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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

to know.

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.

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