UNITED STATES—“I love my job,” proclaimed the ambassador of Amtrak, the smiling lady, who managed a crucial phase of our trip back to civilization. A good thing it was that she loved her job because she was making do with equipment scarcely up to the task, offering a comically puny footstool to new boarding passengers that left a gaping yard gap between the top of the footstool and the first step onto the train car. It was a real challenge, if not an orthopedic impossibility, for the elderly Los Angeles-bound passengers, even my vigorous self, but the Woman Who Loves Her Job hoisted us upward with a steely grip and irrepressible good humor. Thanks to her we made it safely aboard and into our seats instead of an emergency room.
When we were all settled in the train the attendant rested a moment in a seat directly behind me. Being Amtrak’s ambassador, the authority, exposed her to all kinds of questions, such as can you flush toilet paper down the toilet on the train? Somebody really asked this, and it led to an utterly unique reminiscence from her thirty-odd years on the rails:
“In the ‘80s we used to use the old red Southern Pacific Cars that were all worn out,” she said, and just when I was expecting something all Thomas Kinkade and nostalgic, she stated, “The bathrooms used to empty right on the track. Then we had tanks that held everything, the toilet paper and everything else. When the train shook and swerved, it was so sensitive, it would release all that the tank held. So imagine what would happen when we’d take the horseshoe curve at
“Once, though, I remember it was a gorgeous sunny day. We were crossing the steel bridge into
The man was already standing like a statue and holding his wine cup out and then, one minute to the next, he turned into a brown mountain. Dripping the stuff on the deck and standing there. Imagine! The man was looking all GQ, in his shorts and posing, surrounded by ladies in bikinis and then all the stuff from the toilet poured down from the sky, and the ladies were screaming. How I wish I had that photo today, it’d be worth a million dollars. Later we found out the man was a senator, ha ha ha, and he sued Amtrak.”
The Woman Who Loves Her Job was standing now in the aisle as the track rocked gently forward and each second brought us closer to civilization and farther from
“And as he stood there dripping and covered by this stuff, a long strand of toilet paper floated down after that brown deluge; it spiraled slowly around and landed on top of the senator’s head and came down like one of Michael Jackson’s curls. It was priceless.”
“Did he win the lawsuit?” a woman asked after her chuckling subsided.
“He did. . .”
“I can think of a few senators I might wish that to happen to,” said the woman’s husband.
The Woman Who Loves Her Job stayed with us just long enough to leave the grains of yeast to make the camaraderie that is the joy of train travel, rise. We strangers could now share our secrets, our lives and fears. The Woman Who Loves her Job walked away with that modified gait of a sailor on land to pass out pillows, answer weird questions, and spread joyful yeast. Most days you’ll find her on the Southwest Chief that goes through
Grady Miller can be reached at email@example.com.
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