Saturday, May 21, 2011
I have to admit that I was one of the many people who released a boisterous, inner cheer when I read this article.
I became aware of the "quiet car" phenomenon when I lived in the United Kingdom. I spent the entire year without a car, which, to an American, is completely shocking. Fortunately, public transportation was a more than adequate option, and I visited many attractions, cities, and villages by train. Into the late spring and early summer months, I realized that timing was truly everything. Wandering bands of undergraduate students, newly released from university, traveled by train in groups of 8 or more with an outlandish quantity of luggage, to visit a variety of seaside locations. Although it wasn't a guarantee, the best option by far was to retreat to the quiet car under these circumstances. You had about a 50/50 chance that the overworked conductor would actually enforce the rule, and those odds were enough to keep younger travelers from venturing in and taking a seat.
The United States train system, as underused as it is, actually did catch on to this trend, and Amtrak started designating one car on its longer trains with multiple stops as the quiet car. On a recent train trip south, my boyfriend and I thought this was a brilliant innovation, and we immediately claimed seats. We realized, however, that the success of the quiet car was entirely dependant on whether the assigned conductor actually enforced the rules.
Scenario 1: My boyfriend and I got on a train to return from my parents' house, and it was a lot busier than either of us anticipated for a late-morning trip on Saturday. We chose seats in the quiet car after observing a traveling group of 30 poorly supervised students, and, when the train proceeded forward, we thought that we had escaped the danger of a long, loud trip. Unfortunately, we failed to notice that a woman sitting in front of us, seemingly having traveled from New York, was watching a film on her laptop computer in front of us. Now, even by the standards of the quiet car, this isn't problematic in principal. Two things made this a straightforward violation--first, she refused to use headphones, so everyone within a ten-seat radius could hear every line of dialogue with perfect clarity. Second, she, of course, chose some ridiculous, mind-numbing "shoot-'em-up" film, complete with automatic weapons and a massive quantity of shattering glass. The conductor walked by many times, and probably had many more times before we boarded the train, but he never said a word to her for the entire remainder of the ride.
Scenario 2: I was on my way south on the same train line a few months later. Again, I selected the quiet car for the trip. After the trains started moving from the station, the conductor began his rounds to clip tickets. As he made his way up the aisle, he became aware of a woman who was still on her cell phone long after the "emergency situation" time frame had expired. He told her to turn it off. She had a fit. And, this was his response:
"Look, there are seven more cars on this train where you can talk
however long you want, however loud you want. This is the ONE CAR
where the people sitting in it do not want to hear you blab on for
hours at a time. This is the QUIET CAR. There are signs everywhere,
and I presume you can read them. Now, either you can turn off the cell
phone and sit quietly like everyone else is here or you can move
somewhere else--your choice, but in this car one of your choices is
NOT talking on your cell phone."
I think everyone in the car came close to a cheer, but we stifled it in fear that we would be the next travelers spoken to on the quiet car rules.
I am sure it comes as no surprise that the lady was livid. She was more pissed off about being called out in front of everyone than about being retold the very clearly stated rules. However, NO ONE thought she was treated unfairly. She was being unfair to everyone else, and she got what she deserved.