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A Train Ride with the Rich and Famous

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The Acela "high-speed" train between Washington, DC and New York City may cost three times as much and not go much faster than the regular Amtrak train but, boy, is it more interesting! Last week I was on the 10:00 a.m. train heading to New York for a celebration of my sister's 50th birthday. The really driven Washingtonians take the earlier train so this one was relatively uncrowded. I chose a nice window seat about halfway up the aisle of a car. My copy of The Washington Post and a bottle of water, along with my Blackberry and a great novel would see me through the expected three hour trip.

But fate intervened. A handsome older man with a shock of white hair strode down the aisle and claimed the seat directly behind mine. My brain took a moment to connect a name to the face but it came quickly -- Al Hunt. Washington media darling, head of Bloomberg News' DC bureau, husband of Judy Woodruff, friend of the rich and powerful, a true Washington insider. He settled in with his computer -- no earphones by the way -- to watch something on C-Span. As I was tucking my novel back into my bag, another debonair older gentleman came down the aisle and settled into the seat directly opposite mine. He looked famous, but him I couldn't place. Luckily, I didn't have to. He announced himself loudly on the phone as soon as he was seated, "Hey Buddy, it's Bill Chatfield."

Yeah, didn't ring a bell for me either. But listening to the dozens of (very loud) phone calls he made during the following hour, I found out he was formerly in the military, that he was going to a big reception in New York, that he called virtually everyone "brother" or "buddy" and that he marked time using a 24 hour clock as opposed to the12 hour version most of us civilians use.

Al Hunt soon began making phone calls too, though more quietly, and those proved vastly more interesting than Chatfield's. I learned that he had attended the Business Roundtable hosted by President Obama the day before. I discovered that he and his wife, Judy of course, were planning to have dinner and see a movie with a couple -- one of whom was a Doctor. I found out that he was calling someone referred to him by James Carville, and that he was on his way to Philadelphia where he teaches a weekly class. I heard his opinion of how the Wall Street Journal was covering health care. And I learned that he was fairly unimpressed by the C-Span program he was watching.

But then Chatfield (who I now know is a good friend of both Presidents Bush and also of Reagan's and was head of the Selective Service under the second Bush) was getting chummy on the phone with someone named "Devil Dog" and so I diverted my attention to him. He loudly gave out his email address which I committed to memory and gave out details of that evening's reception. My Washington Post quickly went back into my bag.

But, what was this? Mr. Hunt was actually giving someone on the phone his cell phone number. I managed to capture that on my Blackberry because you just never know when you might need to call Al Hunt.

All too soon Mr. Hunt disembarked to teach his class and then Mr. Chatfield and I went our separate ways into a blizzard engulfing the Big Apple. But it was fun while it lasted and the most entertaining train ride I've had in a long time. It does make me wonder, though, if people -- even really important people -- realize that others can hear them when they're on the phone. Or perhaps they don't care if others overhear them giving out phone numbers and email addresses. Maybe they even like the thought of it. If so, Mr. Hunt, I'd be happy to join you and Judy for dinner some time. I've got your number. And perhaps we could invite Mr. Chatfield?