COLUMN: Musings from an Amtrak train

By Zeb Eckert
U-WIRE Washington Bureau
March 14, 2001

It’s 10 a.m. on a dreary Tuesday morning and as the Amtrak Northeast Direct rolls along from New York City to Washington, some serious flirting is going down.

This morning it is not the typical business travelers thrashing out war stories of love lost, but rather a group of teachers leading 100 Long Island eighth graders on a trip to the nation’s capital. As the little cherubs exchange gossip and tales of teenage romance, their superiors are busy playing matchmaker with fellow travelers.

Enter Nat — a robust, mobster-like gentleman. He’s on business to Philadelphia, a self-proclaimed millionaire, and fond of children. Wealthy and personable, he’s a perfect match for any eager educator. Enter Libby — the attractive, seasoned math teacher. Taking time from passing out homework to the students, she strolls over to Nat at the urging of fellow teachers.

“Are you sure that’s your real name?” she asks as Nat laughs assuredly.

He reminds her teasingly that he deals with problems far more “sophisticated” than simple arithmetic (perhaps snapping people’s legs). She acknowledges with curiosity.

In short order, Nat and Libby are chatting away. The conversation continues as the drab industrial landscapes of New Jersey pass by. The train cruises on to Philadelphia, where Nat sadly disembarks. This reporter could not determine whether phone numbers were exchanged, but could plainly see the chemistry between the two likely outpaced any middle school science project.

Aside from providing endless amusement, the spontaneity of Libby and Nat’s introduction to each other proves that we all enjoy the rush that comes with human attraction. We are a flirtatious species. Whether it’s at a synagogue or supermarket, when Cupid’s wand touches we are inclined to pursue.

The random, playful nature of humans never fails to amaze me. Lately, I have become a curious observer of these subtle exchanges between people. After two days of “fieldwork” in the Big Apple watching people connect in that special way, I am well aware of the diverse ways individuals work their groove thang.

And there is no better place to work one’s magic than in a conveniently cramped airplane or train. Coffee shops and nightclubs aside, traveling seems to be the next best option for picking up dates. I read recently that travelers are increasingly finding romance en route to their destinations. With wrinkles in airline schedules over the last year and persistent problems on the nation’s railways, travelers seem to take comfort in sharing their frustrations with others. One thing leads to another, and lasting relationships can be formed.

The beauty of all this seems simple to me. As much of what Americans do is highly impersonal and in tune with the western notion of staying productive and focused, human nature still prevails. Regardless of how much we try to resist the flames of love and desire, we always will be drawn to others who pique our interests.

So, instead of settling back and sleeping the journey away, I think I will take a few lessons from Libby and Nat. My radar is on, my eyes are peeled, and my ears are ready. We’re still three hours from our destination and there’s a whole train of people to be had. I think it’s my turn! Ciao …

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