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It was 6:00 p.m. when Amtrak’s Southwest Chief departed Los Angeles Union Station on time and the first call for dinner in the dining car came 40 minutes later. I ordered the streak with a baked potato and a half bottle of merlot.
My dinner companions that night were a personable graduate student in Engineering, returning to his studies at the University of Kansas at Lawrence, and an interesting couple from Ireland. He was a poet with several published books of his work, while she was an executive with a health care organization. Her review of our health care system? Good, not great, and too expensive.
This was Amtrak’s “community dining” at its best, and meeting interesting fellow passengers is what I have come to enjoy most about long-distance train travel.
After dinner, I returned to my roomette to find that the car attendant had made up my berth and, after a hot shower, I climbed into bed. About the time the Chief was halfway between Barstow and Needles, I drifted off to sleep listening to some of my favorite Hawaiian music.
Morning brought more changes to the passing scenery as we hop-scotched across New Mexico, following the original Santa Fe Trail for part of the way. We were in Gallup for breakfast, sharing a table with with a couple from San Diego. She teaches algebra and calculus to high school kids; he’s an American Airlines captain who enjoys “seeing the country from zero altitude.”
Late that afternoon we came upon four mounted cowboys loading a dozen cows into a truck. They paused and gazed at us as we slowly rolled by. And one, responding, I suppose, to a wave from one of our female passengers, nodded and, in a magnificently underplayed gesture, reached up and touched the brim of his Stetson.
The next day, as I was enjoying a burger and a beer for lunch in the dining car, the Southwest Chief crossed the Mississippi River on the mile-long “swing bridge” at Fort Madison, Iowa.
I left the Chief around 1:00 p.m. when we stopped in Galesburg, Illinois. My brother and his wife live just 15 minutes away in the town of Monmouth. The three of us caught up on family news that night over a nice dinner at their favorite restaurant.
(to be continued)
This article first appeared on www.trainsandtravel.com
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