In October 2003, we traveled across to Washington DC and back on one of those daily Amtrak trains connecting Boston to Washington DC. Our train was 45 minutes late at New Jersey (not an infrequent occurrence as you would suppose), and we hustled our way into the business coach past an old coach attendant.

For nearly four hours, I was privy to a series of humorous tête-à-têtes between the old and yet very chirpy easterner (the coach attendant) and most of us. Twinkling blue eyes and an exaggerated drawl captivated us with anecdotes, regaled us with numerous perspectives and tickled our funny bones till no end.

However as we neared Philadelphia, an old frail lady came up to him and requested him to help her out with her luggage down to a platform six inches high from the ground, and a couple of feet below the door. Our man flatly refused, a gesture that was rather inconsistent with what all of us had experienced of him in the past few hours.

He then spoke of a story that caught all of us on the backfoot...

It seems that an older colleague of his had approached the Amtrak Management a month before, seeking financial help for an operation on his shoulder (cuff-motor). The management wanted to know what went wrong. The old man explained that years of helping passengers with their luggage off and onto the coach, had resulted in such an injury.

The Management sacked him immediately!

The pretext was that his job responsibilities of a Coach Attendant (the Amtrak Manual) did not include such civilized gestures. Afraid that it might set a precedent, the good natured man was asked to quit immediately with no pension and other retirement benefits. The man otherwise would have retired in the next 6 months.

None of us from there on could retain our lighthearted bonhomie for the remainder of the journey.