Every Train Trip is Different.

A few days ago, someone asked me in an email what was the attraction train travel has for me. In fact, here’s the original email I received:

You must have taken the Zephyr a dozen times over the years. What is it about that ride that you still find interesting?

Here’s my answer:  

Almost everything. Every train trip is different for me … even if it’s the same route. Case in point: I took the California Zephyr from Emeryville to Chicago this past October and I’m doing it again in mid-February. It will be quite a different experience because there will be snow in the mountains this time.

But the big bonus on all my train trips is the people I’ll meet along the way—my fellow passengers in the lounge car, my car attendant, the servers in the dining car, and of course the twenty-one strangers who, under normal circumstances, would be sharing my table in the dining car all the way to Chicago for a total of two breakfasts, three lunches, and two dinner meals. If I can’t get at least a couple of blog posts out of all that, I might as well hang it up right now.

A friend of mine—an Associated Press Reporter for most of his career—once told me that he believes every human being has at least one truly interesting story to tell. The challenge—and the fun, he said—is in looking for and finding it.

I sometimes carry a scanner with me on these trips. It allows me to listen to the radio transmissions back and forth between the conductors and the engineers and, on a different frequency, between the engineers and the dispatchers.

Ninety percent of the exchanges between engineers and dispatchers are routine and of no interest. But that occasional one percent? Ah, well . . .  that’s where the really interesting blog posts originate.

For instance, heading west out of Chicago probably 20 years ago, the passenger in the roomette directly across the aisle from me had his scanner tuned on to our train. Suddenly, I saw him stiffen, evidently from something he had just heard on his scanner.

“Holy crap,” he said. “The engineer’s a girl!”