Conversations at 79 Miles-per-Hour.

I have written about this before in previous posts, but sharing meals with fellow travelers in an Amtrak dining car is one of the more enjoyable experiences that comes with any cross-country train ride.

Here are just a few of the conversational experiences I’ve had with people who, by the luck of the draw, have ended up sharing meals and some excellent conversation with me while literally crossing the continent.

*Having breakfast as the westbound Southwest Chief departs Dodge City, Kansas. Sharing our table is an American History professor at Yale. His specialty? The American West from 1750 to 1900. The server had to ask us to leave so more people could get their breakfast. We adjourned to the lounge car.

*Over dinner on the eastbound California Zephyr, listening to a celebrated Irish poet recite several of his poems. He was accompanied by his wife, who is his literary agent.

*Also on the Southwest Chief, a dinner table shared with the daughter of the former chief electrician at the old Polo Grounds in New York City. He installed a signaling system in the centerfield scoreboard that told the Giants batter, Bobby Thompson, that a curveball was coming from the Dodger pitcher Ralph Branca.  Thompson homered on the next pitch, and all veteran broadcaster Russ Hodges could do for the next several seconds was to shout into the microphone “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!”

*Then, over breakfast on the Southwest Chief, I met a farmer who had just purchased a machine that would take the entire corn stalk in at one end of the machine and—shucks and cob neatly removed— spit out the kernels at the other end. As I recall, he said this miraculous machine cost $300,000. There was a severe drought that year and the man as afraid he couldn’t raise enough corn to pay for his new machine.

*And by far my favorite: At breakfast somewhere in Montana in the Empire Builder’s dining car, discovering that the couple sitting across from me are from Granby, Connecticut, where they own and run a B-and-B. We are all astonished to discover that their B-and-B is immediately next door to the house in which my father and grandfather were born.

Believe it or not, there are people who travel by train, but have all their meals brought to their rooms by their car attendant. They have no idea what they are missing!

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