I’m going to go ahead and get right to the point here, at some point during the mid 80’s the people who run Amtrak were replaced with monkeys. I’m not even talking about the super cool genius space monkeys who run MENSA, but rather the shit throwing, red assed, frenetically masturbating, hump your leg type. It’s really the only possible explanation for the absolutely ridiculous state of affairs that anyone is subjected to when they pay a hundred bucks to take a freaking two hour ride somewhere.
My parents live upstate, close enough that I can take a weekend and go see them, far enough that I have to habitually patronize Amtrak’s services. Please note that I mean patronize in both meanings of the word, because there isn’t a time that I’ve ridden with them that hasn’t left me in a state of homicidal fury.
This past weekend, I was treated to two chances at playing my favorite Amtrak game: “Try To Find A Seat-a-Palooza.” You see, such is the managerial intelligence behind Amtrak that when it’s time for a holiday weekend they actually decrease the amount of cars that they haul on their routes. It’s the same five year old boy mentality that makes it alright to tear off the legs of a daddy-long-legs spider, just to see them shake around. I’m convinced they’ve installed cameras at Penn Station and in the train cars not for security, but instead to watch all the fist fights that ensue.
On Monday afternoon, my girlfriend and I decided to try and get a jump on the evening train traffic by getting to the station about fifteen minutes early, what a mistake. You can usually bank on Amtrak trains being about ten to fifteen minutes late, on a good day. So there’s thirty minutes of us waiting in a convoluted queue under 90 degree summer sun already.
As I looked around I noticed that there was no less than about four hundred people waiting along with us for what would be no doubt, a three car train. One of these cars would be the cafe car. Have you ever been to a political rally? If you have, you’ll know the kind of fevered buzz that surrounds a crowd that’s about to start looting and wrecking shit. That’s what this crowd was like.
You see, Amtrak has this novel feature to most of their trains that’s called, “Unreserved.” This is short hand for, “We’re going to sell as many tickets for a two hundred seat train as we can, and you’re going to have to pay even though you’ll probably be standing up for two hours, how do you like my genius red monkey ass now, cracker?”
Everyone knows this and the result is a jumble of people slowly and cautiously jockeying for position just behind the hallowed “Yellow Line.” Any time you shift a bag, hop from foot to foot or scratch your ass, you get eyed up and down from everyone around you, because they’re assuming that you’re trying to edge a little closer. Such paranoia! (I actually used kissing my girlfriend as an opportunity to get ahead of about four people, sorry for the jimmy feet, baby).
All of this goes to hell once the train shows up, anyway. Once the engine is in sight you can almost hear the rapid devolution going on. Animal grunts and squeals replace, “Excuse me,” and “Pardon me.” By the time the train’s come to a complete stop (which is when the space monkeys lower the force field shooting up from the Yellow Line), you’re in the midst of a full on stampede.
This seething mass of half human neanderthals swarmed towards the two, yes, just two, entrances of the train. We must have looked like a school of drug addict piranhas being fed the corpse of a crack whore, deplorable, any way you look at it.
Amtrak’s gotten wise to one of their problems, they’re tired of people standing up for four hours and refusing to pay, so they’ve started taking tickets outside of the train, brilliant. The ensuing drama is very similar to the bank collapse scene from “It’s A Wonderful Life.”
“I need a seat! I want my seat NOW!”
“Can you get by with standing up in the cafe car, letting the table poke you in the taint?”
It’s horrible displays of humanity like this that force introspection upon one’s self. Do I act like that? I don’t think so. Are we no better than animals? Looks like it. Do I keep my wallet in my front pocket not because of safety reasons, but because I want my ass to look nice? Of course.
After both myself and Eileen got elbowed in the face a few times, we made it onto the train. I’d realized a long time ago that the chance of us getting a seat together was nil, and even the chance of getting a seat at all was beginning to look slim. By a stroke of luck, I got her seated quickly. I looked around for myself and was sure that I saw nothing.
But then I looked down at one of the four person seats, you know, the kind where if you’re seated across from a buddy, you’re going to spend the entire trip with your knees constantly grazing his nut sack. There was only three people in there! On one side, two sleeping African American children, across from them, was seated someone I assumed was their grandfather, seated next to him was a cooler. It looked like the kind of cooler that you carry organs in. So after I asked him to raise his kidneys on up out of my seat, I was blessed with being able to sit down.
And now my favorite part of this story. When the kids woke up after we left the station, they both stared at me in utter horror. I could almost hear the thoughts racing through their heads. Where did this white guy come from? Is he our new older brother? Is he adopted? Are we adopted? Do our parents love us? These are the things I do to pass the time.
In closing I’d like to quickly send a shout out to Amtrak:
Fuck you non-genius space monkeys! Your draconian “cost-saving” measures routinely turn normal human beings on vacation into raging feral animals. Even a non-genius space monkey should know that on holiday weekends, you’re going to have a LOT OF PEOPLE RIDING YOUR FUCKING TRAIN! Put another car on there, hell, make it a fucking box car and charge extra for getting to go on a “hoboe ride.” Whatever, as long I can sit down.