I always look forward to dining car meals when I'm traveling on Amtrak. Family-style seating is the drill, which means you will usually be seated with strangers at one of the tables-for-four.
Some people – but very few, in my experience – are uncomfortable with the arrangement so they will spend a half hour or so in silence, staring out the window … particularly awkward when it’s after dark and there’s nothing to see out there.
The rest of us – people who have traveled by train on previous occasions – look forward to mealtime: Who’s it going to be today? What interesting stories will I hear? Will my dinner companions include a Japanese doctor specializing in organ transplants or a 300-pound biker in a tank top? (Both are actual examples my earlier train travels and, of the two, the biker was by far the more interesting.)
So far, this trip has been no exception. In an earlier post, I mentioned that tablemates at one of the meals on the Sunset Limited included a retired Amtrak conductor. From him, I learned that, assuming last-minute space is available, he can travel in a roomette located in the train’s dorm car at no charge. Now that’s what I call a great benefit!
(Dorm cars are Superliner sleeping cars located at the front of the train immediately behind the baggage car. They have been converted to include all roomettes on the upper level for use by crew members and little offices on the lower level for the conductors, plus additional storage areas for supplies. Sometimes, if the train is really full, three or four of those roomettes will be sold to paying passengers.)
Encounters in an Amtrak dining car can also yield some wildly improbable coincidences. Some years back, aboard the Southwest Chief, I discovered that a man seated across from me, at the time a resident of Las Vegas, had lived for some 30 years about a half block away from my house in Kailua on the windward side of the Island of Oahu.
Then, just the other night en route to Chicago aboard the City of New Orleans and a full 30 minutes into the conversation, I was startled to learn that the man sitting next to me was also an active member of the National Association of Railroad Passengers and we would both be attending the NARP meetings in Washington later this month. Furthermore, although we had never met before, he and I had exchanged NARP-related emails several weeks earlier.
I mean, seriously … what are the odds??