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Author Topic: Trip Report Part 1-Crescent/Capitol
palmland
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Our sleeper was named Imperial View. While not as nice as Imperial State, as seen on North by Northwest, it was still an auspicious start for our western odyssey. So it was that we boarded the Crescent, car 2010 - Bedroom A, in Birmingham for the first leg of our trip to my father in -law’s home in Scottsdale to celebrate his 90th birthday.

Using AGR points we devised a circuitous route that began with our first leg to Washington. It had been a very long time since I had been on the former Southern Railway line between Birmingham and Washington and it was nice to get reacquainted. I had forgotten how attractive the scenery was as the train weaved through the remnants of the Blue Ridge mountains in north Alabama. The hardwood forests and rolling hills of Virginia were dotted with classic farms and a few vineyards. It was a welcome relief from the monotony of the coastal plain and, yes, the many pine trees that we are used to.

It was good to have dinner in a heritage diner again, even if it had an over abundance of plastic from an earlier remodel effort. The food, however, was unfortunate. The catfish I had was clearly a different species than the one I had on CONO a couple years ago. My wife’s vegetarian pasta dish was maybe o.k. Anticipating many high calorie, high fat meals to come, we stuck with the continental breakfast. Sadly, the oatmeal was tasteless, but, the frosted flakes were quite good.

The dinning car crew was trying hard and I’ll leave it at that. Charlotte, our sleeping car attendant, was friendly and energetic and had a bag of ice awaiting those in need of a pre dinner toast to the start of a trip.

In spite of the floods earlier in the week that had blocked this line near Atlanta for two days, and the resulting backlog of freight trains, we arrived in Atlanta only 40” late.
Overnight, we made up time and arrived in Washington 5” early. The NS does operate a good railroad. The sleeper we had was in good shape mechanically. Everything, except a reluctant reading light, worked. No duct tape required. However it was in dire need of cleaning and repainting the faded interior.

We had a good time in Washington exploring that impressive station again. We were joined at lunchtime by a college friend and enjoyed a long lunch in the restaurant in the center of the spectacular concourse. Soon it was time to board the Capitol for the next leg of the trip to Chicago.

Walking out to the track, I kept getting flashbacks of the same walk to see the Capitol when it was operated by the Baltimore and Ohio railroad as their flagship train. Then it had 8 or 9 pullmans, a twin unit diner, and wonderful observation – lounge on the rear. But, this is 2009 and I’ll take today’s Capitol.

Bedroom E in ‘Connecticut’ was very welcoming. It was clear that our attendant, Lou, was something special when he gave us detailed introduction to the car. Later, we learned he was also something of a history buff, giving detailed information on the history of Civil War era towns of Harpers Ferry and Martinsburg. We enjoyed sharing railroad stories throughout the trip. He also is assigned to work Amtrak office cars on occasion. If there were more Lou’s, Amtrak customer service would be top notch.

Again, the equipment on the train was mechanically good, but very faded and, in the case of the lounge, peeling paint on the interior. The dining car crew was good and handled the crowd without any problems. The chef was also much improved over the Crescent and produced very good crab cakes. I even relented at breakfast and had good bacon and eggs (but would prefer to see fried eggs back on the menu).

And, much to my surprise, the Cross Country Café car was not too bad. Sure it was a dumb idea for a train the size of the Capitol. But on a train with a small crowd, it would have been just fine. Only the dining area was being used, the lounge remained empty. The crew was very wise in seating only 3 at the strange booth that supposedly held four. The rest of the seating was in pretty standard tables for four. Change out those odd booths, and you have a very workable dining area. The lounge area would also work just fine for, well, lounging. A counter area was closed off that would work well for a bar and serving area. Why can’t Amtrak get it right?

We encountered a brief delay before Cumberland, but after that it was clear sailing. Certainly the G-20 meeting did not slow us down in Pittsburgh and probably helped for a speedy stop. Chicago arrival was 20” early at 8:20 am. Other than sprucing up the equipment, Amtrak would be hard pressed to have done a better job.

