Should I Get Onboard with Amtrak?

Railroaders say you haven’t lived until you’ve inhaled the magical tang of “new train smell.” “One hit and you’re forever smitten,” say these inveterate train enthusiasts. However, some question if there is, or ever has been, “new train smell” – given that Amtrak hasn’t replaced their rolling stock in so long, no one is alive who remembers what new trains smell like.


Complicating this is that not everyone has the “new train smell” gene, enabling them to sense this alluring aroma. It’s kinda like the “asparagus” gene that way. Sadly, these scent-deficient souls will never know the pleasure of this intoxicating sinus sensation – and no amount of training can change that.


Anthropologists theorize that those who do possess the “new train smell” gene are descended from hominids whose clans appeased their Gods by forming very long conga lines. This practice of ritualized conga lines was a worshipful form of pan-theism that evolved into a kind of pot-theism and may be the basis for today’s many marijuana dispensaries.


Neolithic carvings indicate that the last person on the conga line was known as the kabus, which eventually morphed into our present-day caboose. This concept of the “new train smell” gene mutating in the conga lines of God-fearing hominids has become known as Critical Nose Theory.



What is New Train Smell?


Nosey railroaders describe the heady bouquet of “new train smell” as, “an intoxicating blend of stamp-pressed steel and outgassed Naugahyde, all swirling together with pleasantly pungent notes of diesel vapors.” Admittedly, it’s a developed appreciation. This salmagundi of smells, this obstinacy of odors, all come together in an arousing perfume of olfactory satisfaction. It summons a vestigial calling within me that says, “All aboard!” Then again, maybe I’m just “a little too” in touch with my inner hominid.



Train Besotted and Loving It


I’m hesitant to admit all this because you might think I’m a little loco, but in my narrow-gauge railroad mind, there’s nothing as nostalgically charming or kinetically gratifying as train travel. My loco-motive for telling you all this, is to share the shiver of infantile delight that shoots through my body while chugging along the tracks in the protective womb of my train car. When I’m warmly embraced in compartmentalized comfort I feel like a little baby traveler, all swaddled snuggly in Amtrak’s ever-lovin’ rails. Alright, so maybe I am a little loco.


Not everyone gets this. But people like me do. Maybe I’m a little off the rails here, but I have a nose for trains and appreciate greatly the intoxicating aroma of riding the rails in cozy sublimity. Some view railroad enthusiasts as inherently disordered and marginalized nerds. It’s taken us a while to turn the tide of misunderstanding among the trainophobic, but we’ve done it. Can a Railroad Pride Day be far off?



3 Quick Train Facts:

  1. Standard railroad tracks are 4’ 8½” apart.
  2. Trains stay on the track because the wheels are flanged on the inside preventing the lumbering behemoths from jumping the tracks.
  3. Years ago, when they were touring, there was an entire train car just for the Osmond’s.

I always like to insert a little useful information whereby you can lower your eyebrows and raise your lower lip and slowly nod your head.   



The Railroad Ties That Bind


We generally dismiss train travel as an antiquated and obsolete mode of transportation rooted in a bygone era. This is not true. Trains are responsible for the original world wide web of connectivity – a web of tracks that were initially spun across the East Coast in the 1840s and began binding together our far-flung country into the United States of America. Trains provided swift, smooth conveyance to a travel weary public. This undemanding mode of transport was manna from heaven – or in some cases, from the Baltimore & Ohio.


In the 1840s, the technologically-advanced introduction of mechanized locomotion was transformative. This is especially true when weighed against the punishing and perilous travel choices of the day: hoofing it, hazardous horseback, risky sailboats, jarring stagecoaches and unpredictable catapults. Alright, maybe not catapults (I got on a roll there), but the other choices were certainly wanting for reliability and comfort. This was a time when 4 horsepower meant it was powered by 4 horses. Where was Uber when we needed it?


