What Chris Christie learned in the quiet car

Story highlights

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie exited Amtrak's quiet car for speaking loudly

Dean Obeidallah: This sends a clear message to all who go into a quiet car

Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM’s weekly program “The Dean Obeidallah Show,” a columnist for The Daily Beast and editor of the politics blog The Dean’s Report. Follow him on Twitter: @TheDeansreport. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

CNN —  

Sunday marked a great day for America. Nay, a great day for mankind. For you see, on Sunday morning, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was asked to leave Amtrak’s quiet car for speaking loudly on his cell phone.

I promise you that I’m not being partisan in celebrating Christie’s heave-ho from this special place. I would be just as overjoyed if Hillary Clinton were tossed out for breaking the car’s rules. Hell, I’d have the identical reaction if Pope Francis did what Christie did. (Of course, the Pontiff never would.)

So what did Christie do that was truly unforgivable to those, like me, who frequently seek refugee in Amtrak’s quiet car? Well, according to an eyewitness, it all started when the Republican presidential candidate entered the quiet car in a decidedly unquiet way. Christie reportedly walked into this sanctuary from excessive noise in mid-bluster, giving an earful to two aides traveling with him over some “mix-up with the seating arrangements.”

Dean Obeidallah
Dean Obeidallah

If that weren’t bad enough, Christie then did something truly reprehensible. I’m talking about the quiet car equivalent of a high crime or misdemeanor that merits the impeachment of a president. The governor took out his cell phone and began talking. All who treasure the quiet car have just collectively shrieked after reading that Christie made a phone call in our special place.

The next thing you know, the conductor approached Christie and informed him that this was the quiet car and that cell phone conversations were forbidden. Christie, to his credit, then exited the car.

Christie’s spokesperson released a statement acknowledging that the governor has recognized the error: “The Governor accidentally took a seat in Amtrak’s notorious quiet car. After breaking the cardinal rule of the quiet car, the Governor promptly left once he realized the serious nature of his mistake train from the cafe car.” The spokesperson added, “Sincere apologies to all the patrons of the quiet car that were offended.”

While I, along with all quiet car riders reject Christie’s spokesperson describing our hallowed place as “notorious,” we do accept his sincere apologies.

But still, this was like Bastille Day and “shot heard round the world” rolled into one. The Amtrak conductor made it clear to all those in that car, and by extension the world, that the rules of the quiet car apply to all people, even a powerful sitting governor.

So why is this specific train car so treasured? Let me put it this way, I have been to Promised Land and it’s called the Amtrak quiet car. Just look at the very words Amtrak uses to describe this respite from reality on its website. It begins simply enough: “Need a quiet space to work or unwind?” Who among us doesn’t need a quiet place to unwind?!

Amtrak then goes on to promise us even more: “Guests are asked to limit conversation and speak in subdued tones.” And then here’s the line that almost moves me to tears: “Phone calls are not allowed.”

Let’s all pause for a moment and contemplate a place where you are not compelled to listen to other people’s idiotic cell phone calls. What a contrast to today’s world where strangers’ cell phone conversations are the soundtrack my life. I no longer have songs that I can’t get out of my head. I now have other people’s cell phone conversations. Sometimes I actually need to listen to songs like “The Final Countdown” or even the dreaded, “Who Let the Dogs Out?” in order to drive their cell chatter from my mind and have something else to fixate on.

The quiet car offers a respite from all that noise. And when I’m in it I’m serious about the quiet. Let me share something I never revealed to anyone before: I once went to the conductor and ratted out a guy who had been talking on his cell phone in the quiet car.

That passenger was then asked to leave. I will always remember the embarrassed look on that passenger’s face as he took the walk of shame, cast out from paradise and into a brutal world filled with people incessantly speaking loudly into their cell phones, sharing every inane detail of their lives.

And here’s the thing: I’d do it again in a heartbeat. That’s right, I’m an intolerant person, at least when it comes to the quiet car.

So Christie being told no phone calls in the quiet car is music to my ears. It sends a clear and unequivocal message to all who dare enter this sanctuary: Be quiet, or be gone!

Editor’s note: This opinion essay has been updated to reflect more perspectives, including views from more passengers and the governor’s office.

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