Amtrak Adventure 2004 part 2… Dinner with new friends

I always have to write these things down before I forget them. I had dinner tonight with an older couple named Al and Nata. They were on their last leg of a six week cross country rail excursion from their home in Idaho, down the west coast to LA, and across the country up to New England, down to Florida and back again.

It was a sort of retirement present for Al, who Nata told me hadn’t been well as of late. He had been on oxygen until recently and they were working to get him off of it, which they finally did and this was a little reward. I have to give Al credit. He had to be in his 70s or 80s and it’s not easy to make your way down the narrow aisles of a train speeding through the night at 80-100 miles an hour, jerking back and forth without warning. I guess I just take balance for granted.

Al and Nata are a few rooms down from me in my car, so I made sure they got to the dining car and back tonight. Moving between cars is a bit of a task when you’re that old. I tried to make sure the automatic doors didn’t trap them outside the train as they were moving from car to car. I guess I’d hope someone might keep an eye out on my mom and dad should they ever get the urge to travel. They’re both younger and in much better shape than Al and Nata, but still. I know I get tossed around when I’m walking on the train.

They asked about me, what I did. I told them I edited television commercials and they both immediately told me how they hated that commercials were so loud compared to what they were watching. They said they mute the volume when they come on. That’s a good example of the technology getting too smart for it’s own good. It’s true. They compress the audio in commercials so it sounds louder than everything else to get it to stand out. But I guess that doesn’t work too well with Nata’s hand on the mute button.

Al asked me about my ancestry. That’s funny. I’m pretty sure it’s been years since anyone has asked me that. I told him I was a UK mutt. Mostly Irish, but a little English, Welsh, maybe some German and Scottish too if I’m not mistaken. He said it looked good on me.

I think Nata said Al was in the Navy or on a base or something like that. They said they were stationed in San Francisco during the war. I’m sure they meant World War II. They said they used to take their kids down to the ocean and watch the submarine nets open and close. Definitely sounds like WWII to me. The three of us had the Evening Special for dinner tonight, which was pretty much a holiday meal of carved turkey, stuffing, vegetables and cranberry sauce. And Al insisted we all have pumpkin pie. Now am I one to argue with Al? Sir, no sir.

Almost time to turn my comfy sitting room into a bedroom. When I wake up, I’ll be in Colorado.

Of course you have to sleep to wake up anywhere. Wow, that was a pretty bad night’s sleep. Lots of voices in my head last night. I guess they’ve all been waiting for a quiet moment. I did eventually catch a few hours, and I guess that’s one of the benefits of chasing the time zones on a trip like this. You pick up an hour every night.

I always look forward to breakfast when I’m traveling. I think it’s because I really never have a proper breakfast except when I’m on the road. And unlike at home, I was up before 6am this morning getting dressed and ready for the day. Breakfast starts at 6:30 in the dining car and there were already a few people scattered in the booths when I got there.

I sat with a couple from Colorado this morning. They were on their way back from a mini vacation in Chicago, and as we sat in the darkness we could start to make out the snow covered outlines of our new morning surroundings. Lots of white out there. Was it still snowing? My pancakes would arrive before I could answer that question. Yes, still snowing and there was a lot of it.

It was hard to tell if it was a blizzard or just the snow being picked up by the train and blown past the windows. It was just white and every once in a while you could make out a tree or a building. When I got back to my lower level room, it was even worse. Pretty much just white.

As we pulled into Denver the snow stopped falling, but there was a lot of it. Denver is one of the few times you get to get off the train and stretch your legs for a little while. The station is literally right behind the ballpark that the Colorado Rockies play baseball in. Every time I pass though here I try to figure out a way to take a nice picture of the ballpark, but from the back, it’s just another new stadium. Not really much character. Now taking a photograph of the back of Wrigley Field. Plenty of character.

We’re beginning our ascent into the Rocky Mountains and this is where the trip starts to get interesting. I think we’re about an hour and a half behind schedule so far. Don’t know if we can make it up now that we’re in the mountains. The flatlands of Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska just can’t compare with the seismic upheaval of a giant mountain range. And painted with a fresh coat of snow and lingering heavy cloud cover, it’s quite a scene outside my window.

One thing I really like about having a digital camera on this trip is that I really don’t worry about how much film I’m shooting… well… because there’s no film. If my smart cards get full, I just download them to my laptop and I’m set to shoot some more. The last trip through here, I was lucky enough to have been offered Mark Johnson’s little Nikon Coolpix. It wasn’t the newest camera on the block at the time, maybe a few years old, but man, was it nice to be able to experiment and shoot as much as I could and get instant feedback on how I was doing. It was the film time I had ever made photographs without film. And that little camera took some very nice pictures.

This time, having thoroughly been bitten by the digital bug I’m armed with a Nikon digital SRL, basically a nice big 35mm camera that doesn’t take film. I’ll be able to take pictures that are a little sharper and that I can blow up a little larger this time, so it will be interesting to see how I do.

We’re passing through the 6 mile long Moffet Tunnel now, so I’ve gone from a white winter wonderland to pitch black. As my keyboard lights up in the darkness (thanks Apple designers), I take a quick look at my battery indicator and I see that although I am plugged into the AC outlet in my room here, there doesn’t seem to be any juice making it to my computer. Hmmm. This could be bad. Nope the cell phone isn’t getting a charge either. Wonder what’s up? Well this may be my last entry for a while until I figure this out, but at least I had time to bring a few photos in and shrink them down to web-friendly size.

Passing through the Continental Divide,

Billy

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