I have **GOT** to get one of these.
Cellphone story. I came up from DC Saturday evening on the train — that
is, via Amtrak. Now, Amtrak trains generally have a quiet car, where
cellphones, along with beeping laptops, loud conversation, and other
nuisances, are banned. I wanted to read Rebecca Goldstein’s book about Kurt
Goedel so I asked an Amtrak
guard standing by the train where the quiet car was. He pointed it out to
me. I entered it. A woman was sitting in the first seat eating tuna sald
from a box. “Is this the quiet car?” I asked her. “Yes it is.” I found a
seat and settled down with my book.
The carriage was nearly empty. Not many people ride Amtrak on a Saturday
evening. However, there was a young couple in the seats across the aisle
from me. They were some kind of Europeans — Germans, I think — in college
outfits — jeans, sneakers, sweaters, rucksacks — and talked pretty
incessantly. They weren’t loud, though, so I couldn’t say anything. They
were also extremely interested in each other, with a lot of smooching and
pawing. I dislike that kind of thing in public; but it’s not against the
law, just mild bad manners, so I got on with my book as best I could.
Then the guy pulled out a cellphone and addressed it loudly in his own
godforsaken language. I gave him a LOOK, right across the aisle. He caught
it. The two of them got up and went and sat a few seats back of me. As I
said, the carriage was mostly empty. There the man proceeded to engage in
an interminable conversation on his cellphone. I could hear every word.
After a while I got up, went to where they were sitting, and said: “Excuse
me. This is the quiet car. You’re not supposed to use a cellphone in here.
You can go to the next carriage and use it.” My tone was brusque and
annoyed, but I felt I had a right. The couple stared at me. The woman
mumbled an apology. “We didn’t know… we are visitors to your country…”
Back at my seat 5 minutes later, the woman came by. “Excuse me,” she asked,
“where is the sign saying that this is the quiet car?” I said I didn’t
know, but had been assured by a guard, and then again by a passenger, that
this was it. “OK,” she said, and went away.
Half an hour later, in came an Amtrak guard and a young woman. They sat one
on each side of the aisle, in the seats immediately in front of me, and
commenced a loud conversation, the gist of which was, that they wanted to
know each other better. The guard was in full working uniform. The woman
was apparently an Amtrak employee, but in mufti. The guard took a couple of
train-related calls on his walkie-talkie, which beeped loudly. Then he made
a couple of work-unrelated calls in response to something the woman wanted
I leaned forward and said politely: “Excuse me, but I was told that this is
the quiet car, and that no cell phones are allowed.” No, said the guard.
There is no quiet car on this train. Often at weekends there isn’t one. He
was friendly & polite… just as had been his colleague, who’d told me that
this was the quiet car. I wondered whether I should now go back and
apologize to the foreign couple. No, I thought, let them die hating me.
Morals of this story:
—Amtrak employees are idiots. If you ask two of them a question about your
train, you’ll get two different answers.
—Don’t assume you’re in a quiet car on Amtrak unless you see a sign saying
—Young Europeans have no manners and no clue how to behave in public.
—If you enjoy reading, writing, thinking, or any other activity that
requires quiet surroundings, you were born about 50 years too late.