Aboard the Capitol Limited for Chicago

I give up on going back to sleep at 6:30a. We're winding along the Youghiogeny River on CSX lines, making about 30 mph. There's fog clinging to the banks, hiking trails and dirt roads alongside the tracks. Mountainous country, feels like West Virginia even though we've crossed over into Pennsylvania.

I'm one of the first persons in the diner. Seated across from me is a seasoned train traveler, a teacher educator in his early forties. "What does an MIT boy know about grits?" he queries me. Well, nothing but for my two childhood years in Mississippi. He reminisces about his days at Brandeis, about ZBT. It seems like everybody in Boston has a story about at least one MIT fraternity.

Only a couple of other people in the diner, so the waiter comes and chats. The natural topic of conversation is the delay. "Oh, you didn't know about that?" he asks, and pulls out a bulletin from CSX from the day before. Apparently, if the eastbound Capitol Limited was more than thirty minutes late, it would miss its "slot," get stuck behind a long freight, and be delayed by at least five hours. Of course, the eastbound was late by two hours. This piece of misplaced information could've saved three hours wasted in the DC ClubAcela lounge.

The mountainous landscape begins to fill up with industry as we approach Pittsburgh. Automobile junkyards, larger scrap metal processors, long trains filled with coal.

At Pittsburgh I contemplate risking a dash to the station for a newspaper and decide against it. My grandfather's words about not going too far from the train come to mind. Another passenger takes the risk and returns with a Journal which ends up in many sections in the lounge car, passed around by the news-starved passengers. I needn't have worried about a short station stop; we drop off some third-class US Mail at Pittsburgh and wait for forklifts to arrive to do the job. Three months later Amtrak would exit the mail-carrying business, citing the additional delay it causes to trains.