Off the Record

"I'm writing on my laptop on a train headed south. It's a typical dreary day in January, although a hint of blue on gray catches my glance as I look east out the window. The only other passengers in car number two are a bespectacled guy to my left, head back, apparently sleeping. Two seats in front of me is The Mystery Man. He's breathing black leather and blue jeans, and a hip baseball cap adorns his flowing, silvery ponytail. I can't tell if he's snoozing, as he's hiding behind shades...very cool shades. He bears no resemblance whatsoever to Tim Eyman, the instigator of Initiative 695. I wonder if Timmy ever takes the train? I'm off to Portland, Oregon for the weekend. Somebody told me that Rose City rain is nice this time of year. Lumbering through Tacoma, the Spanish-designed Talgo train moans and groans. Two more passengers enter my car, a woman tugging on her briefcase and yet another fellow ready for sleep. I wonder if Timmy is stuck in traffic somewhere? A conductor points out the sights along the way: the restored Union Station; the locale of what used to be the Tacoma smelter; and the waters that were once home to the world's largest octopus, all one-hundred and twenty five pounds of testy tentacles. The on-board video will soon begin, rated PG-13, but I've already seen it. Plus, I have work to do, so I pass on the three-dollar headphones. I wonder if Timmy watches movies on I-5? Off to my right are the waters of Commencement Bay, something foreign to freeway fanatics. We pass through a non-stop hamlet called Pioneer, and in the distance I spy a small ferry. It's a Pierce County vessel dubbed Christine Anderson. I ask the conductor where it goes, and he says to the prison on McNeil Island. Is it for tourists? I ask. Yeah, if you want a one-way ticket! Is he kidding me? I'm not quite sure, but I'll find out when I get home. I wonder if Timmy learned anything while he was in gridlock? My pleasant surroundings are a far cry from Seattle's King Street Station, where I arrived at 6:30 on a Friday morning. The place is a dump. Only a handful of people mill about the decrepit station, while a uniformed guy methodically refills the wall of food machines that houses chips, candies and other carbo-laden stuff. Row after row, he replenishes the gobbled-up trays, as I scan the rough and tumble room for a fresh cup of coffee or a magazine stand. All that greets me is the sickening smell of cotton candy air fresheners and a sign that reads, NO LOITERING. CUSTOMERS ONLY. Toto, this ain't the train station in Milan. I bet Timmy's multi-car garage is more passenger-friendly than this. But there is some curious signage on the walls of King Street Station: History in the making...restoring elegance of a state treasure. Right next to it: Progress 1997: Experts okay redevelopment. Next stop, station design and funding. Down the wall a piece: Imagine, in 2007 these false walls and ceiling will have been torn down. The historic beauty of the waiting room will be revealed...redeveloping King Street Station. I'm sure that Timmy is counting the days on his odometer. The friendliest of the conductors strolls down the aisle, scratching his head and wondering if there is room in the car for some Sumo wrestlers. You're kidding, aren't you? I laugh. He smiles, and I say OK as long as they keep their clothes on. He laughs back. Is everybody a comedian on Amtrak? I doubt if Timmy is chuckling as his tabby-toned car comes to a halt on the Mukilteo Speedway. The Talgo is now doing 79 mph, and we'll be in Centralia in 10 minutes or so. A blip on the video screen says we just passed through Tenino. My attention is drawn to the movie, as William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing rolls on with the landscape. Denzel Washington, Kenneth Branaugh and his Oscar-winning ex-wife whose name I can never recall. All mouthing the clever and oft-spoken words of Shakespeare. I bet Timmy has never had the beloved Bard on board. Finally, the conductor announces, Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls! Coming up ahead in the town of Winlock is the World's Largest Egg! By golly, he's right, it's the mother of all eggs! Looks like Timmy was here."

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