After settling in my usual haunt in the lounge car, I spent the first few hours of the ride alternating between reading, note-taking, gazing dreamily through the mist, and dozing, each diversion more pleasant than the last. When the hostess came round to make reservations for lunch, I thought, "Why not? I am running out of hardtack."
Come 1 o'clock, I was seated* with a retired couple from Santa Rosa, and we got on quite well, at first. They had flown to Seattle for the express purpose of taking the whole Coast Starlight route all the way to LA, a trip they had wanted to do for years. I ordered a meal that was alluringly described to me as "a warm smoked turkey and cheddar sandwich served on a multi grain roll." However, somewhere in the time between ordering and receiving our food, I think I may have offended one of my dining companions**, because suddenly everything I said was met with stony silence, and while attempting to regale them with my traveling stories (which you all know are riveting, to say the least) one would turn to the other and make statements about the passing scenery over whatever I was self-consciously saying. But, all was forgotten once my meal came, and I was confronted with the disconcerting fact that my sandwich, prepared in Amtrak's full service kitchen car, was merely a microwaved, pre-made, sandwich-like farce. Why, please tell me why, would any human ever think it acceptable to microwave bread to serve to other innocent humans? Give me cold bread, stale bread, hell, give me moldy bread over microwaved bread; Whatever those crazy micro waves do to bread molecules is a complete desecration to that Staff of Life, Bread.
Even so, it was undeniably better than airplane food, not too over priced, and came with a delicious pickle and complimentary beverage.
Retiring to the lounge after lunch, seriously questioning my self-worth and worried about the evening's dining options, I took it upon myself to make friends with some friendly person, and found someone to fit the bill immediately. He was a Canadian wwoofer, headed to Sacramento to do some volunteer farming. We were soon spotted by two other bohemian solo-traveler types also in search of camaraderie- an EMT who had been working in Yosemite and a traveling poet, respectively. We decided to celebrate our conglomeration and stave off hunger with various half-bottles of wine from the café car, run by the fabulously entertaining Flavio, who laughed at our jokes, sold us much too much*** wine, and made fun of us perfectly, to all of our delight.
Amtrak, if you are reading this,**** give Flavio a raise and hire his whole family.
We passed the night drinking and chatting like old friends, every now and again remarking to one another how lucky we were to pass the hours of darkness in such good company. How did we find each other? The only explanation I can think of is that the train literally has magical powers. We napped for a few hours, and before we knew it, it was 6am and we were in dark, sleepy Sacramento. I pointed the Canadian farmer in the direction of HI Sacramento, blocks away from the station in the world's most perfectly restored Victorian mansion, hopped on my bicycle and rode home along the river as the sun came up.
*In the Dining Car on Amtrak, they do "community seating" so if you are a party of less than four you'll meet new people!
**Was it when I responded to a comment about the pleasant irreverence of Los Angeles by saying that it was irreverent in the same way that giving someone the finger is irreverent? Was it when they talked about their love of their leisurely lives as retirees and I darkly grumbled something about my generation working till we die to pay off their social security? I don't know.
***No such thing.
****Which you should be, Amtrak!