Just as swiftly as I had packed and left Austin for this trip, my month of preparation in DC had come to a close. What to do with my last full week at the Rail Passengers Association HQ? Luckily, Jim Mathews had plenty of ideas. We wrapped our team conference on Monday, and my schedule was loaded.
Wednesday brought a really interesting opportunity, Brightline’s VP of Government Affairs Rusty Roberts was coming to town and he had graciously accepted lunch and an Interview with yours truly. After a gorgeous Steak Salad with Arugula and Shave Endive at The Smith, we strolled back to the RPA office to discuss the future of rail in Florida.
It’s a truly unique situation for Florida, a private high speed rail overlapping the original plans laid forth by its investors over 125 years ago. Considering the volume of automobile wrecks that take place daily on I-95, considered by many to be one of the most dangerous stretches of highways in the United States, this is obviously much needed infrastructure. What makes this rail different from others is the way in which it has been developed and staffed.
Rusty delved into the history of the rail, it’s future, as well as their Diversity & Inclusion Initiatives while focusing on hiring within the community their stations were planned to serve. The interview below contains a myriad of topics in a short span and I truly appreciate him taking the time to do this with me.
Not even an hour after wrapping the interview, I was contacted by the Amtrak Test Kitchen asking if I would be interested in joining them for a contemporary menu tasting in regards to their changes for both the dining and cafe car menus. The testing was the next day. Though I am very aware of how our rail system works, I am still impressed by the ease of calling up the amtrak Booking team and getting tickets on such short notice. After a beer, an bathbomb, and a few hours’ sleep, I was buttoning my chef coat and hopping on the Northeast Regional Wilmington Bound.
A kind-hearted woman named Sue met me at Wilmington Station and we proceeded to the Test Kitchen. The whole team welcomed me with open arms and after a tour of the facilities, Chef David Gottlieb sat us down and showed us the new items in development. As a collective, we graded and critiqued an impressive variety of offerings soon to hit the market.
I was impressed with how we were served items that were vegan, halal, vegetarian, gluten free, but not marketed as such. For the life of me I will never understand why people respond with “oh… its vegan” as if there aren’t thousands of recipes in existence that lack animal byproduct and hold merit. This is such an interesting position in the modern food market – How do you offer meals for everyone while simultaneously enticing those who are most resistant to new experiences?
I believe Chef David has done a tremendous job walking this tight rope and his innovative solutions to chronic complaints are very impressive. I spoke at length with both David and Christian Hannah, Sr. Manager F&B Service. Their combined insight and preparedness left me feeling very excited about the future of food service by rail. As I am known to do as a farm-to-table advocate, I asked about reducing food waste, increasing fresh and flash frozen options, as well as highlighting their plans to eliminate packaging waste. My questions were all met with the experience of two seasoned F&B veterans. Full coverage of this visit is in the video below.
As I pack my bags, and say my goodbyes to the Rail Passengers HQ team, it is not goodbye so much as Bon Voyage. I have been supported, hosted, and educated by people that are dedicated to the rights to Public Transportation. People that live and work transparently to assure a safer future for us all.
It may be cheesy to say, but I have already begun to feel a shift in how I look at the issues I will be addressing this summer. It is so easy to fall into that familiar misery of complaining and critiquing without critically analyzing the conditions in which issue or success arise. In just a few days, I depart for Portland Maine. I can say my time in DC has prepared me for the experiences to come in ways I could not have predicted. Though it all feels very surreal still, I am confident in stepping aboard and riding into what is undoubtedly a once in a lifetime summer to come.