Liberally Conservative

"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free....... ~Ronald Reagan~

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Rail Diner Car - Lost in Time...Read & Weep!

"Tall and lanky, he swoops down the narrow center aisle with a large tray loaded with braised lamb shanks, seared catfish blackened in the Cajun manner or rotisserie chicken, all of them garnished with two vegetables. When he reaches his destination table, he pirouettes, lowering the tray in a smooth spiral until it lands lightly, and serves each person dinner, in a quadruple lutz of spinning download," laments 80-something writer Sally Lesh.
xxx
Raymond Sokolov writes "Removeable Feast: The Last Steak on Amtrak" in Wall Street Journals weekend edition about the changing era of train travel. A time past, speed and cost is important, Amtrak is forced to change, leaving the "finer" points of American train travel in the past. Sokolov writes:
xxx
On April 24, Amtrak will close down the Lake Shore Limited's chef-run galley; nearly all the rest will be gone by the end of May. Some long-haul routes have already converted to pre-portioned, precooked meals that are reheated and served on plastic.
xxx
Amtrak says the change makes it possible to expand the menu and, since some of the new dishes can be prepared more quickly, to serve more people each night. The steak has been replaced with three new precooked beef options.
xxx Even this retrenchment, ordered by Congress in an attempt to cut losses on the dinosaur long-hauls, may not last more than a year, according to our veteran waiter, Alex. A bare-bones food-delivery system with microwave "cooking" looms, he predicts.
xxx
A dinosaur myself, I deplore this devolution of the railway diner from those glory days of rolling refreshment I took for granted from 1943 to the mid-'50s. Mythic trains such as the Wolverine from Detroit to Chicago had crystal and napery and gracious service. The Santa Fe Railroad's Super Chief, an 8-year-old's fantasy of elegance made real, even had a private dining room.
xxx These trains spawned a whole romantic culture of rail travel, in movies such as "Twentieth Century" or in Mary McCarthy's once-daring story of a sleeping-car romance, "The Man in the Brooks Brothers Shirt." Now we are left with that diminished thing, the airplane-disaster film.
xxx
About that steak: It's a 10-ounce strip steak, corn-fed, aged for three weeks and hand cut. Yes, it is thin, but the chefs in their tiny galley have grilled it perfectly. The meat is tender and au poivre. I could have had it blackened, but why gild the lily?
xxx
The baked potato shared the honors with broccoli and carrots with a sweet-and-sour flavor. To wash all this down, as we used to say in Michigan, I followed the menu's suggestion and ordered the cabernet. The half-bottle of Hahn from the central coast of California, setting of the wine-besotted film comedy titled "Sideways," was very drinkable and very Californian -- mouthfilling and friendly. It was certainly worth the $12 surcharge (as a sleeping-car passenger, my meals are included in the price of the ticket).
xxx
The desserts range from Mississippi mud cake, that flooded delta of chocolate, to New York-style cheesecake and key lime pie. For those nostalgic for the soda fountains of their youth, there is strawberry topping, whipped cream or chocolate sauce.
xxx
The menu itself will soon be the only physical remnant of full-service railroad dining in the U.S. On its cover is an Art Deco-ish scene of the New York skyline with a lit-up train and skyscrapers reflected in the Hudson. Only Fred Astaire, in top hat and tails, is missing, whirling like Alex, to complete this icon of the good life that begins when the conductor calls "All aboard."
xxx
Indiana slips by -- Elkhart, the musical instrument-making center; South Bend, home of Notre Dame. I imagine I hear a marching band and the crash of football helmets. The only real sound is the drone of steel wheels. I read my complimentary paper, slightly logy from the excellent breakfast of two perfect sunny-side-up eggs and crisp bacon with hash browns that Alex produced with his usual élan. At 10:45, 90 minutes late, we creep into Chicago's stately Union Station. I still make my noon flight, but the only food is cheese crackers. The poky Lake Shore Limited is looking better and better. But we will never see its like again, I think. In my head I keep hearing the Jimmy Buffett tune, "I ate the last mango in Paris," but with new lyrics: "I ate the last steak on Amtrak. I caught the last diner out of New York. And Jimmy, there's nothing more to be done."
xxx
An era lost, and for those of us who missed out, an opportunity lost. The best we can do is watch an old movie and wish we had enough sense to travel by rail, at least one time in our life. Bob Hope would have sung, "Thanks for the Memories."

You are viewing a post on the old Liberally Conservative site. Click here to find this post on the new site.

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

<< Home