I was riding the Amtrak from Chicago Illinois to Seattle Washington, going home after visiting relatives and on the second day decided to get drunk. Normally I’m more of a pot smoker, but figured I couldn’t get away with it on a train in the middle of the day. I went to the café car, which was downstairs from the observation deck, at 4:00 PM when happy hour started. I ordered six cans of margarita and tequila sunrises and sat down to play poker with an older group sitting at one of the booths. I played for several hours before they left for the diner car and I moved to the back of the café to play poker with some more rowdy individuals.
The leader of this group of drinkers was a guy who called himself Arkansas, a large college age man, who seemed like the type who would have been a football playing jock if not for his love of alcohol and parties. Arkansas was very loud, excited, and clearly enjoying his trip.
When I came back and introduced myself, Arkansas informed me that he had recently declared that everyone in the café car should be referred to by the state they were from. I introduced myself as Washington. We also had Idaho, an elderly lady who also enjoyed her alcohol and was sure to let me know that even though her name was Idaho, she was not a ho. I believe a man was named Ottowa (we nicknamed him Canada) but I don’t remember much about him. There was also California, a guy who liked to party, but wouldn’t drink with us at that time, because his eight year old son, California Junior was also hanging out with us.
California Junior had a strange toy laptop that had dozens of educational games that he had clearly played many times before. He sat for hours punching buttons on that thing, playing game after game, getting nearly perfect scores every time. The games however, were not easy to understand and the rest of us tried to look over his shoulder and simply could not understand what he was doing or what the game wanted him to do. Some of us tried to play it and all but California were baffled by it. Apparently this kid had studied the instructions or something.
For happy hour we had all gotten cups of pretzels, crackers and cheetos, and we used these snacks as poker chips, in honor of the old Roseanne sitcom.
Idaho had snuck some hard liquor onboard, and for a reason I don’t recall had transferred it into a wine bottle instead of sneaking it on in something less suspicious. We took a few shots when the café attendant wasn’t looking.
As the hours passed, there were several others who came to drink and play poker for shorter periods so there was always four or five players passing snacks back and forth.
Arkansas continued drinking, along with the rest of us, while California looked longingly at the alcohol. Arkansas continued insisting that everyone call themselves by their state, and eventually started getting up to introduce himself to everyone who came into the café car and explain the naming convention. We all continued getting drunker as the night wore on, but Arkansas was still the leader of our pack of total strangers and was definitely the loudest, drunkest, and seemed to be having the most fun.
Eventually California Junior went to bed and California finally started drinking a little after midnight. He had a couple beers as the café car started clearing out. But soon the café attendant decided to close the alcohol sales for the night since he had been putting up with about eight hours of rowdiness and the only people who wanted alcohol were in our group.
Idaho got off somewhere in Idaho after chugging the last of her private stash, and it was just Arkansas, California and I left in the car. Arkansas expressed his admiration of Idaho and her ability to still be an alcoholic that far into old age.
But California did not seem happy and was complaining that he was still sober.
The attendant closed up the little snack stand at the end of the car and left to go to bed.
At this point we had finally given up on poker and had cleaned up all the snack mix and the rest of our garbage from the evening. I grossed them out by eating a few crackers before throwing them away.
I sat down in a booth facing Arkansas. California sat in the booth behind me, and we chatted, though I don’t remember the subject.
Suddenly, practically mid-sentence, Arkansas got up and said, “I’m going to bed,” and marched off, up the stairs to the observation deck which connected to the passenger cars.
California came around to sit in the same booth with me and started complaining about how Arkansas had gotten him cut off and went on about how responsible he had been for not drinking in front of his son, and how it was so unfair. I gave him the rest of my last beer which seemed to brighten his mood a little.
But several moments later a couple Amtrak employees came down and came up to California. “We heard a rumor that you have a weapon on board,” one of them said.
California looked shocked. “No, of course not. Who said that?”
“A woman said she overheard someone talking about it. It’s probably just a misunderstanding, but we need to double check whenever anybody even jokes about it. You didn’t threaten anyone with a knife, or say that you had one?”
California shook his head.
“You understand that even if you don’t have a knife, just threatening someone or even joking about it can get you kicked off. We can stop the train anywhere over any kind of threat.”
“Yeah, that seems fair,” said California. “But I don’t have any weapons and I never said anything like that.”
“Okay, well you need to come with us so we can get this straightened out.”
“Sure, no problem.”
And they left.
I was then left in the café car with another Amtrak employee who was eyeing me very suspiciously. I took the remnants of my last beer and finished it.
After a few minutes I went upstairs to sit by myself in the more comfortable seats and stare out the observation lounge windows at the scenery passing by. The employee followed me up and wandered away.
I spaced out for about ten minutes before Arkansas came through the door from another car. He walked rapidly, head down. He stopped when he saw me. “Hey,” he said. “What are you doing up? I’m just heading back to my seat before the shit goes down.”
“What shit?” I asked.
He cocked his head. “The psycho… that one guy… I don’t know his name… we were calling him California.” And suddenly, Arkansas didn’t seem to be having fun any more. “Do you not remember that? Did he not seem like a psychopath to you?”
I shrugged. “A little whiny cuz he couldn’t drink,” I said.
“Yeah; no shit. And I thought I was a problem drinker… Did you not see him pull the knife? You were sitting right between us.”
The door to the next car opened and California walked in. Arkansas turned around and threw up his hands. “Dude, I don’t want no trouble.”
“You son of a bitch narced me off,” California said, pointing at Arkansas.
