Monday, November 19, 2012

The Quiet Ones

Opinion - The New York Times - Sunday Review


Rebecca Mock
EVER since I quit hanging out in Baltimore dive bars, the only place where I still regularly find myself in hostile confrontations with my fellow man is Amtrak’s Quiet Car. The Quiet Car, in case you don’t know, is usually the first car in Amtrak’s coach section, right behind business class. Loud talking is forbidden there — any conversations are to be conducted in whispers. Cellphones off; music and movies on headphones only. There are little signs hanging from the ceiling of the aisle that explain this, along with a finger-to-lips icon. The conductor usually makes an announcement explaining the protocol. Nevertheless I often see people who are ignorant of the Quiet Car’s rules take out their cellphones to resume their endless conversation, only to get a polite but stern talking-to from a fellow passenger.
  • Not long ago a couple across the aisle from me in a Quiet Car talked all the way from New York City to Boston, after two people had asked them to stop. After each reproach they would lower their voices for a while, but like a grade-school cafeteria after the lunch monitor has yelled for silence, the volume crept inexorably up again. It was soft but incessant, and against the background silence, as maddening as a dripping faucet at 3 a.m. All the way to Boston I debated whether it was bothering me enough to say something. As we approached our destination a professorial-looking man who’d spoken to them twice got up, walked back and stood over them. He turned out to be quite tall. He told them that they’d been extremely inconsiderate, and he’d had a much harder time getting his work done because of them.
“Sir,” the girl said, “I really don’t think we were bothering anyone else.”
“No,” I said, “you were really annoying.”
“Yes,” said the woman behind them.
“See,” the man explained gently, “this is how it works. I’m the one person who says something.
 But for everyone like me, there’s a whole car full of people who feel the same way.”

In a 2006 interview David Foster Wallace said, “it seems significant that we don’t want things to be quiet, ever, anymore.” Stores and restaurants have their ubiquitous Muzak or satellite radio; bars have anywhere between 1 and 17 TVs blaring Fox and soccer; ads and 30-second news cycles play on screens in cabs, elevators and restrooms. Even some libraries, whose professional shushers were once celebrated in cartoon and sitcom, now have music and special segregated areas designated for “quiet study,” which is what a library used to be. 

1 comment:

Geoff Churchman said...

Usually on North East Corridor trains the conductor will inform (sometimes in the style of an army drill sergeant) those in the quiet car that they are expected to be quiet or they can move to another car. The problem with increased congestion is that the trains are regularly full and the quiet car is only with with seats. Still that is no excuse for not observing the rule.