Ridin’ the Rails

It’s 2125 Eastern Standard Time here at the Amtrak station in Pittsburgh. That’s 9:25 p.m. And Pennsylvania. We’ve got a train to catch at midnight that will take us to Chicago. That’s assuming it’s on time, of course. Our scheduled arrival is 0845 tomorrow (Tuesday the 4th of November). Again, assuming it is on time. We were only thirty minutes late to PGH from Philadelphia. Train stations use those cool all-caps three letter designations just like airports. We’ll have another layover in CHI and get the Southwest Chief from there at 1500 (er, 3:00 p.m.). That’s Central Standard Time. Departures are pretty dependable. Arrivals? Flexible. Speaking of flexible, it helps. The chairs here are solid. Hard plastic with vinyl covers and seem devoid of all padding. When you are like me and have no butt, just skin over bones, your feet go numb from prolonged sitting. So, I get up and pace around the station which can’t be more than 100 feet in any direction. Gets old fast.

The ride from PHI was reasonably pleasant except for the bi-polar woman sitting behind us. She had two phones. One had an electronic chime that went sort of ping-ping-poodle-ding with a little rise at the end. The other had a two-second snippet of some horrid over-blown r&b tune, you know, the kind of r&b they play in a JC Penney store, not the good kind. When we left she had a half hour conversation with someone in which she would say everything three times. Other than that she seemed rational. A little later she had a pleading conversation with the phone company to extend the deadline on her overdue bill. Mind you, I didn’t want to know all this, but she had no qualms about allowing us to hear. Later she had another conversation with some medical outfit about her appointments.These conversations became increasingly more emotional and high-strung and even involved her weeping. Then she talked in low(er) tones to someone that seemed to be a family member and she described, now thoroughly distraught, a long chain of terrible things that had beset her. Accident, head trauma, back injury–it would have been heartbreaking if it hadn’t been so public. Not long after that she had a kind of transformational exchange with another apparent family member about how hard she was working to get her life back together and how she was stronger and braver than before. It was like Dr. Phil meets Oprah. I’m generally pretty sympathetic and don’t like to think poorly of folks or mock their issues but this had reached a the point of black comedy. Finally she was mostly silent for a few hours (it was a seven hour journey) but the phones kept going off every few minutes. When I walked past her seat to hit the head I could see her texting on both devices, one after the other. I was happy when she got off in Greensburg.

A few minutes ago a pizza guy showed up and delivered a “medium cheese” to one smart passenger sitting with us here in the station. Wish we’d thought of that. If they could bring a six-pack of beer too it would be even better. Speaking of beer, we had a lot of Yuengling when we were out and about in Philly. There was plenty of craft brew around the city, which was nice, but if there wasn’t you could always get a Yuengling. The station in Philly had a pub called Bridgewater and we had a pint of draught before we boarded. It was called Hofbrau Dunkel and it really hit the spot. Nice little pub, good beer (a Dunkel is a dark lager), a civilized way to travel. Man, I’m thirsty and my butt is starting to tingle. I need a take a few laps soon. The folks in the station seem OK. A gent across the way gave us his New York Times when he was done with it. A group of Mennonite girls are sitting in a row across from us. They look like two sets of sisters, four apiece. High school age. I suppose they are Mennonites, I’m not sure, one of those Pennsylvania Dutch sects. Cheerful bunch, lots of adolescent giggling. A guy saw me typing on my laptop and wanted me to Google something for him. Do you know which states in the US are Commonwealths? I knew Virginia and Massachusetts were, but it turns out Kentucky and Pennsylvania are as well. He explained that he “just gotten out of prison” and had to avoid states that were commonwealths. Something about extradition, I was friendly and didn’t pursue it. He was happy to know there were only four, he was sure there were five. I told him he might win some money on Jeopardy some day with his new-found knowledge. I’m not sure he caught my drift but he was nice about it. That’s all you can ask, eh?

Next time I ride the rails I will bring a flask of some delicious adult beverage. 100 proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey comes to mind. And an ipod-thingie with big, comfy headphones like Dr. Dre sells and plenty of good tunes for tuning out the world. A neck pillow and a blanket woudn’t be bad, either. Otherwise, we are having a grand trip. The Giants won the World Series and that makes everything better.

Only a few more hours. Talk to y’all later!

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