Sunday, May 15, 2011

First to Marseille.

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.


steven said...

in my life i've only travelled in first once. thirty years ago on a flight from chicago to denver. i was unable to refuse the offers of free liquor and arrived in a hilarious albeit slightly dazed state. fortunately the limo driver was waiting at arrivals and guided me adroitly to the place i was staying. since then i've accepted my suffering in cattle class!! steven

Jessica Maybury said...

I'd love to travel first class ANYWHERE. I really liked your description. It was very quiet, and reminded me of a train journey I used to take from Kildare to Dublin. I'd be in Kildare for about 3 hours, modelling for this artist guy, and I'd get the last train back to Dublin. It would be pitch black night and the platform would be deserted. The train was usually completely empty too, just all the windows looking out onto the black night. Once when I was getting off the train in Dublin though, two men came out of a bathroom at the end of one of the carriages. That was the most exciting thing that ever happened though.

Titus said...

Excuse me focusing on just one aspect. You can still smoke on French trains?

NanU said...

No, you can't, Titus, but knowing this, the smokers stock up all the smoke they can in their lungs and on their clothes and in their hair, and they generate their own personal cloud.
Aw, train first isn't nearly as fun as first on a plane, steven! you still have to pay exhorbitant prices for snacks, and nobody comes around with blankets to tuck you in.
I do love the atmosphere of an empty train at night too, Jessica!