Book club's removal from Napa Wine Train triggers social media firestorm

- NAPA, Calif. (KTVU) -- A wine country outing turned sour in a big way for a book club booted off the Napa Wine Train, a group told they were too noisy and disruptive. 

   The eleven women, all but one African American, say race played a role, and their story has inspired the twitter hashtag "LaughingWhileBlack."

   The popular tourist attraction offers dining and wine-tasting on an eighteen mile route through the Napa Valley.

   It is being hit with runaway negative reaction on social media since the incident Saturday afternoon. 

   "We made it y'all, look at us, we're ready to get on the wine train, " exudes group member Lisa Renee Johnson, in a cell phone video that shows the group before boarding the train.
   Even before it left the station, she says, the women were being shushed. 

   "I told the people, 'well there's eleven of us, so when we laugh, all at the same time, it's going to be loud, I don't think there's anything we can do about that!'"

   They bought their tickets months ago, and made clear they were coming as a group, to discuss their latest book.

    The seats they were given were scattered in the car, making conversation more difficult. 

    "Noise is going to come along with that," admitted Johnson, "and laughter, because it's fun! It's wine and not just a glass of wine, it's free-flowing wine." 

    Johnson says they hadn't had one sip before a manager was telling them to be quieter, because she could see other passengers were irritated, and one was complaining.   
    "Why didn't they just move that party to a different car?," wondered book club member Linda Carlson to KTVU, "rather than make all of us get off the train."

    Their excursion ended, barely halfway through, when the women were taken off the train in St. Helena.  
    One of them, recovering from recent knee surgery, struggled to disembark. All were surprised to see several police officers waiting. 

    "When we get off the train, the police are just standing there,"  described 85 year old member Katherine Neal, "and they're looking at us like, these are the unruly people?"

    The women were also mortified that they had to walk through the train, past all the passengers, to get off. 

    "Why do we have to be paraded through the train, all six cars?" challenged club member Sandra Jamerson.

    "It was very humiliating, very degrading," observed member Dininne Neal, " and it made my mom cry, which made me cry." 

    For its part, Wine Train spokeswoman Kira Devitt responded, in a writen statement, that it is standard policy to remove guests who are disruptive,and that they do so about once a month. 

    The statement reads, in part, "We do not enjoy asking guests to depart early, but we take these issues seriously to ensure the safety and enjoyment of all of our guests." 

    But the women insist that fellow passenger they had just met, and posed for pictures with, were shocked they were being ejected.  

    They add, even their servers and bartender were apologetic, and said previous groups had been much more rambunctious. 
    "Our servers didn't feel we were loud and obnoxious," insisted book club member Debbie Reynolds, "they felt we were just laughing."

    "We didn't do anything wrong," declared leader Lisa Johnson, "and we still feel this is about race, we were singled out."

    The incident might have ended with refunds and a ride back to their cars, except that it has taken hold on social media, and been widely shared.

    Some commenters are convinced the women would have been welcomed and accomodated differently, if they had been white. 

    "We were treated like we didn't belong there, and we paid our money just like everyone else," insisted Johnson, "if they cannot accomodate groups, they should not take our money as a group."
    The women were also outraged by a defensive post on the Wine Train Facebook page, accusing the group of "verbal and physical abuse."

    The author is not identified, and the company post has since been deleted. 

    As management reviews the incident, the women are demanding an apology, plus training or policy changes, so that one noise standard applies to all. 

    In the meantime, they acknowledge the entire experience hurts.   

    "I was not leaving my house today because I just needed to regroup," shared book club member Georgia Lewis, "and I need to get rid of that feeling we all had, it was awful. "  

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