One of the things I like most about travelling on Amtrak is the dining car seating arrangement. They have an open seating policy. You make your way through the train to the dining car, present yourself and wait to be seated. The attendant will seat you at an open place at a table that is often occupied by strangers who may or may not be familiar with each other. There are usually immediate introductions followed by an hour of conversation as the food is ordered, prepared and served. Food on the train is one-hundred times better than on a plane and much more memorable. I still remember a few of my dining car meals.
I've met some very interesting people in this fashion. One was a National Park guide who was stationed ar Hyde Park, Franklin D. Roosevelt's home and at Val-Kill, Eleanor Rossevelt's cottage retreat. She entertained us with stories about FDR and some of the visitors to the house. Having been there I could easily appreciate what she had to say. Another time there was an endearing elderly couple travelling from Los Angeles to New York for a wedding. Another couple talked about their pioneering families who came north out of New Spain in the 1600s to settle in New Mexico. They were on their way to Austria (by train?) to visit some long lost relatives. It is all very interesting and at least you will all have the travel experience in common.
I most often travel alone and always get a private Roomette so I can work or read without too much distraction and stretch out to sleep. Normally a Roomette will accomodate two people...albeit quite snuggly. Your meals are included in the price of the Roomette and if travelling alone you should eat as much as you can because you are buying meals for two people.
On one such trip, going from Albuquerque to Kansas City, I went to the dining car and was seated at an empty table. Most of the other tables were fully occupied but there were a number of vacant spots. I was a little disappointed as I sat there by myself. Then a person appeared in the doorway at the far end of the dining car. A huge black man -- both tall and wide -- who was probably somewhat over three-hundred pounds in weight. He was more casually dressed than most of the travellers in the dining car and his appearrance demanded attention. Heads turned as people eyed the newcomer. There was a noticable change in the conversational noise. Body language seemed to shout "Not here!!".
The attendant greeted him and turned to assess the seating options. Everyone looked away but it seemed as though they expanded their personal space in a subtle way. The attendant led him down the long aisle to my table. "This was going to be interesting", I thought. We had to reposition the table so he could sit down and he was still wedged in and looked a little uncomfortable.
We introduced ourselves and talked a little while looking over the menu. He was on his way back to his home in Fort Worth, Texas, after helping a friend move from Texas to a teaching position at the University in Albuquerque. They had a one-way truck rental and he had to find own his way back home. The train route between those two places is long and arduous -- the first leg was an overnight trip to Kansas City followed by a second shorter leg to St. Louis. Then there was another long overnight trip from St. Louis to Fort Worth. Such is the state of rail travel in the United States. If I wanted to take the train from Albuquerque to Denver I would have to go through Chicago....but I digress.
My fellow passenger was carrying a substantial laptop computer...larger and a little thicker than mine or most others that I've seen. As we talked he explained that he was an independant film producer and was taking advantage of the train trip to interview his fellow passengers on video as part of a future project. He was traveling in coach and had a lot of people to choose from. Our food arrived and we ate while continuing our conversation. He was also a theater director in Fort Worth and produced and directed live theater productions several times a year. When he returned to Fort Worth he would be starting on a new production. We had a most enjoyable visit. Later in the trip, on the second day, he interviewed me for his film project. I'm afraid I wasn't very witty or informative. He would ask questions but my answers were dull and not very animated. I'm probably not independant film material.
We made it to Kansas City on time and there was a short layover before I could catch my next train going to my final stop in Jefferson City. This was also the train to St. Louis so my new acquaintance also had to board that second train. We were sent to different cars based on our final destination so I didn't see him again. This train often carries newly released inmates from the state penitentiary and I suspect there might have been a few interesting interviews. If I ever spend time in Fort Worth I'll try to look him up.
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