The title of this blog is nothing to do with Agatha Christie, unfortunately. It’s a brief account of what happened after I boarded Amtrak’s west coast train, The Coast Starlight, in Seattle yesterday morning. The Coast Starlight runs between Seattle and Los Angeles. The journey takes a grand total of 35 hours, but I was only on it for 24 (yes, just a mere 24 hours) as I disembarked at San Francisco.
We hadn’t long left Seattle and the train had just reached full speed; homesteads, outbuildings, pieces of rusty old machinery, wild trees and shrubs were flying past in an Autumnal blur. I’d taken off my would-not-be-seen-dead-wearing-this-at-home waterproof jacket and had just settled back into my comfy ‘roomette’ chair to study the crisp, white food menu and decide what to have for my lunch. Such nice, simple decisions to be faced with.
As I slotted the menu back into the wall pocket happy with my choice of lunch, the train began to brake and shudder and slow down so fast that I had to put both feet on the ground and grab hold of my laptop so it wouldn’t fly off the table, a similar sensation to the intense braking of an aeroplane after it’s landed. This braking went on and on accompanied by the continual blowing of the train whistle, during which time the Amtrak stewardess standing in the corridor shouted out, ‘It’s the emergency brake!’. Eventually the train ground to a juddering halt and the stewardess stated matter-of-factly that we had probably hit someone or something as that’s the only reason the emergency brake is used. She said it as if this sort of thing happened quite regularly, and I have since learnt that, in fact, it does. The rancid smell of burning from the braking drifted up into my roomette, a confirmation that this has been no ordinary stop. I surveyed the view from my window, it was quiet for a few moments and then a solitary male figure appeared in an Amtrak uniform, walking quickly down my side of the train, head down, fingers on the rim of his navy uniform hat. I wondered if he was the train driver and had he just been surveying the gruesome scene at the nose of his train? Five minutes later our sleeping car attendant came by and confirmed that we had indeed hit and killed someone, whether or not it was suicide, he didn’t know. I felt an immediate sense of disbelief and horror; that someone had been killed by our train, and even worse, that someone might have done it on purpose because they were so utterly desperate to end their own life. And that I had been involved, by simply being a passenger, in this sad turn of events.
This came shortly after I heard about the mass shootings in Las Vegas yesterday morning. I don’t know what’s going on in our world, all I know is that it’s not good. I’ll be travelling to Las Vegas next Sunday. I had been really excited about it, now I’m not so sure. I may have to have a sneaky ciggie and dive into some cocktails….