“You know, we are almost to Gallup,” Corporal Conductress advises the beer-bellied man in the cowboy hat–not any kind of cowboy hat; a genuine Stetson Diamante, which seems oddly out of place on a train, considering its price tag. By the slur of his words and the rosiness of his cheeks, one can easily tell he’s drunk. I decided that if he got this drunk on the overpriced Amtrak liquor options, he has to be a millionaire. Either that, or he’s been drinking from his own flask; despite the serious caution, at the onset of this journey, from Corporal Conductress against such an action.
She had told us that there were undercover Sheriff’s Marshals on the train –who were there to enforce the law of Amtrak. Any infraction–(including drinking from one’s own alcohol stash), would result in a number of penalties, including fines and possible imprisonment. She went on to say that there was a licensed ‘bartender’ in the ‘bar car’, who would happily concoct adult beverages for us. Said ‘bar car’, consisted of an assortment of pricey snacks, a microwave and mini bottles of alcohol, that were popped open, poured over ice into a knockoff Dixie Cup, with a splash of soda and handed to us for a mere $8.00. Hence, my conclusion; he’s either a millionaire or sipping his own sauce.
“We’re going to stop in a few minutes, and it will be a good chance for you to get some fresh air,” Corporal Conductress explains in a smile that I can only liken to the Cheshire Cat.
He looks at her through blurry eyes and says nothing. “And you can have a piece of pie,” she adds. Pie? My mind rolls the word over. I would like some pie, I think to myself; a thought which is quickly followed by a second thought; Amtrak doesn’t give shit away. We are a captive audience, so everything is overpriced: Foam earplugs? $4.00. Personal size bag of Doritos? $5.00. Single serving DiGiorno pizza straight from the microwave? $6.75. And here he is, a slightly drunken fool, going to get a piece of pie. I remember my last Amtrak ride, which is still fresh in my mind. It was on the Coast Starlight from Oregon to L.A.
Someone had ‘wandered’ onto the tracks and ‘perished’; as opposed to jumping on the tracks and dying; because apparently that’s against the law and also, according to the politically correct, it is a form of ‘victim-blaming’. And this, after we were told, (and I quote); “For your safety please do not walk or play on the tracks.” Either way, we sat on those tracks outside of Chico, California for 19 hours. There was a mini-mart in view, Blue Moon Beer signs and Pringles cans lining the windows; so near and never to be reached, like a desert mirage; our doors remained firmly sealed.
Some hours into our confinement, the plucky Dining Car Attendant, CJ announced that he would be closing early; as he informed us, the train had ‘ran out of food’. Like the game Operator, the information traveled from car to car, each repetition more stressful than the last. I expected Lord of the Flies. Key learning? I brought more food on this Amtrak trip than clothing; hence, the free pie was troubling in many ways. Was there some pie abundance I was unaware of? And what if we needed that pie further down the line?
While I was contemplating the pie dilemma, the train stopped in Gallup, New Mexico, a town that has an alleged population of 22,000; however, none of that population was to be seen at 1:15 a.m. while we rolled to the concrete slab that served as a platform. The inebriate stumbled down the stairs and exited the train. As he looked around the uninhabited desert that surrounded him, the doors whooshed shut and the coach began moving forward, leaving him, without so much as a piece of pie. As he grew smaller and smaller in the distance, soon disappearing altogether; I decided that $8.00 was a fair price for airplane bottles of alcohol and I developed an immediate allergy to pie.