Riding the Auto-train……

Recently going North for sister Alice’s 50th wedding anniversary by taking Amtrak’s auto train, Angela and myself met some wonderful people who I would say are now our friends. Making friends on an Amtrak might seem difficult with the usual trip anxiety and stress and strain that all public transportation has these days. But the overnight Auto Train offers everyone an opportunity to meet and talk with fellow riders all going to to Lorton, Virginia. This opportunity happens by having the two meals served in the club cars.  With tables for four set with table cloths and excellent service provided by an overworked staff of Amtrak making new friend can readily happen.

The Amtrak dinner meal has always been for us more than adequate with entre and dessert choices. Having travelled via autotrain at least ten times we might be considered “experts” on this train’s offerings. In a future blog I’ll have more to say about the Amtrak autotrain experience.,but for now I’ll stick to the making of new friends that we experienced.

The first couple, Joe and Terry, that we met were new to the auto train travel. They were our coach neighbors seating across the row from us. We began some conversation soon after departure from Sanford, Florida at the four PM hour. Amtrak runs on time!

Introducing ourselves to Joe and Terry we soon were informed that this trip was their first autotrain and we offered that we were “ old pros” with this method of travel out of Florida. We shared our addresses and probably an opinion on our home towns. And it became obvious to me that sharing our dinner table with them would be a great chance to continue our discussion. They happily accepted our invitation.

This trip at the end of October left Sanford with lots of empty seats. Thus, the usual three dinner times were reduced to one at six pm. Then is when we Passengers  in the coach end of the train made our way to the dinner cars. (Given that there is a section of higher paying passengers on this train and their dining car is in another car, the number of passengers eating at six was further reduced from our past trips which used three seatings for coach passengers

Our dinner conversation was loaded with family and background points being . It was rewarding to share our commonalities regarding retirement and our children and where we all originated etc. Joe, to me looked like a combination of Mickey Mantle and Dick Butkus, with his  closely cropped haircut that used to be called a “wiffle”. Answering my inquiry as to his playing baseball or football he quickly pointed out that he played neither but being raised by a father with military ties was expected to have the look and the behavior of a US Marine. And lo and behold he did join the Marines and soon after was sent to Vietnam in 1969 to fight as a 19 year older.

Thus, we realized that all of us were in the same age grouping. And we all “came of age” in the sixties and seventies. Remembering those days was a dinner topic of common interest. I pointed out that I was a Peace Corps Volunteer and missed the military experience. Joe had lots to say about how he was received after his service  by so called “peaceniks” but it seem to me he recognized my service as a praise worthy one.

Our desserts came and soon we realized we were the last left of the dinner eating passengers and with subtle staff messages, we realized it was time to move our discussion to the club car. We did this and for another hour kept our friendly conversation going with after dinner drinks.

I think we all saw this chance meeting with our discussion of our past ways of serving both the Marines and Peace Corps on that October night  was a special Amtrak treat.

Off to our “bed” we went. Here, I’ll point out that due to not being able to sleep on the train the coming of next day’s daylight was a special occasion for me. Angela got an “excellent” sleep and at the crack of dawn was ready to get to breakfast.

Autotrain breakfast’s are continental style easily matching the Econolodge breakfasts with cereal, fruit and coffee served by the pleasant staff but no steak and eggs. The breakfast serves the purpose of getting all passengers up and ready to detain for another travel day.

Joining us for our breakfast was a man who looking to sit was pointed toward us. We introduces each ourselves to “Bob” and began chatting over coffee and cereal with bananas. Background discussions again included the usual and before long we learned that Bob was an ex-Peace Corps Volunteer. Well as a former PCV myself, you can surmise the questions and answers that followed. Bob served a little later than I did and he was located in Brazil. After an hour or so we realized again we were the only ones left in the dining car and with less than hour til arrival we said our goodbyes.

One thing that remains with me, after this overnight train trip is the wonderful friendly discussions we had with three individuals traveling North for different occasions- Bob was going to Philadelphia to attend his high school’s fiftieth reunion and Joe and Terry headed to Baltimore to be with their children.

Joe, Bob and myself reminisced about the service opportunities we chose and I think appreciate to this day both the highs and lows these service choices have provided us. Experiences that helped us to see how serving the country probably changed the course of our lives for the better and maybe many others.

I know that I always encourage young people I meet to consider national service of some sort. I also know that more choices should be offered to young people to chose from. Traveling, working to help others and learning to speak another language are all benefits that provide lifelong satisfaction. Neither Joe, Bob or myself were ever the same after our experiences. Although Joe lived with far more danger than Bob and myself did, we all were able to be thankful we lived to tell others about our service choices. Young people need to welcome experiencing national service of all kinds and to reap the benefits from these experiences as Joe, Bob and myself did.

This blog describes two brief encounters with new friends. Driving up Interstate  never would have allowed us these brief,but significant meetings. Give the  auto train trip a try. I know you’ll be experiencing a great way of traveling! Go Amtrak!

2 thoughts on “Riding the Auto-train……

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