That Lady on the Train

By on 17 May, 2016 in Sandra Nickel with 2 Comments
Our Amtrak dining car

Our Amtrak dining car

Last week my husband Jim and I had the opportunity to take an overnight train trip. We had flown to Washington D.C. for meetings and were guests of Amtrak on the return leg.

We are fortunate to travel a good bit, and this trip reminded me of what we all have lost across the years as airplane fares have become more egalitarian and not just for the “swells.” That affordability has brought with it a high price: the loss of graciousness and civility.

Upon checking into Washington D.C.’s drop-dead-gorgeous Union Station, we found our way to the Amtrak ticket counter; and from there we were directed to “take two left turns” to the First Class Lounge. There, we found a very peaceful suite of rooms equipped with free snacks and soft drinks; newspapers and magazines from around the world; extremely comfortable lounge chairs; and a concierge who assured us she would be there until we boarded. She encouraged us to leave our carry-ons and go exploring, which we promptly did.

That afternoon “layover” was full of activity. We had a great lunch at a white table cloth establishment in the station. There was lots of walking and gawking at all the stores and restaurants in the building. We even took a quick tour of the Smithsonian’s United States Postal Museum right next door, where we “met” Owney, the 119-year-old stuffed canine who was the beloved and much-decorated official mascot of the Railway Mail Service.

At the appropriate hour, our concierge summoned an Amtrak attendant, who then escorted us down the platform to our sleeping car. Our “roomette” had two lounge chairs with plenty of space below for all our stuff. And into the room’s modest 3’6” by 6’6” were also built a commode and lavatory; two twin size beds; plenty of electrical outlets and much more.

Dusk was falling as we pulled out of the station, and I was reminded of when I was a little girl in suburban St. Louis. We lived on a street that dead-ended at the train tracks; and I used to love standing there and watching the Hummingbird go by. It was at the same time of day, and the dining car lights shone. Clearly through the large windows I could see well-dressed ladies and gentlemen dining en route to what I just knew were exciting destinations. It struck me as I looked out the window: By golly, I was that lady on the train!

Feeling like a king and a queen, we settled in briefly, then adjourned to the club car for a drink or two. At the appointed hour (we had made 8:30 p.m. reservations upon boarding the train), we were escorted again, this time to the elegantly appointed dining car. Included in the price of our tickets were all our meals, so we treated ourselves to steak dinners and decadent desserts!

When we returned to our room, Stacey (our car attendant) had transformed our room into two cozy beds. Unfortunately, Jim found the swaying of the train made it difficult to sleep. I, on the other hand and in the top berth to boot, slept like a baby in a cradle gently rocking back and forth. It was a real luxury to have toilet facilities handy so that we did not have to schlep down the hallway during the night.

Saturday morning’s delicious full breakfast was just icing on the cake. Out the window we could see Georgia give way to Alabama. And just before noon on Saturday, we rolled into Birmingham’s Amtrak station. Yes, it’s a bit rough around the edges and there is a new one under construction. Most importantly, it has passenger service, unlike Montgomery’s magnificent station that now holds the CVB’s welcome center and nothing more.

Looking for an elegant way to go? Go Amtrak!

Sandra Nickel has been listing and selling residential real estate for over 30 years, most with an intense focus on Montgomery’s Midtown neighborhoods. Sandra serves on the Mid-Alabama Coalition for the Homeless, the Cloverdale Business Coalition, Historic Southview, the Volunteer and Information Center, Landmarks Foundation and her own neighborhood Garden District Preservation Association.



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  1. OC says:

    If you had paid, what’s the face value on your trip?

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