The 11 women, all members of the same book club, boarded the Napa Valley Wine Train, excited to sip wine in a historic rail car with the scenic northern California vineyards as a backdrop.
One book club member, Lisa Renee Johnson, shared a video on Facebook.
“We made it, y'all,” she said on the video Saturday morning, beaming as her friends waved in the background. “Look at us. We are getting ready to get on the wine train.”
Johnson continued to chronicle the experience through photographs and videos, showing the members of Sistahs on the Reading Edge, many wearing matching black book club T-shirts, as they clinked wine glasses and ate appetizers.
Then two hours in, the train ride turned sour for the book club from Antioch, Calif.
Another passenger scolded the women, saying, “This is not a bar,” according to Johnson's Facebook page.
Train workers told the women that they had to leave because they were too loud. About 1 p.m., they were met by police officers and given a bus ride back to the station.
Johnson blames racial bias — all but one of the book club members on the train are African American. The hashtag #laughingwhileblack, which Johnson used on her Facebook page, has taken off on social media, with many vowing to boycott the wine train.
“We sipped wine, enjoyed each other's company but our trip is being cut short,” Johnson wrote. “If we all laugh at the same time it's loud!”
According to train officials, the women's laughter had prompted complaints, and workers asked them three times to quiet down.
“It wasn't an issue of bias,” train spokesman Sam Singer said, adding that conflicts involving overly boisterous passengers occur about once a month. “It was an issue of noise.”
According to the Napa Valley Wine Train's website, customers enjoy multi-course meals in restored vintage train cars running on 25 miles of track, evoking “the spirit of luxury rail travel in the early 1900s.”
Train officials refunded the women's tickets, but that was small consolation for Johnson and her supporters.
“They gave us a full refund … but that's not enough. We are totally humiliated,” wrote Johnson, who describes herself on her website as a “speaker, coach and self-made Sunshineologist” as well as a fiction writer and chief executive of an independent publishing company called Brown Girl Press.
The group was escorted through six train cars “on display in front of the other guests to waiting police like we were criminals,” Johnson wrote. “One word. UNACCEPTABLE! This can NEVER happen to anyone else ever again.”
Soon after the incident, the wine train posted a statement on Facebook asserting that the women had become unruly once the conflict escalated.“Following verbal and physical abuse toward other guests and staff, it was necessary to get our police involved,” the statement said. “Many groups come on board and celebrate. When those celebrations impact our guests, we do intervene.”
The statement was later deleted. In an interview with The Times on Monday, Singer said the company planned to apologize to the women but had not been able to reach them.
“We want to apologize to these women for their experience,” Singer said. “We want to listen to their concerns and complaints.”
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