NOTE: This post is rated PG for mild potty talk.
If the “part three” in the title of this post hasn’t tipped you off, I’ll tell you now this post is part of a series. I’m trying to mimic the wild success of the various series that everybody seems to like so well: the Harry Potter books, the Star Wars movies, etc. I guess when a series is upscale it’s called a “cycle.” Yeah, that’s it. The albertnet train trip cycle!
There’s a bit of a chronology problem here: I meant to post this a day or two ago but didn’t have Internet access. So this post leaves off with
Scenery – part one
Once we went from
It’s tempting to say it would be nice to open the window of the train. In reality that might mean a lot of diesel smoke or something. And I have to say, the air in the train—though it can get stale due to the A/C—is a fair bit more comfortable than suffering through the heat we’ve passed through. I hopped off the train the other evening somewhere in
We just came upon the most gorgeous cloud I’ve seen in over sixteen years (that is, since the last time I was in
Train architecture – part one
Our family sleeping room spans the whole width of the front of a sleeper car, so there’s a window on either side. A narrow hallway runs down the middle of this car, with smaller sleepers on both sides. These smaller sleeping rooms consist of two seats facing each other; the lower folds into a bed and a bunk swings down from above. Two people sharing such a car better get along, because they’re facing each other all day long. Toward the end of the hallway is where all the carry-on baggage goes. Across from this is the door through which you enter and exit the train, and next to this a very narrow stairwell with a couple of 90-degree bends in it. Upstairs are more sleeper cars; there’s a very narrow, low hallway on one side, with windows a child can see out of but not an adult (they’re too low). As the train lurches from side to side it’s a trick not to slam into the outer wall or—worse—fall through a curtain into somebody’s sleeping compartment.
To go from one car to another you have to go upstairs. This is where the doors are between cars. There’s a no-man’s land between cars with intimidating sliding plates for a floor and manifolds protecting you from the elements and, I suppose, from jumping. (When it’s really hot and humid, you get a taste of the air outside the train.) The doors to and from this in-between space are electric, with a large rectangular steel button you press to open the door. There’s another door-opening button at foot level; when I showed this to the kids there began a constant battle over whose turn it is to open the doors as we make our way along.
Lindsay kicks this door button with real attitude: six years old going on teenager. She strides along, sucking her two sucky-fingers, and boots that button as if kicking a yapping dog out of the way (though of course she’d never kick a dog). I’ve tried to tell her just to push on the button, but it’s useless. There’s nothing definably wrong with her technique, just like my music teacher in elementary school couldn’t discipline me for my singing manner. (I had an over-the-top enthusiasm that was clearly insincere, but not in any way the teacher could nail me for. How do you send a kid to the office for singing ironically?)
Situation room – part one
When it comes to public restrooms, I think it’s safe to say most adults will get through their business as quickly as possible. These places are a necessary evil. But kids find fascination wherever they go, and this is no exception. Lindsay is just learning to read and makes her way through every placard, sign, and logo she comes across. She’s not comfortable flying solo in a train restroom so I’ve had to crowd in there with her on several occasions. The worst was when we both had to do serious downloads, while Alexa was waiting outside to be escorted back to our seats.
As I prepared the ring-shaped paper toilet seat liner, carefully tearing at the perforated points, idly wondering why train and airline bathrooms use the same liners as other public toilets, with the same paper tongue that is supposed to reach the water in the bowl and thus secure the ring, even though the water level is nowhere nearly high enough with a train toilet to reach the paper tongue, Lindsay asked (in her own words) for a full etymological exegesis on the brand name “Rest Assured.” It’s not easy to explain branding to a child. I don’t really know what these toilet seat liners actually assure us of. They’re really just protecting us from an unsavory idea, when it comes right down to it. (If this entire discussion makes you uncomfortable, I suggest you avoid the next few paragraphs and skip ahead to the section titled “Train architecture – part two.”)
Lindsay had a leisurely time of it, pausing in her business to lean forward and try to read a placard on a trash compartment door that said, “Used Diapers & Sanitary Napkins.” That first word, “Used,” is pretty tricky when you think about it, and the others were even harder. I read the placard for her, exhorted her to hurry up, then had to explain what a sanitary napkin is. There is no A/C in the restroom, and no ventilation.
While Lindsay enjoyed her session, I idly looked more at the trash compartment and discovered that although it had two little spring-loaded doors—the one I mentioned already and another next to it reading “Trash”—they both led to the same receptacle. I had to wonder exactly why they did this split-door arrangement. Are there lots of passengers whose need for order includes segregating their normal, minimally grody trash from diapers and sanitary napkins? And among these compulsive neat-freaks, is there a significant subset that fails to notice that the split-trash system is just a sham? (Amtrak’s catering to a tiny subset of the population reminded of the TV screens that used to hang in Bart subway stations with written statements like “Watch the gap” that were translated, in a picture-in-picture arrangement, into sign language. You know, for those deaf illiterate people.)
