Being a little kid around 1978, watching the Needham Line trains from the Arboretum in Boston, but also being able to see the NEC trains half a mile away.
DRGW was last to join, in 1983, and one of my earliest memories of Amtrak was knowing that the DRGW was not part of it, I think from seeing it on Great Railway Journeys.
First Amtrak trip, Boston South Station to Washington, about 8 years old, about 1982, with my mother. The Amcoaches and Amcafes (still marked that way on the outside) were newish and exciting; I remember my mother saying, as we went to get lunch, "Next time we'll know that we can sit in the Amcafe!"
As it turned out, next time was Boston-Chicago-Glacier, with a whole new set of excitement in the old sleepers (Parents in a double bedroom, me in a roomette with the sort of murphy-bed arrangement and the toilet underneath, then superliners west. On the way back, a long detour around a freight derailment that I think took us through Madison, with railfans all along the way taking pictures of us and a missed connection giving us a free day in Chicago. And then no room in the sleeper for us on the LSL, so we rode in one of the refurbished Santa Fe coaches with the thunderbirds on the walls between the windows.
Watching trains from a bridge over the NEC near my girlfriend's house, c. 1991, before electrification brought those big walls that block the view. Watching Amtrak trains from the commuter rail platform at Forest Hills, Mass.
Some NEC train to Providence with a friend in the pouring driving rain to visit Brown on, I think, Evacuation Day 1991, the furthest I'd ever traveled without an adult. Night Owl with the same friend and another friend to Wilmington for a Boy Scout thing, again, the furthest I'd ever travelled without an adult. Night Owl to Washington all alone to meet up with my Close Up group because I'd missed the deadline for the group plane ticket; swear I didn't do it on purpose! Public transportation = independence for teenagers!
Going to grad school in Champaign-Urbana, IL, 1996-2003: Lots of Illini and CONO rides to Chicago. One particular Thanksgiving morning catching the CONO and getting a decent breakfast in the diner as we rolled along past mowed corn and snow and fields. Being in the library and realizing that I should really go home and make supper because the second Illini had just whistled off and it was almost 7 pm. Handing out homemade Save the City of New Orleans fliers to the detraining passengers, and getting permission to leave a stack on the station counter, and recruiting another grade student to help keep the stack full.
Home for Christmas or a summer visit on the LSL a few times, enough to recognize one particular conductor who worked west of Albany but talked pure Brooklyn, and enough to really get to like the Heritage diners. Riding the Pioneer, Starlight, and Desert Wind alone for fun in spring 1997, with visits in Chicago, Portland, LA, San Diego, and a long list of fun conversations in the diner, and getting to watch an interesting late-night debate in the lounge between a Lakota guy with traditional beliefs and a Christian guy -- and then getting to know a Lakota Baptist minister who had driven 3 hours from SD to catch the CZ in Nebraska, as we rode on to Portland. Getting out at Wyoming stations to tape Save the Pioneer signs from NARP onto the plexiglass of the Amshacks. Hearing all the details of the scenery from a railfan Amtrak executive of some kind who was on the trip and grabbed the mic to show us something every five minutes from Denver to Portland and gave us a tour of the locomotive collection in Ogden because we got there a little early, and getting to eat lunch with him along the Columbia river, because the dining car staff could maybe recognize a railfan when they saw one.... Seeing Ogden Union Station when it was still barely a station. Upgrading to a sleeper on the starlight with a total stranger who happened to be in the next seat when I asked the conductor -- $120 total, and he took the top bunk; that night there was an eclipse of the moon AND the Hale-Bopp comet, but as we passed Mt. Shasta the moon was back and shining bright on the mountain. First time through Glennwood Canyon.
Jan 3 or so 1998, visiting at my parents' house and realizing that where I really wanted to be was with my future wife in Salt Lake City, and calling up to change my ticket to C-U in two weeks into a ticket to SLC the day after tomorrow, please. There was a huge snowstorm as I went west on the LSL; and eastbound passed us that was, IIRC, 18 hours late -- almost right on time but yesterday's train. The yard at Chicago Union Station was hard to see in the flying snow, but the portable kerosene switch heaters helped light it up. Snow on the plains, snow in the mountains, so late I upgraded to a sleeper after Denver (or was that the next year? They run together.). Getting off at the old DRGW station, quite the little palace.
And on and on.
Texas Eagle from Bloomington-Normal to Dallas for a conference with a friend from Argentina in 2003; waking up in the middle of the night and peering out the window just as we passed the station in Hope, which looked just like it did in one of Bill Clinton's campaign ads.
West with the kids, and having what we thought was the good luck to get detoured through Wyoming twice, once for a fire near Glennwood Springs and once for a derailed coal train -- whining passengers all over the place and yet we got to SLC early after eating supper as we passed Devil's Slide. Still regretting that neither time did I remember to look out and see the rest area at Evanston, WY, where we almost always stop when we're driving; being really disappointed that I fell asleep and missed Weber Canyon, and then really happy that we got detoured again in the summer so I could actually see Weber Canyon and the Ogden yards and whatnot.
Discovering the utter convenience of Effingham as a remote parking lot for Chicago! Getting a whole lounge car to myself on one trip, when the conductors let me sit in the extra cafe-lounge that was on for axle count, and I wanted a quiet table to grade papers.
Father-daughter trip from Utah to Effingham, in coach, as she'd wanted to do for years, including a couple really pleasant lunches all alone in the little sort of separate seating area of the lower level of the sightseer lounge, where you can eat your burger and play cards and sometimes no one else wants to sit there and you have both sides' huge windows to yourselves.
So you can see that Sam Martland doesn't just write way too much: he's also easy to please! My list of best experiences has come pretty close to a list of all my experiences, I guess.