The guy who went on and on about his drug use, metaphysical powers, genius father and how it would be illegal to throw him off the train because he's mentally ill did make the trip interesting.
Nobody disagreed with the mentally ill part, especially the conductors. We just wished he'd be quieter about it.
He was glib. I listened to him charm a Serbian lady into buying him a beer by claiming he had friends in Europe who could helicopter him home, displaying what he claimed was ancient Colombian gold and apologizing that he was, just at that moment, short on funds.
But he was the exception. Everyone else was engaging, friendly, outgoing. They were, as always, one of the best reasons to travel by rail.
Yes, Family Trentelman has been Amtraking, this time on the Zephyr to Chicago. Dr. Trentelman had a conference, so I went to meet the top dogs in the world of rural sociology and do a little street photography in the Windy City.
The train was no romantic decision. Amtrak cost nearly half what airlines charge. The difference bought our meals the whole trip. The train also let us enjoy traveling, something of a lost art these days.
Americans are so focused on getting there fast that we've forgotten travel used to be part of the vacation.
No more. Interstate highways are 80 mph battle zones that leave you buzzed and bleary. Air travel has the congeniality of prison, only with less food.
This adds to the dehumanization of society. Facebook, email and Twitter have already reduced conversation to the verbal equivalent of fast food. At the airport you are told your fellow travelers are all potential terror bombers, and then you should talk to them?
Which is why people retreat to portable electronic entertainment centers, obey instructions like sheep and hope they get somewhere alive. If Chaucer were writing today, his "Canterbury Tales" would consist of repeated warnings not to take packages from strangers and discussions of the many variations of "Begin Road Work" signs.
All that is banished on a train.
The cars are quiet and roomy. You can walk around, sleep, buy booze, find a comfy chair and discover your fellow travelers -- who are, I must repeat, usually nice folks.
One can try to be a hermit, but on a 32-hour trip solitude gets boring. A piece of particularly nice scenery draws a comment, heads glance up from magazines or smart phones, barriers fall.
Carla and I met a young woman who is a graduate student in mathematics going home from a conference in Park City. She was taking the train because it is vastly easier to ship her bicycle, which airlines tend to bend into funny shapes.
We met a lovely lady from Breckenridge, Colo., with the most amazing tattoo down her left arm. She was going to Chicago to photograph a wedding.
We shared dinner with an Indiana corn and soybean farmer and his wife on their way to tour Colorado. We learned that the corn business is doing horribly right now, but the soybean business is not.
Even the druggie with the mental issues was sort of fun.
The conductors did a great job of keeping him under control. During his blatherings, my wife or I would exchange quiet glances with other passengers, roll our eyes in his direction and mutually smile.
"I thought I was the only one," a woman told me after one such exchange.
No, I assured her. The whole train was enjoying the show.