Friday, December 28, 2007

the patagonia trip: Purgatory

I have boarded the train to Philly to find myself in the “quiet car” towards the rear of the train. I didn’t even know there was a quiet car in the afternoon.

There is an African American man in the seat ahead of me, chatting in subdued tones. I wouldn’t have noticed him or that I am in the “quiet car” were it not for the display coming from the guy across the isle to our right. 

With curly grey hair, wire rimmed glasses and a grey goatee the pudgy caucasian is glaring across the isle at the man in front while vehemently thumbing his newspaper. “Shhh!” he bursts with his finger to pursed lips, failing to attract the attention of the man ahead, from whom I’m beginning to smell alcohol.

He continues to glare and thumb his newspaper. Finally it is too much. He reaches across the isle and taps the man in conversion. “Shhh!” he says, again with the finger and pursed lips, “this is the quiet car, which means there is no talking!”

After a beat the fellow in front of me leans over, pokes his critic in the arm, who is still focused intently on him and says in forced politeness, “just because this is the quiet car doesn’t mean you can’t talk.”

“You’re supposed to be quiet, they announced it!”

Both are reasonable stances, I had to think. What’s right? Is something juicy about to happen? What is really bothering this uptight dude and what craziness is being uttered by the man ahead?

As if to respond to the unfolding drama, the conductor’s voice came across the intercom. “…the dining car is open and serving drinks and snack. And the last car is the quiet car, where a library-like atmosphere should be observed. That means no cell phones, music or loud talking.”

Well there we have it. I wouldn’t think his talking is loud.

Just then, the conductor walks up, takes my ticket and punches it with the smoothness of a well-practiced motion. He moves ahead and punches the ticket of the man ahead. “This is the quiet car. If you want to talk you’ll have to move to the main cabin.”

That’s that. End of drama. At least I got to distract myself from this purgatory I have been feeling lately. Over the past few months I have engrossed myself in the imaginary world of my two month expedition and endless possibilities. Warm granite towers beckoned me and prospects of stormy bivouacs heightened the anticipated thrill. Now that film is growing faint and I wait in silence for the lights to come on and the reality to begin.

HA! My buddy Jeb just called and the pudgy goatee guy Shhh’ed me! Freakin’ quiet police.