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Sunday, March 01, 2009

TRAIN TRAVEL & THE DINING CAR--2 THUMBS UP


Last year when we took the Autotrain to Florida, we enjoyed the company of other people in the dining car. It’s one of the pleasures of train travel. I’d like to share one experience with you that is typical of the nice encounters we’ve had. I’m ready for another train trip.

One of the unknowns about travel is who we will meet. At our Autotrain check-in, we choose a 7:00 dinner seating—early enough for cocktails with the other passengers in our downstairs compartment and late enough to give us some time before calling it a night. We’re pleased when we’re seated with a younger but shy couple.

Rob introduces himself and me, and a conversation begins. On the Autotrain the first question is always, “Where are you from?” and it’s the perfect icebreaker. They’re leaving from Virginia Beach. Great.

“We know Virginia Beach,” Rob immediately replies. We know people who live there, and we’ve vacationed there after dropping off our son at Virginia Tech.”

The ice melts away.

They just left Virginia Beach and are heading to Jacksonville with two cars—not for vacation but for three years.

“Are you in the Military?” I ask. That three-year stint is becoming code to me.

With that the conversation opens up. Our dinner companion is crew chief for maintenance on F-18 Hornets after working on Sea Hawk helicopters. He’s assigned to Florida and he and his wife, a cardiac nurse, are headed down to find a home.

We tell them about Michael in Iraq and Leslie from Virginia Beach. We talk of how Rob and I loved to lie on that beach in the sun watching the Navy jets fly out each morning and return in the afternoon—bursts of silver against the robin egg blue sky.

Our companions are anxious to talk too, and we hear their stories. They originally came to the United States from Sierra Leone, and he joined the Navy after college. That was ten years ago. They love their life.

We share a lovely meal with these two young people, sharing some experiences. We all agree that the relaxed feel of the Autotrain makes the trip a relaxing interlude to the often frenetic pace of life. It's nice to meet other people, and it was nice to have a chance to speak to this military couple and to thank them.

Meanwhile the train slowly rocked its way through the darkness past Selma, North Carolina—another sleepy town on our way south.
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