Getting to Know You … in the Diner.

I’ve written before about meeting people and making friends in Amtrak dining cars. It’s one of the great pleasures of long-distance train travel.
It was particularly interesting to learn, while having dinner with a French couple last month on the California Zephyr, that European rail passengers have all but lost that experience. Because so many of their trains run at high speeds—many of them up to 200 miles an hour—one result has been the demise of the traditional restaurant car. The trains get you there so fast,there just isn’t time to provide passengers with actual meals in a relaxed, sit-down environment. And that’s a shame.
At any rate, this French couple was concluding a lengthy visit to the U.S. with a cross-country train ride and said what they enjoyed most about the Amtrak experience was meeting ordinary Americans in the lounge and dining cars. I feel the very same way. It’s one of several factors that is actually turning long-distance train travel in the U.S. one of the unique travel experiences in the world.
That’s certainly how Gabriel Kahane felt. His wonderful story, “How the Amtrak Dining Car Could Heal the Nation,” appeared a few days ago in the New York Times.
He’s not wrong. If you’re on the westbound California Zephyr all the way from Chicago to the Bay Area, you’ll be sharing a table in the dining car with strangers for six meals: two breakfasts, two lunches and two dinners.
On my most recent ride on the Zephyr, I learned that the French couple had just finished hiking the entire Appalachian Trail three days earlier. I had a lengthy conversation with a wonderful woman who runs a hospice facility. And I heard the amazing story of a teenager’s daring escape from East Germany in 1959 . . . told quietly, almost matter-of-factly by the teenager himself, now a grown man, a successful businessman, and an American citizen for more than 40 years.
Let us also remember that this exemplary individual is, and always will be, an immigrant.