Saturday, May 31, 2014

And I'm back

A couple of observations from the trip:

1. Three hours late getting on going up. There are relatively few things more tiring and frustrating for me than having to sit somewhere and wait, with no solid estimate for when the wait will be over (see: not dealing well with uncertainty). Of course, that kind of wait is far, far worse if it's in the waiting room of a hospital where a loved one is in for tests or surgery - and of course, if it runs long, you worry even more.

I decided to run and get some dinner somewhere on the assumption the dining car would be closed when I got on the train (as it turns out, this was probably a wise choice). I ran to an historic restaurant ("East Texas Burger Company") and got....fried shrimp. (On the return trip, today, needing lunch, I DID get a burger, deciding it was maybe a bit perverse to order something else at a place that is famous for their burgers). It was one of those comedy-of-errors things: I got in right behind a group of 100 (I'm not kidding) church men who were in town for some kind of social thing. But the line moved fast (still, I kept calling Amtrak to be sure the train had not magically made up time). I got the shrimp to go, ran back to the station, ate my dinner.....and waited another hour and a half.

As it turns out, the dining car closed about 10 minutes after I got on and if I had wanted to be pushy I probably COULD have got dinner. But as I found out at breakfast, the "grumpy" diner crew was on (There's one crew that's infamous in Texas Eagle rider circles, with one lady who shall remain nameless here but whose name is known to the regulars....). And the thought of trying to assert myself with a grumpy person who might wave some possibly non-existant rule at me at nearly 9 pm....well, no. And anyway, 9 pm is too late to eat a full dinner.

2. Coming back was TOTALLY different. It was the friendly diner crew - Chris and Thelma and they had a third guy I didn't know who seemed to be a trainee. Chris is the head guy and he goes around and takes the reservations for dinner, and when he got to my compartment, he grinned broadly, said "You're back again!" and shook my hand and said it was good to see me.

That kind of thing surprises me a little. I have such a poor memory for faces and names (even famous ones - with actors, I often am reduced to going, "You know, he was the guy in that thing....") that it's always something when someone remembers me. (I often wonder: is it just an amazing skill some people have, or do I have a memorable face, or do people like Chris remember me because I ride the train a couple times a year, or does he remember me because I'm friendly and polite and tip reasonably well and don't make crazy entitlement-minded requests?)  At any rate, being friendly to ME (as well as doing the job well) is a good way to get me to tip generously.

Also, my car attendant was a known - Brad. So it was nice - I had good people working the train, and people I knew. And yeah, that kind of makes a difference to me.

3. Ate dinner with an interesting retired couple. He had been in technical equipment (trained as an engineer), I guess she stayed home with the kids (at least, she didn't mention working outside the home). Although I'm an introvert in many ways, I'm not one of the stereotypical ones (who murmurs her name so quietly while pawing at the ground that people have to ask me to repeat it several times). If people seem interested in what I have to say, I can talk. (It's when people seem uninterested, or seem to be scanning the room for a "better prospect" that I clam up).

At the end of our conversation (They asked me what I did, as as we were passing through Alton I made some comment about how, for my doctoral research, I had driven all over Illinois (including a couple sites near Alton) looking at remnant prairies), the man made the comment, "You seem to have quite an exciting life."

And that struck me.

I don't think of my life as particularly exciting or exotic...perhaps to someone who does something different, it looks that way. (Frankly, being an engineer involved in developing new machinery looks interesting and "exciting" to me).

I don't know. Maybe I need to think of that when I'm mired in grading or having a hard time working up enthusiasm for yet another run-through of predator-prey dynamics.

I suppose all of us who work are so close to our jobs that familiarity breeds contempt and we don't always see the interesting things about them, I don't know.

(Then again, there's also that old fable - which I know from a that series of Disney children's books that used to come as a series, where one was mailed out every month - they were hardback picture books - where Goofy and Mrs. Goofy were sniping at each other about how each one's work was "easier" (In particular, Goofy thinking doing the housework and laundry HAD to be easier than working at the grain mill or whatever it was he did - these were stories kind of set in fairytale times). So they swap jobs for a day, and the conclusion is "No, your work is just as hard, if not harder, than mine.")

(Does anyone else remember that series of picture books? It would have been sometime in the mid to late 70s. I remember them as coming in the mail but I think a later iteration was sold at grocery stores, a different book every month or so. They were hardback, fairly short, and were just slightly smaller than an 8 1/2 by 11 piece of paper. Most of the books had some kind of a pastel cover, with a picture from the story on it, no dust jackets or anything. Some of them retold classic cartoons, some of them were retellings of old folk stories, and I think some of them were just slice-of-life stories. I think my parents actually still have a few stuck in with the leftover books and toys from my brother's and my childhoods....)

Edited to add: Found it. Goofy Minds the House, from "The Wonderful World of Reading." They say on that site it's an old Norwegian folktale....I've heard other versions of it in other sources.

And a little searching turns up one version of the Norwegian original. (Another post for another time: are we losing the transmission of these folk stories and their morals? I have known more than a few kids in the 12-18 age range who had never heard of The Little Red Hen, which was a familiar story in my household when I was a kid)

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