Feasting while in motion

I think I’ll go for a shower after breakfast — probably less of a hassle. It will be interesting to see how feasible it is to stand in a slippery shower stall amidst the rocking and rolling of the train — I did notice there are handrails inside the shower; I expect I’ll be clinging to those for dear life.

Speaking of breakfast, let me talk about last night’s dinner. The train had just stopped at Ottumwa Iowa, and the Conductor announced that at this stop we could go outside at the station for a few moments, “but make sure you re-board the train when we make the announcement.” No incentive to linger outside, for sure. This was a brief chance for smokers to quickly puff away (no smoking anywhere on the train).

I went outside. The Ottumwa station was deserted except for the half dozen passengers that disembarked at my car. It was dark (around 7:40 pm) and there was around a foot of snow where it wasn’t packed down by traffic. I tried a couple pictures but they probably didn’t turn out too well. Just as I was about to play around with manual exposure settings, I heard the announcement from the Dining Car Steward that the 7:15 dinner reservations should now make their way to dinner (they were a little delayed). So, I climbed back onto the train (after taking a photo for a man and his small son). By the way, this train is looong. At Union Station, I walked for what seemed like three city blocks alongside the impressively tall train cars before I reached my sleeper car. Here at Ottumwa, the rest of the train disappeared into the darkness. These Western long-distance trains are two levels high, much taller than the single-level trains seen east of the Mississippi (due to lower bridges, I suspect).

I see I’ve digressed from the story of dinner; I’ll discuss our consist more later. After re-boarding my sleeper car, I walked to the Diner (just one car away) and waited in line for about 5 minutes while the steward seated each person or group in available seats. I was seated at the first table, across from a thirtysomething couple and next to a young man. We introduced ourselves, though by now I’ve completely forgotten. Must write these things down. The couple are from Virginia, and this was their first train trip (they were going as far as Denver). The young man is a university student (biology major) in Omaha, and he was returning from visiting his San Jose girlfriend (as geographically-challenged as I am, even I was a little confused why he was on a train going from Chicago to Omaha if he was coming from California, but I let it go without asking.) We all had a nice time chatting and deciding what to order. Due to a little misunderstanding, we thought we were supposed to fill out the meal ticket form that was left for each of us (if you’re a sleeper, you sign your name and give your car number and room number, just like signing for drinks at the hotel pool – I guess!). So we had fun trying to decipher some extreme abbreviations (drinks: P S RB HT IT HeT and so on. I won points for breaking the Herbal Tea code. No ST but we’re not in Tennessee, so I’ll sweeten my own IT.) Turns out the waiter actually waits on us and fills out the form properly, but no harm done.

The meals for the couple and for me are “free” since we’re sleepers; the student was riding in Coach (poor kid) and so had to shell out Actual Money at the end of the meal. And the meal was very good. The salad was fresh. I ordered the steak medallions, medium well, with mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables, and cheesecake (the steak menu price alone was $19.50). The steak was tender, juicy, and just right. Potatoes and veggies also great. And the cheesecake was moist and fluffy. Since the Dining section is on the upper level of the Dining Car (the lower level is the kitchen, for they prepare the food just like in a stationary restaurant), the swaying and rocking of the train is slightly exaggerated. Nothing too difficult, but it made eating and drinking harder than usual (unless you normally wave your hands and bounce in your seat while eating, and I know some of you do). After eating we said our goodbyes and went on our merry way, satisfied with dinner and company.

I returned to my roomette (Oh, #12, I know thee) and after a while I lowered the upper berth to make a bed (the bed is nearly exactly 6’4″ as am I) and rest my eyes. I got up a few times during the night, but mostly slept without discomfort or distraction. The sleeping car steward (for our car, Faye) can prepare your compartment at night for sleeping and then return it to normal while you’re at breakfast, but I decided to do it myself so that I could go to sleep whenever I wanted. The bed clicks into place and it already had sheets and a blanket and pillow, as well as a safety fence you can attach to the ceiling to prevent rolling off the berth. The only downside of the upper berth is that there’s no window view, so perhaps tonight I’ll set up the lower bed to watch scenery while I drift off to sleep. That will mean moving everything around, though (luggage and gadget-wise, that is) so in the interest of convenience, probably not likely.

Well, now it’s 7:10 am MT and the sun is rising; the snowy landscape is pink with the new day. The dining steward has announced breakfast. I think I shall take him up on his kind offer.


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