Well, one more thing to be nostalgic about. The Amtrak dining car.
You remember the dining car, don’t you? Back in the day? It had white tablecloths. And waiters. And even dessert. And you always had the best view. The landscape of America just rolling by, one cow at a time.
What happened to the dining car, you ask? Why, the Amtrak chiefs just up and got rid of them in 2019. Said millennials didn’t want a fancy dining experience. Said they just wanted something nuked and ready to eat. Said they wanted to eat fast and get back to their social media. Can’t fret over a menu while you’re Instagramming cat videos.
The traditional dining car will be available on some overnight routes, however.
My daughter’s a millennial, but she’s not like that. She likes slow food. She even shops at farmers markets. I don’t think she’s an eat-and-run type.
As a matter of fact, a few years back, we took a cross-country train together. We ate in the dining car. She was in college. She was returning to Arizona for summer break. We shared a sleeper. Kind of pricey, to be sure. But it had one big perk. It covered all the meals in the dining car.
It was nice sharing a meal together. And having a chat. Almost like home. Well, not our home. We pretty much ate in front of the TV. We didn’t talk much, lest we interrupt the dialog on “The Simpsons.”
I also traveled on trains with Cindy, my wife. We went all over America, often as a family. And often in a sleeper. We looked forward to the dining car, especially at breakfast. Pancakes or eggs and coffee. I’d always get a refill, just to draw out the experience. Watching backyards slip by. Or maybe wide rivers. You take a long enough ride, you’re bound to cross the Mississippi. There are mountains to see, in New Mexico or Colorado.
The dining car did test your motor skills. What are motor skills? Well, it’s not car repair, otherwise I wouldn’t have any. I’m talking about being able to lift a fork to your mouth. Or a cup of coffee. On a train, it’s not always a piece of cake, though it could be. Trains sway this way and that. And so does your coffee cup when you pick it up. You learn to get into the rhythm, though. Manage cup to lip.
But trains don’t always run smoothly. (Or always on time, for that matter.) Sometimes the train would suddenly lurch, and coffee would fly. Fortunately, waitstaff always came prepared to mop up the mess. Wine was even messier.
The dining car required reservations. It was, after all, fine dining. Sleeper passengers got first dibs. Sometimes Cindy and I rode economy. We still treated ourselves to breakfast and dinner in the dining car.
I’ve learned the world is full of interesting people. It comes with the job. In the dining car, you often end up sitting right across from them. Cindy and I once had dinner with a state supreme court justice. I don’t remember the state she was from. It wasn’t Arizona. On another trip, I sat across from a state official who inspected highway bridges. Again, I don’t remember the state. But crumbling and outdated bridges were much in the news, so we had a lot to talk about.
Once, we met a well-heeled Republican couple. Nothing wrong with that. I suppose I’d be a Republican if I were well-heeled. They were returning to Albuquerque. They spoke about a commuter train that runs from Albuquerque to Santa Fe. They voted against the proposition that funded it.
Waste of money, they said, though they often took the train. It beat driving.
Interesting people can have different points of view.
I’m not sure what perks sleeper passengers will get now. Maybe the new microwaved meals, replacing the meals prepped by kitchen staff. Amtrak says they’ll be good. OK, if you say so. The dining car will become a drop-in whenever you want that kind of place. No reservations required. And no white tablecloths.
Right now, the only alternative is the snack car. It’s usually down below the observation car. You can get hot dogs and hamburgers. The cashier grabs them from the fridge, unwraps and nukes them. Chips and drinks are available.
I have nothing against the snack car. Beer is served. For me, it’s like a bar with a good view.
Someday I might be nostalgic for that, too. There are rumblings that Amtrak might just do away with long-distance routes altogether. Cost-cutting. I’d hate to see them go.
We’d be left with airlines, where passengers jostle for seating. They fight for a square foot of space in the overhead bin. They go by the law of the jungle.
I’m just going to shut my eyes now. I can see the green pastures of Iowa, gliding by to the clackity clack of the track.
Oops, there goes the coffee.