What I Learned Riding Amtrak Trains During 2016

Amtrak trainI traveled many miles on Amtrak trains this year and talked with passengers to see what I could learn from them. Some were serious minded, others were funny. They were of all ages – seniors, parents, college kids and children. They were of all religious, geographic, ethnic and racial backgrounds. Here is a summary of some things I learned while traveling by train during 2016.

People like to be listened to

To start a conversation I usually asked some standard train traveling questions. Where are you going? Where are you coming from? Why did you decide to take the train? I was ready for quick responses, lengthy explanations and everything in between. Nothing about their physical appearance gave me a clue as to who would engage and who would not. Some were ready to talk from the get go, others needed time to assess why I was curious about them. Those who did open up to a stranger had something in common – they liked being listened to. Listening is a skill. It’s something that brings us closer to one another.

They love their families

Amtrak at Chicago Union StationMany of the people I met on the train were going to visit a family member or attend a family event. Chris from Yazoo City, Mississippi was returning from his daughter’s wedding. Grandma Laurie was on the last leg of a trip from Israel to Cincinnati to see her family. Tiquan was returning home for college break. An Amish family was heading to Iowa for a funeral. The effort it takes to participate in family life is worth it. That kind of love can’t be found anywhere else.

Train travel offers adventure

Trains travel through parts of America that cannot be accessed by cars or buses. Airplanes disregard landscapes all together. Train travelers expressed a desire to reduce chaos in their lives and slow down. They didn’t like flying. Josie was traveling alone to Harper’s Ferry to hike the Appalachian Trail. For Robert, even the bus was too hectic. He described the train as laidback. Jimmy was traveling to Wyoming to start a new job. It was his first trip on his own and out of the state of Florida. For a mom and her toddler son who wore a shirt with a train that included a cookie car, his first train ride was a thrill they wouldn’t forget. Adventure is in the eye of the beholder.

Disabled people have a choice

Blind man riding the railsThere were people I met who were unable to manage other transportation options due to a handicap. A military veteran of the war in Afghanistan with PTSD held his service dog in his arms. A blind man and his wife were going to Tucson from Cleveland to meet friends. The train allowed them to travel in a way that they were comfortable. Remember those who are capable when they have options.

Frustration outweighs optimism

When I board a train I bring my optimism with me. I wake up every morning and say to myself: “Let me love this day and everyone in it.” More than once while on the train people challenged my outlook. They did not love everyone. Their future was bleak. America had let them down. People talked about loveless marriages, business failures, crime, unemployment, and government dysfunction. This brought me to a prediction that many of my friends and news media believed unfathomable. 

Donald Trump would be elected president

It became obvious to me while riding on long-distance Amtrak trains that Donald Trump would be elected president. Had any of the campaign operatives, pundits and analysts taken such a ride they probably would have come to the same conclusion. I met a maintenance man who told me he was voting for Mr. Trump because: “He’s rich and a good businessman who will create jobs.” There was a single mom elementary school teacher from Arkansas who was fed up with the way things were going. “Trump will bring the change we need,” she said. An elderly lady from Jackson, Mississippi heading to New Orleans said she would not vote for Hillary Clinton. “It’s not a lady job,” she replied when I asked her why. Data is important, but it won’t tell the whole story when it comes to the human heart.

America is still the beautiful

People gasped at the beauty of America’s landscapes as the train traversed mountainsides, riverbanks, forests, open plains and bayous. Within these diverse terrains I believe we all found some solace. We had something in common. We chose to see it and we chose to listen to each other. We are free to choose.

Train tracks on Amtrak line






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