The passengers we met in the diner were quite a cross section and resulted in lengthy enjoyable conversations. They included: a lady who is a ****** cancer survivor and is now on a mission to spread the word on early detection to her black community in Mississippi. She was extremely articulate and will do a great job. Also on the Crescent we met a cardiologist and his wife on the way to see their son who has entered medical school in NY. On the Capitol we talked with a couple from the Netherlands who were on a 7 month around the world adventure. They were using a USA Rail Pass for the portion of the trip in this country. And finally we talked with a young man who was returning to Chicago to pick up his car after moving to New Jersey to begin his PhD work in chemical engineering.

Our early arrival in Chicago gave us time to sort our dirty laundry and grab another cup of coffee before meeting Mr. Norman for a very enjoyable lunch. He escorted us to the very pleasant Miller’s pub where we felt compelled to eat healthy, again, in spite of the succulent beef offerings they had. Then it was back to the station for the next segment of our adventure, the California Zephyr. More on that in a few days.

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TBlack
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Sounds like a wonderful trip, so far. Amtrak seems to be shining in these recessionary days. I particularly noticed that you, too, had lunch with GBN in Chicago. That evolution is becoming an institution for all of us. I, for one, highly recommend it to anyone going through his city.

TB

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smitty195
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I wish I could experience a Heritage diner...that's one type of car I've never been on with Amtrak. I've heard lots of good things about those cars (and I agree....the Cross Country Cafe was a dumb idea from the get-go).

It's funny that the forum software turned the word that is synonymous with "boob" into asterisks. [Smile]

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Henry Kisor
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Even though the remark about an "articulate" African-American made me wince, I found this a first-class trip report. Good going, Palmland!
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Gilbert B Norman
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Yes, Mr. Palmland, you and Miss Mary did indeed eat "healthy' at Miller's Pub, GBN of course, in the Miller's Pub tradition, did not. But until GBN's ankle heals and can get back to his two miles a day walking regimen (note that in the thirty years I've resided in Clarendon Hills, yesterday was the first time I ever DROVE to and parked at the train station), he too should learn to "eat healthy'.

To continue:

******

I certainly agree, Mr. Smith, that the filters are too repressive for the mature group that congregates here. On the train home yesterday, I was talking with two women who were of age that it was "time to start getting checked out' and were both wearing pink Komen Fund T-Shirts. I said I had supported the organization in that when a neighbor deceased last July at age 54, her family requested "...in lieu of flowers'.

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train lady
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Henry, I think you are too quick to wince. Palmland did not say the woman was black or African American ( a phrase that annoys me muchly.Why can't people just be Americans?)She could have been a very articulate white woman. I live on the edge of a black community that has been there since the Civil war. Black woman have a higher rate of that form of cancer . If any of my friends who live there needed to be reminded to get check ups I wouldn't hesitate to push them. Fortunately they have a very big group of educated, politically active women who are aware of the needs of the community.Some neighborhoods are not so fortunate be they black, white (or green)
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amtrak92
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Nice report. Seams like the sleeping car attendants are getting better. I have had one really awesome one in the last decade, and his name was Allan, and it was on the Silver Star. Everyone else just doesn't match, but these guys seam like they do. Hope you have an enjoyable trip
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Gilbert B Norman
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quote:
Originally posted by palmland:
And, much to my surprise, the Cross Country Café car was not too bad. Sure it was a dumb idea for a train the size of the Capitol. But on a train with a small crowd, it would have been just fine. Only the dining area was being used, the lounge remained empty. The crew was very wise in seating only 3 at the strange booth that supposedly held four. The rest of the seating was in pretty standard tables for four. Change out those odd booths, and you have a very workable dining area. The lounge area would also work just fine for, well, lounging. A counter area was closed off that would work well for a bar and serving area. Why can’t Amtrak get it right?

As we are all likely aware here, Amtrak has allocated some of their ARRA '09 appropriation to rebuilding three 380XX Diners to enable full Dining service again on 29-30, Capitol Limited (CL in forumese).

Reportedly, Amtrak intends to assign the released 37000-37016 Diner Lounges as a CHI-PDX Diner line on 27-28 (Portland) Empire Builder (EB), which would require six cars. In addition to the other existing assingments of 58-59, City (CONO), and 21-22, Texas Eagle (TE) requiring three cars each. At that time twelve cars would be required, leaving five as protect and spare, or 29% unassigned.

