Here, have a low-res (due to bandwidth constraints) through-acrylic photo of the train rounding a snow-covered curve a bit west of Denver, not long before passing through the Moffat Tunnel and crossing the Continental Divide.
Thus far the trip has been rather nice. At meals people are seated four to a table, with groups less than four combined as needed. Thus far this has worked out well, and I’ve met some rather interesting people. Food eaten and meal companions have been as follows. While this list currently contains three meals, it’ll be updated with breakfast and lunch from the 17-Nov, as appropriate:
Dinner #1 / 15-Nov-2009:
Food: Bison meatloaf a chipotle sauce, salad w/ vinaigrette dressing, bread, mashed potatos, and a key lime cake covered in blueberries.
Companion(s): A woman who takes the train because of a fear of flying, a retired Air Force cargo and commercial pilot living in Salt Lake City, UT who has the time to take the train and strongly dislikes our airport security, and an oral / maxillofacial surgeon interviewing for residency and booking cheap last-minute travel from Chicago to Omaha.
Breakfast #1 / 16-Nov-2009:
Food: Cheese omelet with grits, bacon, and a croissant.
Companion(s):The same retired pilot from dinner last night, eaten while sitting in the Denver station during a short layover.
Lunch #1 / 16-Nov-2009:
Food: Chipotle black bean burger (Morningstar Farms) with crinkle-cut potato chips and chocolate ice cream.
Companion(s): A boyfriend/girlfriend couple taking the train from Boston to Emeryville, then to Portland and back to Chicago (from there he is then flying back to Turkey to visit his parents and she’s heading to her family’s place in Milwaukee), and with a rather quiet woman who lives near Corvallis, OR who seems to regularly the train when traveling.
Dinner #2 / 16-Nov-2009:
Food: Ricotta-stuffed ravoli-esque pasta, steamed veggies, salad w/ blue cheese dressing, bread.
Companion(s): Retired couple from Sacramento area. Husband works as a process engineer, formerly making Polaris missile fuel for Bridgestone, now for the pharmaceutical company they were spun off as. Wife is a retired librarian, considering applying for director positions.
Diverant from airline food there are no vegan, vegetarian-variant (non-ovo-lacto, etc), or religion-specific (Kosher, Halal, Hindu, etc) meals. Overall the food is definitely better than airline food, but I am glad that I brought some extra snacks on board† as I find myself wanting something to munch on that’s a little more in line with my normal tastes.
Meals are served with plastic plates and cups, stainless steel utensils, and disposable table cloths and napkins. Meal choice is made at the table and preparation takes ten to fifteen minutes, implying that non-breakfast foods are semi-prepared. As my breakfast contained eggs it was pretty easy to tell that they were freshly cooked, although they may have been from boxed eggs. The menus are half standard items, and half chef’s special / specials of the day. Breakfast and lunch are first come, first serve, with the queue being assigned numbers which are then called out across the train as available. For dinner someone comes around and asks which of a predetermined set of times one wishes to eat at (one of four), then the reserved time is written on a slip of paper and used as one’s dinner reservation. My dinner reservations for both yesterday and today were at 7:15pm, which allow for eating to take place sometime after sunset. After eating one typically returns to their room to find the seats transformed into beds, ready for sleepytime.
Traveling this late in the year with the sun setting so early makes it a bit dull later in the evenings, but drawing the curtains to block light from the car’s hallway and turning out the in-cabin lights makes things outside, including stars, plenty visible. Towns, and their typically rail-side industrial areas are particularly visible and interesting at night. Last night I also used this time to watch a mountain biking historical film called Klunkerz, and today I’m writing this post. I wish I’d brought along one more movie for tonight, but books or the provided-daily newspaper will defintely suffice.
After spending the whole of the day sitting in various comfortable chairs and looking out large windows (floor to ceiling, wrapping around to the roof when in the observation / lounge car) looking at beautiful mountains and canyons I feel certain that this is a wonderful way to travel. If one can afford the extra time and doesn’t mind being with minimum facilities for a few days, this is an ideal way to cross the country. There is generally no security theater††, comfortable seating, decent food, self-service coffee/water/juice, the ability to move around, time to walk outside during smoke breaks / extended stops, and the ability to isolate one’s self in a comfortable private cabin. If I wish to talk to others the observation / lounge car is easily accessible, but while sitting here I’ve felt completely detached from the other passengers, free to simply sit and look out the window, relaxing and watching the country roll by.
† Brought along in a Trader Joe’s paper grocery bag were Trader Joe’s Oh My! Omega trail mix, TJ’s Tom Yum Cashews, TJ’s “This apple walks into a bar…”, Meiji Almond, Cisco’s Coconut Sable Biscuits, Suntory’s Black Boss Coffee, a 10oz bag of caramel corn from “Nuts On Clark” in Chicago’s Union Station, and two bottles of Goats Do Roam-brand wine; one eponymous and one bottle of Goats In Villages. Note that a personal stock of alcohol is permitted to be consumed in one’s private cabin, but it may not be brought to common areas such as the dining car, observation car, or coach seating.
†† Unexpectedly there were fifteen or so low-visibility (non-uniformed but with badges and firearms strapped to arms or legs, wearing logo’d jackets) DHS folks all armed with handguns, with two dogs, waiting for us at the normally-lengthy stop in Grand Junction, CO. The cabin attendant indicated that normally they visit the train in Reno, NV looking for drugs, but these dogs were bomb sniffing. I tend to believe the explosive dog claim, as when I walked past one and the dog started to sniff me, the officer holding it pulled it back. I’ve never had a drug sniffing dog not be allowed to sniff me all it wanted. While lingering around the outside of the train during this extended break I overheard the DHS individuals repeatedly refering to a female and boarding the train via the dining car’s non-public ground-level entrance. Despite this, I never saw anyone actually being removed from the train, and all the identifiable DHS individuals seemed to depart the area at the same time, in unmarked vehicles, before the train left the station.