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Monday, 12 March
I Take The Evening Train

On Friday, the wife and I teamed up with her brother and his wife for an exciting adventure on the SPIRIT OF WASHINGTON DINNER TRAIN! A three-hour-and-change excursion from Renton (it's Levittown for the moderately wealthy!) to a winery and back, the Dinner Train unexpectedly reveals that the Spirit of Washington is: waiters with canned schtick, hurried meal-eating, and relentless drink-gouging. Washington! It's everything the father of our country believed in.

Actually, it was sort of fun, but that's not what we're here for.

Brother-and-wife-in-law (uh . . . shut up, you know what I mean) actually live in Renton (yes, he works for Microsoft . . . I wish I had the prosodical talents to describe his expression when he told me of spending time working on projects leading up to the Vista rollout. The best I can do is say that his face looked like a Dostoevsky novel and when he spoke, ashes fell from his mouth to collect mournfully in his lap), so we met them for a drink before finding our way over to the train. After all, it's important to drink before taking a dinner train with drinks out to a winery to taste and purchase drinks before re-embarking the drinktrain to have a half-hearted dessert with drinks.

The train car we were assigned to was a double-decker, and we rode on the top level in a "domed" car. This was courtesy of the wife's parents, who have taken to Christmas-gifting their kids with adventures on outmoded travel vehicles; my tens of readers might recall last year when they gave us all two nights on a houseboat. In the years to come, I look forward to rides in stagecoaches, being shot out of torpedo tubes, and brachiating merrily through the jungles of Madagascar.

Presently--and efficiently--dinner was served shortly after boarding, just in time for some truly astounding railway sway. As we clutched at our drink glasses, skidding across the table along with our little lamp and all of our silverware, we occasionally had an opportunity to regard our food, which was serviceable in the way that any 100 or so catered meals can be. My order of medium-rare prime rib was apparently taken quite literally, as it was a uniform pink the color of the hides of dodgeballs. This was served with lifeless steamed vegetables and an inexplicable side of horseradish-laced applesauce which our waitress bragged about; it was perversely scorching and inedible and seemed like something developed by sociopaths. I mentally renamed it "sociopapples." Nobody else at the table seemed to quibble, though, possibly because most of their meals ended up on the train floor as the car shuddered hideously along the track, although it was entertaining to watch wife-in-law offer b-i-l her rather mealy-looking salad tomatoes, which he chokingly reported moments later were, in fact, hunks of grapefruit. He looked a bit green as he solemnly chewed this citrus ambush, as did the wife, succumbing slowly to motion sickness. Just what you want when you're approaching a wine tasting session.

But before anyone could get too far into the nausea zone, we were there. We had 45 minutes to storm the winery, sample a few wines (a measly three) and then fall like Cossacks on the cashiers clutching sweat-stained lists of our orders before being herded back onto the train. We did take a little extra time to take in an utterly information-free little winery tour where the biggest yuks were saved up for the inevitable utterance of the term "bunghole." I took some cheer when the tour-person noticed a sunken-eyed person with a nametag wandering around. Identifying him immediately, and also naming his shame for all gathered, she hollered, "Oh, you Mystery Train folks need to go upstairs for the Special Murder Mystery presentation!"

Yes, the train offers, hellishly, a "Murder Mystery" option, one of those horrifying immersive-theater nightmares where you and several of your favorite strangers all dully ruin an entire evening feebly trying to pretend to care about staying in character while planted actors around you all try and not stick forks in their eyes while trying to sell the idea that you're INVOLVED IN A MURRRRRRDERRRRRR, and it's all a catastrophe, because you're not an actor, and you're beginning to see why, and the actors are all hating you for, well, being you, and plus they're not drunk, and they're beginning to wonder why.

Anyway. The poor shithead looked at the tour-thing hollowly, nodded, and glumly staggered up the stairs to join the luckless Murder Mystery fools who were mercifully segregated from the rest of the group. I got the feeling that if he made it all the way upstairs without flinging himself over the bannister, he was probably going to damn well get his money's worth and genuinely murder somebody; probably one of the actors.

We eventually sampled our three wines--hurriedly--and then, yes, we grabbed a case of wine apiece (per couple), the reasoning being, "Well . . . it's a winery." We do need some new wine glasses, but I rejected all the samples shown at the place, as they were uniformly hideous: the best of the bunch were emblazoned with the winery's name, and the worst appeared to display the same design aesthetic behind the creation of the Uruk-Hai. I looked around for someone to bludgeon to death with these startling instruments, but then I remembered that the Murder Mystery folks were sequestered upstairs being glummed to death.

