Growing up in the Midwest, trains were not a mode of transportation with which I had much interaction. There was a train that used to drive past my grandmother’s house in Iowa City (with a friendly conductor who would sound his horn and wave as he sped by), but I’m reasonably sure that train was carrying some kind of agricultural cargo and not people.
When I arrived at college, I realized that even though it’s no longer the nineteenth century and even though the airline industry exists, some people do still travel by train. And over Thanksgiving of my sophomore year of college, I became one of those people. My family and I were celebrating Thanksgiving in New York. My parents and sister were flying in from their various homes, but I, for the first time ever, was taking the train.
The experience was not only terrible but also quite traumatic. I’m sure part of the terribleness stemmed from my bad attitude. I did not want to take the train; I wanted to fly. I know I blogged earlier about how flying can make me anxious, but that’s only on long flights. The flight from Boston to New York is about as sort as they come. Also, I’m really good at the navigating-the-airport part of flying. If they were to offer a class on how to get through airport security with as many items in as little time as possible, I should be the professor (Unless my sister wanted the job. Then, I’d let her have it. Once when she was coming home for Christmas, she took something like four suitcases, a tennis racquet, and a purse through security without anyone stopping her). If they were to offer a class on taking the train, I should be assigned to the remedial section.
My first problem with taking the train stems from the fact that they do not tell you where the train is going to docking until about two seconds before it leaves. And by two seconds, I mean ten minutes, which is more than two seconds but still ridiculous. I refuse to believe that South Station—or any train station—does not know what platform its trains will be docking in until ten minutes before they are supposed to leave.
But regardless of whether or not they know, ten minutes is simply not enough time. On that first train ride to New York City, I nearly missed my train. And that is not because I was running late. I was standing in the station, staring at the board waiting for the assigned platform number to appear, just like everyone else, and I almost did not have enough time to get to the platform. When I did get on the train, I realized my ticket did not have my seat assignment printed on it. I had to text my roommate in a panic only to be told that trains have no seating assignments, which is dumb.
For the train ride back, my father graciously upgraded me to business class, hoping the extra comfort would make the journey more enjoyable. Unfortunately, this upgrade did not make the journey more enjoyable because I did not end up sitting in business class.
In an effort to avoid nearly missing another train, I made sure to rush down to the platform as soon as it was assigned. But when I got there, I had no idea where business class was. I jumped on the train anyway and figured I would walk through the cars to find it, but I never did. I am moderately sure that there was no business class section on that train, that the train gods gave me a business class ticket as some kind of sick joke. I guess we’ll never know for sure.
But not being able to sit in business class is not what made that trip so horrible. What made it horrible was that I could not find any seat at all. Every single car was completely packed. I was standing in the passage way between two cars when the train started to move, but I didn’t panic. I figured it would not be long until the next stop where hopefully some people would get off and then I could have one of their seats. Unbeknownst to me, I was on an express train, which would not be stopping again for over an hour. For over an hour I stood, carrying my heavy backpack and bags wondering when/if the train was going to stop.
When the train finally did stop, I apparently looked like the most pathetic person in the world when I found an empty seat and sat down. I looked so distraught that one guy felt compelled to ask me if I was okay. Another asked me if he could get me a drink. And not in the I’m-hitting-on-you-let-me-buy-you-a-drink way, but in the you-look-like-the-most-pathetic-person-in-the-world way. So, I said no to the drink.
It was several years before I worked up the courage to take the train again. I took the Chunnel from London to Paris two summers ago. The trip from London to Paris was surprisingly successful, but on the trip back to London, my worst fear came true: I missed my train.
Here we are a few years later, and find myself on the train again. I again have a business class ticket (how do I keep ending up with these things?!), and again I was unable to find that section. But this time that is even more confusing because I entered a train door labeled “business class” and now find myself not in business class, but in the Quiet Car.
For those of you unfamiliar with Quiet Car protocol, it’s pretty much like detention: No fun at all. Supposedly hushed talking is allowed, but no one is doing that. Instead everyone is reading a book or a newspaper or whatever else you can read while clutching the cell phone they’re not allowed to answer.
I know we’re not allowed to answer our phones because one poor sap did, and the wrath of the quiet car fell upon him. He was lectured by the guy next to him, given a stern look by the lady across from him, and offered a harsh reminder from the train office man (“This is the Quiet Car, sir”).
Anyway, the point of all this is that this car is stupid. And trains are stupid. And I am most definitely not good at riding them.