My dad gets mad props for this one. His ability to come up with a prank on the fly far surpasses the elegance of any intricately planned stunt like The Infamous Bell Tower Prank of 1996. There's just something beautiful about something so small. Instead of gushing about it, how about I just tell the story?

We were taking the Amtrak AutoTrain from Wilmington, Delaware down to Florida to visit my grandmother one summer. Our little family sedan was safely tucked away in the back of the train, and we were sitting comfortably in the passenger area up front; adjacent to the engineer's cabin in the locomotive, we later found out. As I sat, fidgeting, an announcement came over the intercom:

"The observation car will be open in 10 minutes. Seating will be first-come, first-served, and we ask that you share the view with others."

A train car? With a view? Amtrak had outdone itself! I was no more than ten years old, and thought that this was just slicker than snot on a porcelain doorknob. It was a good thing, to be sure. So my father took me by the hand, and we walked about half the length of the train to the observation car. Our seats were all the way up front, so we didn't expect to get a spot in the observation car at all.

When we got there, amazingly enough, there were only 4 people in front of us in line--a family of two parents (I wasn't aware of it at the time, but I suspect these were yuppies), and two kids. Nay, brats. The line piled up behind us, and the doors were opened. We poured up the stairs (stairs on a train! Oy veh!) and a miracle awaited my young eyes.

The stairs led up to a passenger area much like the ones below, with two big differences. First, the seats were luxurious first class jobs, with deep cushiony upholstery, so there were only two seats in each row--one on each side of the aisle. Second, there were no windows or roof! The floor of the observation deck was set about three feet below the roofline of the rest of the train, and where the conventional walls stopped, a big, clear plastic dome wrapped over the top. This afforded the people in the front two seats a beautiful forward view of the surrounding countryside. Everyone else got a nice side view, and a bit of a look at the horizon to the front.

It became apparent to everyone that the two yuppies and their kids had the best seats in the house. Everyone but them, I guess. Mom and dad were in the second row, and their kids were up front. With the kids enthralled by the view of miles of South Carolina scrubland whooshing by, mom and dad took a break from the tedious chore of parenting--The Dad opened up a Wall Street Journal at arm's length, and The Mom sunk down in her chair to read Newsweek. Sensing their parents' apathy, the kids took MicroMachines out of their pockets and began jumping up and down on the seats, noisily bashing small metal cars into the dome, each other, the seats... anything they could reach. I can only assume they were both doing it. The Dad's newspaper was blocking my view.

You probably have guessed that my dad and I were in the third row, behind the parents (and I use the term loosely) and their brats. None of them was observing anything. Because of them, nobody in the car was observing anything. My dad grew frustrated quickly. Seeing my fun spoiled, he switched seats with me, so I could at least look past The Mom and see the grandeur of South Carolina with a noisy, spoiled little shit silhouetted against it. I believe my thoughts at the time were more like "those kids are really being babies," but that loses something in the translation.

My dad asked The Dad to put down his newspaper so that he (and the people behind us--at least 8 more rows!) could see out the front. The yuppie jerk replied something along the lines of "it's a free country, pal." A verbal middle finger. Ten minutes or so went by. I don't know if my dad was simply humoring me, or if he spent those minutes concocting his plan.

He leaned over across the aisle and asked if I could see anything. I replied that I couldn't, and that it was starting to get boring. Dad asked if I wanted to leave. I said, "sure, I guess so," and started to get up. Dad grabbed my wrist, and whispered in my ear:

"When we get up, I'm going to tap you on the shoulder. When I do, I want you to ask me if you can have another quarter... and ask loudly."

I didn't understand--I didn't want another quarter. But if I asked, maybe he'd give me one. We stood up, made for the stairs, and right before we descended, my dad tapped me.

"Dad, can I have another quarter?"
"No, son. You've spent too much time in the video game car already, and besides, your mother..."
We were interrupted by two children with MicroMachines and giant greedy grins on their faces, hollering over each other to ask the question:
My dad, completely straight-faced, pointed to the back of the train, and said, "it's all-l-l-l-l the way back there," and led me down the steps. The children's attention was now on their parents, and squalling whines for money piped down the stairs.

If you haven't guessed it yet, there was absolutely no such thing. Nintendo was still a relatively new concept, and the idea of putting computer games on a train was ridiculous science fiction.

We made it through the next two cars without cracking a smile only by the grace of God, and then we lost it. I laughed all the way to the front of the train. When we sat down, mom asked a question along the lines of "what have you been up to?" and set us off again. We finally stopped laughing enough to tell the story to her, and she laughed along with us at the punch-line: those two kids, squealing for cash, and abandoning the two best seats in the car for a snipe hunt. But the real punch line was yet to come.

Despite my dad's explicit instructions that the mythical video game car was in the back of the train, an hour later, two very familiar boys sprinted up the aisle of our passenger car and hurled themselves against the door to the locomotive. Dollar bills poked out from their fat, pink little fists as they beat on the door to the cabin. My dad and I hid our faces and began laughing hysterically, and lost it yet again when a stewardess came storming up the aisle, apprehended the little devils, and dragged them back past us. Moments later, an announcement went out over the intercom for a certain Mr. and Mrs. Yuppie to reclaim and restrain their "lost" children...
I have never laughed that hard or that long, before or since.

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