Finally, we were back on the train heading back home, eating either apple crisps or raspberry-chocolate things and enjoying our pre-ordered dessert drinks--the b-i-l and I had ordered cognac, and we stared at our poor choices: $9 Hennessey half-pours. Hennessey? We stared at our tiny drinklets, and swirled them unconvincingly. I'm certainly no stranger to paying exorbitant drink prices in situations just like this, but they were a little ridiculous; I wasn't expecting Manute Bol, but nor was I prepared for Peter Dinklage.

In the end, it was not as shriekingly horrible as I was dreading it to be: I was not served rubber chicken, and the grapefruit IED was actually pretty funny. We ended up with a lot of really nice wine--the Sangiovese we had tonight is just stellar--and I did not buy any Sauron-sponsored wine accessories. But most importantly, I never had to hear--or, thank God, say--anything like "Heavens! Colonel Denbury has been murdered! The murderer must be ONE OF US!"

I think it was that dead-eyed guy with the nametag. He was just looking for a getaway. I know I would. I'd kill anyone who stood in my way.

Roam | Skot | 12 Mar, 2007 |

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Comments

Seriously, Skot...you need to get yourself a syndicated column where you critique random crap because you have a thing for it. A really GOOD thing. I don't know, call it a talent or whatever, but it's defintely a thing. And good.

Comment number: 012487   Posted by: You can call me, 'Sir' on March 13, 2007 07:58 AM from IP: 152.17.114.190

"...the same design aesthetic behind the creation of the Uruk-Hai."

THAT! That, right there, is why I bother reading what you write.

I'm totally stealing that - it's the best descriptive phrase I've heard in years

Comment number: 012488   Posted by: Jado on March 13, 2007 09:36 AM from IP: 155.130.107.11

A grapefruit IED is infinitely preferable to a grapefruit IUD.

Comment number: 012490   Posted by: AndrewPDX on March 13, 2007 10:54 AM from IP: 216.151.6.99

I'm so glad you had fun, no better time than when one returns with plenty to bitch about! I think your elder in laws got the most out of it tho, can't you hear them stifling their yucks when purchasing that gift for you, Skot, cynic extraordinaire? Things that make you go hmmm...

Comment number: 012497   Posted by: Alyxmyself on March 13, 2007 07:20 PM from IP: 68.201.0.251

I like the idea of using some type of element to present your wines. If your ever interested in a wine aerator checkout our site at: http://www.finewinetoys.com

deSign Wine Aerator is a practical alternative to the traditional method of decanting wine, it allows the taste to be enhanced immediately before the wine is to be enjoyed. It also allows you the flexibility to aerate an entire bottle or simply one glass.

Comment number: 012504   Posted by: deSign Wine Aerator on March 14, 2007 06:22 AM from IP: 68.231.127.110

Thank god there's a practical alternative to the traditional method of decanting wine! I was getting SO SICK of drinking the whole bottle myself, then huddling in a corner, bawling. Now I can aerate a glass at a time, and sit at a table gently crying, instead!

Movin' UP in the world!

Comment number: 012506   Posted by: IanJ on March 14, 2007 09:58 AM from IP: 192.150.22.5

Good post. I had to go to the dictionary 3 times, and Wikipedia once. That's like a double-double or something.

Comment number: 012517   Posted by: Johnny on March 15, 2007 08:42 AM from IP: 199.244.171.147

I, too, like the idea of using some type of element to present my wines. At my next dinner party, I will be using Fire.

Comment number: 012518   Posted by: Amanda on March 15, 2007 12:45 PM from IP: 12.171.13.133

Great story. These train tours are unbelievably awful - my wife and I covered the season's first Santa Train to Leavenworth for her paper, and I was lucky not to be arrested.
Stuck in a tunnel for half an hour breathing fumes because the exhaust fans shut down, toilets that didn't work, imbecile carolers lurching down the aisles - that was just the beginning of our train of terror.
At one point, we were jam-packed on a school bus parked on a desolate field with other touristers for almost two hours. The driver wouldn't let me get off. It literally came down to a decision to either assault the bus driver to get out the door, or go back to my seat to suffer.
Last time I heard, the tour company invited us to do a travelogue on one of their China excursions. I think I would wind up pulling a rickshaw in no time.

Comment number: 012645   Posted by: Steve Stav on March 20, 2007 06:10 PM from IP: 71.227.204.245

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