San Antonio to Chicago, Texas Eagle, Train No. 22
The cars in the parking lot had their headlights on when I boarded the train. With a new day rising, I was hungry for a train breakfast. The Texas Eagle has a Sightseer Lounge where passengers can get snacks, sandwiches and drinks. Nothing there appealed to me. Most of the food was wrapped in plastic. The train also has a full meal service dining car. When I arrived for breakfast every table was empty except for one, where three men sat. They were on the younger side of middle age. A service attendant escorted me to this table. One of the men had already received his meal and was eating when I sat down. They did not know each other. Each was traveling solo.
Some passengers complain about this arrangement of being seated with strangers. Not me. Sharing a meal brings people together – people who may not have the chance or inclination to sit down with each other in any other circumstance. I liken it to making up a foursome in golf. It’s usually a pleasant time on the golf course with whomever you are joined to play with. The same holds true for meals on a train.
The man sitting across from me was wearing a cap with the letters USMC on it. He was a former marine traveling to Bloomington, Illinois, where he lives with his grandmother. His name is Curt. He said he traveled around the world while in the marines, but never mentioned any of the places he had been. Of his grandmother he said, “I’m trying to keep her out of a Home.”
He drove his grandmother’s car down to Texas to give it to his niece. “She’s studying archeology. That girl is smart. She’s going to be somebody some day.” His gloating over his niece made me think he had no children of his own. When I asked what he did for a living he mumbled, “Different jobs. Remodeling.” He appeared quiet for someone who had been a marine and grew up in Texas.
Sitting next to Curt was Steve. He works in a photography lab in Kansas City, Missouri. He was returning from a conference at the Gonzales Center in San Antonio. He flew there but chose to take the train back. “I was able to walk from conference to the Amtrak station so it worked out well,” he said.
Our conversation turned to politics and government. Steve said he was leaning towards voting for Ted Cruz. (This was before Cruz dropped out of the 2016 Presidential race.) “There are just too many laws inhibiting our free
dom and blocking business growth,” he complained. Curt nodded his head in agreement.
The man sitting beside me spoke up. “Your political system confuses me,” he said with a pronounced British accent. “I mean what do delegates do? Isn’t it supposed to be one person, one vote?” The Americans shook their heads. His name is Peter. He was taking the train to Chicago to catch a flight back to London.
“Why did you choose Texas to travel to?” I asked Peter.
“I’ve been vacationing at the Silverleaf Hill Country Resort for four weeks. It’s 50 miles from the Amtrak station but I’ve got my bike with me and rode the distance.”
“Four weeks vacation!” Steve exclaimed. “I didn’t take any vacation last year.”
“I don’t understand that either,” Peter said. “I was talking with a taxi driver here and he told me he didn’t have the money to travel to Europe. I told him to travel during the off season, as I do.”
Peter was not a jetsetter. He was a warehouse worker who bought a timeshare vacation in Indonesia through RCI, a worldwide exchange network. He trades off his time to visit places such as Texas. He packs his bike in a suitcase and brings it with him. “I’m sure to get where I need to go. I ride my bike 15 miles to work everyday. It keeps me in shape for my trips,” he said.
Our train breakfast arrived at a staggered pace with no aroma to whet our appetites. The service attendant never spoke. He slid the plates in front us one at a time. As we ate we talked about politics, property taxes, crime and healthcare. Peter seemed satisfied with the system he lived and worked under. Maybe he was being polite. Curt and Steve were disgruntled. “Property taxes are too high. It’s no way to fund schools,” said Curt. “Healthcare is still too expensive,” said Steve. We didn’t bother to discuss the food. My eggs were tasteless. The croissant was good. The crew lingered a few seats away.
The service attendant handed only me a bill. The three men had sleeper car accommodations so their meals were included in the ticket price. After our conversation ended, we headed in different directions. I wouldn’t see them again.
When back in my seat I felt the mood in America was changing. Who knows what the American dream is anymore? I looked outside as we passed a row of small wood houses with a pickup truck parked in every other driveway. A church steeple towered up like an exclamation point to the sky. Shiny red tractors under a tent waited for buyers.