Last week Nora and I took the train down to D.C. to visit my parents for a couple of days (sorry D.C.ers for not getting in touch! it was a really quick trip). Nora and I have made several long-distance trips together, so I wasn't too worried about traveling alone with her, although I knew it wouldn't be a piece of cake or anything. Nora isn't walking yet but she certainly doesn't like to sit still as much as she used to; our super-easy flight to Rome is a distant, glorious memory. I want to diverge from the subject for a moment to talk about the guilt that I sometimes succumb to as a mother - the guilt that I think many mothers feel, despite the fact that they should not. The guilt I felt, for instance, when I dropped Nora off at daycare this morning, where a few kids were coughing. And what if she gets the Swine Flu?!? It would be all my fault! Because she could have stayed home with me! Even though I actually do have some work to do today (for once) and even though I know she loves daycare and it is beneficial for her in many ways! Still! Worst mom ever?!?
Jesus Christ. I feel like smacking people when they get like this, and yet...I'm not immune. It's bullshit, pure and simple. However, these feelings of guilt play a part in this story because on my way to catch the train last week, with stroller and duffel in hand, I stopped to get a cup of coffee, as I hadn't had any yet that morning.
Guys, I needed that coffee. I mean, if there's one person in the world who needs a coffee, it's a mom, especially a mom who's about to travel five-and-a-half-hours by train with her child who may or may not be (read: definitely IS) in a minor tantrum-throwing phase. Yeah, I guess I could have waited, gotten settled on the train and then bought a coffee in the cafe car, but you know what would have happened by that point? I would have died from caffeine deficiency.
The point is that I got on the train already feeling bad because I was wheeling my stroller one-handed with a duffel bag over one shoulder, holding a cup of hot coffee. Now, I've become skilled at this sort of thing. I can wheel that stroller around 90 degree turns while drinking coffee, talking on the phone and walking my two dogs. You know, sort of. Still, to the untrained eye, I'm sure I looked a little overwhelmed.
So I get on the train with my hands full and proceed to look for a seat, which required walking through several cars. Unfortunately, one of the cars was the Quiet Car.
I just Googled "Amtrak Quiet Car" in an attempt to find a definition, and instead found that many have shared their thoughts on the subject with the Internet. Check it out.
The Quiet Car is self-explanatory. You're not supposed to talk loudly or use your cell phone. I've always thought this was a fine idea, until - and here I diverge briefly again - my father's recent experience on Amtrak. He and my mother, traveling to New York, sat down in the Quiet Car by accident, and my father proceeded to talk on his phone en route. Then, naturally, the inevitable happened in the form of a gentleman who leaned over and said, in a snide voice, according to my father, "Excuse me. Don't you know this is the Quiet Car?"
My father, always easygoing except when confronted with - to put it plainly - total jerks, replied, "Thank you for telling us. And, by the way, I could do without the attitude."
Guess what happened next. No, guess. They exchanged more words. Emotions escalated. And...they almost got into a FIGHT. Like, fisticuffs. Seriously.
Right. Um, do you know my dad?
He's a peace loving guy. Which drives the point home even more:
People who ride the Quiet Car are assholes.
Well, for the most part. My mom claims she had to hold my father back - hold him back! - and that eventually both men calmed down. The Quiet dude got off in Philly, and everything was fine.
In this guy's defense, my dad was talking loudly on his cell phone. Annoying, I'm sure, but I think a gentle reminder would have done, since my parents - honestly - didn't realize they were being offensive.
Back to my train ride.
So I had to walk through the Quiet Car to get to less-populated train cars in the back. The guilt reared again. Not only was I carrying coffee and a duffel bag while navigating the narrow aisles of a D.C.-bound train, but if I had realized where the Quiet Car was, I would have entered through a different door. I would have skipped it altogether! Hell, I don't want to ruffle any feathers. I was already bringing a 13-month-old on a train. For five-and-a-half hours! I was all about charming my fellow passengers into loving my rosy-cheeked, teething-biscuit-covered child. She's getting her molars and SHE IS DELIGHTFUL!
Anyway, we're walking through the Quiet Car and I'm pretty much tiptoeing, no joke, because people are sleeping and, no doubt, enjoying their noise-free train experience. There's a bit of a bottleneck up ahead and, right there, smack in the middle of the Quiet Car, Nora decides to engage in a rowdy bout of whining, that most likely translated into something like "Why is it so quiet in this train car, I HATE IT."
A few heads turned, although most people chose to close their eyes and ignore us, praying for our quick passage. There was one woman, though, who couldn't resist dishing out a little judgment, and this woman, who was reclined in her seat and apparently in the middle of a nice nap before we showed up, looked at me then looked at Nora, crinkled her face into a grimace and sighed loudly, although she simply couldn't believe our audacity. Who the hell did we think we were whining in the Quiet Car?
I am my father's peace-loving daughter, except, it turns out, when some Quiet Car junkie dares give my daughter a dirty look. How the hell does she know what getting your molars feels like? Her gesture was subtle, but I am almost ashamed to say that I nearly reared back and smacked her.
Almost ashamed, but not quite.
My anger subsided as my bag lightened, and I looked back to discover that a kind middle-aged man had taken it gently from my shoulder, with a, "Let me help you, you've got your hands full. I remember those days." He carried my bag through three cars until we found a seat, and helpfully placed it in the luggage rack. I was incredibly grateful.
We settled in for a rather tiring train ride and I reflected on the two strangers. And on myself, not quite ashamed, because you know what? Maybe my dad should have punched that guy, and maybe I should have smacked that woman.
But instead of making the local news, perhaps better that I came to the conclusion I mentioned earlier, plus a few more. Most people who ride the Quiet Car are assholes. But there are a lot of good people in the world.
Most of all, no parent should have to hold their breath as they worry about that their teething baby might wake up a fellow train passenger, who, I'm willing to bet, didn't really need the nap in the first place.
And a mother, who will spend that train ride getting cookies shoved down her shirt, and probably could use a few minutes of shut-eye, should get coffee any damn time she wants.