Traveling by train is a tour of backyards and junkyards. Some of the junkyards are sanctioned and some are clearly illegal dumps. In every city and in almost every town grafitti tags buildings facing the tracks. It’s the backside of America, gritty, run down, broken down, abused and abandoned. It is also the long prairie, mountains, rivers, forests and picturesque farms. We passed an impromptu dump in Erie, PA. A refrigerator and other mangled machinery had been pushed over the embankment above the tracks. We could see a tidy white house and outbuildings and a flagpole with the U.S. flag flipping in the breeze. That launched me into thinking about flag waving and patriotism and how many sins could fit into the folds of a flag and be hidden from view like a pile of junk behind an embankment where only transients and train passengers were likely to notice.
We halted for a considerable period of time in Buffalo. Duane and I were seated in the lounge and were joined first by one Amtrak employee who took his cap out of a briefcase. He was joined by two other male Amtrak employees. One of these was older than the other two, probably in his forties compared to their thirties. They were filling out train related paperwork, some kind of log. We left Buffalo and at various places along the way they would note markers passed and the time of passing. In between times they discussed work. The first one, the youngest, and newest employee had been with Amtrak for about a year and said that his first Christmas working he had put in more hours and gotten more overtime than any other time. At one point the older man asked, “What year is this?” One of the others wisecracks, “1992.” Older guy, “ ’92. That was a good year. That was the year the stripper left me for another woman.”
Later, the conversation turned to gossiping about their jobs and fellow employees. They began talking about a female employee. I’ll call her Joanne. I can’t remember her actual name and it is just as well. Apparantly this woman was leaving Amtrak and the older man had given her a lead on a job elsewhere. They all seemed to like this woman and the other two wanted to know why she was leaving and why he had given her the referral. He said that she was leaving because she was “in fear of her life”. They began to talk about someone whom this woman was afraid of. A person in a position of power in Amtrak whom she had crossed somehow. In any event, the older man believed her when she said she feared that she would be killed and wanted to get a job away from Amtrak. That was most intriguing, but they were understandably not specific since we could hear everything they were saying though we did try to appear disinterested and had to have a little conversation of our own to cover that we were eavesdropping so we missed some of the details.