Sunday, July 01, 2007

Wine Tasting at 80 mph and Juice

Amtrak obviously likes to keep the folks in the sleeper cars happy. We are, after all the “First Class” passengers, and we are treated to some amenities that the coach passengers are not. One of these was a special event at 4:00 pm on the second day.

Somewhere in the middle of Montana the public address system announced that those passengers in the sleeping cars who have “signed up for the special event” should make their way to the dining car. The chatter in the hallway of the sleeping car is the same – “what event?”
Juice appears to tell us there is a wine and cheese tasting event set up just for us; he has signed us all up.

Like a class full of fifth graders we cheerfully make our way to the front of the train as though on a class outing. At the dining car where we are greeted by Jen – the dining car steward to directs us to our seats where we are presented with a platter full of various cheeses and cups to sip wine.

In classic form Jen announces the names and descriptions of each of four wines: a chardonnay, a chemin blanc, and merlot/cabernet blend and a shiraz. All are wonderful as are the selection of cheeses which include a gouda, two kinds of cheddar and a blue cheese. The wines are all from Washington and the cheeses are from Minnesota.

I am sitting with a couple from Chicago who are a few of doors down from me. We have said hello to each other throughout the trip but now get more familiar. He works for a rail company “on freights” and she is a teacher in Cicero. The other gentleman at our seat is a retired engineer from the Midwest who worked for Caterpillar. The couple across the way is also from the Midwest and he is a retired executive that worked for Lincoln/Mercury. We talk about wine, automobiles, trains and gas mileage.

After the sips of wine have been consumed, Jen has a quick raffle and I win the rest of the bottle of the Chemin Blanc which I gleefully take back to my room. Needless to say I am a wee bit tipsy after this and walking through the moving train is now all the more interesting.

Juice is our sleeping car attendant who has been skillfully taking care of us since leaving Chicago two days earlier. Unlike, Coco, the attendant on the sleeper from Albany to Chicago whom we never saw until the end of the trip, Juice is everpresent and magnificently attentive to the needs of the cranky passengers.

It is a long and tiring trip for these people. They are usually up at 6:00 am and don’t get a chance to rest until 10:30 pm. Since we are moving west, that is a long day. Juice does his job with respect and sincerity. A big man, I am guessing he may be in his early 30s, but he makes his way about the sleeping car with great agility. One minute he is dealing with ice and coffee, the next he is getting fresh towels for someone or making up a bed. All the time he is very congenial and respectful to the passengers.

In Whitefish, I learn that he has been doing this work for nine years and that, as an Amtrak employee, he takes what they give him, traveling a number of different routes and accepting different functions. Sometimes he is a bartender or the club car counter attendant. Sometimes he has to serve in the dining car. And sometimes he pulls sleeping car attendant duty. I think he might be ready for change, and he laments the fact that it is hard to have a family – like he does – when you are away for six days and then only have two days off. When we arrive in Portland, Juice will get to rest up at a hotel over night and be on the next Empire Builder heading east the next day.

Amtrak, if you are listening, give Juice a big raise!

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