21 September 2009

Back of the Bus, 2009-Style

I took the Amtrak from Richmond, Virginia to Washington, D.C. on Friday. It was a long, hot day and my three traveling companions and I were tired and stood in line to board the train with about 30 other people.

When I got to near the front of the line, an Amtrak employee was directing people to either turn left as they went up the steps into the first car of the train, or right into the back three cars.

The woman in front of me started to head left and the woman yelled sharply "Right! I said 'Right.'"

She looked at me. "You're traveling with who?"

"These three people," I said.

"Group goes to the left."

We climbed up to an almost empty car and got seats.

About half an hour into the trip, I went back to the dining car at the end of the train to get some snacks.

The first car I entered was packed. And the second. And the third. I didn't think about it much because I was trying so hard not to stumble into anyone with the motion of the train, but on the way back, it hit me.

My whole car was nothing but white people. And the three cars in the back were at least 90% black people.

Seriously? Seriously. In 2009. White people comfortably in the front. Black people crowded in the back.

I didn't say anything to anyone at the time. Like I said, I was tired and wanted to move on to the next thing - a shower, since in the course of the day I had had a bucket of grits dumped on me (long story) but now I'm thinking that Phone Calls Must Be Made. Because this cannot be.

30 comments:

meno said...

Wow. That's.....appalling.

Isabella Golightly said...

That's... very odd. I'd be doing some digging, myself, into why it ended up like that. Do Amtrak trains have classes of carriage, like they do in the UK (but not in Australia, where I live now)? Maybe, just maybe, people were directed based on their ticket? You'd sure want to hope so, wouldn't you?

SUEB0B said...

Isabella - there are 2 classes on the Amtrak trains, but the upgraded class was more and I didn't pay it. Those people were in a car on the other side of the dining car from me and the three cars I walked thru.

charmingbitch said...

Ooooooooooooh this is more common than anyone would like to believe. D and I took the train from Portland to Seattle and THREE times before and during boarding we were given split directions on where to sit. By the third time I was ready to rip a strip off someone. It was gross. No more Amtrak for us.

Count Mockula said...

That is shocking!

Suzanne said...

I am horrified. I've never been directed as to where to board a train when I've gone on Amtrak, but I've never taken it south of DC. Just evil.

Suzanne said...

Although now that I think about it, when my mom took the train from Chicago to Iowa, and I think they told her where to sit. I've never heard of Amtrak having assigned seats, so I assumed it was because the train also had sleeper cars, so there was more direction involved. Whatever triggers the assignment, what happened during your train ride is vile.

Natural Makeup said...

Gosh...I didn't think that type of thing happened in this day and age, how horrible.

lizard. dot lizard. said...

I hope that you get in touch with them and get some answers. I'm hoping for a perfectly plausible explanation why, but after reading some of the other comments ... this is common? That is just depressing.

J at www.jellyjules.com said...

Seriously? That's crazy ass stuff.

lizgwiz said...

Appalling.

lizgwiz said...

Appalling.

Dave Stroup said...

it has to do with your destination. I've been directed to one of the rear cars because upon reaching a certain stop they may detach those cars. Amtrak has a serious car shortage. for example, the people in the back may have all had stops before DC or in DC. the people up front may have been going to NYC or Boston. just speculation.

CharmingDriver said...

That would be a great explanation Dave except that my husband and I were going to the same place and again, THREE times, we were given split directions on where to sit even though we made it clear we were traveling together.

We rented a car to get back to Portland and will never bother with Amtrak again.

SUEB0B said...

Dave - no one asked me my destination when I got on. They only asked who I was traveling with. It wasn't until I was settled in my seat that they asked, and people all around me were traveling to different stops along the way.

[F]oxymoron said...

WHAT!

Yes, please make a call... and then post their response.

Dave Stroup said...

It's amazing to me that you would assume that Amtrak has a corporate policy of racism.

