Riding the train used to be fun.
Amtrak was created in 1970, and I began riding in the mid-70’s. When I rode coach, as I did in those days, one could sit in one’s seat and smoke! Can one imagine such a time! Well, of course non-smokers had a right to complain, so close to the smoke, so smoking was allowed only in the Club Car.
The Club Car was a busy, lively place, where one went to smoke, have a drink, and talk. Americans talked to each other in those days. We exchanged pleasantries, histories, information, and opinions — the latter diplomatically, of course, so as not to offend. Now, as we are being dumbed-down, we are also being isolated.
That situation — convivializing in the Club Ca r– went on for years. Yes, once in a while some knucklehead got liquored up and had to be dealt with, but the real reason Club Cars were shut on Amtrak was because of sourpusses who dislike watching happy people, and, once again, cigarette smoke leaking out of the Club Car was the excuse. I don’t smoke anymore, but those who do have to wait for those few times when the train is at a station long enough for them to step off, stand outside, and smoke his cigarette.
Everything always got worse on Amtrak over the years, and I watched it happen. In the early days, in the dining car, there was real cooked food. The diner was another place where you sat at a table with strangers and talked. Eventually the food became microwaved, but one still sat at a table with others, ordered from a menu, and talked. Now, beginning this year, even that pleasure has been taken from us. Now there is no menu, one is given a choice of four dishes to choose from, and when chosen, an Amtrak employee behind a counter hands it to you on a plastic tray, and you take it to a table, sit down alone, and eat.
I stopped riding coach some years ago and on overnight trips to Florida or California I’d take a sleeper. Years ago,when you entered your room, there’d be a bottle of wine on the seat! And in the morning a fresh newspaper would be shoved under your door. Now, even the ice (in case you brought some food and wanted to keep it cold) is rationed.
We need to scrap Amtrak and start over. Why can China, and Europe, have high-speed trains and we can’t? It’s because we’re always at war somewhere and those countries aren’t. Since 9/11, we have spent about $7 trillion on those wars. Two or three of those trillions could have given us modern high-speed affordable rail everywhere in America.