Amtrak Antics

I’m pleased to report that I have safely returned from a trip on Amtrak.

I had my doubts. After all, with the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) No-Fly list kicking an estimated 80,000—100,000 terrorists off American aviation, those folks have to get where they’re going somehow. They could drive, of course, but there’s a limit to how much carnage one can wreak with a car, even an SUV. And wreaking carnage is what terrorists are dying to do, right? So they’re probably opting for trains and busses. Figure half are enduring Greyhound, while the other 40,000—50,000 are hopping Amtrak. Something like 265 trains run daily nationwide. That works out to about 150 terrorists per train, sprinkled among 300 passengers on average. Yep: odds are 50-50 the guy in the next seat wants to kill you.

OK, my figures may be a tad high. The No-Fly List includes many terrorists who won’t be riding the rails any time soon. Edward (“Little Eddie”) Allen is a case in point. His mother doesn’t allow the 4-year-old to leave the house without her, so this terrifying tot probably won’t threaten American transportation for a few years yet. And Senator Ted Kennedy, while no stranger to murder and mayhem, is also unlikely to forsake his limo for the pleasures of Amtrak. Ditto for Representative John Lewis.

So let’s halve the half of the No-Fly List riding Amtrak. That still leaves 75 terrorists per train. Pretty scary, if you ask me. Which is why I wrote my will a week before my trip and wore clean socks the day of, just in case.

But at least on Amtrak, we can arm ourselves against Eddie and Teddie. The TSA’s too busy keeping the friendly skies very, very friendly to bother feeling up Amtrak’s passengers. This allows the savvy Amtracker to provide for self-defense. We can carry on board all those lethal items you frequent fliers have to toss in the TSA’s bins. Cigarette lighters, knitting needles, pocketknives — amazingly, no one at Amtrak seems interested in swiping any of these despite their prominence in skyjackings and crime sprees across the country. You don’t even have to conceal that you’re carrying them, so far as I know. I haven’t tried flicking a Bic at a conductor, but I did see several women openly knitting, needles flashing like rapiers. No doubt they’re on the No-Fly list, and no wonder, either, deft as they are with those weapons.

Even more amazingly, these armed passengers haven’t yet slaughtered one another with their lighters and pocketknives nor hijacked any trains. All Amtrak’s rolling stock has so far arrived at its destination — albeit a day or two late — without incident. Who says miracles don’t happen?

I neither smoke nor knit, and the only pocketknife I own is so dull it wouldn’t hurt a baby though it sends grown TSA agents into paroxysms. So my weapon of choice on Amtrak is fingernail scissors. Given the zeal with which airport screeners were ferreting these tiny shears out of cosmetics cases and shaving kits, they must be the most murderous armament since the atom bomb. Though I admit I can’t see how. The half-inch blades on my pair won’t even cut through those little plastic thingies on new clothes, so how do you kill someone with them? Besides, if nail scissors are so deadly, why aren’t mass murderers and our troops in Iraq wielding them? Heck, cops wouldn’t need to shoot drug dealers: they could just manicure ’em to death.

But the TSA sees all sorts of things we ordinary folks don’t — why, just last month, two of its air marshals spotted a gun on an American Airlines passenger that no one else did and shot him dead. Talk about visionary! So who am I to argue if these geniuses consider fingernail scissors Weapons of Mass Destruction? Anyway, I kept a tight grip on my pair and an eye out for suspicious behavior when I arrived at the Amtrak station. Easy enough since Amtrak thoughtfully plasters signs everywhere reminding us to rat out our fellow citizens. Try as I might, though, I spied no terrorists. All I saw were cranky kids, stressed parents, and old folks exhausted after waiting 5 hours for the train. Funny how the fascist Mussolini got the train thing down cold, but the fascist Feds can’t.

Though they certainly have a sense of humor: Amtrak’s “Silver Meteor” finally chugged into the station 6 hours late, and we clambered aboard. “Dining car’s that way,” the conductor announced, and off I went, still on the lookout for suspicious behavior.

I found plenty of it. There were real butter knives on the tables! With metal blades! Good gracious, a terrorist could butter his dinner roll with one of those! I don’t think I’m being alarmist here: given that the TSA’s banned metal implements from flights and even airports, shouldn’t Amtrak force terrorists to spread their butter with their thumbs, too?

I hesitated at the entrance to the dining car, scissors clutched in my fist. Dare I dine amidst such danger? Chances were good that at least a couple of the other eight or ten diners already chowing down were members of Al Qaeda. Sure, they looked like ordinary grandparents in bifocals and polyester pants, but they weren’t fooling me. One of them could leap to his feet at any moment, brandishing his deadly butter knife. I’d be forced to produce my scissors…but alas, doesn’t Knife beat Scissors? Or am I thinking of Rock and Paper?

Thank Heaven, I survived this brush with death. Our train rocked peacefully onward, despite knives and knitting needles, until I reached my destination. Unfortunately, the 75 terrorists did, too. That means they are once again on the loose out there, looking for ways to bring down the American way of life. So stay strong, stay vigilant, and keep your fingernail scissors at the ready.