While I'm not certain if these cars with their existing kitchen equipment could handle fully prepared meals, they can, with adequate staffing, have both ends in service as Diners. Such was the case with the 2008 Good Morning America train, but on which somehow I doubt if the "on airs", such as Diane Sawyer, Robin Roberts, and Chris Cuomo, were chowing down along with the producers and technicians.

But to continue:

quote:
Originally posted by palmland:
Our sleeper was named Imperial View. While not as nice as Imperial State, as seen on North by Northwest, it was still an auspicious start for our western odyssey

Obviously, the Amtrak "car namers" were not concerned with Pullman Company's long standing dictum that neither car names or series would be 'recycled'. "Imperial View" was a 1938 vintage 4-4-2 acquired by the PRR. Granted that car was of the "Imperial--' series, however Pullman did have a "--View' series also PRR for Master Room-Obs Lounges. While I'm prepared to stand corrected on this point, Pullman did not have any series named for States, as does Amtrak with the S-II Sleepers. Had the naming of the S-I Sleepers moved forth with "--Park', it would not have had conflicts with any lightweight Pullmans, H/W's I defer to Mr. Pullman. While the CP had (and VIA has) Budd Dome Obs in "--Park" series, they are, suffice to say, named for Canadian parks.

However, since the Gunn administration, Amtrak has simply taken the 'subway car" and/or bureaucrat's way out i.e. get rid of the names. For a little "touch of class" that costs as good as nothing, I "can't see it".

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notelvis
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Frightening Thought -

Would a Cross-Country Cafe car on the Chicago-Portland route mean the end of Sightseer Lounges along the Columbia River.

I hope not.

--------------------
David Pressley

Advocating for passenger trains since 1973!

Climbing toward 5,000 posts like the Southwest Chief ascending Raton Pass. Cautiously, not nearly as fast as in the old days, and hoping to avoid premature reroutes.

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Gilbert B Norman
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Contrary thought

Would a Cross-Country Cafe car on the Chicago-Portland route mean the return of Sightseer Lounges from which to view the Cascades and Puget Sound?

Time for a lesson on life from Mick:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_0jyKabLHVc

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smitty195
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quote:
Originally posted by notelvis:
Frightening Thought -

Would a Cross-Country Cafe car on the Chicago-Portland route mean the end of Sightseer Lounges along the Columbia River.

I hope not.

Hmmm.....I would hope not either. But seeing as that would probably be how it would work, that would be a shame NOT to have those big windows (and seats facing outwards) to view the "gorge"ous scenery. I'm assuming it would be a replacement in order to ease switching in Spokane. We'll have to keep our eyes peeled to see what happens...

(Regarding the "articulate" comment.....Well, let's not forget that then-Senator Joe Biden said that then-Senator Barack Obama was "clean and articulate".)

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palmland
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quote:
Originally posted by Gilbert B Norman:
.....But until GBN's ankle heals and can get back to his two miles a day walking regimen (note that in the thirty years I've resided in Clarendon Hills, yesterday was the first time I ever DROVE to and parked at the train station), he too should learn to "eat healthy'.

Glad you did make the trip, GBN, to meet us, bad ankle and all. Besides, how else would we have gotten to see you standing beside your shiny Lexus as we flew by at track speed after you beat us back to Clarendon Hills on Metra.

Henry - Sorry I hit a sensitive spot, but don't know how else to describe her. While she was not caucasian, she was easily the most articulate person we met, including the cardiologist and PhD candidate.

The diner-lounges would seem a good candidate for low volume overnight trains or those without remarkable scenery. Too bad I can't think of any that fit that criteria. On the other hand, a diner-lounge converted from a lounge car (that I think Amtrak initially envisioned) would fit the bill for the Portland connection. How great would that be to sit in the diner portion with those big windows.

The lounge on the CZ was of course SRO upon leaving Denver.

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Mike Smith
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Come on folks... Henry must be Henry.

A leopard cannot change his stripes...

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Gilbert B Norman
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One must wonder if Amtrak is going to try with the Builder the business model of the Western railroads (+ NYC with The Century) with their premier trains - and that is offer two levels of Dining service. Auto Train aside, Amtrak only did such with the Super Chief, and that was history when the Santa Fe "suggested' Amtrak rename the train.

