Copyright 1992, Kevin C. Killion. All Rights Reserved.
The magic on a long-distance train trip isn't only to be found in the panorama
of America outside the windows. Many fond memories of trips on Amtrak are of
the people met and the conversations sparked along the way. Some are upscale
travelers who use the time for working or correspondence in glorious privacy in
their compartments, people coming from smaller towns that are not served well by
air, economy-minded travelers in coach, and retirees. Many are people who just
do not need, or do not want, to cross the country in a blink: they want to see
what's in between, as well. Train travel attracts a unique breed, whose stories
are as compelling as the unfolding scenery.
For every person with an unusual story, there are several with more ordinary but
nonetheless delightful reports: the new grandparents on their way to see their
grandchild for the first time, businesspeople on short trips to clients for
industries I hadn't heard of before, legislators and bureaucrats traveling to
Springfield or Washington, and simple vactioners. And the price of admission to
all of these stories, plain or unusual, is a ticket on a train.
- The next bedroom to ours on the Southwest Chief was that of an older couple
who were taking a retirement train trip to California, followed by a cruise.
The trip was a retirement present from his company, an office equipment
supplier. He had been in charge of a dwindling group that repaired manual
typewriters and adding machines. As an additional retirement gift, his company
was letting him take that part of the business with him to start a new venture!
They didn't want it anymore, and he figured that the business would wind down at
a rate equivalent to the amount he would want to be working in his "retirement"
- Also on the Southwest Chief, we had lunch with a young couple who had gotten
on in New Mexico. They were returning from a visit with his sister, and it had
been profoundly distressing for him. The sister had gotten thoroughly enmeshed
in the new age culture of Santa Fe. The young fellow said that she was
squandering money she had gotten from a divorce settlement on various crystals,
therapies and lectures. But what was worse, he said, was that she no longer
seemed able to carry on a normal conversation: Every line of discussion, every
expressed thought, led to some new age reference or belief. Several times he
told us that he felt that he had lost a sister.
- On the City of New Orleans, on the way to Memphis, I enjoyed dinner with a
17-year-old boy who just graduated from high school in McHenry. He was on his
way to visit a buddy in Mississippi on his first trip ever out of the state of
Illinois. I found that his main interest in life was fire: He had been an
Eagle scout, earning badges in fire prevention, he volunteered at the firehouse,
and when he started community college in the fall he was going to major in fire
safety and EMT training. His Dad was a fireman, but, no, that isn't where he
got his interest: he got his Dad the job! (Hanging around the firehouse, he
heard of the opening, and told his Dad who had been laid off.) He asked me what
I did, and inquired as to my travels. I told him I travelled on business to
California, Washington, New YorkŠ At that point, he interrupted and said, "New
York! Oh, New York! I'd just love to visit New York someday! I hear they have
some amazing ways of fighting fires!"
- On the Broadway Limited, I had dinner with an Episcopal priest who was on a
two-week vacation to help collect himself after having been discharged by his
Times Square congregation.
- On the Lake Shore Limited, I had a long conversation with a man who was
returning from a presentation at the Federal Aviation Administration in
Washington. He was a career-long seasoned expert in aircraft navigation and
control electronics, and was part of a team that had been to the FAA to promote
a new system for radar-directed landings at major airports. He never flies on
business, he always takes the train.
- Another trip on the Lake Shore found a young couple, recently married, who
were moving to Chicago from New York to a new city, new jobs and a new life
together. Their possessions were in transit, so the train was a good way of
taking a mini-vacation at the same time. We spent a good deal of time talking
about their new city's attractions.
- The dome car on the Capitol Limited always is a gathering place for some of
the most interesting train travelers. On one trip, a man and his son were
taking a rare trip alone, away from Mom and the other siblings. It was a
special time for the two of them, as father and son talked endlessly about the
train, what they were seeing outside and about just everything in their lives.
- Also in the Capitol's dome car, on another trip, a lively conversation started
between two men who I judged were unlikely to have met in other circumstances.
One was a mellow-looking and genial man in his sixties, the other was a
long-haired, somewhat scruffy fellow around 25. The younger man was a musician
in a metal rock band, but his heart was in jazz, which was also a passion of the
older gentleman's. For an hour they talked of jazz history, jazz classics and
Sights from the Train
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- In mid-December, every small town whose main street crosses the tracks is
showing its Christmas finery.
- The endless vastness of Montana -- From awaking in the morning to a frost-covered farmland
through passing an inn late at night: this was a Sunday that I'll remember always.
Entire contents Copyright 1995, Kevin C. Killion, Arlington Heights, Illinois. All Rights Reserved.