There is something about human beings compacted in a cylindrical tube, hurtling between cities at a high speed, unable to maneuver in any other manner than to, say, grab a beer from the cafe car or visit the rest room. It is lost time. And when you’ve made all your cell calls, and answered the last of your email, and you are still only in Wilmington and another forty minutes from home, the last distractions are the people sitting around you.
This fellow was at the four-top table immediately behind me. I clocked him as we left New York, but as he is a busy man, and as most of our previous encounters have been a little edgy, I told myself to let well enough alone. I answered a few more emails, looked at some casting tapes on the laptop, checked the headlines. And still, with all of that done, we were only just south of Philadelphia.
I texted my son: “On the southbound Acela. Marty O’Malley sitting just behind me,” then joking, “Do I set it off?”
A moment later, a 20-year-old diplomatic prodigy fired back a reply: “Buy him a beer.”
I waited until just after Wilmington, for fear that the Governor of Maryland and I would not be able to endure the requisite formalities of forced proximity for much longer than that. Then I stood up, noticed that Mr. O’Malley was sipping a Corona, and I walked to the cafe car to get another just like it. I came back, put it on the table next to its mate, and said, simply, “You’ve had a tough week.” My reference, of course, was to the governor’s dustup with the White House over the housing of juvenile immigrants in Maryland, which became something of a spitting contest by midweek.
Mr. O’Malley smiled, said thanks, and I went back to my seat to inform my son that the whole of the State Department could do no better than he. Several minutes later, the governor of my state called me out and smacked the seat next to him.
“Come on, Dave, ” he said, “we’re getting to be old men at this point. Sit, talk.”
I joined him. He still hates “The Wire” with a taut fury. I suggested he might watch it some years from now, when there was less at stake. I am still no fan of some of his policies, especially with regard to the drug war and the use of mass arrest, but I held my tongue and told him instead that I thought he’d been misused this week by some White House aides who misrepresented his position on the immigration issue, which indeed, I believe is true. We searched for common ground and landed eventually on The Pogues, a band beloved to us both, as well as some mutual memories of the more farcical personages who once held court on the Baltimore City Council. At one point, we both lamented the death last year of Pogues guitarist Phil Chevron and sang some lyrics to Chevron’s magnificent “Faithful Departed.” This no doubt brought a vague nausea to the aide traveling with the governor and anyone else still awake in our vicinity. More than that, I can’t say, as discussion of a few other matters was agreed to be off-the-record. I will honor that.
As the train neared Baltimore, the governor suggested that perhaps we both suffered from Irish — or as I know the joke, Jewish — Alzheimers. As he explained, “That’s where you…”
“…only remember the grudges,” I finished.
We laughed, and the governor used his iPad for a photo. We shook hands, and I got off in Baltimore. He continued on to the BWI station, and, from there, I presume, to Annapolis.
Again, for the most part, I credit Amtrak, with an assist from my son. But Mr. O’Malley, who is now contemplating a presidential run, seemed last night to be as much at ease as I remember from his earliest days on the council. And me, I’m no longer trying to film a dark story in his political backyard. The two of us did okay, too, considering.