Trainventure: More Character Sketches

These sketches were from the Amtrak boarding lounge in Chicago.

Therapy Lady and… Dad?

Woman in her forties wearing a hijab sitting next to an older man in a vest and sports coat with a distinguished goatee. He’s operating a large apple mac and she keeps repeating “the orange leaves are moving in the direction of…” and “the points are pointing in the direction of…” again and again and again. Patiently. I’m guessing it’s either some kind of therapy the silliest game I’ve ever heard. I later realize she’s working on one of those “brain building” web sites to help older folks with cognitive skills. She changes the patter almost every time and is ever patient with him. He seems focused and concentrated, with nary a sign of frustration. On second look the jacket seems about four sizes too big on him. His voice, when he speaks, is furry and slow, but he’s clearly thinking.

Turns out she’s a physician “two of my daughters are,” says the proud papa, waking up from the snooze in his chair. I complement her on her patience. “You should ask my daughter how patient I am,” she says. But smiles. I bet she’s a great doc.

The Bike Master

72, looks like a rugged, pudgy white guy. Casually talked about biking. Was laid up for a bit “because I had a cancer thing up my nose.” I realized while talking with him that the ‘painter’s cap’ on his head was actually a mesh biker’s cap with a bill.

Regaled me with taking the train (another train buff who spends a lot of time riding the rails) to Alberta, then biking down through Montana, then down through Eastern Oregon to meet his daughter for his grandson’s birthday near San Francisco. “You’ve got to go get out of the train in Whitefish, Montana,” he says. “While everyone is out there smoking and filling, check out the scenery. Really beautiful.” ‘Filling,’ he explained, was filling up the engines with diesel. Asked if I smoked after he said that, looking a bit abashed. I feel his angst; nice to have someone who speaks more plainly than politely, sometimes.

“When I biked the train route from Chicago out to Seattle it was beautiful.” “Wasn’t it a bit bumpy,” I asked? Took a minute, but I got the eye roll. “We would get up every day, my grandson and I, and every day we’d time with the train would come the other way. It was fun how it came by earlier and earlier each day.”

I asked him about biking in Europe, specifically in the Netherlands. “Flat and small,” he said. “I paid five euros to take the train to the beach,” he said. “Three stops later bang, there we were: sand and water. Small place. Americans don’t understand how small the rest of the world can be.” I chuckled and told him the old piece about driving at highway speed for 17 hours and not leaving Texas.

“During the war my wife was heading out to see me at my base. When the conductor said they’d entered Texas she gathered up her things and got ready to get off. Took another day or so, but she got there.”

I told him all about Daughter the Elder and her intended journey. “She’s going self-contained?”


“Well, remember it’s five dollars to camp and all the hot shower water you want in Oregon,” he said. “California it’s another two quarters to get the water running.”

“And packing food is tough,” I said.

He nodded, and patted his belly. “It never fails,” he said. “I eat whatever I can get my hands on, but I lose 35-40 pounds every time I do a long ride.”

I’m jealous in so many ways…