Memories from Past Train Rides.

I wish I had kept track of how many times I’ve traveled on Amtrak’s long distance trains. It would be fun knowing how many miles I’ve racked up. Still, there have been many interesting moments during all those train rides. There are a few that immediately come to mind.
Heading west on the California Zephyr two years ago, I overheard a young man explaining to two plainclothes policemen why he was traveling with a suitcase containing $19,000 in cash. It turned out the kid was legit, if not the sharpest knife in the drawer. He was moving to California and had sold his truck in Michigan, taking payment in cash because, he said, he hadn’t yet opened a checking account in California.

 One cloudless night, while crossing North Dakota on the Empire Builder, I lay in my berth and watched a full moon sail back and forth across the black sky as the train swept around curves, first to the left, then to the right, then left again.
In the Southwest Chief’s dining car, I had lunch seated across from a Yale history professor whose specialty was the Old West. We had stopped in Dodge City that morning and at that very moment, we could see traces of the original Santa Fe Trail right outside our window.
Last year, on the Lake Shore Limited, my dinner companion turned out to be a renown expert on restoring and repairing very old, priceless pipe organs. He was returning from Vienna where he had been working on the magnificent organ in the 500-plus year old St. Stephen’s Cathedral.
Two years ago, I discovered the man sitting opposite me at lunch on the California Zephyr was a veteran captain with American Airlines, who takes Amtrak whenever traveling for pleasure. I told him I liked the new logo and paint scheme for their planes the airline had just introduced. He said he hated it.
And it was a privilege to observe a veteran conductor dealing with an obnoxious passenger in the Sunset Limited’s lounge car who obviously had over-imbibed from a bottle stashed in his luggage. The train unexpectedly stopped where the tracks crossed a main highway and two state police cars were waiting. When last seen, the drunk was handcuffed in the back seat of the patrol car headed for whatever accommodations were being offered at the jail in Alpine, Texas. The conductor waved good-bye and cheerfully called, “Have a nice day!”