Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Monday, 29 September 1997

On the Train - Minnesota

Two short trains leave each Portland and Seattle at about the same time and meet up in Spokane in the middle of the night to form one long train. The dining car is on the Seattle train, so I guess they might get dinner while the Portland train gets the snack bar/observation car. It used to be that you could smoke in the observation car (though not in your coach seat—even though most trains are old enough to still have ashtrays built into the arm rests—but it's really hard to imagine people smoking in a coach car, in their seats!) Now smoking is completely forbidden on most trains—though on overnight ones, I guess they have provided "smoking lounges." I'm not sure on how many trains, or what they're all like—maybe on some of the fancy Eastern trains that have bars and VIP lounges they now have "cigar bars" with fine cigars, cognac, regional wines, single malt scotch, whatever other once decent things are ruined by idiotic trends.

But not on this western train—no—here our smoking lounge is functional, clinical, even, with absolutely no effort to be nice. Actually, the smoking car wasn't on the Portland section, but on the Seattle section—so between Portland and Spokane they made several "smoking stops"—about five minutes in each place—just about enough time to hot-box  a GPC. The peckerwoods behind me, for awhile, discussed nothing but smoking. "They better have a smoking car on this train," the man said, "because I will smoke." After they exhausted their smoking line of conversation, I didn't hear them talk the whole trip, but for a while it was a hot topic. Smoking has become so unpopular in some circles, yet if you're at certain places like outside a courthouse while the jury take a break, or in the break areas of certain workplaces, you'd think that everyone smokes still. Probably not that many people actually quit—it's just that everyone is supposed to feel  bad about it. And then there are the people who are defiantly proud, who make smoking too much a badge of honor, like alcoholics—people who wear their scarred lungs on the outside of their Hard Rock Cafe sweatshirts.

I checked out the smoking car once they got it hooked on—it was in the downstairs part of a coach car (these are double-decker cars) a rectangular room opposite the bathrooms, and it was very sparse indeed. It looks like the decision making person in charge of designing this smoking lounge was definitely not a smoker and in fact probably despises smoking and smokers. No doubt an ex-smoker. This room has an industrial strength air-conditioner/blower and eight hard plastic seats on each side with nothing else adorning the room except for a big trash can and many, many ash trays. Seeing how the rest of the train is lit very pleasantly, the bright fluorescent lights in the smoking lounge seems to be an extra slap in the face of the smokers. You can imagine what a "smoking lounge" must have looked like in the ancient days of the railroad of yore—a wood lined den with ornate standing ashtrays, marble and brass, plush red comfortable seating, warm lamps and cocktails sipped from crystal. People would be smoking pipes and cigars mostly—it might be smoky—maybe someone would have to crack a window occasionally, or open a rooftop vent—but it would be a fine aroma.

The smoking lounge has a few rules—no standing, you must limit your stay to 15 minutes at a time, and no cigars or pipes. As if the smell of cigars and pipes are going to offend the people who are sucking down the stale fumes of burning shit rolled in paper! No—you want to smoke—you must treat it as the addiction it is—smoke the sanctioned, segmented portion, sitting in the hard seats, directly facing the other smokers, in a room that could be an emergency waiting room or a police station—a prison—a holding area where you sit just prior to interrogation, torture, or execution.