travel by train 101: the people around you

for the past 13 months, the manfriend and i have been mid-distance – he lives a few hours north of me, so we see each almost every weekend. this is made easier because of the brilliant mode of travel known as train. from charlottesville to dc, i take a bus up, and on the way back, the train (both run through amtrak service). the bus is…special, and i’m too sleep-deprived to think of all the insane things i’ve witnessed, heard, or smelled on a bus. trust me, that post is coming.

but this weekend, on my way home, i jotted down the kinds of people you’re pretty much guaranteed to run into on the train.

first, the train car will smell like stale french fries. if it does not, you’re on the car with the first kind of person you’ll meet on a train: the screaming infant. annoying, yes, but eavesdrop for even a minute and you’ll realize that the child’s mother has been traveling since 4 a.m. with every delay possible thrown in her path, and you’ll find yourself putting in headphones and tuning it out. people who get really irate about upset babies and children clearly have never babysat (i don’t have kids, but i’ve spent enough time with them to know that sometimes, they’re just cranky, and your getting angry just makes you the person who got made at a 9-month-old).

i almost always sit near someone who uses the forty-five minutes of cell service (until the train hits the countryside and we lose all communications with the outside world) to have an EXTREMELY personal phone call. this weekend, it was a woman talking to a friend about how much she hated wedding planning. she dove into so much detail that i took my headphones out to listen (mother-in-law? awful. former best friend? hideous, lonely, and deserves pain. future husband? CAN’T HE JUST UNDERSTAND SHE NEEDS A BIG FLUFFY DRESS?). my philosophy is that if they don’t want to keep it down, i’m more than welcome to listen in and make judgements.

i usually see a person who puts in a lot of effort to seem Very Important. they’ve taken over their seat and the one next to them with a couple of Very Big Books, a laptop, at least two phones, and several documents that are highlighted to within an inch of their lives. my favorite was the guy who made sure that the document containing “legalese: celebrity name” (implying that he was the lawyer for said celebrity) was near the aisle – so anyone walking by would be impressed. though, sir, the law school books on the seat beside you made it pretty clear that you aren’t quit at Celebrity Lawyer status. and if i’m walking on the train, i’m more concerned with not falling over than with your Very Important Job.

trains have a good amount of storage space. usually as i walk to the train, i’ll see a passenger talking to a conductor about their oversized bag, arguing that no, they can totally fit the bag on board. this person is guaranteed to realize the bag won’t fit up high, so they’ll shove it between the aisle seat and the seat in front of it – and it will trip at least one small child who isn’t expecting an obstacle course.

more often than not, these folks are a member of this last category: train virgins. everyone has been one – you’ve never taken the train before. it’s cool. i didn’t know where to go or what to do or if i had an assigned seat my first time on a train. but after over a year of train travel, i can spot one a mile away. they’re the first to queue for the train (pro-tip: no need to line up before you’re told to. they won’t leave if there are still passengers boarding. i promise.), and they ask the conductor where their seat is (general boarding means no assigned seating! if the train isn’t too crowded, and i don’t see anyone who clearly needs the space, i’ll take the spot at the front of the car with tons of leg room). this category also holds my least favorite people ever: the jerks. the people who yell at the guy behind the amtrak counter about their train’s delay. it’s very nice that you have to be somewhere by a certain time. but you see, the guy behind the counter cannot make the train go any faster. so take a deep breath, ask if he can help you find an earlier arrival method (usually, he can), or ask him about changing your itinerary once you get to your destination. they’re very nice, the train people. i promise. and the trains here share tracks with freight trains, so delays happen. no big deal. they’ll make up time.

so. new to train travel? take a deep breath. say please. say thank you. smile. help someone with their bag. give the woman with the sobbing child a break. bring headphones. and enjoy – trains are kind of awesome.