First Night on the Rails

The adventure continues. We had a lovely dinner in the dining car last night. Since most diners are parties of two, and all the booths are four-tops, a dining car meal is an opportunity to make new acquaintances. Our tablemates last night were Jackie and George, from the St. Louis area. The charge for sleeping car accommodations, which is added to the basic ticket price, includes all meals (exclusive of alcohol), so we could choose freely from the menu. Barney had the chef’s special (pork chop), and I had the flatiron steak, substituting garlic mashed potatoes for the baked potato. All the meals were served with “vegetable medley,” which turned out to be a mixture of green beans, wax beans, onions, and red pepper. A little too al dente for my taste, and I was unable to finish it. One of the dessert choices was a “chocolate–peanut butter torte,” which Barney and I both declined. We later heard it described as a “chocolate-caramel torte” (which I at least might have gone for) and then as a “caramel–peanut butter torte.” George got it, and it looked good. He confirmed that it probably included all three ingredients.

We had opted for the latest seating offered—6:45 p.m.—though we later learned there were later ones (presumably already filled when our reservations were taken), and by the time we’d finished our meal and sat in the observation car for a while, it was beginning to get dark, and it didn’t seem unreasonable to start thinking about retiring. On the other hand, the logistics of organizing our luggage and getting undressed seemed daunting, so we deferred getting our room made up, and ultimately it was about 11 p.m. before we really got settled down. The passengers in the compartment across from us had gotten off at Minneapolis–St. Paul, and the new passengers who had boarded there and taken their roomette were standing around in the corridor talking loudly until after we departed MSP.

Barney had reluctantly agreed to take the upper berth (I will make the sacrifice tonight), and he just about froze, as there seems to be no way to moderate the air conditioning (the vent is in the ceiling). He also opted not to try to get changed into pajamas but instead slept in his underwear, though he did have to pull his bathrobe on top of him when the thin blanket became insufficient.

I also ended up sleeping in my robe but otherwise was fairly comfortable. I woke up at many of the station stops. The most interesting was St. Cloud, Minnesota, where we actually stopped twice. The first time, our sleeper car, which had become the last car on the train when a coach car was dropped in MSP, was, as usual, so far back that the station was not even visible through the window. But then the train started up again and again stopped. This time the sleeper was looking out on the station parking lot. In addition to cars and taxis collecting detraining passengers, there were two police cars, and police officers appeared to be frisking a young man in jeans with a wild shock of unruly hair, smoking a cigarette and trying to look unconcerned.

There was no way to know whether he had been a train passenger or just someone hanging around the station yard. This morning, however, I asked Errol, “What happened in St. Cloud last night?”

“In reference to what?” he countered.

I described what I’d seen. “Oh,” he explained, “one of the passengers had some issues, and we decided the boys in blue were the best ones to handle it.”

“It looked to me like they were giving him a field sobriety test,” I suggested.

“He would have failed it miserably!” Errol replied.

Later this morning, in the observation car, I mentioned this to the man next to me, and he reported that train officials (and/or perhaps police) had come running through his car in the middle of the night in hot pursuit, and he had heard that a passenger had to be put off “unwillingly.”

Although every trip brings different passengers and possibly new challenges for the train staff, I sensed that this incident was just enough of a novelty to be a refreshing relief to what otherwise must be a fairly routine operation, and it didn’t surprise me to hear the dining car staff discussing it with relish.

[Written September 1]

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