The Real Rules Of The Quiet Car


I’m the sort of person who runs for the Quiet Car. I know, I know: We’re annoying. But I can’t resist being one of the jerks who lines up thirty minutes before my train boards just so that I can be sure to get in on the Quiet. Any place where humans aren’t allowed to talk is my kinda place. So, if you are in front of me on the platform, and you are slow, heaven help you. A train with a Quiet Car is great not just because of the silence, but because of the strictness with which that silence is obeyed. It’s worth experiencing, just for the gladiator-like spectacle. But be warned: While Amtrak lists only one rule for attendance–a “Library Like Atmosphere”–there are many more codes known to us Quiet Car veterans. Here is a list. Ignore them at your peril.

The Penalty For Talking Is Everyone Will Want To Kill You:

I know what you’re thinking. “Sure, I’m in the Quiet Car, but it’s okay if I ask my seatmate just one quick little question, right?” The answer is no, it’s not okay. Or, rather, it is–as long you’re comfortable with 45 strangers wanting to rip the flesh off your body like angry zombies. There are serial killers who have gotten more sympathetic hearings than people talking in the Quiet Car. In fact, I’m confident that OJ Simpson would’ve been convicted if prosecutors had added, “Oh, and after he killed his wife, OJ sat down in an Amtrak Quiet Car and said to the person next to him, in full voice, ‘Good Afternoon!’” Life in prison, no hope for parole. You might think “Library Rules” means it’s fine to whisper, but what it really means is that there is no message so important that it can’t be mouthed out or written down. Even “Could you please get the pills out of my bag for me? I fear I am going to die.” Write it down, sick-o! And use a quiet pencil!

Every Passenger Is A Deputized Officer Of Silence:

You know how every flight now has a secret air marshall on it, who’s ready to defend the plane should trouble arise? Well, the Quiet Car is the same way, except that the marshall is everyone. And “trouble” is any noise made by anything ever. Rustle your newspaper and an unmarked citizen will launch from their seat to rip that paper from your hands. Forget to silence the ring on your cellphone and before you know it, a discreet housewife is on top of you, telling you to keep it down. You might think passengers would wait for the conductor to handle the problem, but no: The Quiet Car metes out justice as it sees fit. The authoritarian could be anyone. Maybe the sweet little Asian man typing happily on his laptop. Or the seemingly carefree college girl reading an US Weekly. No one is carefree in the Quiet Car. And if you cross them, you will pay.

If You Are Old, You Can Talk As Much As You Want:

Everybody has different things in life that they enjoy. For young folks, it’s hooking up at parties. For the middle-aged, it’s watching their children grow and learn. For senior citizens, it’s talking their asses off in the Quiet Car. I don’t know whether they genuinely don’t understand that the Car means business, or if it’s just that when you’re gonna die soon you figure “I’m talking where and whenever I damn-well please,” but the next old person to remain silent in the Quiet Car will be the first. The best part is when someone tries to remind the chatty grandparent that no talking is allowed, and they respond by saying “WHAT?!” in the loudest voice in the history of the world. Then the warning is repeated, and the old person says “QUIET CAR?! But I’m being quiet!” and everyone tries to figure out whether it’s alright to laugh. It’s like Who’s On First set in a silent, comfortable prison. Are they really confused, or is it an elaborate ruse by seniors to do whatever they want? I’m not sure. But if it’s a trick, well played, old people, well played. (Seriously though, shut up.)

If You Wander Into The Quiet Car Accidentally, You Will Not Be Given Immunity:

My favorite moment of Quiet Car travel is when I watch someone board the train mid-trip and innocently pop into the Car because it happened to stop in front of them. They didn’t see the sign, they don’t know they’re not allowed to talk. And you know who gives a shit? No one. They get pounced on just like everyone else. First there’s the throat clearing. Then the angry looks. Then the, “You’re in the Quiet Car!” yelled by six people at once. It’s brutal and it’s hilarious, like all good things in life.

Cupping Your Hand Over Your Cellphone Conversation Does Not Make It Silent:

I’m not explaining this one. Hands do not count as walls.

Breaking These Rules In Order To Speak To The Cute Girl Next To You Is Not Permitted:

Ever been turned down mid-flirt by an aggressive “Shhhh!”? I have. Not great for the self-esteem. But it serves me right. You mess with the Quiet Car, it messes with you right back.

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