September 24, 2008

KB does DC with SG, and - A Train Story

Much to J's dismay, until this past weekend I had spent virtually zero time in our nation's capital.  

For J, this was just one more indication of the fact that I did not begin interacting with human civilization on Planet Earth until I was beamed into the Brett Hall dormitory at Rutgers University in August 2003.  (Other examples of my supposed alien status include never having watched "The Cosby Show," seen "Titanic" or vacationed in Disney World).

So, I was very excited about finally getting a chance to quiet the boy down and say that I had osmosed the American history floating in the DC air.  And mainly, to visit my good friend SG who has been reigning in DC since graduation high school.  

Now I can safely say that DC has been added to my (very short) list of Places Acceptable to Live at Some Point in The Future Once I Obtain Gainful Employment and Some Semblance of an Income.  

I was smitten with how low and clean and open and new DC is.  Compared to NYC that town is like a freaking scrubbed down hospital.  I could practically lick the sidewalks and only catch a very minor disease (as opposed to a fatal one, a la NYC).  Truly though.  When we walked into a very buzzing Rocket Bar filled with pool tables and shuffleboard, I could literally smell bleach.  

Funny, because as I raved about the cleanliness and mellowness of the city, SG rolled her eyes and said that's exactly what she was sick of - after 5 years in DC she's sick of the shiny veneer - bring on the grit and grime and creepster frenzy that is NYC!

So thank you again to SG for opening my eyes to the delights of DC, obscene quantities of Havarti cheese, and addictively soft American Apparel t-shirts.  

And now, A Train Story 

As some of you may know, I have a bit of a history with trains.  After commuting to NYC for a year via train from central NJ (i.e. TWO HOURS EACH WAY) I have become a bit of a train Nazi.  Or perhaps a train prisoner.  Whichever it is, I become even more hyper-observant than normal when zooming along at high speeds enclosed in narrow spaces with hundreds of other weirdos.  

On Friday afternoon I boarded the Northeast Regional Amtrak train in Metropark.  

The first thing that came to mind?  
Boy, do I miss the Acela.  

My only other pseudo-visit to DC was for a two-day work conference last November.  I got to see a whole slew of sights, like Union Station, the highway, and the hotel.  

However, work DID pick up the $376 tab for the Acela and let me tell you, it was transportation heaven.  At this point please keep in mind that I was in the midst of 4-hour-a-day train HELL on the Satan of all trains, NJ Transit.  The Acela, with its ample leg rooms and cushiony seats was like freaking paradise.  Best of all, my colleague and I found ourselves in the Quiet Car, probably the best invention in the history of public transportation.

So I was already missing the glories of the Quiet Car from the moment I stepped on the train.

Next obstacle:  Find available seat with relatively normal looking individual who will not make me want to rip out pages of my library book and give myself fatal papercuts

Now, I have extraordinary experience in this realm.  I'm a virtual train expert.  I am a seat-selection maven.  And I am ashamed to say that, on Friday, September 19th, I failed.

Basically, I overshot.  I rejected so many potential seatmates that I finally reached the end of the car, and because I was stupid enough to bring a duffel bag without a critical invention called wheels, my arm was about to pop out of its socket and I couldn't bear to go on.  I saw a harmless looking old man and chose him.

Idiot!  Idiot!

My old man smells like he hasn't been acquainted with a toothbrush in about three months.  

He keeps listing to the right and keeps popping my personal space bubble with his little old elbow.

I'm crossing my fingers that he gets off at the next stop and leaves me alone with non-morning-breath air.  

The girl behind me has a cell phone that chirps the first few bars of a Beach Boys song every two minutes, and it's immediately stuck in my head.  

At this point I'm having a funny little mental conversation with myself, because when I stood on the platform waiting for the train to arrive, I almost MISSED it.  I almost MISSED the train.  OK, not the train itself, but the sense of going somewhere, the anticipation.  

And now I'm chastising myself wondering what the hell I could have possibly been thinking, because clearly every train on earth is filled with complete nutjobs and limited ventilation.

