Transportation Tuesday: Amtrak’s Quiet Car

Photo: Bernie the Gnome.

I was putting together another post on Amtrak when I stumbled across a New York Times Opinion on Amtrak’s Quiet Car by Tim Krieder. The Quiet Car is at first brilliant: I settle myself away from the din of the other carriages. There’s the cellphone conversation we’d rather not hear about (surgery, sales, boyfriend). The businessmen strutting their acumen to each other.  The travelling family unaware that others are using the train. The Quiet Car is for single people who enjoy being alone with their own minds. Here there are no phones, no animated conversations. It is exclusive. You settle in your chair, and its peaceful.

And then the agita begins.

Why is that guy tapping his pen? A phone rings, someone answers it and whispers (loudly) into it. A harried mother enters the car, apologizing that she can’t find seats for her brood elsewhere, and says her kids are very good (they’re not). You begin to wonder if you yourself are offending. Crap, I needed a throat lozenge, and I can’t get the wrapper open. Each sound makes you glare at your fellow passenger. I alight from the Quiet Car in relief, making extra noise rolling my suitcase onto the platform. A bit of depression sets in, thinking that I certainly was Quiet Car-worthy.

I don’t seek out the Quiet Car anymore. When I had to write a paper in college, I didn’t choose the tomb-like college library; I trudged off to the public library, for the constant hum of activity, the kids below, the beeping barcode scanner at the circulation desk. It spurred on the writing, it occupied those other thoughts that might get in the way and distract me.

About Becky Fifield

Becky Fifield is a cultural heritage professional with 25 years experience in institutions large and small. She is currently Head of Collection Management for the Special Collections of the New York Public Library. An advocate for preventive conservation, Ms. Fifield is a Professional Associate of the American Institute for Conservation, Chair of the AIC Collection Care Network, and former Chair of Alliance for Response NYC. She is also a scholar of 18th century female unfree labor and dress. There's a bit of pun in the title The Still Room, delineating a quiet space brimming with the ingredients of memory, where consideration, analysis, and wordcraft can take place. Ms. Fifield’s interests include museum practice, dress history, historic preservation, transit, social and women’s history, food, current events, geneaology, roadtrips, and considerations on general sense of place. Becky and her husband, Dr. V, live in the Hudson Valley.