I took some guitar lessons in high school (guitar playing, juggling, sandals; the embarassing triumvirate of quaker youth): enough so that the neck of the guitar stopped being a single, inscrutable unit and resolved itself into six separate strings and a fingerboard. I often think about that when I learn something new; a larger, complicated object suddenly resolves itself into an aggregation of smaller, less complicated ones. Or, in the case of a motorcycle engine, it resolves into an agggregation of smaller, equally incomprehensible things that can burn you.
Anyhow, Amtrak is starting to resolve itself in the same way; I know most of the conductor’s faces on the Keystone run now, including the big, goofy guy you get if you sit in the rear half of train 654. His top-volume soliloquy over the loudspeaker every night:
“In five minutes, we’ll be entering Philadelphi…AAH, the city that spoils you, loves you back, and leaves you begging for more. Exit only where you see one of the handsome conduct…AAHs. Thank you for riding Am-TROCK! …your preferred MEHW-de of trans-por-TAY-shone.”
I’ve also started being able to separate the passengers into groups. There are the garment workers, buyers at the big wholesale mills in the fashion district: the men are in old, good suits with suspenders, the women in loud animal-print dresses. One introduced herself to me as being “in the schmatte business”, which was pretty damn cool. Then there’s the grad students: one, like me, starts in Exton, traveling five days a week to the College of Pharmacology at NYU. Then there are the dot-commers; about five of us, all living where the living’s good, and traveling to where the working’s possible. A smattering of stockbrokers, lawyers, and salespeople, and then one woman with a furry, squirrely shock of hair: red on top, gray on the sides. I overheard that she’s an NYU professor, but I forgot her name. Which is a damn shame, because with hair like that I bet she’s a famous kooky professor.
Today, the Amtrak-ing happens to be good; I’ve gotten a seat in the dinette, with a table so I can use a mouse. And there’s food, and we’re on time. Being on time is actually the thing that made me realize that my train is a human enterprise, not a Mysterious Manifestation of Bureaucracy; we arrived ten minutes early in New York yesterday, and everyone’s still praising the engineer this morning. It’s like a folk song:
“He musta run every stop signal on the tracks!”
“He got every lucky break from North Philly to Newark!”
“He’s Rocket Man!”