If you’re not in a rush, riding the rails is the apex of travel. Where else can one sit on a plush throne with enough leg room to swing a cat? Where else can one witness a moving window on a gritty urban tableau of rusty junkyards, unsightly recycling centers and any number of eyesore businesses operating along the railroad’s right of way? Where else can one pee without having to hit your head on an intrusive and curvy fuselage? Where else can you show-up a bare 30 minutes before you depart and hop on your conveyance from a conveniently centralized downtown location? We all know the answer: it’s Amtrak. Amtrak and its always accommodating passenger rail service.   


These iron horses of the rails were not just transportation. They could double as luxurious hotels on steel wheels. They were a warm and embracing metallic cocoon where one could restoratively sleep, sumptuously dine, pleasantly socialize or profitably conduct business. On some lines you could (and still can) enjoy a shave, a shower, and maybe even a haircut (pic).


You could do all this, mind you, while tooling along the silvery rails in supreme comfort as an ever-changing landscape of inner-city decay and bucolic splendor paraded itself before you. Back in the day (I’m never sure what “day” that phrase refers to, but suffice to say, it was a long time ago), wealthy patrons had Mr. Pullman build them private rail cars. These posh apartments on wheels were opulently outfitted to each tycoon’s specifications and then concatenated to an engine destined for grandeur. You weren’t considered a respectable robber baron unless you had your own Pullman rail car – a ne plus ultra RV for the wickedly wealthy. These Princes of the Pullmans, these Grandees of the Gilded Age, these Regents of the Rails weren’t so much cool jetsetters as they were rakish railroaders; worthy of mention in the Who’s Who column of Collier’s Magazine.


In an odd way, I see the light at the end of the tunnel; and I’d be all too happy if that light was attached to an oncoming train. 



My Dream Job or a Train to Nowhere?


I believe I’ve established my credentials as an unabashed romantic when it comes to train travel, and that’s why I’m considering a second career with Amtrak – our nation’s passenger rail system. In keeping with my over-the-moon love of trains, I thought I’d share with you this email I received from Amtrak. It is my fondest hope that you, my public, can help me (as I carry the railroad analogy too far) stay on track and not go off the rails when it comes to a very critical decision I must make. You see Amtrak is recruiting me very hard to join their ranks as a conductor. Yes, they want me to conduct, but I don’t know. You see I’ve always wanted to direct. In any event, it’s quite a dilemma. They’re making me an offer I don’t know if I can refuse, or if I even have the right to refuse?


I mean, do I have the right to deprive Amtrak (and by extension, the nation) of my services? Could this email be the result of some higher calling or divine intervention? Everybody has a destiny – right? Some are born to conduct, while others are meant to play second fiddle. It’s no mistake this offer is bestowed upon someone so starry-eyed, so utterly beguiled by railroading that his ringtone is “The Chattanooga Choo Choo.” In making this decision, I’ll need guidance from both you and my train whisperer Tonya.


I’ve not been in the workforce for 10 years now, and I’ve never been in the railroad business at all, except as a passenger. Does visiting train museums and watching train videos count as experience? I wonder if I have the chops to work for Amtrak.



Amtrak Dining Cars: Nobody Else Has Them. Nobody Comes Close.


And speaking of Amtrak chops, close your eyes for a moment and imagine yourself riding the rails on the Amtrak’s San Francisco to Chicago Zephyr. While you’re whisked along the rails at a breakneck average speed of 35 mph you appreciate the pleasant day you’ve spent looking at scenery. You’re done complaining about the Wi-Fi that only seems to work in the observation car bathroom. You’re fully satisfied, having celebrated joining the 4-feet high club earlier that afternoon. Now it’s time for your superb dining car supper served the Amtrak way. Nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina dining on Amtrak’s signature Slow-Cooked Pork Chops® lavishly served in their regally appointed dining car smartly decorated in an Early Denny’s motif. These specialty chops are plated on real china with accompaniments of truffled Hasselback potatoes, a medley of vegetables singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic and Aunt Fanny’s homemade apple sauce served straight from her crack staff.


