Words of Wisdom in the Dining Car.

I have always found that one of the most interesting and enjoyable aspects of a long-distance train ride is meeting fellow passengers over meals in the dining car.

For those who have never experienced it, Amtrak seats dining car patrons together, four people per table. It is often—and I mean this—the best part of any long-distance train trip. Here are just a few of the wonderful, interesting people I’ve met and shared a meal with on my many Amtrak cross-country rides. 

* A man—one of a very few people in the world—qualified to repair and restore ancient pipe organs. He was returning to his home near Chicago after repairing the magnificent pipe organ in Saint Stefan’s cathedral in Vienna.

* A funeral director and his wife. I asked what prompted him to get into that business. “Because,” he said, “I discovered that I’m able to comfort people when they need it the most.”

* A history professor from Yale, whose specialty was the settling of the American West. He kept three of us enthralled as we were crossing New Mexico on the Southwest Chief.

* A famous Irish poet who recited some of his work for his three dinner companions.

* A crusty elderly farmer from Kansas. I asked what was the most difficult thing about farming. “Figuring out how to pay for a $200,000 combine so I can harvest my damn corn,” he said.

* A husband and wife who run a B&B in Granby, Connecticut. Their house, we discovered to our amazement, is next door to the house where my father and grandfather were born.

*A woman whose father was chief electrician at the Polo Grounds in New York. He was suspicious of some wiring he was asked to install in the center field scoreboard one Fall day in 1951. He suspected it was a signaling  system. Baseball fans will know that was probably how The Giants’ Bobby Thompson knew what pitch the Dodgers’ Ralph Branca was going to throw when he hit “the shot heard ‘round he world.”

*A gay couple—two men in their 50s from Oakland— on their honeymoon.  I split the cost of a celebratory bottle of wine with a lady from New Jersey, the 4th person at our table.

*An American Airlines captain and his wife. I asked why he was traveling across the country on the train. “Because,” he said, “I thought it was time I saw this wonderful country from an altitude of six feet.” 

See what I mean?