one of the ladies, who had heard enough of him ... her response was “we
don’t wish to talk” and he reluctantly turned around. This guy was, if nothing else,
not a quitter and he continued talking in a low tone to himself for the rest of his

The next interesting passenger made her presence known towards evening as she
started to make trips out the train door connecting to the next car and would go no
further. She would return shortly to her seat without comment. This ritual continued
for quite some time until we noticed the train conductor had somehow been summoned.
She was seen to be engaging him in a low-volume conversation that was beyond our
earshot. At this juncture we noticed that on returning to her seat that she, like
the guy mentioned above, also talked in low tones to herself.

At a station stop where we stepped outside to stretch our legs, this lady approached
my wife and informed her that there was a cocaine odor throughout our car and it was
very dangerous. Therefore, for ventilation she did everything she could for fresh
air by opening and closing the door to the next car….throughout the night. The
following morning another train employee appeared with whom she also engaged in
quiet conversation. It was revealed that this strange passenger’s behavior was of
the cloak-and-dagger stuff. She had been reporting to train officials that she had
been detecting the distinct odor of cocaine on the train and that there were drug
traffickers on board. The whole thing was finally and quietly dismissed by the train
people. I suspect that the lady in question was unable to produce either ATF of DEA
credentials which would have lent any credence to her story.

Another interesting feature of train travel is the pot luck (no pun intended) one
takes when assigned seating in the dining car. One never knows what fate awaits the
couple seated on one side of the table when another unknown couple, or single, is
seated across from them. They are usually quite talkative, with much of their
conversations varying from boring to strange. And, by the way, we decided to fly
back home.

August 3, 2012

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