Amtrak’s swanky ambience is on full display in this proper, first-class dining experience featuring freshly-pressed linens, individual pats of butter and teeny-tiny shakers of salt and pepper. This is all presented with unmatched table service. While the sun slowly sets across a ruggedly pristine landscape, you are served impeccably by Amtrak’s renown wait staff – many of whom are hired directly from the Swiss Guard detail that protects the Pope. If I take the job, I’d be getting paid for this experience. Pinch me.  



More Than a Job. It’s a Way of Life.


This Assistant Conductor position pays about $25 an hour to start, plus all the onboard bathrooms you can use – some of which still flush directly onto the tracks. There is probably no better way to cement my legacy, than having my DNA spread throughout the length and breadth of this great country. I’d be a fool not to consider taking the job. Heck, I’m already a fool for considering it.


If I commit to the job, I’d be required to complete an 8-week training class at Amtrak University in Maryland. During my deployment for Basic Train Training I’ll be deprived of my family (wife and cat). I wonder if during my being sequestered from polite society, if anyone will thank me for my service. One doesn’t usually think of train conductors as first responders thrown into urgent situations of inherent danger. They’re maybe 3rd or 4th responders – mostly responding to requests for directions to the dining car or queries as to why the train going so slow? Conductors do, however, wear a very authoritative uniform. That alone should be worth some kind of consideration. Maybe in tribute to my service, a patriotic railroader will secretly pay for my lunch. I can see myself approaching the cashier at the DQ to settle the lunch bill for my Brazier Burger and soft-serve Blizzard, only to find that some railroad angel has already covered it. They sometimes do that anonymously you know. I feel myself welling-up as the cashier informs me of this anonymous kindness. Teary-eyed I blubber to the cashier, “That’s so thoughtful. They covered the tip too – right?”


Upon graduation from AU you’re fitted with a freshly starched conductor’s uniform, a smart conductor’s cap and a symbolic, non-working railroad pocket watch. The job may require me to sleep onboard and I’m onboard with sleeping onboard. Paid to sleep while train glamping – sign me up. One of the perks of the job is free train travel anywhere in the contiguous United States. Wow, pinch me again. I’m sure I’ll enjoy this perk even more once I figure out what the word “contiguous” means.  


So, do I take the job and sacrifice for Amtrak and country, or do I stay home and continue my unbroken record of watching Jeopardy! every night, even though Alex is no longer conducting the show? This is where I’m at folks; on the rails of a dilemma – somewhere between the 4’ 8½” of track 1 and track 2, wondering which course of action I should choo-choo-choose.

Should I get onboard with Amtrak?


Truth be told, sometimes I think I like the idea of this job more than the actual job itself. Your comments are welcomed. Here is the job listing: 


New Jobs from Amtrak


The following jobs matched your search agent at Amtrak and can be found at

Job Matches:
PASSENGER CONDUCTOR TRAINEE – 90303890 – Reno, NV – Reno, Nevada, US, 89501

Remember to forward these jobs to any of your friends who might have interest in any of these position 2:01 AM (2 hours ago)

Oliver Straight: A Story with a Twist

In 1850, in the far-off land of North Hampshirepool, at their country estate of Wuthering Gulch, Lord Reginald Bettencourt and Lady Bettencourt, discover a street urchin sleeping beneath a bird bath in their rose garden. The young waif was dressed only in sack cloth and a dirty little cap. After expressing surprise that he’d made it across the moat, they wondered what they should do with the little guy:

Lord Reginald Bettencourt: Tsk, tsk. I say we deposit the wastrel at one of those no-kill shelters for children.

Lady Bettencourt: They’re called orphanages Reggie and we’ll have none of that. I think ‘tis best we raise him to be a service tyke, and then perhaps, in time he may become a service lad until we can develop him into a full-fledged indentured servant.

Lord Reginald: Indentured you say? I don’t know, his teeth look fine to me.



Lady Bettencourt has the servants feed and wash the child. She later asks the cook Prunella, how the lad enjoyed his gruel.

Prunella: He said he wanted more.

