(written Tuesday at 9:30AM)
Traveling by train is unique. Every person on board has a different story about how they got here, where they’re going, where they came from, and why they decided to travel by train as opposed to the faster, more efficient forms of available transportation.
Each meal in the dining car Phil and I sit with two other random strangers to enjoy our food (which was actually quite delicious). It has been interesting to have these brief, 1-hour snapshots into another traveling duo’s life.
I’m accustomed to boarding a plane and disappearing in a book until landing. I make it quite clear that I don’t want to converse with the person next to me or make any sort of connection beyond mere pleasantries. Flying is fast, efficient, and isolating. And I really like it that way.
It has been strange, therefore, to travel in such a relational way and I think I’m only beginning to understand and appreciate it. In many ways, hearing stories, asking questions, and observing who people are is not just part of the journey, it is the journey of rail travel.
Here is a synopsis of our meal guests. I’m struck by just how unbelievably different each story is…
Sunday Dinner: A couple from South Carolina. They actually went to the same high school but didn’t know each other back then. (Or he knew her, but she didn’t know he existed.) Anyways, they had both been married and divorced and re-connected on Match.com. He is a pastor and his first wife was bipolar and decided she couldn’t be married to a pastor anymore. These two have been married 3 years (he proposed on the Continental Divide) and are very much still in the honeymoon phase of their relationship. She is a neonatal nurse and he now works as a Chaplain at the same hospital. They got off in Grand Junction, CO and are driving south through 5 National Parks in an effort to visit all 58 National Parks in the country. You can probably tell by now that this couple liked to talk. A lot. More than you’re thinking is possible. This doesn’t even scratch the surface of what I know about them.
Monday Breakfast: An older couple from outside Reno who were traveling back home after surprising their daughter for her 50th birthday party. They called her as they waited outside her house and said to look out the window, click her heals together three times, and say “there’s no place like home.” So precious! They exclusively travel by train because of the hassle and cost of flying. They were definitely older, but did not seem old enough to be Great Grandparents! I liked them. They were exactly what I would have pictured of regular train travelers from Reno, Nevada. She had short, dark curly black hair and was dressed sort of like a bowler. He was wearing a trucker hat and had a front breast pocket overflowing with pens, paper, kleenex, medicine, and who knows what else. There was a quiet contentment between them.
Monday Lunch: Two men from LA. I honestly had no idea how they were connected to each other, but they certainly could be a gay couple. One man seemed significantly older than the other and had a noticeable tremor in his hand. They were wonderfully pleasant to eat lunch with – great sense of humor! They had both retired from working for Delta Airlines (as ground crew) and despite being able to fly for free, were on the train for a different kind of travel experience. They were flying from Sacramento back home to LA once they got off the train. They both put way to much mayo on their turkey sandwiches though and it was really gross.
Monday dinner: A couple from San Francisco and a ranch in Colorado. They travel between the two often and alternate between flying, driving, and train. She didn’t seem to enjoy any of the three. He was a retired commercial real estate agent. She complained a lot. They both went to Cal and she was involved in YL in high school. We had an interesting conversation about that. He kind of thought he knew a lot about everything, but more in a naive (not arrogant) sort of way. He and Phil connected over a love for Tom Brady and the Patriots. By the way, Phil got text message updates all throughout dinner on the score of the Patriots/Dolphins game and by the end of the meal was announcing each score out loud to the entire dining car. Every time his phone made the text message noise everyone looked over, waiting to hear his announcement. It was pretty entertaining.
Tuesday breakfast: An absolutely lovely couple from Ireland. They spent 6 days in Chicago staying at the Drake Hotel before getting on board the Amtrak to San Francisco. She is a lawyer (just like Phil) and we enjoyed talking about all sorts of things with them – sharing travel experiences, good books, courtroom stories, etc. etc. We have plans to meet up later in the day to exchange travel books and spend some more time together. Europeans really have the whole travel thing down. They just talked about the right things, were personal and friendly but not obnoxious. They didn’t talk about themselves the whole time. It was a very balanced, interesting, engaging conversation.