The sudden change in plans made my palms start to sweat. The Beach Boys blaring from my earbuds abruptly stopped as my phone died, leaving an uncomfortable silence. The only sound came from the 18-year-old beside me who gingerly leafed through his textbook. As the stations rolled past, I feared my inexperience traveling alone would prove problematic. With no options left, I swallowed my awkwardness and in a mouse-like way explained my dilemma; he generously pulled out his phone and instructed me through the Amtrak map like a seasoned pro. Assistance led to pleasant conversation, and in time I learned all about my very first seatmate, James; he would join the “Amtrak Hall of Fame,” an unofficial ranking of dynamic people I have encountered sitting on those cobalt seats.
When my mom moved to Maryland before my freshman year of high school, I took the train once a month to visit her. Amtrak was the perfect nightmare for a claustrophobic, anxiety-ridden 14-year-old who was scared to leave the comfort of Wilton. My solution was to hide under my cap, with my feet propped on the seat next to me, all in the hopes of closing myself off from strangers. This strategy proved ineffective on the day I met Dan.