We travelled on an Amtrak train from New York but this Washington to Chicago trip is our first experience of an Amtrak overnight train. The trains are huge double deckers, with sleeping cars, a dining car and a bar. Amtrak owns the trains, but it does not own the tracks, so the passenger trains are frequently directed into sidings whilst extraordinarily long freight trains (in general, well over a hundred wagons) rumble past. Thus, the timetables can be works of considerable fiction (is there any other rail system where freight takes precedence over passengers, I wonder?) The train took us through Harpers Ferry and other historic Civil War sites and then up through the picturesque Allegheny Mountains. As we crossed the Maryland/Pennsylvania State Line we were also crossing the famous Mason/Dixon Line (it became the dividing line between free and slave states). I am sure I’ll be writing more about the Amtrak experience and the rituals of dining cars and sleeping car attendants. Tonight the observation car is full of Amish people (who cannot travel by plane) and we are already becoming familiar with their Swiss German dialect. Before dinner we fell in with two black gentlemen, Michael and Clarence, who were in infectiously good humour, constantly laughing and joking. We asked them to join us at our table in the dining car and so got talking. Like us, they were making the trip of a lifetime. In Clarence’s case because he was retiring (that’s Clarence in the picture). They were travelling across country to Seattle (‘we want to see the whole country’) and then would fly up to Alaska to fish salmon. Clarence talked about roots. On their mother’s side they had been able to trace their roots back through Jamaica to Ghana (their great-grandmother). Their mother had herself come to New York at the age of 14 and had worked her way up until she owned a chain of beauty parlours. On their father’s side, they could only trace their roots back to their great grandfather and his bill of sale in Alabama, where he was bought (as a slave). There was that sense of perpetual frustration, experienced by many black Americans, of not knowing where they are originally from (Obama writes very powerfully about that in Dreams From My Father). Back in the sleeping car, I asked the attendant for a ‘little ice’ for our nightcap. He returned with a cardboard bucket full of crushed ice. Did he think I had hidden a soccer team in our roomette?