A Year On The Ground: Rail Riders

by Sallie Bingham

In the diner car somewhere in Georgia, Keith, the kindly, amused and amusing steward, explains the exigencies of Amtrak, under funded, according to Jimmie, the sleeping car porter, since its inception.

“Did they get rid of your chefs?” I ask Keith, having heard on an earlier east-west trip that chef losing had been one of Amtrak’s attempts at economy.

“Not our chefs but our chef’s helpers, the ones who used to make salads, things like that, and wash dishes, the same time they got rid of china and glasses and linen table clothes. Now we just wash the wine glasses and the knives and forks and throw everything else away—a big waste,” he adds, before I can comment on the vast bags of non-recycled trash the new system must produce.

I commiserate before going back to the dinner menu.

“I recommend the steak,” the big, brightly colored and adorned woman next to me says with authority. The steak is amply promoted on the menu, its description outclassing the chicken, pasta and seafood, so I order it and it is delicious, as well as free. Our first class tickets entitle us to three meals a day.

My seatmate is traveling from Miami to her home in New Jersey. She speaks with a familiar accent. When the roommate who refuses to bow to political correctness asks her if she’s from Mexico, she replies with a flash of pride, “Cuba”.

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