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Need a little peace? Ever try Acela's quiet car?

Posted by guest  April 14, 2008 11:53 AM

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The Quiet Car. Quiet. Even the word is hushed. Silent. Calm. Not busy or active. No talking in a loud voice to the person next to you. No talking on the phone. No radios blaring. No movies. No TV. No intrusive sounds at all.
The Quiet Car is the Amtrak Acela's semisecret sanctum, and my once-in-a-while refuge, a place where noise of any kind is not allowed. Which is not always what I want, to be unplugged and silent and still, not when I'm traveling with friends or family or children. "Want some M&Ms? Want to play 'Go Fish'? You really want me to read 'Bear Snores On' again?" Sometimes noise is important.

But sometimes no phones, no music, no chatter, no children's cries, no listening to a man in a business suit recite in a booming voice his client's names and Social Security numbers into his cellphone are exactly what I need.
Posted By Beverely Beckham, Globe Correspondent

The quiet car isn't devoid of all sound. There are squeaks and creaks and crinkles. But that's it. A tray being put to use rattles. A footrest clunks. The train clickety-clicks down tracks. A whistle blows. Footsteps whisper. A page is turned. A sandwich is unwrapped. Someone sneezes. Someone sighs. All quiet sounds.

A few months ago, I took the Regional, not the Acela, to New York because it was a weekend and there are few Acelas on Saturday. Unfortunately, and who knows why, there is no quiet car on the Regionals. So, for four hours and 20 minutes I listened to a young woman in the seat one row up and across from me talking on her cellphone, telling friend after friend about a guy she had gone out on a date with the night before.

This wasn't annoying. The woman behind me was annoying. She was with her husband and she never stopped complaining - about the cold weather, about the hot train, about the long ride, even about the bagels.

The young girl, on the other hand, was fascinating! She played with her long hair and chewed sugarless gum and drank diet soda and kicked off her loafers and sat on her feet and called person after person, reciting the story of this date like someone on a witness stand, almost word for word and in stunning, gripping detail. Even her tone didn't vary. She talked and talked, seldom paused to listen, hung up, and then dialed the next person.

I thought it was a setup, that maybe I was on "Candid Camera." So I tried not to stare, a thing my kids say I do. I took notes instead. "Hi, Cara. Hi, Sara. Hey, Bill, it's me. Guess what? So I was outside at this club . . ."

But it wasn't a TV show, after all. This pretty young woman was in the middle of telling yet another person the same story when I got off the train.

In the quiet car, there is none of this. If someone is on a phone, or talking to a seatmate in a loud voice, or complaining to her husband fortissimo, some passenger invariably will speak up. "Excuse me, but this is the quiet car." And then there is an apology. "It is? I'm sorry. I didn't know."

The quiet car is that civilized.

And I like this. I read half a book in the quiet car last week. It was a terrible book, but, when I wanted to, I could close it and make the words go away. Which is what I did.

Outside the quiet car, it is getting harder and harder to make the words go away. They come at us nonstop from all directions. In elevators, in restaurants, in grocery stores, in people's cars and houses, on planes and trains and automobiles, something or someone is always talking.

It's cacophony. Even churches aren't silent. Or libraries.

But the quiet car is. Some 70 seats where words can only be whispered.

It's not for everyone. And it's not for every time. But sometimes it is perfect. Sometimes it is just what a person needs.

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