The People that You Meet on the train

There is a delightful selection of humans who take The Canadian. As I’m terrible with names—and therefore forgotten almost all of them—I will refer to people by initials or titles. Regardless, let us take a brief survey.

Must Love Trains

Anyone who is going to commit to spending 4 days on a slow train across a large continent almost certainly will love trains, and my conversations bore that out. I mentioned Tim, the fellow who has taken The Canadian several times, in a previous post, but there was also M_ who had been looking forward to taking the train since she was a little girl. Another passenger from Pennsylvania had tried to ride all the high speed lines in Europe. There were also two senior couples who traded stories about criss-crossing the US on Amtrak. They were both firmly of the opinion that nothing Amtrak offers comes close to The Canadian experience. One of the husbands may have worked for Amtrak at one point, and he definitely had the engineer style pants for credentials.

There were the inevitable discussions about why we didn’t build high-speed rails here. Can we even build mega-projects in North America anymore? If Europe and Asia can do it, why can’t we? The British journalist from Hong Kong pointed out that things are not always perfect in Europe, citing issues with expanding tube lines and accidental archeological excavation, but since the UK isn’t in Europe anymore we can ignore that point. 

Then there was a fair amount of golly gosh why don’t people love trains like we do? Another traveller had asked a friend to join her, but he had demurred saying something about not being a train guy. M_ expressed surprise that a friend she had told about her bucket list plan had never even considered taking the train across Canada. Tim, being used to such things, merely laughed at the people who had expected a good night’s sleep.

Welcome to the Socialist Paradise

Yet it wasn’t just Numtot-folks and rail lovers. One of the seniors on the trip expressed regret that we hadn’t learned to tax ourselves like the Greatest Generation. His university fees were just $800 dollars (including books) back in the before times because of the smart decisions made then. He worried that the bill would come due if we didn’t rectify this. Another older fellow told me my choice of Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Piketty as train reading was an excellent one, and that the author’s arguments were persuasive.

There was also a conversation about the need for safe-supply at an adjoining table on Wednesday, and one fellow at it worked in addictions. Finally, I had a good chat with a guy in tech, C_, about Canada’s refugee policy which went pretty well (although later he suggested we should build a government AI using ChatGPT which was a bit worrying).

A former teacher told me about the time he had realized his Indigenous students were doing badly on a mandated literature course. This was probably 20 years ago from what he had said about his teaching career. He decided they were failing because they had been raised in an oral culture and so asked for permission to switch the test to oral for them. The administration said it couldn’t be done, so he just went ahead and did it anyways, despite the risk to his teaching certification.

Current or former jobs of people on the train included biologist (researching Puffin and Tern populations in Newfoundland), clinical physician for Johnson and Johnson, BC Hydro engineer, freelance reporter, diplomat (who might work for CSIS), munitions expert in the Canadian navy, and an unspecified position at the National Weather Service.


The prize for weirdest conversation on the trip had to be at lunch on the second day. They seated me with the diplomat and the Hong Kong journalist for the meal. We were going past this absolutely beautiful, but blinding, frozen lake southwest of Jaspar. After introducing myself to the diplomat, I kept looking out at the amazing scenery. As a consequence, I nearly put my elbow in my soup.

Frozen lake with large snow covered mountains behind
It was a very nice frozen lake

The journalist joined us, but then he immediately started talking to the diplomat because they had already met before. They ended up talking entirely to themselves. This was fine by me as I had the pretty lake to look at. The journalist was very happy that he’d managed to sell an article about H.R. Giger to the South China Morning Post which necessitated an explanation about Giger. I was briefly very excited when I remembered who that was. However, the journalist was clearly not a fan and ignored me.

He then complained about how he used to write more substantial pieces and not just travel fluff. Unfortunately, they all got spiked because of Hong Kong politics. They then had a long conversation about Chinese culture and government which meandered into the elections interference scandal in Canada.

Later, I suspected that they had been trying to hand off some espionage codes or some similar spy stuff. I had totally been in the way, which is why they ignored me. The journalist got off at Jaspar, or so I presume, because I didn’t see him again after that.

Added to Another Collection

On the last night of the trip, I ended up chatting with C_ again. He told me he’d been trying to collect interesting people on the train and had already added the diplomat and the journalist to his collection. He had taken a photo of me and wanted to use it on his Instagram with my permission. I laughed and said of course. He said he was going to dub me “the professor” on account of my giant book choice. Anyway, I have been catalogued. See below:

“The Professor”

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