LB: More gruel?

Prunella: Yes. He said, “Please ma’am, I want some more” and held up his bowl.

LB: Prunella, bring this impudent boy to me.



The freshly dressed boy is led into a cavernous room with absurdly high ceilings, way too many paintings and a roaring fireplace that raises the temperature from a chilly 52° to a balmy 54° (possibly in Kelvin degrees and not in Fahrenheit degrees) He sits attentively before Lady Bettencourt as she commences to examine the boy:

LB: What is your name son?

Urchin: (In a thick Cockney accent) Moy name ees Oliva Straight.

LB: Oliver Straight?

OS: Aye, that’s right ma’am.

LB: And why were you sleeping under our bird bath?

OS: Because yer stone bench was too hard.

LB: Prunella said you asked for more gruel. Did you like it?

OS: Not really. It was very grueling, but I was very hungry.

LB: Do you have any family or do you just live on the streets.

OS: I live by me wits ma’am. Me family’s all gone from the cholera.

LB: How did you avoid the alligators in the moat?

OS: Me’s bean taught ta be a very awtful dodja (artful dodger).

LB: How would you like to live with us for a while?

OS: I dunno. Dee-pends on ‘ow much rent ya gonna charge me.

LB: My, my. You are a little dickens.

OS: No, I ain’t ma’am. I’m just written that way.



And after that brief interview, it came to pass that Oliver Straight became a contributing member of Wuthering Gulch. Lady Bettencourt estate-schooled him and soon he was speaking the King’s English. And when the King died, he began speaking the Queen’s English.


As the years passed, Lady Bettencourt took great interest in tutoring the lad and noticed his penchant for habituating the horse stables, where the men tended to the horses. She queried him about this.


LB: Oliver, do you find yourself drawn to those burly men in the stables?

OS: Why yes, mum. Tis true. My interest in those strapping wranglers knows no bounds.

LB: I see. Would I be correct then in thinking that Oliver Straight is gay?

OS: I wouldn’t deny it mum.

LB: Well, that’s quite a twist Oliver. Hmmm. Oliver twist. That gives me an idea. (She calls to Lord Bettencourt) Reggie aren’t we seeing that Charles Dickens next week?

Lord Reginald: Why yes, we are my dearest one. He and his wife Catherine are here for dinner in a fortnight.

LB: Heavens to Betsy, have I got a story for him.

Little Known and Infrequently Celebrated Holidays

  1. Great Great Great Grandmothers’ Day – Not nearly as popular as Great Great Grandmothers’ Day
  2. Amnesia Awareness Day – The day when you bring your amnesiac a bouquet of Forget-me-nots.
  3. Indigenous Twinkies Day – Celebrates Native Twinkies that once inhabited grocery store shelves before waves of predatory Twinkies invaded our stores. This day is a time to reflect on the harsh methods employed by the Invasive Twinkies in oppressing the Indigenous Twinkies. It’s all part of the cross-disciplinary field known as Critical Twinkie Theory.
  4. Doris Day Day – Sometimes combined with Susan Dey Day and Sandra Day O’Connor Day.
  5. Baby Toe Appreciation Day – Why not give the l’il fellow a day of recognition to go wee wee wee all the way home?
  6. Siamese Twins Separation Day – Traditionally celebrated with a banana split
  7. Nostril Appreciation Day – Without these twin orifices we’d just be a bunch of mouth breathers.
  8. Amtrak Appreciation Day – Who doesn’t appreciate train travel…everyone
  9. Unrefrigerated Mayonnaise Day – A celebration of the brown-tipped edges of room temperature mayo. Usually sitting out on the counter next to the warm and very spreadable butter.
  10. Root Canal Appreciation Day – AKA Masochist Celebration Day
  11. Tony Danza Appreciation Day – I’d rather have Tony Danza and not need him, than not have Tony Danza and need him.

And Finally…

       Orgasm Appreciation Day – Isn’t it ironic that this Day only comes once a year?