Name the major (generic) "streamliner' and, at least during peak travel season, there were two distinct levels of Dining service. In many an instance, the roads distinctively decorated these cars with motifs such as Travelers Rest, Ranch Lounge, Chuck Wagon, and Cable Car Buffet. Neither ATSF or UP "went out of their way" in the motif department.

Microwaves were unknown, refrigeration was "primitive", and food was "natural" (no preservatives) back then. About the only fare cooked to order were eggs and burgers. Linen ware? what's that (there was metal flatware as I recall). There were also usually a beef and chicken casserole. The big feature of course was that the prices were only some 60% of same in the main Diner.

Possibly Amtrak may have this in mind; the 370XX "CCC" car would be placed in consist ahead of the Portland Sleeper; possibly some Portland Sleeper passengers might "just want to eat; feed us what you will' rather than walk through the Coaches for their chow (but of course they would be free to use the main Diner with its cooked on board menu; hey they paid for it).

Even if I have never ridden the Amtrak Builder West of MPLS (GN's bumper to bumper), I'm mindful that its a "if you've seen one wheatfield..." experience, so I don't think loosing the sightseeing is "all that big a deal". Likely the best option would have been, as Mr. Palmland suggested, to have converted six 330XX Sightseer Lounges to Diner-Lounges, but Amtrak, with a "gun to their head" by people that don't know a drawbar from a draft gear - yet WE elected them - started micromanaging a business. At $1M a pop, i.e a 38 to a 37, it is too late to go back.

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notelvis
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I agree that converting a Sightseer Lounge for lounge and meal service would have made more sense.

Downstairs would be the kitchen area.....put 8 tables in one end for 'full' meal service, use the rest of the upstairs for lounge space.

This might have worked on the Portland section of the Builder, the City of New Orleans, and perhaps on a re-superlinered Cardinal. That's about it though.

--------------------
David Pressley

Advocating for passenger trains since 1973!

Climbing toward 5,000 posts like the Southwest Chief ascending Raton Pass. Cautiously, not nearly as fast as in the old days, and hoping to avoid premature reroutes.

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RR4me
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All other discussion aside, I enjoyed the trip report, look forward to the next installment, and am more anxious than ever for my trip dates to arrive.
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George Harris
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quote:
Originally posted by Henry Kisor:
Even though the remark about an "articulate" African-American made me wince, I found this a first-class trip report. Good going, Palmland!

Huhh???

I had to go back and read the "offending" statement twice to get what seems to be the only thing you saw. I took it to be "articulate" b r e a s t cancer survivor, with the mention of race an incidental thing, mainly in reference to explaining her carrying the message to an ethnic group that has a higher than average issue with this disease.

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Henry Kisor
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Perhaps after reading the following column from the Washington Post, you might understand:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/02/01/AR2007020101495.html

Deaf people, too, find "articulate" as applied to them a real blackboard-scratcher.

Have a little empathy.

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amtrak92
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I think the Cross Country cars, would have done much better, if they made them out of lounges, and not diners. It would be awesome to eat with those huge windows. Sort of like the Union Pacific Dome Diners
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smitty195
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Back before the diners were butchered into "Cross Country Cafe" cars and they were still just blueprints, several people (myself included) couldn't believe what a ridiculous idea they were. Anyone with common sense and knowledge about Amtrak and its riders, and anyone with experience as a passenger on long-distance trains KNEW that it would be a flop. I wish I could find my notes on the cost, but I think it was roughly 2 million dollars per car (GBN--do you have the numbers handy?). I couldn't believe what a massive waste of money that was to accomplish so little.

I suppose the cars wouldn't be too bad on certain trains that are only overnight (and no longer), as long as they had a Sightseer Lounge in the consist as well. But just running an overnight train with that one car----asinine! It's just one reason why I have such little faith in Amtrak management. When I see them pumping out stupid ideas like this, I sorta give up on the whole Amtrak brand. They get these management people in there who think they can re-invent the wheel, and in the process, waste money and create additional problems.

