Conflict in the quiet car

Tim Kreider reports from the front lines of the battle for our vanishing quiet areas: Amtrak’s quiet car.

I was sitting in my seat, listening to music at a moderate volume on headphones and writing on my laptop, when the man across the aisle — the kind you’d peg as an archivist or musicologist — signaled to me.

“Pardon me, sir,” he said. “Maybe you’re not aware of it, but your typing is disturbing people around you. This is the Quiet Car, where we come to be free from people’s electronic bleeps and blatts.” He really said “bleeps and blatts.”

“I am a devotee of the Quiet Car,” I protested. And yes, I said “devotee.” We really talk like this in the Quiet Car; we’re readers. “I don’t talk on my cellphone or have loud conversations — ”

“I’m not talking about cellphone conversations,” he said, “I’m talking about your typing, which really is very loud and disruptive.”

I was at a loss. I learned to write on a typewriter, and apparently I still strike the keyboard of my laptop with obsolete force. “Well,” I said, trying to figure out which of us, if either, was the jerk here, “I don’t think I’m going to stop typing. I’m a writer; I sit in here so I can work.”

He was polite but implacable. “If you won’t stop, I’ll have to talk to the conductor,” he said.

Looking around, I saw that the Quiet Car wasn’t crowded; there were plenty of empty seats. “I’m not going to leave the Quiet Car,” I told him, “but since it’s bothering you, I will move to another seat.” He thanked me very courteously, as did the woman in front of me. “It really was quite loud,” she whispered.

When the train came to my stop I had to walk by his seat again on my way out. “Glad we could come to a peaceful coexistence,” I said as I passed. He raised a finger to stay me a moment. “There are no conflicts of interest,” he pronounced, “between rational men.” This sounded like a questionable proposition to me, but I appreciated the conciliatory gesture. The quote turns out to be from Ayn Rand. I told you we talked like this in the Quiet Car.


4 thoughts on “Conflict in the quiet car

  1. “There are no conflicts of interest between rational men.”
    This is very true, so long as one keeps in mind what “interest” really means, and that it is not synonymous with “desire.”

      • Just to make sure I’m completely clear in my meaning: This was Ayn Rand’s position: that one’s “interests” mean what is really good for his own life in the long-term. Under any normal (non-emergency) circumstances, there is no conflict between the actual well-beings of individuals. But if people take their “interests” to be whatever they desire, simply because they desire it, then these are not rational men and their so-called “interests” will conflict.

      • I can’t say I’m a Randian (nor have I read any of her books), but that position takes a pretty optimistic outlook on human nature — one that I probably don’t share. 🙂 Nevertheless, it’s a nice thought!

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