While you don't overtly say it, you make a serious assertion that is unfounded.

Amtrak can be very disorganized, and I've had several poor experiences with service. However, the conductors and staff have always been very helpful and when I've complained about the service I have received thoughtful letters and occasionally transportation vouchers.

Many trains from Richmond to DC sell out, and it's a difficult task to figure out where to put people when you have people getting on and getting off at many stops in between.

If anything I'd fault the conductor or staff person for being unclear on their initial directions for you, but it is a hard task to keep groups together in seating that is constantly in flux for the duration of the trip.

I'd urge you to ease off on Amtrak, though. There are many complaints to be made about the passenger rail but charges of racism are ridiculous.

(In My Opinion, of course)

SUEB0B said...

Dave - what assertion did I make? I never said Amtrak has a corporate policy of racism. I told my story and said I was going to make some calls.

Anonymous said...

"My whole car was nothing but white people. And the three cars in the back were at least 90% black people."

"Seriously? Seriously. In 2009. White people comfortably in the front. Black people crowded in the back."

How on earth can you say you're not implying racism? Shame on you for even comparing this to Rosa Parks and everyone else who actually suffered under racism, not folks who happened to sit in the third car on Amtrak. Shame on you.

SUEB0B said...

Anon- Why shame on me? Because I dare to question why an Amtrak employee happened to separate people by race? I don't know why they did. But I don't think that asking is somehow shameful.

Anonymous said...

Although Amtrak has a lot of fraud, waste, and stupidity (blame the union and nepotism) the corporation is not racist. A few employees maybe, but I highly doubt this happened.

SUEB0B said...

So now I'm making this up?

CharmingDriver said...

Oh ok anon and Dave. It didn't happen to you so therefore: it not only didn't happen but it isn't even possible.

Which, if your intent is to further encourage discrimination by virtue of ignoring it and denying it, good call.

But if you stop for one second and consider it is not only possible but likely in this huge world that people could have experiences that differ from what you, personally, have seen and witnessed maybe your ''opinion'' will broaden or change.

In other words, the world is bigger than the end of your nose and we welcome your participation.

MichaelSick said...

So, uh, what became of the calls?

LiteralDan said...

I'd be interested to hear the explanation of how this is a coincidence.

Somebody else mentioned the possibility of people being sorted by destination along the line, etc., and then it could be a demographic issue beyond their control or discretion. Was the front car nicer, or just less crowded at that time?

I've never had a similar experience on Amtrak, but I have a feeling a lot of these things are up to the staff on each train.

Still, that has to be a really unnerving experience.

Schmutzie said...

I'm not shocked. I wish I were.

Wife and Mommy said...

Wow. I'm a bit shocked.

What was the race of the Amtrak employee who was "sorting" people as they boarded the train?ng (not that it makes the situation any better one way or the other)? I'm just curious.

SUEB0B said...

Wife and Mommy - The lady who was directing us was black.

I talked to a friend who said "Well, maybe everyone likes it better this way," and I said "Even if every single person who happened to be on that train at the time agreed to this arrangement, it would still be wrong."

Jacob said...

I ride Amtrak a lot, and would be interested in hearing the results of your phone calls. Hope they'll be posted here!

There is another non-race-based explanation for being directed one way or another. On some trains, especially sold-out trains, Amtrak seems to direct people traveling with others to one car and people traveling solo to another. Why they do this I haven't the faintest idea, since it seemed to me to cause even more headaches for the conductor. Probably it allows families and groups to sit together rather than being broken up by randomly-placed businessmen, sullen solo teens, etc. From your conductor's surly sorting act, it sounds like this may be what was going on.

Anonymous said...

Overnight trains have cars based on service class. Coach is separated from sleeper class. The lounge car and the dining car are the cars that separate these classes. Not saying that this had any affect on your observations, but having traveled on trains frequently, I know that sleepers are separated from coaches by the diner and lounge.

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