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Hoop
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quote:
They get these management people in there who think they can re-invent the wheel, and in the process, waste money and create additional problems. [/QB]
Unfortunately, that is their job and that is what they're hired to do.
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George Harris
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quote:
Originally posted by Henry Kisor:
Perhaps after reading the following column from the Washington Post, you might understand:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/02/01/AR2007020101495.html

Deaf people, too, find "articulate" as applied to them a real blackboard-scratcher.

Have a little empathy.

A. I find the Washington Post a good birdcage liner. It won't let me open it anyway.

B. When it comes to empathy, I really get a laugh out of finding "deaf people" and "blackboard scratcher" in the same sentence and you thinking that is a rational statement. What is the definition of deaf? It is inabilty to hear, hence "blackboard scratcher" is of no significance to them.

C. I really don't see where empathy has anything to do with this silly conversation.

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Henry Kisor
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Well, George, it is abundantly clear how you feel about this issue.
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Mike Smith
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George, you have an excellent grasp of "this silly conversation".
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Moderator
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This was posted by Geoff M. at the Silver Rails Forum:

Over on Railforum there is a thread within-a-thread about articulate Americans of certain heritage. In case you haven't seen it the discussion goes something like (severely abridged but hopefully without losing context):

OP: "a lady....her black community....she was extremely articulate"
Reply: "Even though the remark about an "articulate" African-American made me wince"

Now, apart from the fact that no mention was made of African heritage-likely she was but it's jumping to conclusions-how on earth can that set of words be contrived to be racist? If I said "a tall, articulate gentleman", does that imply that short people are more articulate, or that gentlemen are less articulate than females? If your answer is "no" then how does "a black, articulate woman" suddenly become a "Yes"?

How ridiculous.

Geoff M.

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Henry Kisor
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I will make one more attempt to illuminate my side of the argument by posting the entire Washington Post column referenced. (I'm sure the Post will forgive my transgression in light of the fact that folks did not seem to want to register in order to read the piece.)

The column is by the Post's Eugene Robinson, an African-American. (He won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for commentary.)

It follows:

An Inarticulate Kickoff

By Eugene Robinson
Friday, February 2, 2007

What is it, exactly, that white people mean when they call a black person "articulate"?

I'll leave it to Joe Biden to explain (or figure out) why he used "clean" as one of a logorrheic string of adjectives describing his Senate colleague Barack Obama. I'm not sure his initial revision and extension of his remarks -- that he meant "clean as a whistle" -- get him off the hook. Just a suggestion, but Biden might fall back to "clean as the Board of Health," meaning sharply dressed; the last time I saw Obama he was, indeed, wearing an impeccable navy suit.

For anyone who missed it, Biden explained Obama's appeal as a presidential candidate by calling him "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy." He was talking to a reporter for the New York Observer, who recorded the interview; an audio clip was soon posted on the Internet.

There was a sharp reaction, mostly focused on Biden's incomprehensible reference to personal hygiene. The Rev. Al Sharpton, a one-time presidential candidate, said that when Biden called him to apologize, " I told him I take a bath every day."

For my part, I never made it past "articulate," a word that's like fingernails on a blackboard to my ear. As it happens, President Bush used that same word Wednesday to describe Obama. "He's an attractive guy. He's articulate," Bush told Fox News.

Will wonders never cease? Here we have a man who graduated from Columbia University, who was president of the Harvard Law Review, who serves in the U.S. Senate and is the author of two best-selling books, who's a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, and what do you know, he turns out to be articulate. Stop the presses.

It's interesting that Obama's reaction dealt solely with the A-word. "I didn't take Senator Biden's comments personally, but obviously they were historically inaccurate," he said in a statement. "African-American presidential candidates like Jesse Jackson, Shirley Chisholm, Carol Moseley Braun and Al Sharpton gave a voice to many important issues through their campaigns, and no one would call them inarticulate."

Maybe he heard the screech on the blackboard, too.

Yes, I'm ranting a bit. But before you accuse me of being hypersensitive, try to think of the last time you heard a white public figure described as articulate. Acclaimed white orators such as Bill Clinton and John Edwards are more often described as eloquent.

What's intriguing is that Jackson and Sharpton are praised as eloquent, too -- both men are captivating speakers who calibrate their words with great precision. But neither is often described as, quote, articulate. Apparently, something disqualifies them.

