Friday, December 27, 2013

The Carolinian

I feel that I am trapped on a runaway train and cannot jump off!
Here I am travelling south of the Mason-Dixon on another trek to see my toddler granddaughters.
I no longer choose to drive, the rails have become my new love.
For about the same price, and a little more time, I can relax in comfort, napping, reading, watching DVD's listening to music and not having to lift a finger. Justified sloth and restroom sharing with 80 other people.
The ride from Philly to Washington was serene, the only stress was a fidgety wife who won't stop moving the 11 suitcases she smuggled on board for a 5 day visit. Pack well, pack often, pack everything is her battle-cry.
I may switch from writing about my dull little life and begin volume 1 on "train-stories".
As I leisurely seek to see life "on the other side of the tracks" I sit in a seat directly in front of a retired woman who for the first 3 hours laid dormant while cell phones rang faintly from passenger's Samsungs. The Asus tablet was my focus while the nice quiet lady in the seat behind me appeared to doze off. An occasional snore was nerve-manageable. The beast awakened after we passed the Washington Monument when she acquired a seat-mate. The unsuspecting young woman, and all within earshot, endured a never-ending life story, complete with marriages, divorces, affairs, medical dramas and baby mamas. I believe her stop was Cary, NC but she bailed at Quantico, VA, preferring US Marine enlistment to seat-mate story drama.
Washington DC has a short recess while we attach to a diesel engine to haul us along the southern trail. I am not certain why this is done but I suspect this was part of a pact at Appomattox signed between Grant & Lee; train travel was included.
Havoc was about to enter my railroad harmony by a hoard of Johnny Rebels, as we were informed that over 200 invaders were coming aboard. I thought I was still safe, paying extra for business class so never having to mingle with commoners (such as myself) attempting to ransack my bliss. Some of the riff-raff must have made a few extra bucks and splurged on comfort.
As usual things continued to go very, very wrong.
The Theremin, named after its inventor Leon Theremin, is a "musical instrument" popularized in recent years when it was used in the theme song of the original Star Trek. I don't know how it operates but I do know you plug the thing in, and wave your hand around what looks like coat hangers attached to a painted piece of 2x2 and sounds are emitted through some weird mystical oscillation. I suspect that early travelling snake oil salesman and medical quacks used this gadget to top off their coffers.
I don't understand it all, but I do covet one. I have a neighbor who refuses to leash and pick up after his dog when allowing "Sir Poo" to use my mailbox as a porta-potty. A Theramin, properly aimed from my front porch, would provide just the right amount of proper training and conditioning.
The instrument has an unmistakable sound, very annoying, and a sound reproduced and hummed for 250 miles through Virginia and into North Carolina by a woman now strategically placed in the seat directly in front of me. Her voice was "Theraministic" and she knew every song copyrighted since 1910. Most of her repertoire usually never ventured past 1950 but I do believe she covered both the Drifters and the Beatles a few times.

Air travel to Greensboro would be much shorter, but it too has its disadvantages, a new one a-comin' already found in train-travel and about to shatter the already touched nerves of plane-favorer's, namely active cellphones.
Samsung has done a wonderful job kicking Apple's heiney and bringing high tech smart phones to the hoi polloi. Now everybody's got one (except me) and the rates are so affordable you could forever babble-on around the globe. Gird your loins for variations of "Hello Edna, my all the people look just like little ants"!
There was much more to tell, the "Jumping Judge", "Oprah and Gale" talk cleaning products, 1st place winner in the "how small is my bladder "contest (the person most likely to hog the one working restroom).


I am here now, enjoying the grandgirls (and of course, their parents), so I may save the stories for another day.


Maybe the return trip will have a life of its own.

The Return Trip

On the train ride home a nice young lady and her little girl are seated directly across from me, separated only by a very small aisle and my luggage-shuffling spouse.
I had studied Spanish for 4 years and retained little to none.
She is cell-phoning very loudly, IN SPANISH.  I get hours of bilingual earfuls through North Carolina and most of Virginia.
Boy did I hit the Jackpot!

I wish I would have maintained an interest in the language, possibly I would have eavesdropped onto similar family drama as the lady told on my 1st trip.

Get ready for cell phones airplane-favorers.

Smoke 'em if ya got 'em

When the Carolinian travels south of Washington, DC, the concern is shared tracks with other trains so there are frequent slowdowns, if not dead stops awaiting the passage by what seems to be a 120 car freighter.  I wondered why our train was having to stop or wait so often and the realization hit, it's not the well known "southern politeness" allowing the other train to pass, it's all about the BACCA (tobacco in the south-to-north dictionary).
Amtrak has a no smoking policy while riding the rails but there remains ample opportunity for smoke breaks, especially south of Mason-Dixon where Bacca is considered deity.  There are short breaks in Virginia and North Carolina where we are all invited to stretch our legs and pay homage to the bacca-god if you so desire.
I suspect the train engineers and staff somehow encourage the freighters to just "go-ahead" so they can step off for a few moments and indulge.  
I have no proof of this.
Having fled the weed almost 20 years' ago I avoid exiting because I fear I may relapse. I can handle it in Pennsylvania but may backslide in the sin-city of nicotine.  It's in the air, it's all over the place.

Truth be told, I still love train travel and the staff at Amtrak are excellent.  I would encourage anyone to try it, just please be a little quieter, especially if you are sitting near me.

How will you know it is me?  
I'll be the one playing the Theremin.


Wednesday, December 25, 2013