I love traveling by train. There's just something about it that feels so safe. That, and the rush of colors and scenery that constantly change and shift outside your window, allowing you a glimpse of true American beauty. And the not-so-beautiful, too. But I'd rather dwell on the positive.
These past few days, I took a trip to DC for work, and rather than go through the hassle of flying, I chose instead to take the train down. Yes, it was a six-hour trip, as opposed to the two hour flight from TF Green to Reagan Airport. But when you count the inconvenience of driving to the airport, parking, buying your ticket, going through check-in, waiting for the plane, storing your luggage, boarding...the dread that you get in the pit of your stomach right when the plane is about to take off...you know, the one that comes from a more primitive time, that says, "Man isn't supposed to be up in the air in this giant aluminum birdie!" Well, when you add all those things up...not to mention the fact, traveling by train is cheaper, choo choos win, no contest.
Oh, and the people. People are SO much more entertaining on a train! I think it's because you're with them for a longer period of time, and also because they're more relaxed as a general rule, because they know there's no possibility that they are going to be plunging to their death from 60,000 feet.
On the way down to DC, I spent most of the trip sitting across from two buyers for a major retail outlet. One was an older lady with fake autumn frenzy hair, the other way a middle-aged gay with a perfectly flat stomach. The autumn frenzy woman smelled of dentures. They were somewhat entertaining.
I really hit the jackpot on the way home, though. I was stuck in the middle of a Sheldon convention.
You know, Sheldon, the character from The Big Bang Theory? It was all around me, and there I was, stuck in the center. Stuck with Sheldon, and the companions that keep him out of getting in to too much trouble.
The Sheldon in front of me was a 15-year-old boy with beautiful snow blond hair. It looked very much like Corb's, all long and flowing and beautifu. However, he also had a hearing problem and seemed to be on the autistic side. His father was right by his side, and it was clear from just looking at him that he was a patient, kind, and very tired man. I think he may have once had beautiful snow blond hair, too, but it had faded with time.
The blond boy kept asking his father why they don’t have an air conditioning unit in the kitchen, but only in the living room and bedroom. He must have asked it a hundred times. Every time, the father would calmly lean in so that he could hear exactly what his son had to say, and then shush his son for talking to loudly.
But by far the most entertaining Sheldon was the man in back of me. He was clearly a genius, but it was also obvious he had some rather severe social handicaps when it came to talking with people who aren’t as intelligent as he is. The passenger next to him seemed to be someone he worked for or with, and you could tell from his patient tone that he was used to putting up with him...and reining him in.
He first caught my attention as I kept bobbing up and down to get things from my backpack. Or put things in. It had been a long two days and I was always forgetting to charge things, and so as a result, I had a cell phone, a Blackberry, an iPad, and a laptop that all needed juice. And of course, I couldn't be bothered to be organized about where the cords all were. So every five seconds, I'd have to stand up and search for yet another cord.
Finally, after the fourth time, I heard him clearly say, "You ever notice how some people pack way too much stuff?"
"Sure," said the man beside him, who was clearly as patient as the father in front of me.
"You know, they're just going for an overnight trip, and yet they seem to pack as if they're going away for a month-long cruise to Rio. I mean, isn't that crazy?"
"Oh my God, he's talking about me!" I thought.
"Crazy," said the patient man.
Sheldon laughed. "And you think to yourself, what the fuck are they packing all that for, they're not going to--"
"Shhhhhhh! Don't use that kind of language. Quiet down!"
A pause. Then: "How much is the personal property in your home guaranteed insured for?
"Well...I...I’d have to look it up."
"How much is each of your employees insured for, from a liability perspective? Do you know that?"
"About...well, about $600,000."
"I don't think that's very much, do you? I mean, when you get right down to it, that figure might be a little low. $600,000. Have you ever thought about raising it?" But the patient man didn't respond, clearly not wanting to give away and business secrets. Undaunted, Sheldon decided to switch topics. "You know, when I’m traveling, I like to engage in conversation with the taxi drivers by talking lightly about the general occupational hazards of the job. I find if you engage them in conversation about anything beyond that, they tend to grow aggravated and upset."
"Is that right?"
A pause. Sheldon was looking to choose his words carefully. "I’ve also noticed that—"
Clearly, he was about to hit a hot button. The patient man groaned. "Let’s not start this again, please…"
But Sheldon was not going to be stopped. "I've also noticed that YOU don't engage them in that sort of conversation. Why is that? I have to tell you, when I consider the subject, it’s something that really could use some improvement on your end."
At that point, our hostess came down the aisle, pushing a metal cart. "Refreshments anyone? Pretzels? Light snacks?"
She reached Sheldon. The man next to him politely ordered mineral water.
"And you, sir? What would you like?"
"I would like to give you a suggestion!" said Sheldon. "I think you should offer Fresca as an option. I've noticed that you don't."
"No, we don't, sir."
"Most people don’t know of it as a diet drink, but it's quite good, and it actually comes in three different flavors, these days. Black Cherry. Cherry Citrus. Citrus Lime. Someone should be told to add at least one to the menu."
"Wow. Three flavors?" The hostess laughed politely. She was clearly a people person. "I knew it back in the days when they only had Citrus Lime."
"Well, you should tell someone to add it to the Amtrack menu."
"I surely will, sir."
"I would do it myself, but I have 8,000 things a day to do. 8,000 things. I have no time for letter writing. Otherwise I surely would do it myself. By the way, do you know what the best day is for traveling on an airplane?
"Tuesday," groaned the patient man, trying to get his friend to shut up.
The hostess took the hint, and started to whel her cart off.
It was at this point that a man in business suit decided to sit next to me, so I lost interest in Sheldon for a bit. Which was just as well, because he excused himself and headed off for the dining cart.
The man next to me was young in appearance. Kind of foreign looking, but a sweet face. He was talking on the phone as he sat down, and his voice seemed pleasant. "Oh, this might not be bad at all," I thought.
Then he started picking his nose. Oh, egad!
He stopped after a while. I politely looked away as he dug around for mineral deposits. I adjusted my seat so that I was leaning toward the window.
Then I started to smell a strong smell of vinegar. What the--? Was it the man behind me? No, he had just ordered mineral water. Sheldon wasn't back from the dining car yet.
Oh, wait. It couldn't be.
Cautiously, trying not to be noticed, I looked down at the guy next to me. Sure enough. He had taken his shoes off.
Oh, egad. Three more hours of stinky feet? How was I going to be able to stand this? What an odiferous affront to the senses this was. Could it get any worse?
That's when Sheldon returned from his travels.
"Hey there," he chirped to his friend. "I figured you'd like a nice chorus of 'Do you know the way to chardonay?' By the way, I was just wondering, have you ever considered examing life from a phenomalogical standpoint?"
That was it! With a cry, I jumped out of my seat and fled the curse of stinky feet and eggheads. I could take it no more. I ran down the aisles, babbling about mineral deposits and the three flavors of Fresca and the occupational hazards of taxi drivers. I reached a locked train door, vowing never again to travel by train, yanked at the door, and--
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