There’s Food for Thought in Amtrak Dining Cars.

I’ve been thinking a lot about dining on Amtrak long-distance trains. It’s no doubt prompted by the awful decision to permanently remove the diner from the Silver Star (or Silver Starve, as it’s starting to be called). For those of us who travel throughout the U.S. on Amtrak’s long-distance trains, this decision is a huge disappointment. In fact, what we’re going to miss most is not the food, but the actual dining experience.
Because most of the time I’m traveling solo, “dining experience” means being seated at a table with three strangers. Trust me, I have met some fascinating people in Amtrak dining cars.
* A history professor from Yale who knew all about the old West and expounded on that at breakfast as we were literally stopped in Dodge City and later, over lunch, as the Southwest Chief ran alongside the original Santa Fe Trail.
* A man who travels throughout the world repairing and consulting about magnificent, old pipe organs. When I met him, he was returning to his office in Chicago from two-weeks in Vienna where he had been working on the incredible pipe organ in that city’s cathedral, the Stefan Kirche.
* An elderly woman whose father was the head electrician at the old Polo Grounds in New York City. She told me that he did the wiring for an illegal signaling system in the centerfield scoreboard that would tell the Giant hitters when the opposing pitcher was about to throw a curveball. (Yeah, real baseball fans get it: Ralph Branca, Bobby Thompson, and “the Shot Heard ‘Round the World”.)
* A young woman from Minneapolis who had a half-finished, elaborate multi-colored tattoo on her left arm and shoulder. She was moving to the Bay Area and was worried about finding a tattoo artist there who could duplicate the style she had already been—forgive me—stuck with.
* A couple who had recently moved to Las Vegas from Hawaii … where they had lived for 20 years in a house not more than a tenth-of-a-mile from my house on the very same street.
I must tell you that I look forward to every meal in an Amtrak dining car for that very reason: Who’s it going to be this time? What interesting and unusual occurrence is part of their individual story? And will I be able to uncover it before we finish our dessert and coffee?