18 years ago, I spent the entire summer to backpack around Europe after I graduated from college, traveling mostly by train. It was a bucket list thing to do. My parents called this opportunity my ‘breakout trip’ as a way to enjoy and to also find myself. But on the contrary, I found other people.
18 years later, I find myself on an overnight train for the first time since backpacking Europe. This time it’s with my wife and two sons traveling from Denver, CO to S.F., CA. It was Spring Break from school for my kids, but also a trip on a train that was their Christmas present. The tough thing for me was leaving work, or a business, for almost a week to be honest. But with smartphones, it was ok that I could at least email.
Upon boarding the train in Denver, we met our conductor, Johnny, who was very accommodating and nice. As our train proceeded into empty landscapes mostly lost from people, so did my phone reception. It was liberating. We took pictures from the observation car and actually forced ourselves to physically communicate with other passengers, some who were traveling alone. But of all my talks on the train with other people, I talked to our conductor, Johnny the most. He told me that he had been at his job for almost 35 years on Amtrak, and that this particular route was his favorite. He also mentioned that while his job may take him away from his family at times, he loves meeting new people, manifestly the passengers. A man who may be doing a very routine and thankless job, he kept a very positive attitude and outlook, which is probably why I connected with him the most. Many times on the trip we would crack jokes, especially on station breaks to let people on and off.
The train route had ever changing landscapes from the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, to ghost towns in Utah, a barren desert in Nevada to watch the sun rise, to picturesque scenery high above in the Sierra Mountains of California. On his 35th year of employment, Johnny gets to take his entire family on Amtrak for free – anywhere. Prior to arriving at our final destination outside of San Francisco, Johnny asked me to fill out an Amtrak “Employee Praise” survey by giving me his card with the information. On the card were his roles: Conductor, Lead Service Attendant, Sleeper/Coach Train Attendant and Chef.
I thanked Johnny for all of his hard work and told him that he had the best ‘office views’ than anybody I knew in a workforce. As a person who multitasks, or ‘wears many hats’ to run a business, I could ONLY relate and appreciate all that Johnny does for his passengers, and most of all for his family.
It is something we should all honor.