Forward Living: The Quiet Car is not for everyone

01/21/2012 12:07 PM |

Yes, winter’s quiet on the North Fork and it may become even more so. As you might have heard, the Long Island Rail Road has initiated a Quiet Car policy on its trains. The pilot program began a few weeks ago on the Far Rockaway branch. Perhaps Riverhead to Greenport is next.

I spoke with Aaron Donavan, a helpful young guy who is a media liaison at a Metropolitan Transportation Authority office in New York City. Aaron told me there would probably be only one Quiet Car per train. In that car no electronic devices would be permitted and any conversation would be in whispers only. Matter of fact, conductors will hand out “shh” cards to commuters who break the silence. I’m thinking those “shh” cards would be great for teachers with noisy classes or for husbands who claim their wives never stop talking. And wouldn’t you like a “shh” card if you came face to face with a presidential candidate?

I’ve an idea. Make a game of it. If a person receives five “shh” cards he goes directly to jail.

It so happens that Amtrak began its own Quiet Car policy several years ago. In my first Quiet Car experience, I accepted tickets for seats in an Amtrak “quiet, no cellphones” car traveling from Washington, D.C., to New York City. I was with a friend, Ginny, and we planned on drinking tea as we rolled north through Baltimore. Maybe read a newspaper, even take a nap.

Ginny and I settled in and began a quiet review of our D.C. days. The Museum of American History, a White House garden tour, even a Nationals game. Then came the voice, a kind of female James Earl Jones voice. “Somebody’s talkin’ in the Quiet Car.”

She, and her voice, headed to our seats. She was large, very, and stern, very. The dark-uniformed Amtrak conductor stood over me and asked for ID. This while holding that steel-cold ticket puncher up to my face. There was to be no talking in this car.

My laughter was not directed at her. Rather, at my foolishness. We knew no cellphones were allowed. We did not know quiet conversation was verboten.

Lady Amtrak didn’t crack a smile. She told me to check for seats in another car if I wished to speak even a few words during the three-hour ride. Dutifully I rose from my seat and rocked side to side up the aisle to the next car. No adjacent seats available. I tiptoed back into the Quiet Car and sat down next to Ginny.

So it was we arrived in New York City well rested. Ginny continued on to her home in Saratoga Springs while I was ready for battle on the LIRR to Riverhead, where my husband would meet me for the ride home to Cutchogue. The dusty, creaky LIRR was crowded and it was not until I changed trains at Ronkonkoma that I found a comfortable seat next to a smiling young woman and across from an equally happy-looking young couple. And then, a revelation.

I admit it. I probably started talking first. My seat companion was headed to Riverhead and we chatted about that town. Her three children graduated from Riverhead High School and remain in nearby North Fork towns. The young couple across from me? They hoped to purchase a home in Mattituck.

Naturally, I told my Amtrak story. We all laughed, loudly. And when the LIRR conductor walked toward us, I thought, “Oh no, not again.”

Bet you can guess what happened. The conductor asked, “What’s so funny?” He was not scowling nor was he waving a ticket puncher. He just stood there, waiting to hear the source of our joy.

So once again I repeated my Amtrak experience. By this time I did so in a most dramatic way. Well, the conductor laughed. Out loud. Here were five of us having a good old time. It was great to be home on the North Fork.

And about a LIRR Quiet Car on the North Fork? I’m not gonna worry about that now. There’s too much laughing to do.

Ms. Lombardi is a resident of Cutchogue.

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