The grand old train stations – 30th Street Station in Philly, Grand Central in New York, Union Station in D.C. – get grander by the day. They wear their years nobly, like old apple trees. No, I'm not going to gush nostalgically about train service. We don't lapse into verses of "City of New Orleans" here at brandsinger. But we do applaud brand experiences that live up to their promises. Sunlight through the trees on a speeding afternoon train IS ITSELF worth the fare price.
"Ask me how I am," I tell the conductor – a big man, black, crisp and confident in his regulation white shirt. "Okay," he says, "how are you?" "I'M LATE," I say loudly. He looks at me – unthreatened. This man has GENERATIONS of conductors backing him up and validating his role. "We're aaaaall late," he says smiling and opening his arms to the passengers around us. He punches my ticket with that little metal thing – isn't it a beautiful sound? – that unique click, with the tiny flake of ticket raining down?
"Will we make up the time?" I ask. "Nope," he says. "Late trains only get later." A bit of conductor wisdom. "A late train has to move aside to let the trains that are on time slide by," he says... and moves on.
Friends, in my view, Amtrak service can NEVER be bad. Today I'm going to be a full hour late getting into New York. So what? I'm whooshing along with a band of weary workers and excited children lurching and swaying and pushing forward – relaxing the way passengers did in the days of my father and his father and President McKinley.
"Ladies and gentlemen, TAAARRRENTON will be our next stop!"
Oh, I should mention... The train's lateness made me miss my drink with my friend Liz who has good reason never to speak to me again.