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‘I’m Sorry’
San Jose to Reno By Bus & Train: April 27-28, 2023
© 2023 James LaFond
JAN/4/24
As I write and the fog over Pittsburgh breaks to show the first sunlight I’ve seen since since Sunday, in Joiliet, and the first clear blue sky since Thursday in California, I am recalling events from eight days gone, from that distant sunny world I then left. It is Friday, May 5, and I scramble to remember last week’s train trip in the vivid detail that then so oppressed the traveler. I feel I must write today, before packing the ruck and driving across the Appalachians with my close friend, afraid I will forget. This is so very strange for a man who never even took a vacation and simply sought his neglected bed when he was a working man.
But, I suppose, that life is the same as then, and the slave within drives the working hand surer than any whip.
I was cold, standing in my ruck, as Big Neon gathered his desultory bedding and speed-slouched off in his bright sneakers.
This bus that pulled into the Diridon parking lot at Stop 3 in San Jose, was on time, at 4:31, darkly tinted and quite silent. A fit, young blond man steps off, regards me with bright blue eyes, like he could be the brother of the Nymph, and says, “Destination?”
“Emmeryville.”
“Name?” as he pulls out an old fashioned paper handbill.
“LaFond, James.”
“Thanks, James. I have fourteen getting off.”
He opened the side hatch, which lifted to reveal baggage as 13 folks ambled down, mostly Latino, and lined up besides the bus as he handed them their baggage. One man was left, a tall, rough looking, broad-faced Latino, with good American English, perhaps 60. To the blond driver in his neat blue shirt and black slack uniform he said, “Sir, please, I can’t see, I mean I’m blind and I need to get on Caltran.”
The driver looked at me, “Please wait here, sir.”
He took the man’s hand and walked him past Trash Bag Woman’s now violated sleeping area as she packed up, into the outer station and down the ramp to the tunnel. He jogged back quickly to where I was waiting next to the luggage hatch, “Sorry, sir. You may board,” took my ruck, tossed it in and locked up.
The bus was a new Volvo with strange seating configurations, feet rests out into the aisle and dark inside. Taking the second seat and hearing the airlocks and easy hum of the nearly silent motor sent me into the sleep that the cool, crazy night had denied. It was a good, twilight sleep, punctuated by stops in San Francisco, where various boomers and homos, Asians and Latinos offloaded.
The bus, when it stopped, rocked headlong, and bobbed us about, something to do with a unique suspension and the front design, said one old gear head passenger. On arriving at Emmeryville Union Station, the bus offloads under a concrete ceiling on the ground floor of a building that is next to the station, alongside the tracks, a mere sidewalk width to the west. The old gear head complimented the driver on the Volvo and his timely handling.
The driver responded, “This thru service is kind of an afterthought. I don’t even work for Amtrak, but an independent bus service. So I don’t know if the service will expand. It seems to be an effort to defray hotel expenses for all of those passengers who miss their train due to delays.”
It was 6 A.M. and the train station was opening. I noted that Pittsburgh was misspelled on my ticket and that I was leaving Chicago late on Monday and getting into “Pittsfield” way late, so went to the counter. State designations do not print out on tickets. Many Latinas and Sisters have creative ways of spelling place names. That, informed the clerk, is what had happened with my ticket in Portland. The new hire clerk of color had logged me to go to Pittsfield, Mass! I had my ticket redone, the price up by $7, getting me the last seat on thee #30 from Chicongo to Pittsburgh. Blacktinas in Jersey are the worst ticket counter clerks. Emmeryville, Oakland, Portland, Denver, Chicongo, Pittsburgh and Lancaster, PA and Baltimore, are the best places to buy tickets.
The train would board at 9 and leave at 9:10. I dozed in the lobby for an hour, bought a cup of coffee from the tall dish in her shorts and halter, wanting morning tips on this cold day, and dozed some more. Two older ladies, tiny women, noticed me from previous trips and were discussing something as they glanced at me. The homeless are so bad here that there is a combination on the bathroom. 2 ounces of nuts are $5, a coffee $5.
