Freaking Out Squares

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Midnight Express (or, Dispatches From the Road, Part 1)

I wrote the following mess o'pages during the very loooooooong, boring train ride from New York to Harrisburg yesterday...

9/1/06. 4:50 pm. On the Keystoner from New York to Harrisburg.

Just got out of the loo after a mildly epic battle with the sink. It wasn't until I had Amtrak soap smeared all over my hands that I realized the spigot was one of those push-up jobs. Is there a good reason for designing train sinks thus? Is some kind of immutable law of physics at play here? Will my train fare skyrocket from a reasonable $56 to somewhere around $560 if Amtrak installs normal sinks?

The Keystoner, so-called because of its singular route through the Keystone State (PA is the only state named after a shape, just as Libra is the only astrological sign represented by an inanimate object), is quite possibly the worst Amtrak venture on the Eastern seaboard. How so? Because it has no food or beverage service on board, that's how. I don't know about you, but if I'm going to spend four hours on a train, over half of it riding backward through cow/alien abduction country, I'd like to be able to get a turkey sandwich and a diet Coke without having to strong-arm my way through the masses at Philly's 30th Street station when the train changes engines. (The Keystoner changes from electric to diesel once it gets to Philadelphia. That makes me think of the way the fine city I call home builds medical waste incinerators in the South Bronx. Do they think because we're a bunch of Puritans who keep our lips zipped in service to the Lord that we can and should accept the expulsion of a noxious fuel into our spacious skies? Is it retribution for Three Mile Island, or perhaps William Penn's theft of the land from the Native Americans? Hey, some of us Pennsyltuckians are agnostic spoiled brats who like clean air, I'll have you know! I'll pay extra for a beverage car and an electric engine, as long as they up my Amtrak Guest Rewards points significantly.)

5:25 pm. 30th Street Station, Philadelphia.

Had a couple of cigarettes with some folks--a guy with an eyepatch, a beautiful young girl with a striking resemblance to Kelli O'Hara, and a Hispanic woman who's on her way back from Massachusetts after visiting her fifteen-year-old son in the hospital. He was in a car accident and is now paralyzed from the chest down, but he's speaking and eating. Thank god for small mercies. I offer this sincerely. Thank god this woman's son can still eat and speak. Thank god he's alive. I hope he will be able to walk again. I hope this woman and her son will be able to weather the road ahead with the same weary, matter-of-fact strength she's using now. I hope they get a few well-deserved breaks along the way.

The fellow with the eyepatch thought it would be nice if they let us smoke on the train. He was as appalled as I was eight years ago, when I first moved to New York and I was coming back to see my psychiatrist in the throes of a panic attack that made me dizzy, to discover that there's no food or beverage service on board this train. I don't mind the no smoking rule. I agree that it's a filthy habit, and I try to shield the innocent as much as possible from my disgusting, cancer-causing activities. And I don't guess it's a huge problem to buy a sandwich at Penn Station and bring it on board. But it's the principle of the thing that bugs me. That, and I'm a spoiled little bitch.

Oh, yes, and the reason they switch from electric to diesel at Philly? Because, per the affably brusque white-haired conductor who fielded my question, there isn't enough electricity to power the trains from Boston all the way to Harrisburg. Well, is it any wonder y'all are bankrupt? Save the planet, guys!

6 pm. Ardmore Station.

Ardmore, the first stop outside of Philly, is home to a little restaurant called "Peace A Pizza." The sign in the window says "Sorry, We're Open." How many times have I been tempted to blow this pop stand, jump off, and have a slice? And pizza's not really my bag, either.

Ardmore is, or was, also home to Susan Reinert, the English teacher at Upper Merion High School near King of Prussia, who was murdered by her colleague, Bill Bradfield, and her principal, Jay Smith, in 1979. Susan Reinert was married to a guy who seemed to be quite decent and steadfast, if somewhat unromantic, and she threw over her marriage to take up with Bradfield, who was not only living with yet another colleague, Sue Myers, but was still legally married to his first two wives. That's a pat assessment, but it's a big part of it. Bradfield promised to marry Susan Reinert when her mother died and she inherited $750K, but he had no intention of following through, at least on the matrimonial end. He convinced Sue Myers and two other friends/colleagues, Vince Valaitis and Chris Pappas, that Jay Smith, well known throughout Upper Merion for his sexual perversions and variegated drug addictions (he 's also rumored to have murdered his elder daughter and son-in-law and dissolved the bodies in nitric acid), was going to kill Susan because she "knew too much about his trash." According to Bradfield, the "trash" consisted of bodies he'd chopped up and spread in the Dumpsters around school. As one cop put it when he was interviewing Chris Pappas, "Did you ever think if you let go of that rope Bradfield had you shinnying up, that maybe you'd fall into a big lake of drizzly bullshit?"

