Always starts with a train, doesn't it?
Travelling on business, I dare to take first class train tickets, figuring, hey, I could fly: so on the train even in first I'm saving the boss a bundle. And myself a lot of hassle (though not any time). I hopped on tonight's train just as the rain started, walked through the second class section with its yellow seats two on each side of the aisle, through the door to first. Well looky: two seats each side of the aisle. Same yellow seats. The two rows of seats are face to face, but -here might be the crucial difference- they appear to be slightly farther apart than the face-to-face rows I just passed. Like, 4 inches farther.
Now, 4 inches more room to arrange everybody's feet is not to be sniffed at, especially among strangers. But the narrow fold-out table between us isn't any wider. In fact, it's annoyingly far. To use the table, I'd rather be in second. I have, fortunately, no co-traveller to tangle feet with. I do have an outlet if I need to plug something in. Hairdryer, toaster oven, 384-well thermocycler, whatever needs plugging in. This ability to plug in used to be an argument for first - if Accounting ever objected I could say I needed to use those hours of train time working on my computer. Not that I ever did. And now the whole train has them.
So what's the difference?
Physically, not a thing.
What's different is in who's next to you. Fewer crying babies and restless small children. Fewer unwashed 20-somethings (not none, I attest, just fewer) playing their particular noise very loud in spite of the headphones. Fewer smokers, bringing with them a certain penetrating perfume. There's a seriousness in first, the zone of matriarchs and businesspeople. They've read their Sartre: they know that hell is other people. More, they're concious of being their neighbor's Other.
Tonight in first to Lyon, my only companions on this side of the transparent door are two train maintenance men, on their way home after a day's work. They fascinate me in their capacity to maintain a conversation about nothing the entire 150 minutes. Changing trains at Lyon Part-Dieu, I get all of this, and three seats across to boot.
Just in time.
17 minutes ago