The old man leaves and returns with a yogurt.  Strawberry.  

I eat yogurt everyday.  I love it.  It's delicious.  But in all honesty, it smells gross.  Especially when you are not the one eating it. 

Now he smells like yogurt morning breath.

The old man is surprisingly into his cell phone.  To be honest I'm impressed with his technological savvy.  

Until I realize that he has the key tone volume on, so that as he scrolls through his contact list, types a number, or browses his calls it BEEPS AND BEEPS AND BEEPS.  


Soon my old man breaks out one of those mini DVD players and a little remote control.  The title comes up on the screen and I realize he is watching the unrated version of "Talladega Nights."  I am simultaneously peeved and fascinated by this old dude.

Fortunately, he gets off in Delaware.  

I breathe a sigh of relief. 

I thank my lucky stars when a clean-cut younger businessman replaces my old man.  He is potentially gay, and quietly reading his magazine and shuffling through some work papers.

Then he answers a phone call.

He speaks.

As God as my witness, I have never smelled such horrible, traumatizing, make-you-want-to-bury-your-head-in-the-sand-like-an-ostrich-and-never-emerge breath.  

His breath makes the old man smell like the petals of a rare and beautiful flower.  The old man was the sweetest smelling object my nostrils have ever had the privilege to sniff.

This is not an exaggeration.  

For the next hour or so I literally plastered my face against the window in an attempt to avoid the trade winds of his breath.  

This was not normal bad breath.  This was knock your socks off, sear your nostril hairs, make-you-want-stick-mothballs-up-your-nose-because-even-that-scent-is-more-desirable breath.  

Does no one practice personal hygiene outside of the Tristate area?

I was in physical pain (probably from attempting to hold my breath at unhealthy periods of time).  

I sent SOS text messages to SG and J.  

I considered the fact that after this I may never be able to smell again.  

I almost whimpered in fear every time he exhaled.  

At one point I took out my container of Tic Tacs and I swear that I was thisclose to offering him one.  Seriously.  I almost did it.

When we finally reached DC I waited for Stinky Man to leave, and then stumbled down the aisle and out into the station gasping for air.  Never has the stench of train exhaust smelled so sweet.  

I remember why I hate the train.

The End.


Grant Simmons said...


I'm surprised, to say the least, that I am the first person to comment on this brilliant expression of commuter life today.

Having been lucky(?) enough to live in LA for the past 15 years, and never once having to endure public transportation, your explanation of fellow riders and writhers reminds me of my youth in the UK where *every freakin' day* was sandwiched by the joy one calls "London Transport"

Worst than DC transportation is the London Transport Tubes' (underground light railway) dearth of seating, preferring to insist the majority of commuters *stand* for their trip, surrounded by a sea of 'rubbers' - people that apparently pay a fare to rub themselves up against you with a little thought for personal space, personal privacy, and / or personal hygiene.

I can only imagine now, 25 years later, how cell phones have "enhanced" this commuter hell.

However much I *want* to feel sorry for your DC predicament, I must first ask you to experience the London Tube in all its glory, then sing from the mountain tops - a la Julie Andrews - , about how lucky you are to at least have a 'Quiet Car' option.



last-minute Academic said...

Kathy, I'm here thanks to Chuck!

This is a FAB post, I was totally giggling my way through it. I really feel for you, its a horrific commute.

Although, it does make me wonder if, unlike Grant, I think that London Tubes aren't so bad anymore.

That said, I'm meant to be on one, on my way out of the house, but the thought that there's no direct line and its going to take ageees is putting me off.

To be fair, if I had to commute that much EVER on a regular basis I'd kill something small and furry. Once a day. Just to relieve the stress.. ;-)

lifeinthemiddlelane said...

Holy Moly, that was funny.

I used to ride the train to work when I lived in Atlanta, and I hated it. In addition to smelly breath, and smelly underarms, I used to get asked for money or get told how beautiful I am..... and I would stick my head deeper in my book and turn up my ipod.

Trains suck, but it beats the alternative