Condi Rice is another story. Regular readers know that I think this administration's foreign policy is wrongheaded and dangerous. But I leap to Rice's defense when I hear people say, in the most patronizing tone, that she's soooooo articulate. What on earth do they expect? The woman has served as provost of Stanford University, national security adviser and secretary of state. Think maybe she ought to be able to speak in complete sentences?

I realize the word is intended as a compliment, but it's being used to connote a lot more than the ability to express one's thoughts clearly. It's being used to say more, even, than "here's a black person who speaks standard English without a trace of Ebonics."

The word articulate is being used to encompass not just speech but a whole range of cultural cues -- dress, bearing, education, golf handicap. It's being used to describe a black person around whom white people can be comfortable, a black person who not only speaks white America's language but is fluent in its body language as well.

And the word is often pronounced with an air of surprise, as if it's an improbable and wondrous thing that a black person has somehow cracked the code. I can't help but think of the famous quote from Samuel Johnson: "Sir, a woman preaching is like a dog's walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all."

Articulate is really a shorthand way of describing a black person who isn't too black -- or, rather, who comports with white America's notion of how a black person should come across.

Whatever the intention, expressing one's astonishment that such individuals exist is no compliment. Just come out and say it: Gee, he doesn't sound black at all.

--------

As for deaf people and skritching on the blackboard, we use aural metaphors, too. A couple of years ago I wrote a blogpost on the issue:

http://henrykisor.com/blog/2007/02/07/oh-mr-kisor-you-speak-so-well/

There. I have said my piece and will now withdraw from this fray.

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George Harris
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Relating to the article quoted:

What a rediculous rant. The guy is carrying a crosstie size chip on his shoulder.

my last word here.

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Mike Smith
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When I hear/read Eugene Robinson, I immediately think "clueless".
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zephyr
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Hey, Henry, I'm with you. I'm also a real sensitive, enlightened, and progressive guy. And the older I get, the less I suffer hicks who disagree with my world vision.

I'm so mad I want to wear a ribbon to demonstrate my displeasure with these unwashed, ignorant, and insensitive reprobates who use offensive words. But I need some help here. What is the proper color ribbon to wear to protest "incorrect" speach?

I swear, I got all these ribbons in my desk drawer, and I can't remember what's for what. I suppose that's why I wear a half dozen or more a day. And I rotate through this stash more frequently than I do my underwear. I do it so I don't offend anyone of importance.

Regular rotation of ribbons shows I'm equally in favor of all worthy causes, and the underwear rotation should be self explanatory to all but the aforementioned hicks.

But, what is the ribbon color to show my support for word correctness? Jeez, it was so much simpler in the 60's when you could toss any colored frisbee for peace.

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train lady
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how about white, black, red,brown and yellow. It is good enough for the "good book"
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zephyr
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I wear all those colors, train lady. I'm telling you, I got quite a stash of ribbons.

But there's got to be a special color ribbon that tells the world I'm in support of enlightened communication. I just want to know what ribbon color tells the world anyone who disagrees with me is a hick (who says offensive things and doesn't practice underwear rotation).

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Ocala Mike
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My first (and last) contribution to this thread, which has become a "tempest in a teabag" (I like that!). Henry, you're outnumbered by the George Harris/Smith Bros. side; remember years back when all some people could think of to say about Colin Powell was that he was "well-spoken"? Geez!

--------------------
Ocala Mike

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Gilbert B Norman
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From Hyatt Regency, Greenwich CT--

I have endeavored not to participate in the discussion of the "sub topic" here, but I feel compelled to do so at this time and hopefully lay all this stuff to rest.

May I direct Mr. Kisor and others to this non-rail editorial appearing in Today's New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/03/opinion/03sat4.html

Brief passage:

  • We like having an articulate, fiercely competitive president, especially one with such a strong moral compass. But guys, if you’re going to roll the dice, next time make sure the stakes are worth it.

So far as I'm concerned this is a QED regarding the propriety of the term "articulate' - and it is my QED regarding this folly of discussion.

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Henry Kisor
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I will withdraw briefly from my avowed withdrawal to observe that the Times declares Obama an articulate PRESIDENT, not an articulate BLACK PERSON. There's a world of difference. (Withdrawal mode re-engaged.)
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