In the late afternoon I visited the lounge for a beer. The attendant was absent, and a number of people were ahead of me in line, including the man with earrings who had been drinking all day and the oil field worker we had breakfast with.
Pretty soon we were talking like old friends and having a good old time.
Finally, the attendant returned, and I bought a beer and went to our deluxe bedroom to play my guitar.
Alcohol's okay--in fact we'll sell it to you--but...
After dinner, I visited the observation car and encountered the man with earrings I'd met in the lounge. He remembered me and introduced himself as Steve.
He told me that the woman with black hair I had seen earlier had been busted and removed from the Empire Builder.
Evidently she smoked pot on the train or the platform during one of the station stops. Steve told me she used a carburetor, and one of the Amtrak people caught the scent or saw her and called the police who were waiting at the next Montana depot.
They came aboard, searched her, and found a glass pipe and pill bottle filled with pot. She was arrested and taken away, Steve said.
Shocking, crazy, still--tragically--normal in America.
Steve was distraught because they were longtime friends. She was a teacher, he said. Now she's sitting in jail because of marijuana, a mild drug that is legal in Washington, where she lives.
I used my iPhone to check marijuana laws in Montana. They are harsh. Possession of even a joint can put you behind bars; paraphernalia can get you jail time and a $500 fine.
Steve was traveling to visit his parents in North Dakota but would need to head west again as soon as he could. His plan was to borrow a car, return to Montana, and bail his friend out. He didn't have much money or a credit card and was hoping his mom would help.
I looked up some hotels in the town where she was imprisoned and gave him the numbers. He was still a little high on alcohol and out of the blue confided he was a heroin addict who was trying to kick it.
Alcohol is truth serum.
He had a vial of methadone with him, he said, and drank it all when his friend got busted. He thought it too might be illegal in Montana and was afraid he would be searched and busted, too.
Now he was concerned about how that much methadone would affect him and, thinking ahead, he knew he would go into heroin withdrawal in a few days.
He might have taken a normal dose and deposited the rest in a trash receptacle but that's not how addicts think.
Seemed like a decent guy and it's pathetic that we live in a society where people get thrown in jail for having drugs--I mean illicit drugs. They can have all of the government-approved, legal drugs they want. Alcohol, caffeine, nicotine--no problem. In fact, two of the three can be bought and used on the train!
I gave Steve a card and he said he would contact me and let me know how it all came out but I haven't heard from him.
Before hitting the sack Sunday night, I noticed a group of young bucks at the head end of the observation car who were drinking heavily.
One booth away sat a group of ZZ-Top-bearded Amish men with pudding-bowl hair cuts and the plain and simple uniforms of dark slacks, French blue shirts, and black vests. I was concerned that the drinkers, as they became drunk and maybe rowdy, would clash with the Amish but thankfully it didn’t happen.
Had an excellent steak last night and went to bed around 10:00 CST. Food on the train is excellent. Some complain, of course, but I think Amtrak does a great job and eating as you roll along is fun.
Slept well and rose at 5:00 a.m. Walking to the observation car I noticed the coach cars were emptier than the day before when most seats were taken.
More drug-related news. The passenger who was tossing 'em back yesterday with the earringed heroin addict and the woman who got busted fell after we went to bed and cut himself badly enough to require transportation to a hospital at the next Amtrak stop.
Monday morning is gray and rainy in North Dakota. It's discouraging to notice that we seem to be going slower than cars paralleling us on a nearby highway. Have to think this train doesn't have the same power two operating engines provided.
It might take longer to get home. Pam is somewhat on a schedule because she is babysitting Grandson Gus tomorrow.
Amtrak people are variable; most are conscientious and excellent but not all. The woman staffing the lounge took overlong breaks yesterday and was late again this morning.
The attendant in our sleeping car is ex-military and has no qualms about letting passengers know he hates his job and wants to be anywhere else. He's from Chicago, he said, and doesn't like to travel.
I've noticed that, in general, a lot of government workers are ex-military. Must have a leg up on ordinary candidates. It is fair? It's the sort of affirmative action the right wing likes! I spent two minutes looking into this and quickly discovered the hiring advantage is called veteran's preference.
A US Department of Labor website states: "Veterans who are disabled, who served on active duty in the Armed Forces during certain specified time periods or in military campaigns are entitled to preference over others in hiring for virtually all federal government jobs."*
So much in the United States revolves around the "offense" department and congresspeople--Democrat and Republican--want to make sure troop levels never fall below the number needed to maintain world dominion.
The military naturally wants to offer as sweet a pie as possible to recruits.
In a pinch
Spent a lot of time in Fargo, North Dakota. Later our grumbly sleeping car attendant mentioned to Pam that we acquired a third locomotive, this time, he opined, a “rust bucket"
Indeed, it was a freight engine, not a locomotive designed for passengers.
The attendant said an Amtrak locomotive can pull the train at about 80 mph but the freight engine can only do 60. He added that Amtrak equipment is "antiquated" and the mechanics and other locomotive maintenance staff “incompetent.”
Clearly disgruntled, he told me several times that he wanted a new job. He was sick of the delays and long hours and even complained about the food. He said FDA requirements forbid crew members from bringing their own. Probably this is related to management fears Amtrak’s comestibles will be contaminated.
He was a whiner from the get-go, though, so his credibility is low.