August 28th, 2019
There are two groups that always ride Amtrak: old people and the Amish.
It is true that there are other folks who take the train, and they have their reasons for doing so. Some people just hate to fly. Some people have medical issues. Some people need to travel to some godforsaken location that has no airport. However, it quickly becomes obvious that many of the passengers on Amtrak are old and/or Amish. I would say that they are mostly old.
Why is this so? I will hazard a guess or two.
I am old. My wife is old. This is simply a fact. We are retired, so even if our chronological ages are not extreme, we still count as being old. If someone is retired, they are, by definition, old.
A retired person lives in a paradox. On the one hand, this person sees clearly that the clock is ticking, and that life is short and getting shorter. On the other hand, this person is also in no rush to go anywhere. Retirement, if it is truly retirement, means that there are no deadlines. That is the whole point of it. So, a retired person, like myself, wants to experience all that he or she can before death comes, but this same person has no need or desire to hurry. Hurrying is for the young.
This makes a long train ride very attractive. Karin and I went from Milwaukee to Seattle. That trip takes forty-four hours. A person making this journey will, if at all possible, book a sleeper compartment. I have made this trip in the cheap seats, and it sucked hard. A sleeper compartment is not luxurious, but it is civilized. There is privacy and a modicum of comfort. Also, the meals are included in the price, and the meals are of exceptional quality. So, if somebody has the time and the money to travel by train, why not? A retired person often has both time and money. If they didn’t, they would not be retired.
Another reason why I like the train is that the personnel on Amtrak treat passengers with courtesy. When I go to an airport, I feel like I am being treated as a criminal. Honestly, it is easier for me to visit a loved one in a maximum security prison than it is for me to board a plane. Flying has become stressful and thoroughly unpleasant. I only fly when I must.
As for the Amish, I don’t pretend that I understand their culture. I don’t understand why they always travel as a group. I don’t understand why the men wear suspenders and sport Abraham Lincoln beards. These things are mysteries to me. However, I did have the opportunity to speak with an Amish man while riding the train to Seattle. Actually, he came over to me in the lounge car for a bit of conversation. That, in itself, was unusual.
I am not good at all with small talk. So, I asked Stephen, the Amish patriarch, a question:
“Okay, really, why don’t you folks drive? Why do you take the train?”
Stephen was not bothered by my query. He thought for a moment and replied,
“Well, driving a car gives a person too much independence. It is important to us to depend on each other, to depend on our family and our neighbors. We need to depend on each other in our community.”
That was a damn good answer. I can respect that.
On the subject of smokers…
Amtrak strictly forbids smoking on the train. I put an emphasis on strictly. I remember distinctly the conductor telling the passengers,
“If you are caught smoking on this train, the next stop will be your stop.”
That seemed pretty clear to me.
There are those passengers who are very attuned to when they can get out of the car and smoke. The conductors try to guide them in this respect:
“The next stop is Fishbreath, Montana. We will arrive in about ten minutes, This would be a good time for you, if Fishbreath is your destination, to look around you for your belongings and prepare to detrain. Also, we will be stopping briefly, for maybe five minutes, in Fishbreath. There will be time for a very short fresh air break, a chance to stretch your legs. Please remain on the platform and respond to the “all aboard” instructions. Take it from me, you do not want to spend an extra twenty-four hours in Fishbreath waiting for the next train to arrive. Thank you.”
“Fresh air break” means “smoke break”.
Karin and I saw people run out of the train at a stop in order to light up. One woman returned to the train, and said,
“What a great stop! I got in two cigarettes!”
Yeah. I love the train.