Published in Aktuelt (Copenhagen, DK)


Drinking on the Amtrak

by Bill Chaisson

I was making my way through the train, passing grandmothers at their knitting, sleeping children, men at their newspapers:  wholesome people, apple pie eaters, church goers, cheerful payers of taxes.  Suddenly I am in the lounge car.  I smell the cigarettes and beer.   The lounge car on an American train is like the wrong side of the tracks in a small town. 

Two feral-looking men follow me to the bar, finishing their beers as they swayed forward with the motion of the train.  I recognize them to be greasers, a particular sort of working class white person. One of the fieldmarks of this type is the complete lack of a derriere; their thin thighs are joined directly to their torsos.  In addition, they wear tight fitting clothing that often advertises a popular beverage, sports equipment company or producer of quality car parts.  In general, their skin is pale to the point of translucency with a tendency toward blemishing, due to a diet rich in fatty foods.  I am in the company of two paradigmatic American citizens.

The smaller man's mouth, set over a receding chin, widens into a grin betraying bad teeth.  He is waxing enthusiastic on the merits of train travel:  "This is great, man.  I love fuckin' drinkin' on trains."  The larger man's thick, thatchy black hair is parted down the middle and is, at the moment, pretty greasy. (However, the name of this demographic group is derived from their association with automobile lubrication rather than hair oil.)  He is more powerfully built than his slight travelling companion and wears a wallet connected to his person by a thick chrome-plated chain.  He is packed into a black t-shirt, but a slight bulge above the belt betrays a drinking habit that, in his early twenties, is already catching up to him.  He too values travel by 

train:  "Yeah.  It woulda been cheaper for me to fly, but flying sucks."

His small companion is puzzled:  "But they give you drinks on the plane, don't they?"

"Yeah, but they come around, like, once in an hour, which sucks."  They both have a pronounced proletarian eastern Massachusetts accent, a sound that suggests a wind instrument with the tonality of a flock of geese.

The smaller man briefly knits his eyebrows, but then brightens:  "Just get loaded before you get on the plane."

"Naw.  Then they won't let you get on the fuckin' thing."  This is followed by head shaking; he is disgusted by the narrow-mindedness of the air travel industry.

His small friend is nonplussed.  "Shit" is all he can think of to say.

But the larger man soon recovers his good mood and grins, revealing that he shares with his friend a certain inattention to dental hygiene.  "But this here," he indicates the lounge car with an expansive movement of his arm,  "is fuckin' great.  I can drink from Cleveland all the way to fuckin' Boston."

Later, during a stop in Albany we are permitted to leave the train while it is serviced.  I use the opportunity to purchase an improving book and return to the train.  Through the window I see the larger man striding down the platform.  Apparently tired of paying four dollars a bottle for malt beverages, he has ventured into town to a convenience store and now has a twelve-pack of Canadian beer suspended from two fingers of his right hand.  I briefly consider and admire his enterprise, thrift and industry, and then turn my attention to my book.

Hibernian Weather Channel Productions

Last revised:  May 11, 2005