Things I Wish I’d Thought Of


Oh, wait, I did think of these. I guess I wasn’t careful what I wished for.

  1. Who makes a tornado chaser look smart?

          A volcano chaser.

  1. What goes well with a shot of lava?

          A volcano chaser.

  1. The Toast Restaurant Admits: “Bread and butter is our bread and butter.”
  2. Pet Sleepwear Outlet Admits: “Our cat’s pajamas are the cat’s pajamas.”
  3. Magnet Magnate Admits: “People are drawn to me.”
  4. Cartoon Character Admits: “People are drawn to me.”
  5. Crab Meat Admits: “Butter is drawn to me.”
  6. Guy claiming to have a Horse Drawn Carriage Admits: “The carriage was really drawn by my daughter and not our horse.
  7. Ticket Taker Admits: A fan into the stadium.
  8. Woke Person Admits: “I may be woke, but I’m very groggy.”
  1. Pièce de résistance Admits: “I’m just a piece of resistance.”
  2. I’m always unnerved when someone yells at me, “Enjoy your stupid life.”

         How did they know?



  1. My college roommate is the mature one. Unlike me, he eats his bread with the crust on and is able to sleep with the lights off.
  2. News from the Highway: Prestressed Concrete Suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Plenty of blame to go around. Mostly it’s your asphalt.
  3. Since when did “I know it like the back of my hand” become a standard for certainty. I couldn’t identify the back of my hand if it was a the lineup with other hands. Facial recognition, yes. Back of the hand recognition, not yet.
  4. I just realized: I’m left-nostrilled. And I thought I was ambi-nostrilled for the longest time.

Barely X-Rated Musings

  1. Bob: I hear that new brothel is having a soft opening this weekend.

         Jim: What else is new?  


  1. Innovative Way to Toilet Train Your Toddler

*Sung to the tune of “Going to the Chapel of Love”

Going to the bathroom and we’re, Gonna make pooo-ooopy.

Going to the bathroom where you’re, Gonna make pooo-ooopy.


  1. Veterinarian Fields a Question:

Dr. Moore, I know what it means when my cat licks my face – that she loves and accepts me. But what does it mean when my dog gives me a blow job?


  1. I see the Adult Book Store is hiring again. I don’t think I want to work there. The sign in the window says “Apply Deep Within.”


  1. A Doctor Without Any Bedside Manner Giving a Patient the Bad News

 *Sung to the tune of Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party.”

It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to,

Cry if I want to, die if I want to

You would cry too if you had Stage 4 pancreatic cancer.


  1. Classic Lay’s Potato Chips are a very popular snack with Catholics who refer to Classic Lay’s as Missionary Chips.

Conversation Between 2 Bostonians on the Central Coast of California

Ben:    Where are you and Luke going?

Matt:  To Morro Bay.

Ben:    I didn’t ask when you were going, I asked where you were going.

Matt:  And I told you. To Morro.

Ben:    OK. Well then when are you going?

Matt:  Tomorrow?

Ben:    Yes, when are you going to Morro?

Matt:  I told you. Tomorrow.

Ben:    So you’re going to Morro tomorrow?

Matt:  Yup.

Ben:    OK. Where will you be dining?

Matt:  Oh, we’re going over to the Dockside.

Ben:    I didn’t ask you anything about Star Wars. I was just wondering where you’ll be eating.

Matt:  And I told you. Luke and I are going over to the Dockside near the Big Rock.

Ben:    I give up. May the Force be with you.

Matt:  No. May the 4th was 2 weeks ago.


Food Marketing Mishaps

Cajun/Creole Creations

  1. Coca-Nola – A cola drink sold only in New Orleans
  2. Beignet – Taste-testers felt beignets were passe and stale. Many commented, “Beignet, done that.”
  3. Jumbo Liar – Big, spicy Cajun dish filled with fat fibbers, porcine perjurers and luscious liars, all served-up with a generous portion of shellfish-ness
  4. Dumbo – You’ll roux the day you try this Disney version of Gumbo. Disney’s Dumbo soup is the elephant in the roux-m no one wants to talk about – let alone eat.
  5. Crayfish, Crawfish, Crawdads – I don’t know where any of them sing, but they do stick in my craw.
  6. A-2-Fey – A Hip-Hop version of étouffée. Dish was doomed from the start when Tina Fey refused to endorse A-2-Fey.


