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Saturday, Apr 21, 2018
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Steve Otto Columns

Otto: Bonjour, mes amis en Tampa

The good thing about watching the news in Quebec is that it is all about hockey. I picked up the paper and it, too, was all about hockey. I didn’t have to suffer reading about the Rays going down, and if anyone cares about the Bucs up here, you won’t find it in the paper.

On TV, if you don’t want to watch the National Hockey League, there are minor hockey leagues you can watch.


And there is news from that banana republic to the south, where the government has been shut down until there is either a military coup or the football season ends and the citizens discover things aren’t going so well outside their family rooms.

The bad news is that you can see the same old faces babbling away while nobody is listening as we operate by time clocks on TV screens ticking down to the latest crisis.

The good news is that here they do it in French. These politicians babble and shake their fingers in the air, too, but they do it in French, which sounds so much more polite. I saw an interview with John Boehner, and he almost looked like an intellectual with someone speaking French over his remarks.


A little more about the trains I mentioned on Friday, before you send me emails saying if I like Canadian trains so much why don’t I move there.

For one thing, Canadians never heard of guava jelly, and what they think is a Cuban sandwich tastes like a sandwich you buy at a gas station that’s been there for months.

I think the national dish is poutine, which is a pile of french fries with cheese and gravy on top. I love the stuff, but it’s not enough to make me want to move.

Getting back to trains. We took Amtrak from Orlando (after the bus from Tampa) to Penn Station and the Adirondack up to Montreal. It’s a spectacular ride in mid-October, but it’s still Amtrak, creaking on old rails. The “dining” is a cafe car where the attendant is not all that happy when a customer has the nerve to show up and order a packaged sandwich and drink to lurch back to the car without spilling.

We took Canada’s VIA rail from Montreal to Quebec City. Smooth rails, and you’re barely out of the terminal when servers come down the aisle with hot lemon-scented towels, followed by a booze cart, a guy with the smoked salmon and asparagus appetizer, return of the booze cart, a Shanghai chicken dinner, dessert cart, booze cart, then a guy with a basket of chocolates. We don’t have to have lemon-scented towels or chocolates. And the train from Montreal to Quebec City is no high-speed bullet. It’s just a really good train where they understand service and put effort into making it work. I wouldn’t expect Tampa’s Union Station to have an array of restaurants as dazzling and complete as at the Montreal station, but we might do better than vending machines that don’t work.

It would help if the politicians ever go back to work and took a look at establishing a true train service in Florida and the country and took Amtrak out of the 19th century.

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