Revisiting the Amtrak Experience

After hearing about our experience with Amtrak a few people have asked me if I’d ever travel by train again. At first my answer was an unequivocal, “NO WAY!” But after having a few days to distance myself from the experience I’d have to say, “Maybe.” Not because I’ve already forgotten how awful the waiting was or how frustrating it was to have our arrival time shifting every 20 minutes. No, it’s because my frustration clouded my ability to see some of the really wonderful things about train travel.

When we decided to take the train we knew it would add a couple of hours to our trip, and with delays it ended up being about 6 hours extra each way. However, we were headed to Chicago where traffic is terrible, parking is expensive and public transportation is plentiful. Not to mention that train tickets were going to be about the same price as putting gas in the car. It made logistical sense. It seemed to make less sense when we were shifting plans due to late arrivals but the fact remained that all of the reasons we decided to take the train in the first place were still true. However, those logistical reasons are not why I’d still consider the potential hassle of taking a train again. The real reason is the people.

I’m not going to pretend that everyone was pleasant and the woman who screeched at her children through much of the trip wasn’t someone I’d like to share a car with again. But the other people around us were so great. Directly across from J and I were an elderly couple and the man spent a good deal of time talking to J. He asked him about the video game he was playing, talked about where we lived (he apparently has family in the area) and shared stories about his grandfather collecting the mail that he hung on a hook beside the train tracks to be collected and deposited on the hook in the next town by the train operators. My mom and K sat next to another older couple who were traveling to see their grandchildren and had some great talks with them as well.I’ve  never experienced anything like this; car travel has you isolated and people are simply not this friendly in the air. The air travel can’t just be attributed to the time we were there either because I’ve been on several trans-Atlantic flights that were longer than our train ride without every exchanging pleasantries much less family stories with my seat mates.

So, it seems to me, that there might be something about train travel that lends itself to this kind of interaction. Perhaps we were just lucky to be sitting with really nice people but I think there’s more too it than that because it wasn’t just our car. When I walked up to the lounge car I saw people who were obviously not traveling together talking, laughing, playing cards and just having a genuinely good time with complete strangers. For this reason alone I’m willing to say that I might try it again. Authentic connection with other people outside our circle of family and friends is rare and I think being delayed a few hours might be worth the opportunity.

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