Domestic Disasters

  1. Fig Glutens – Great – if you’re a glutton for gluten
  2. From the Makers of Planter’s Peanuts came an unsuccessful spin-off: Planter’s Fasciitis
  3. Argue-la – A quarrelsome version of arugula. Made for some very angry salads.
  4. Spaghetti É’s – The French version of Spaghetti O’s.
  5. Twice-thawed Pizza – The makers of twice-baked potatoes discovered doubly-thawed and refrozen pizza wasn’t twice as nice
  6. Flocked Flakes – Post Cereal’s answer to Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes. It fared poorly in test markets. People said they were uncomfortable eating anything that had been flocked.
  7. Pepperidge Farm Seahorses – Goldfish, yes. Seahorses, neigh.
  8. Cannibal Crackers – Animal crackers, yes. Cannibal Crackers, bite your tongue.


The Hostess Ho Ho’s Franchise

  1. Hostess Ho’s – Illegal in most states. Very expensive to buy. Even more expensive to touch.
  2. Hostess Ho, Ho’s – The traditional tasty snack cake. Always popular
  3. Hostess Ho, Ho, Ho’s – Santa’s yuletide snack cake. It was like Christmas in your mouth.


Gender Identity Foods

  1. Bi-Curious Bananas – Very a-peeling. But will they sell? As you’d expect with Bi-Curious Bananas, they could go either way
  2. Mom-sicles – Female version of the Pop-sicle
  3. Womangoes – Female version of mangoes
  4. Non-Binary Gingerbread Men – They no longer identify as cookies and are referred to as Gingerbread Thems


Q.     What do you call 2 doxes that are irreconcilable?
A.     A paradoxes.

When Will We Learn?

In some early episodes, Culp’s ties could be 7 inches wide.

Robert Culp was a guest-murderer on Colombo in 4 different episodes. And even though he was serving 4 consecutive life sentences for those murders, each time he was somehow released only to murder again. For God’s sake man, who was overseeing his probation – his agent?


When will we learn to lock up and throw away the script on these make-believe TV murderers so they’ll never pretend-murder again. Won’t someone take responsibility for Robert Culp’s crimes and admit, “Mea Culp-a.”


Robert Culp is not the only actor to kill again and again. I’m looking at you Patrick McGoohan, Sir Anthony Hopkins and Norman Bates. My thoughts and prayers go out to all the actors and actresses whose parts were cut short, snuffed-out if you will, by the deadly scripts of unfeeling screenwriters.


Fortunately, Robert Culp has passed on to that great casting couch in the sky where he is no longer able to cut short the parts of deserving actors who’ve been written out of scripts all too early because of his murderous handiwork. Instead, Robert Culp is now being driven crazy by deceased Peter Falk’s Columbo character following him around and relentlessly pestering him: “Aah, there’s just one more thing Bob…”

Streetcars to Avoid

  1. Streetcars named Desire

    Stella? Is that you?

  2. Warning: Streetcars named Desire are usually followed by streetcars named Syphilis, so be careful with that Desire
  3. The Hindenburg – Oh the profanity! Riders drop a lot of F-bombs. A word to the wise: It’s highly advisable you get off before the Lakehurst stop.
  4. The Mustang Ranch Pleasure Dome Car – Depending on where you sit, it can cost $300 just to go 2 blocks – and that doesn’t include the tip
  5. The Enola Gay – Don’t expect the operator to drop any F-bombs. A-bombs are another story.
  6. The E Street Coli – Riders say it’s like being in NJ with Springsteen, but with food poisoning
  7. A Horse Drawn Streetcar – It’s not an actual streetcar, it’s just a picture of a streetcar drawn by a horse