I’m sitting on an Amtrak train en route from Cary to Charlotte. The travel time is three hours and the price is right: $24. The passenger cars on this train, the Piedmont, are clean and quiet. The seats are soft and spacious. Our stop is just long enough to allow everyone to board, stow their luggage and take a seat.
The conductors wear official black vests and caps, and walk through to collect payment once everyone is seated. A snack car offers complimentary beverages and cinnamon rolls. It’s all very pleasant, expedient and efficient. So far—halfway through the journey—I’m relaxed and impressed.
Among the guests are an elderly couple from Cary who have been to Washington, D.C. via Amtrak. This is their first ride to Charlotte. North Carolina natives, they’re heading to town for a convention.
A mother and her young son board in a flurry of excitement. I watch the little boy walk through the car with eyes wide and bright, taking in the reality that he is on a real train. This mega machine that he has only watched from afar is no toy. The conductor smooths an official Amtrak sticker on his T-shirt and shows him the snack car.
A businessman pulls down the lap desk on the back of the seat in front of him to file through some papers, as an older woman walks down the aisle with a familiar smile on her face. This is no new experience for her.
Later in the trip, a blur of silver and blue flashes by as we pass an oncoming Amtrak train, then the view opens back up to small town shops and office buildings. One has a beautiful mural painted on it. I wonder if they painted that just for train passengers to see?
A few miles later, we rush by old historic homesteads draped in tall oaks. There’s a perfect blend of rural, small town and big city allure to gaze upon during this ride. Something for everyone.
Once I arrive in Charlotte, I’m catching a ride with a friend up to Virginia for a funeral. My Amtrak experience has offered me more than a one-way trip to my destination. It has also provided a glimmer of joy preceding what will surely be a somber experience.
When the leaves begin changing in a few weeks, the journey through North Carolina will be stunning. If you have young children, consider taking the Piedmont or Carolinian to Charlotte or High Point for the day. They may enjoy the train ride more than anything else you end up doing, but then again, isn’t that why you’re taking the train in the first place?