I now have mixed feelings about taking trains. Many of you who know me remember the infamous train ride I took from New Mexico to Minnesota (with a stopover/change of train in Chicago). I refused to take the train for years after that incident. (Those of you who have not heard the story, speak up in the comments, and I’ll make a post about it later.)
Back in July/August, I took the Acela up to Boston – the Acela is all business class and even has a “quiet car” where cell phone conversations and loud conversations are banned. All rows have a plug-in so I could use my laptop for longer than the battery lifetime. Plus, the ride was relatively smooth, so I could get real work done. The ride was rather pleasant, and a nice change from wrestling the security-heavy airlines. Maybe I was ready to forgive the train.
Today, I took the Carolinian from Alexandria, VA to Cary, NC. Business class was relatively full, so I took the first available seat I found (there were maybe three other available seats). Turned out I was next to a very talkative man and across from another pair of talkative people. Actually, things started out alright. I pulled out my laptop and started working on my paper for ApJ. Unfortunately, each row of seats has only one plug, and the other guy was already using it. He offered to switch off when my battery got low, but I was finding it hard to work on my paper, and was feeling a bit shy about asking him to plug in so I could play my game. Instead, I packed up my laptop and worked on some sudoku puzzles.
The conversation started when he came back from the cafe car about an hour and a half into the trip. He started to tell me about the conversation he’d had in the cafe car about Iraq. Great. I should have had my headphones on by then, but I didn’t. Stupid me.
He did tell good stories, though. I’m not sure if any of them are real. Dancing with Drew Barrymore for an hour or more one night at a bar. Getting Jesse Jackson to autograph a book for his bigoted mother-in-law. A patent he recently obtained for a skill-cataloging system he invented, then turned down $1 million from a lawyer because he knows this has a global, hundreds of millions of dollar impact. A conversation with his 24-year-old son about how to bag a woman. His Brazilian home and Brazilian girlfriend. A course called The Forum. Iraq and politics. Abortion. Science and education. Women in technology. On and on and on.
The conversation often crossed the aisle to the two people sitting on the other side – a beautiful woman who looked a lot like Whitney Houston, pre-crack, and an ex-military looking older man.
While the conversation was engaging, I really just wanted a quiet trip with my stupid Zoo Tycoon game. Oh, and we got behind a couple of freight trains and for a while were riding the tail of another passenger train, both of which slowed us down tremendously, making us 2-hours late in Cary.
I’m not sure when I’ll be on the train again. At least I wasn’t getting hit on for over 15 hours. That’s always an improvement.