This is Why I Travel.

It’s hard to explain why I enjoy traveling so much. Part of it is meeting different people with different interests and different perspectives. I rarely get into deep discussions with strangers, but it’s interesting to hear about their lives: where they’re going, what it’s like where they live . . . nothing too personal, but cares and concerns we have in common as human beings.

For instance, there was a man—mid-40s perhaps—we had had dinner together the night before in the Empire Builder’s dining car. He had just gotten off the train at Wolf Point, Montana. He was standing on a street corner with a small suitcase on the sidewalk. He was obviously waiting for a ride. He was wearing a brown suit, boots, of course, and a cowboy hat. The train started moving and he slid out of my view to the right. I still remember that guy . . . from at least 20 years ago. I have no idea why.

I find the cities and towns we pass through to be interesting . . . most because they’re very subtly different. Or perhaps there’s a sudden flash of recognition.  Once on the Sunset Limited a couple of hours westbound out of New Orleans, the train rolled past a small building bearing the sign “GUIDRY’S AUTO REPAIR”. That could only be the family of Ron Guidry, a pitcher for the New York Yankees, whose fastball was known as Louisiana Lightning.  He retired after an outstanding 14-year career. Who knows? He could have been right there, just a few feet away, working on a dented fender as I went by.

I met a couple over breakfast on the Empire Builder and we were all shocked to discover that the bed-and-breakfast they own in Granby, Connecticut, is next door to the house where my father and his father were born.

You see things from a train that you wouldn’t see from a car or a plane. What remains of the Erie Canal is just off to your right heading East on the Lake Shore Limited. Or, crossing the Sierra Nevada range on the California Zephyr, you can look down on the spot where the Donner Party was trapped during the terrible winter of 1846-1847.

Then there was the British gentleman, my lounge car companion, who changed my approach to life when we heard that a freight train up ahead was having a mechanical problem that meant we would probably be four hours late into Seattle.

The Brit positively beamed. “Jolly good!” he exclaimed. “Then we really are getting our money’s worth, aren’t we!”

That’s why I travel by train. Because you never know what you’ll see or who you’ll meet. Or that you’ll be better off for having met them.