Relieving herself must give Lindsay a strong feeling of well-being. Halfway through wiping, in the midst of a toilet paper inspection, she said, “I love you so much.” Such timing. “Uh, you are talking to me, aren’t you?” I said. Nonplussed, she said of course she was. The heat and fumes were really getting to me. Alexa was restless outside, telling us to hurry up. According to the slow choreography the situation demanded, Lindsay and I switched places and she showered the restroom with ricocheted water from the hydrant-like sink spigot while I unburdened my own overfed body in the much-abused commode. Finally done, I washed my hands before flushing, so I could plug my ears with clean hands during the flush. (Like a passenger jet, these train toilets have the loudest, most violent flush you could possibly imagine, seemingly capable of tearing a man’s toupee off and greedily swallowing it.)
Alas, the jet of water was too directional to completely clean the bowl. It was a rifle and what we needed was a sawed-off shotgun. As Alexa protested outside and my brain wilted in the heat and reek, I flushed the wretched toilet three more times before deciding it was okay to leave. By this point Lindsay had had enough of the place as well, and suggested a Lemony-Snicket-like title for it: “The Bad Bathroom.” I joined in with “The Lugubrious Lavatory” and later we got Alexa in on the game (“The Terrible Toilet” was one of her contributions).
(Don’t get the wrong idea here, by the way: I’m not complaining about Amtrak. The restrooms are about the only thing these trains have in common with the airlines. The people onboard the train are friendly and helpful, and everything is more comfortable.)
Train architecture – part two
One night we had a minor crisis involving the bunk beds.
These are the conflicts that test a parent’s mettle, especially after he’s just spent twenty minutes digging through five compartments each of half a dozen carry-on bags, in the narrow hallway of a lurching train, for clean pajamas, and finding them twisted together with dirty laundry, sandals, and other personal effects, and is tired from the stress of catching two different trains earlier in the day and rescuing carry-on bags from a locker with a sketchy fingerprint reader, when his entire back and both feet are itching from mosquito bites, and the other sleeping car passengers have their doors open for ventilation and can hear every syllable of our family disputes.
I suppose I could have played the “strict parent” card and told Lindsay to take the lower berth “because I said so!” but I’m not into big battles, tears, etc. and gave the kids a bit longer to work it out on their own. Finally Alexa suggested that I pay one of them to take the bottom bunk. I pointed out that I shouldn’t have to pay, because my bed situation doesn’t change either way, but that I felt a financial arrangement might be just the thing. After a spell of haggling Alexa agreed to pay Lindsay $0.75 for the privilege of taking the top bunk. See? Kids can work it out. And in the process they learned a valuable lesson: money talks.
Scenery – part two
I spent a fine afternoon watching
When Erin and I did our big bike tour in ’94, we decided that
Situation room – part two
If you were bothered by situation room part one above, you should just stop reading right now.
It’s tempting, after a few days on the train, to think I’m getting the hang of things. For example, I passed up the temptation to wait until the train stopped to take a shower; the porter had warned that at these stops the water gets disconnected, so you can end up fully lathered with no water to rinse with. (Showering in motion is a bit of a trick, too, as the train swings around and you don’t have much to grab onto. And I had a devil of a time getting the water back on after lathering, as the knob was hard to turn and my soapy hands couldn’t grip it hard enough.) I also learned to use the toilet before running my kids and myself through our dental regimen, because the hyperactive faucet turns the counter-top into a big pool that can dump water on you when the train jerks.
Of course, such confidence is the stuff of fools—there’s always an unforeseen cataclysm waiting in the wings. In my case it was using the toilet at a station stop. I’d finished up and had only to flush when suddenly the power went out. This is actually pretty common at the longer stops and I’m sure there’s a good reason for it. What I hadn’t anticipated was that the toilet wouldn’t flush without electricity! I tried to wait it out, but I just couldn’t take that tiny, hot, stuffy restroom anymore. And yet, I couldn’t imagine leaving the un-flushed toilet for the next guy—I’d done some serious damage in there. I decided to wait just outside the door, but first I headed down the short hallway to my room to grab my wallet—the original point of this trip downstairs. (In the midst of my toilet situation, my family was waiting for me up in the dining car.)
Alas, on my way back to the restroom, I was waylaid by the friendly couple in the next sleeping room. I couldn’t exactly beg off—what would I tell them? “Sorry, I can’t dally—I’m babysitting an un-flushed toilet down there.” So I had a very pleasant conversation throughout which I was totally distracted. The woman had never been outside of
Suddenly, deus ex machina: the lights snapped back on, the A/C whirred back to life, and there was a pause in the conversation. I quickly said, “Well, I’d better join the family up in the dining car. Nice to meet you!” I dashed down to the toilet. Nobody beat me there. Whew!
Off the train
Now we’re in
It was a timely sentiment, because after having a picnic and some run-around time at a little park, we went on a family hike that became a bit of an ordeal. We were searching for the Lowell Observatory, where Pluto was discovered. The kids’ bedtime is too early for
Today we get back on the train and continue our journey. Now it’s time for breakfast, luggage sorting, and such; maybe I’ll even have time to upload this post. There may or may not be another train trip installment, depending on how remarkable the rest of our journey proves to be. Thanks for tuning in!
dana albert blog