“I told one girl!” Arkansas replied. “She was the one who ratted you out.”
“Did you not see me lying for you?”
“Only because you know I’d fucking kill you if you didn’t.”
“Dude!” Arkansas said. “Chill out! We need to make nice or we’re all getting kicked off. I just want to go to bed now, okay?”
“You don’t care about anyone but yourself,” California said. “You just acted like a jackass all night and just didn’t care that I got fucked over.”
Arkansas gave a frustrated sigh. “I’m sorry, alright! Can I just go to bed now?”
“You’re standing in my way.”
“So just walk past me.”
And they stared at each other.
“You afraid I’ll stab ya?” California asked. “You afraid of me?”
“Yeah,” Arkansas replied. “I thought we’d established that. You pulled a knife on me and I lied to the conductor for you. Give me a fucking break, dude. I’m sorry I got you cut off, now chill out.”
And California seemed to calm down a bit and looked over at me. “Washington! What’re you doin?”
“Just watchin’ the drama,” I said. “It’s like 90210.”
And they got a mild chuckle, but still California stood threateningly, blocking Arkansas’ route back to his seat.
“So you threatened him with a knife?” I asked California. “While we were downstairs and you were sitting in the booth behind me.”
California didn’t respond.
“Yeah, exactly,” Arkansas said.
“So why didn’t you warn me instead of leaving me with someone pulling knives on you?”
“Because he only cares about himself,” California said.
“Dude, can you please just step aside and let me go back to my seat,” Arkansas said. “Seriously… I don’t want to do this anymore.”
“Wow,” I said. “You guys are serious… I thought you were pulling one over on me… I was gonna ask if you guys wanted to go smoke some weed, but I guess that’s a bad idea now.”
And they both looked at me. “You have pot?” asked Arkansas. “For real?”
“Yeah.” I shrugged. “Got like a half ounce.”
They both seemed shocked. “You’re fuckin’ crazy bringin’ that shit on the train,” California said.
“You’re the one pulling out knives,” I replied. “But we’re obviously not getting along here so I think we should all just go back to our seats and sleep this off.”
“Is it good weed?” Arkansas asked. “Don’t you guys get BC hydro up there?”
I nodded. “It’s better than what you can get in Arkansas; that’s for sure.”
“Well…” Arkansas said. “I’d kinda like to smoke… I haven’t smoked since the east coast.”
“Yeah,” California said. “I could go for a bowl.” He held out his hand to Arkansas. “I’m sorry I pulled the knife on you, bro… I didn’t mean it like a real threat… but it was totally out of line…”
“Okay, cool,” Arkansas replied, shaking his hand. “I’m sorry for being such a jackass all night.”
And they looked at me. “So how the hell are we going to get away with smoking on a train?”
“Just smoke in the smoking car,” I said.
“Oh, hell no,” California said. “If anyone came in we’d be busted instantly.”
“It’s two in the morning. I’ve been here for half an hour and haven’t seen anyone. Even if someone did come in, we could hide the weed. You guys both smoke cigarettes, so light up cigarettes to cover the smell. Most people don’t know what weed smells like, and if they do, they’re usually cool with it.”
“No way,” California said. “What we need to do is go downstairs, right next to the smoking room and open the emergency window and blow the smoke outside.”
“Are you crazy dude?” I asked.
“There’s no alarm on it,” he said. “It’s just a window. You can just pop it off and on. I’ve done it before.”
“No way,” I said. “If we get caught fucking with their emergency systems they’ll kick us off for sure. Most people don’t care if you smoke a little weed.”
California laughed. “Oh, yeah, like we’re endangering people’s lives…”
“I’d like to think that Amtrak cares more about the safety of their passengers than they do about catching a couple pot smokers. If we remove the emergency window, then we’re fucking with their emergency systems, and we’re smoking weed… plus we’re smoking outside of the smoking room! Arkansas, back me up here!”
Arkansas put his head in his hands. “Please, God, I just don’t want to argue anymore. Let’s just open the emergency exit and get it over with.”
I shook my head. “No. You’re both freakin crazy. You’re making this way more complicated than you need to. All we need to do is act cool. It’s my weed, my pipe, and my lighter, and I say we’re not opening a fucking emergency exit to smoke a bowl.”
They both looked at each other and sighed nervously. “Okay,” said California. “It’ll probably be okay… this train seems deserted now anyway.”
“Okay,” I said. “Wait here and I’ll grab my weed from my suitcase.” But just as I took the first step, the door on the far end of the car opened and the conductor came jogging toward us, followed by two other Amtrak employees.
“I just got word that you said something about a gun,” he said to California.
“What!” California replied. “Why are people always accusing me of things?”
The conductor looked at Arkansas. “And I’ve talked with another individual who claims to have overheard you telling the story of this gentleman pulling a knife. Are you sure he didn’t threaten you?”
Arkansas looked shocked. “Nah, dude,” he said. “We’re buddies.” He gave California a playful jab to the shoulder. “I wouldn’t protect someone who pulls a knife on me… I’m not retarded.”
“But now we have a third person claiming that you made a comment about having a gun or shooting someone.” the conductor said. “You’re gonna need to come with us. Now.”
And he led California off.
One of the two employees stayed behind and asked us repeatedly if we’d seen any evidence of California’s weapons. We both just shook our heads.
“I suggest the two of you head to bed now,” he said.
“That sounds like a great idea,” Arkansas said, turning toward the door. “Have a nice life, Washington.”
I went back to my seat and tried to sleep. About ten minutes later the train stopped at a random location for about a minute, then started up again.