Brian Williams writes: The two discoveries happened concurrently, just after I boarded Amtrak from New York to Washington on Monday night: The blood drained from my head when I realized I'd left my iPod headphones in my office in New York—and then, in an instant, the man in front of me and the man behind me both embarked a string of cell phone calls, at loud volume, in the otherwise-quiet car. The following has to do with the era of over-sharing, the era of personal electronics...and subsequent death of discretion. While I could not believe what I heard, I was mostly stunned that either man would chose to conduct their business inside the close confines of a train car, and for everyone around them to hear. It was as if they were all alone, on a private train car—and yet I was not the only passenger who could hear every word spoken by both men for the entire trip.
I learned the full names of both men, and where they both live. The man in front of me was planning to sell his company today, to a well-known, immediately recognizable media firm...which he named several times. I learned his approximate compensation, and the fact that deferred compensation was a sticking point in the talks. I learned the names of all those who would likely be fired in the event of a merger, and I heard him disparage his own legal team. Here was a particularly rich quote: "You know how in our business you have big dogs...or you have puppies? I have...modified puppies. They're so naive." The man behind me was coming from a ski outing. I got to hear about his drive through the Hudson River Valley, and his time in the home of a loved one. The good news? He had inspected the shower valve as requested, and it wasn't broken. It was installed upside down! There's your problem! On a different call, he used the name of a prominent Member of Congress, and told a graphic and off-color story about the Congressman, who had missed a press conference because he was "tied up"—literally, with a flight attendant he'd met on a business trip. He then turned to Rahm Emanuel's efforts to get on the ballot in Chicago—speculating about the appointment history of the Supreme Court Justices in Illinois, and making what I can only hope and assume was an uncomfortable attempt at a joke: "Rahm's walking around with $10 million (in donations)—he could spend half of that, $5 million, to bribe the members of the court, and still have $5 million to spend on the campaign." That was a head-turner.
At several times during our journey, I made a kind of commiserating eye contact with my fellow travelers, one of whom was lucky enough to have remembered his headphones. Early on in the three-hour ride, the conductor asked the man in front of me (who was selling his company, apparently by cell-phone) to "keep it down, please." He lowered his volume to a conversational level, while still entirely audible. I considered changing seats but stayed put, just to witness it all. I have chosen to use no proper names or monetary amounts, though there were plenty to choose from. There was nothing extraordinary about the journey—and as loud-talkers go, these guys were just about average—but the ride was a lesson in volume, privacy and discretion.