The veracity of the most popular book on the case, Echoes in the Darkness by Joseph Wambaugh, came under fire about eight years ago when it was discovered that the head cop on the case, Jack Holtz, who had already taken a huge blow when it was revealed that he'd falsfied evidence in the Jay Smith trial, an act that resulted in the whole case against Smith getting thrown out, had "practically written the book for [Wambaugh]," depicting himself as the strong, silent type who rises through the ranks to save the day. Wambaugh himself admitted to paying his subjects tidy sums of money, but I think the real kicker is that it was again discovered that Jack Holtz falsified evidence in yet another murder trial. No word on what's going on there. (Bradfield was convicted in 1983 and died in prison of a heart attack in 1998, at the age of 64. Jay Smith lives in Delaware with his brother.)

That said, I still reread the book from time to time. I like to freak myself out, and I must confess a certain affection for ex-cop Wambaugh's grade-B Sam Spade writing style. I first read the book when I was eleven. How my mother let that one slip into my grasp, I will never know. Perhaps she figured I was old enough to learn that sometimes, when two people are in love, the man might put Tab A into someplace other than Slot B. I can think of worse ways to learn about fellatio than reading Jay Smith's extracurricular love letters, I guess (and by the way, I learned the word "fellatio" later that year, when i saw and fell in love with an awesome play called Biloxi Blues), but man, it was grim stuff, reading about this rubbery old guy and what sounded like he was taking a pee in there. Do, like, normal people do this, or is this kind of thing solely the provenance of dudes like Smith and his comrade Chester, Chester, Child Molester? (My mom must have been prepared for the eventuality of my asking her if she'd ever indulged, because when she mock-gasped "That is NONE of your business!" she didn't smack me upside the head. I guess we'll take that as a yes...?)

6:30-7:10 pm. Between Downingtown and Lancaster.

Nothing to see here, folks. Keep moving. You seen one cow, you seen 'em all.

7:15 pm. Outside Elizabethtown, home of M&M Mars.

Three Mile Island! Woooo! I wish we'd all make like the passengers on that flight from LaGuardia to HBG back in 1979. About a month after the almost-holocaust, my parents and I went up to Vermont to visit my aunt. Harrisburg's airport is situated such that before landing, every plane dips its wings so you get a big ol' money shot of TMI. On our return flight, the plane did just that, and then there was silence. Then, "Boo!" "Boo!" "Hiss!" and much laughter. Bow down to her now. Bow down to your queen! The queen of filth, the queen of putrescence. Boo! Boo!

*** *** *** *** ***

After disembarking, my dad and I had a lovely dinner out at one of my favorite local restaurants, The Country Oven, famous for their cheese bread and their Golden Gate house dressing (a mixture of French and Bleu Cheese, if you're interested). I had the crab-stuffed shrimp and a very strong bourbon and ginger. Upon returning to the ranch, my dad encouraged me to pet our beautiful gray cat, Hades, and she had the unmitigated gall to smack me with her claws! Jeez, my cats are more sociable than she is, and they're feral. Maybe she needs a cat friend.

I'm headed over to Grandpa's this afternoon to try and solve, once and for all, the mystery of what "accepting Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior" really means. Tomorrow, we hit Dutch Wonderland!


Anonymous Marcia said...

Love the Princess Bride quote. Jesus would approve.

I'm sorry that it appears that we may not see each other despite blessing Central PA with our presence at the same time. And sorry I didn't call you back the other night. I've gone back and forth between DC and Camp Hill 4 times (well it will be 4 times come tomorrow) this week. Today I was there for Deb's wedding. Anyway, that's not why we're here, but I just felt like 'splaining. We'll talk soon.

Now really, is this the best place for an email-type-thing? I didn't think so but whatever.

12:00 AM

Blogger Karla said...

Eh, I wouldn't worry. I'm still pretty safely anonymous. Your 'splainations are welcome but not mandatory. Always happy for a little love, though.

6:40 PM


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