Dinner with Friends

April 24, 2011

I’ve been on this train for almost 7 hours now.  It’s amazing how time slips by.  So far I’ve read a book, read a magazine, had a snack in the cafe, sat in the lounge car for a while staring at Wisconsin, went outside to get fresh air in Milwaukee and then Winona, sent some emails and had dinner in the dining car.  I guess that could fill 7 hours, but time seems to effortlessly slip through my fingers on the train — just like sand.  I feel like I need to stay up all night to capture every moment.

Dinner tonight was an experience.  I was sat with 3 male characters who are traveling by themselves.  A jolly black man from NJ who also came to Chicago via DC, an older sparkplug from Minneapolis and a young kid from Toronto.  The older sparkplug told me that he often travels by rail, so I asked him why.  ” I love seeing the country,” he began.  “It’s a lot easier than flying, it costs less than flying, it costs less than flying if you book in advance (he’s obviously not riding in a sleeper car) and I’ve met some pretty interesting people…Plus, you get to eat good, hot meals and stretch your legs and move around — things you can’t do on planes or buses.”

“I think that about sums it up,” said the guy from NJ.  “That and they always seat 2 big guys next to one another on a plane.”

“Yeah. You gotta be resigned to the fact that it takes time to travel by train though,” added the sparkplug.  The way he keeps peppering me with questions and then answering them himself with long, droning answers, I get the sense that he has a lot of time.

“Well, I definitely sat next to an intersting character on my train ride to Chicago,” I began, and tell them the story of Moral Turpitude Boy.  “Ha!” says sparkplug.  “It’s the quiet ones that you have to watch out for.  I once sat down next to what I thought seemed like a nice, quiet chap.  Turns out he’d just gotten out of prison for tax evasion and he was proud of it!” He carried on for a bit about his seatmate’s lawlessness and lack of patriotism, noting that he himself is a staunch Republican and had worked for the government for 37 years.

“Are you or your husband involved in anything glamorous in LA?” he suddenly asked me.

“No. I’m a corporate lawyer by training,” I said with a smile, “but my husband is a filmmaker.”

“Anything I’ve seen — I’m a movie buff,” he pressed, eagerly leaning across the table with wide eyes.

“Well, he made this movie Blue State about a guy who moves to Canada after George Bush gets elected …” I begin, noticing dark clouds starting to cover his eyes. Thankfully our food arrives to save me from the bear trap I’d set for myself.

“I once sat next to the nationally crowned king hobo,” sparkplug prattled away, telling us the difference between “hobos” and “bums” and all about the hobo national convention.

I couldn’t help thinking at the end of the meal, as I struggled to extricate from sparkplug’s conversation and return to my sleeper, that I had to agree with him on most of the benefits that he listed about train travel. When else in my life would I have broken bread with a character like him?  Or picked up golden nuggets like the stories he shared?

Walking back the 6 cars that I had to travel through to get to my sleeper, I passed Amish people, young babies travelling with their mothers, multiple people on crutches or with canes, students doing homework, men and women flirting in the rapidly transforming lounge and a large group travelling to a funeral. A slice of America. Maybe a smarter slice  because they have figured out the benefits of the under-recognized art of train travel.

Sent from my iPhone

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One Response to “Dinner with Friends”

  1. Poppy said

    Hi Heather…We thoroughly enjoyed your train adventures. I give it 5 stars and think you should consider submitting it as a short story or expand on it into novel form. It was particularly meaningful to me as I love trains and have also traveled east to west, west to east, north to south and south to north by train. No pet train rules prevent us from doing it now.

    We had a great Easter family gathering at our new home in Sagamore Beach, MA including a game of football on our nearby beautiful beach. Mom was my center, your Dad showed no signs of his injury on some magnificent runs and Cheryl was sent flying when she tried to tackle Jerry. I am pleased to report we all got out of the game without injury, other than egos. Hope we get to see you on PEI.
    Love…Nanny & Poppy

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