Amtrak’s Quiet Car: Utopian Silence or Bastion of Snobs?

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I was excited to snag a seat quiet car on a train ride from Baltimore to Richmond not that long ago. But just as a settled down to read my book in peace, happy to be safe from any train neighbors making extensive conference calls, the woman behind me began whispering (loudly) to her companion. It was a classic quiet car conundrum:  should I just sit there and seethe, hoping that an Amtrak official would ask them to shut up, or should I handle the shushing myself?

It’s just this tension that Tim Kreider, former Baltimore City Paper cartoonist and generally pleasant misanthrope, captured in a New York Times op-ed on Saturday. Intrusive loudness is “a pathology that seems increasingly common, I suspect in part because people now spend so much time in the solipsist’s paradise of the Internet that they carry its illusion of invisible (and inaudible) omniscience back with them out into the real world,” Kreider notes, and the quiet car is one of the few safe spaces for those of us who want to preserve a little sanctified silence in  public space.

I tend to agree. But I also can’t quite bring myself to actively shush someone; it just feels intrusive and awkward. So in a worst-case scenario, the quiet car becomes a place of quiet resentment and frustration. That’s no good, either.

What’s your quiet car policy? Do you embrace the silence or avoid it? Are you a shusher or a silent seether? Where else would you like to see a designated quiet area?



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