When it came time to board I beat the herd to the coach loading point. Emmeryville is one of the few stations where coach boards closest to the station and sleepers have to hoof it, though most of these land whales opt for a ride in the luggage carts. It is hard for me or anyone to hear the conductors issuing boarding directions as the many Karens chatter incessantly about right and wrong and their Kens gobble about the perfectly toasted bun, brazed burger or glazed doughnut.
First in line, I stepped back and let the land whales waddle forth. A fetching young Asian babe, 25, 5’ foot and 100 pounds with tattoos, trashy fishnet stockings and a standard American accent asked me, “Is this the coach to Chicago?” The other car was for people headed to Denver and near.
I had been scrupulously avoiding speaking with anyone on or near the trains, turned to her, and answered, “Yes,” then looked ahead.
Instead of saying thanks, she said, “I’m sorry,” in a sincere tone, I suppose, having seen a reticence in my face. This is ominous, more former reptilian Ham City facade peeling away with old age to reveal something sill human beneath. Could be inconvenient, even perilous, back East.
The two Amish men and I let her and the other lady board after the waddling eaters, which shocked her, and she needed to be reassured, which I did with a directing hand in open supination pointed at the two steel stairs. She had a nice ass for an Asian girl.
As I got to the top of the stairs and turned left, for we were not assigned seats, I saw that the first aisle seat was open, with lots of leg room and took it, placing me next to this babe, to her horror. I never looked at or spoke with her, which bothered her, and, soon after our tickets were checked, she I knew she would migrate to the viewing car, which she did.
Our coach attendant for the entire trip was Charlene, a tall, cute black babe from Chicongo. She called me, “My love,” and “handsome,” and flirted with her eyes. The conductor was a cute Latina of high pale cast who was very hospitable.
Assigned seats from Emmeryville don’t make much sense as most coach passengers are bound only for Reno in the late afternoon. Then the few who remain have 12 hours to spread out and sleep until “the General Herd” board at Salt Lake City before dawn, most of whom are only bound for Denver or points between. At Sacramento, when Charlene noted mys eat change she asked if everything was okay and I informed her, three seats back to the left from where Little Asia’s teddy bear remained, “I thought the young lady would feel more comfortable with a female seatmate.”
Charlene let loose a glossy grin, batted her eyes, smoothed her jacket so I could note the indentation of her still slight waist between ample hips and breast and, quipped, “Well, a man likes what he likes, don’t he?”
I grinned, “Indeed,” and she smiled her way back to the head of the coach.
I will address the cast of characters in full in the next segment.
New service trends on the trains, now trying to rebuild their tourist business after it was wrecked by Covid are listed below:
-Hand held ticket scanners are gone. Conductors use their phones to scan tickets now, meaning a smart phone is a necessity for employment, as it is in medical settings, where schedules are accessed via smart phone.
-Coach peasants are once again permitted in the dinning car, but relegated to the front, divided from the sleeper elite by the staff who cluster around the stairs down to the kitchen.
-The number of coach cars have been reduced, trains still only at 75% of pre-Covid capacity.
Prices and service parameters will be addressed in the next segment.
Notes
-Conductors [managers] and engineers [operators] change every 8 hours. The former are Caucasian and Latino, the engineers all Caucasian.
-Coach attendants, sleeper attendants, the cafe car attendant, and the dinning car attendant are on for the entire haul and tend to live in Chicago. The middle class black folk of Chicago who dominate the hospitality positions on Amtrak tend to polite service, hard work [1], clear slightly southern rural diction, darker skin than coastal blacks, big smiles and genuine personalities, being more flexible in the face of bad passenger behavior and tyrannical conductor misconduct [like the race based masking and seating of 2022] than their Caucasian counterparts.
-1. Each coach attendant cleaning 6 to 11 public restrooms twice a day.
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