Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Chicago Journals: Train Talkers

These people aren't just found on trains nor are their close cousin the plane talker just found on planes. They exist everywhere but in close quarters of mass transportation, they seem to stick out more. They are the people who love to hear themselves talk. I've grown used to being around these people because I have learned how to tune them out when need be and plus I enjoy listening to them talk. Here are some examples why.

On the outbound trip, we sat next to three young men from San Francisco, one of which was a train talker. Soon after the train left our station, we crossed the Mississippi River and the man mused about whether or not the river we were crossing was famous since it was so big. He pondered the names of several rivers, none of them the Mississippi but wasn't able to come up with any. I was still expecting that eventually he would guess the name of the river even though it was behind us by dozens of miles up until he finally turned to his buddies and asked what big rivers flow through Kansas.

The conversation then turned through states that they had passed through so far on this trip and they only got a couple right, those being California (where they boarded the train) and Denver. Other names mentioned incorrectly were Arizona, South Dakota and Indiana.

They somehow couldn't name Nebraska as one of the states that the train had passed through even though some of the biggest news of the trip and the reason the train was so far behind schedule happened in Omaha. According to the car attendant, he had smelled strong scent of fabric softener every time he entered the car which is a tell tale sign of drug smugglers trying to throw off drug sniffing dogs. Why I don't know since our baggage was not searched or scanned in anyway before boarding. So the car attendant had called ahead to the Omaha authorities and at 6:30 in the morning, the DEA raided the train confiscating a large duffle bag full of cocaine in the possession of a mother and her daughter after a thorough search of everyone's luggage. Those two were escorted from the train in handcuffs. The San Francisco boys thought that was funny.

I thought it was ironic based on another conversation they had a little later that started out on the subject of tattoos. They were discussing about how costly they were but how they lasted forever. The man that loved to talk stated that if he had $300 to shell out for a tattoo, he would rather buy a $300 bag. This comment stumped me until he said next that at least a $300 bag out to last you a week and a half, perhaps a month if you ration it. Although I couldn't catch his logic comparing something that only lasts a month if you ration it versus something that lasts forever and costs the same, I did figure out that he was probably referring to a $300 bag of drugs and not the fancy backpack that I had imagined. Later they compared tales of jail time after being busted for drug possession and which states were best to be caught in if you had the choice. The state of 'Omaha' won out that debate.

On the return trip we had a husband and wife train talking team. They were both senior citizens and judging from the level of conversation were either almost deaf or had their hearing aids turned way down low. For a third of my trip aboard the train, they discussed which direction the lounge/snack car was. The sign on the car had been altered incorrectly with a piece of duct tape saying that the car was in the other direction that it actually way but it had been repeated over the intercom at least three times while the car attendant answered that very question perhaps 20 times which going through the thirty rows collecting tickets. I heard it the first three times announced on the intercom and the first time when someone ten rows ahead of me asked and then the next six or seven times before she got back to our row. If that wasn't enough, in the hour and twenty minutes they were discussing this, perhaps 100 people walked forward through the cars empty handed only to return with hands full of snacks and beverages. Finally an attendant told them again which direction the car was and after talking it over for another five minutes about the wrong signs, they let it drop.

But they didn't stop talking. About that time we started entering about a 100-mile stretch of corn that had been blown flat in what must have been a terrible straight-line windstorm. I have never seen anything of that magnitude in my life and the combines were all having a slow go at getting it harvested. When the first pockets of flattened corn appeared, the elderly many who sounded like a gravelly voiced Elmer Fudd told his Edith Bunker sounding wife that it was caused by deer bedding down for the night. As we traveled further west and the fields got progressively worse, he told his wife that deer must have bedded down there over several different nights. Soon we were in an area where all the corn in every field was laying down flat and they were commenting on how thick the deer must have been in the area. Even though they didn't pick up on the fact that the corn was all leaning towards the northeast away from prevailing winds, even though they didn't figure out that the nearest water source was perhaps ten miles away and deer don't like to bed down away from a water source, even though the deer never seemed to flatten out the corn on the lee side of natural obstacles and even though it would have took a herd of perhaps a million narcoleptic deer to cause that much damage, they never did figure it out and kept discussing if for the next hour and twenty minutes. I was trying my best to keep my laughter from escaping.

The last third or hour and twenty minutes of our trip was a hodgepodge of discussion. They talked about the cables being planted in the cornfield (a farmer was tiling the field for drainage after the corn was picked), the barges in the river (actually just tugboats with no barges attached), what part of Texas the Mississippi flowed through (at least they got the name of the river right), theorizing why the coal train in front of us that we were following was going so slow (it had been backing up while we were at a stop to clear a track and they missed that it was actually heading east as do all coal trains in this area and that it had been veered off on a rail spur shortly after we pulled out) and pointing out numerous houses, windmills and factories seen along the way. For the rest of the evening after we left the train, one of us would point out a spot that deer had bedded down for the night and we would both fall hysterically into laughter.

Though it seems as if the most ignorant among us talk the loudest, like I said at the beginning, I don't mind. It was a great way to make the four-hour trip back fly by and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to them. My only regret is that I didn't have some sort of recording devise that I could play back for you to give you a true sense of how funny their conversations were.

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