Making New Friends on Amtrak.
How is it that you can sit next to someone on a plane and barely exchange more than a few words through the entire flight? And from here to the mainland, that’s at least five hours. I suppose some of the reticence is simply because you’re physically uncomfortable. The seats are small; there’s no leg room; you’re sharing an armrest with a complete stranger, and so forth.
Every so often, however, I’ve had actual stimulating conversations with someone sitting next to me and I think I’ve figured out why: it’s when I’m flying first class. Everything is relaxed and much more conducive to conversation: the seats are wide and comfortable; there’s plenty of leg room; and we each have our own armrest. Conversation often follows.
The truth is, meeting and getting to know other passengers is one of the great pleasures of traveling by long-distance train. Here are a few of the interesting people I’ve met during my Amtrak travels.
I had dinner on the Lake Shore Limited with a man who appraises, evaluates and repairs old pipe organs. He was on his way home to Chicago after spending two weeks working on the magnificent pipe organ in St. Stephen’s cathedral in Vienna, which dates back to 1160.
On the Empire Builder, I spent a fascinating evening meal chatting with a couple from Ireland: he a well-known artist and poet; she the administrator of a health insurance program.
Just ten days ago, in the Coast Starlight’s parlor car, I had a wonderful conversation with a member of The Honeysuckle Possums, an all-female group that plays folk and bluegrass music. You can click here to see and hear them perform on a YouTube clip.
On VIA Rail’s train, the Skeena, I spent several hours talking about government and politics with the Chief Executive of Britain’s House of Commons. Not that was a treat!
Over breakfast in the Southwest Chief’s dining car, my wife and I were seated across from a History professor from Yale whose special field of interest was the opening of the American West. We had just left Dodge City, Kansas, when we learned that.
And all those folks sitting silently on all those airplanes have no idea what they’re missing.