THE AUTO TRAIN ….Everything you always wanted to know but were afraid to ask!
This is a subject that I wasn’t going to touch. Yet, here I sit, waiting for the Auto Train and so, how can I ignore it. We are on our annual trek North and have decided, in recent years, that the train is the most efficient way to get there. The Auto Train is extremely well run and the staff is always very pleasant and, in fact, full of personality. We like to arrive early in order to get our seat assignments and dinner reservation, 7:00….since dining times on the train are 5:00, 7:00, and 9:00. That being accomplished, we jump back in our car and go out for lunch…to a special joint that we found nearby where my husband can enjoy a cheese steak sub and I have a power bar with water!. We return with plenty of time to board.
As a teacher of Expressionist Painting I like to impress my students with how to “see” in a new and fresh way…. How to see abstractly….To begin to see the patterns and relationships….colors and forms, dots and accents rather that “what things are”. As we approached the station I was first struck by all of the workers in their shocking orange shirts dotting my visual canvas. I was totally charmed, visually and conceptually by the orange clad Amtrak workers lunching together in a little gazebo adjacent to the drive up station. Go figure!!!
By the time we returned to the station, the huge, formerly empty waiting room was now filled with an assorted conglomerate of new passengers and their suitcases, snacks, drinks, lunches, pillows, blankets, and, if with children, their dolls, toys, and stuffed animals.
I am afraid to post the pictures that I took…fear of getting sued. Lets just say, these folks are from every and any walk of life…..all sizes, shapes, ethnicities and age. Basically, an eclectic mini world! If you enjoy “people watching” then this is your heyday! One thing that I noticed is that so many of the older couples sit next to each other not talking and looking angry. I really mean a lot. Now that is scary. Well, I wonder, maybe that is just how people look when they are waiting. (This is nothing as compared to what they look like sleeping!)…of course I’ve never seen myself sleeping!!!
At 2:30 we begin to board. We have requested a “quiet car” (also why we like to arrive early!)…which means not a bunch of kids running up and down the aisles with their paraphernalia and toys looking for friends. Unfortunately, it does NOT mean no snoring!
After sitting for maybe five minutes we take off for the club car. Four cars later we arrive, find a “booth” and start with the vodka.
Amtrak provides little cocktail pretzel/hot stuff snacks which, judging from how we devour them, you might have thought was a seafood rawbar! At four o’clock exactly the train departs. Now we only have until seven o’clock to busy ourselves. We decide to stay put in the club car since the dining car is the very next car and our own car is 4 rocking and rolling cars away….what you might call a big schlepp. We have a NY Times crossword puzzle, a Kindle, an ipad with email access, and each other, with which to occupy our time. We do not play cards…as many folks do. They look like they are having so much fun. What I do notice, however, is that all of those bored and silently sad-seeming people are now all new best friends. Their chatter, about everything and anything and nothing is at high decibels….the train is really rocking now… and everyone has become very friendly….like a huge party. It seems so odd. I really don’t think it is alcohol induced…if that were the case, then what about me? I keep wondering how they all “know” each other so quickly. Finally it is time for dinner, and a relief from all of the friendly people telling their life stories. We are told to sit with another couple. We enjoyed them, the vegetable lasagna, the braised beef, the dishwasher wine that they continue to refill, and the amazing cheesecake with cherries on top (you can get chocolate on top if you prefer.) We are soon asked to vacate the dining car…even though we have enjoyed our chatty dinner partners (our new best friends) so that they can set up for the nine o’clockers. We decide to bypass the opportunity to watch a movie in the club car and head back to our seats…which we haven’t seen since 3:00. Now we settle into our NY Times, books, and puzzles, wrap ourselves in our blankie, recline our seats and raise our legs, unsnap the top snap of our pants, take our little 1/2 pill, and settle in for the night. Oh yes, I forgot to mention, we climb downstairs to visit the lavatories….eeeek! The next morning, after a multitude of is-it-morning-yet false alarms, we are up at 6:00. After a continental breakfast…we disembark the train at about 8:30 and enter another huge waiting hall (identical to the southern hall…just a different state) in order to wait for the identical orange Amtrak workers to unload our car. We complain that we are always among the last 10 cars to come off of the train. This year there were 256 automobiles on board. That can take almost two hours. But this year, to our surprise, our car came off pretty early (maybe around 50)…oddly though, we were so engaged in conversation with a charming woman sitting next to us, that we never even heard them announce our car. We were alerted when they made a desperate cry for someone to please claim the white Volvo!!!!
For my readers who have never tried the Auto Train…now you have it. But the real story here is how people come together. Many books, plays, short stories, etc have focused on this theme…and every year I observe and participate in that “dance”. Once you are “locked up” together the human spirit takes over. Kindness and generosity become the general mode. People of all walks of life tend to blend and meld…. at least for the moment.
People are people. “Bacon’s bacon!” – Eugene O’Neill – “Desire Under the Elms”