Meet Amtrak's Singing Café Car Guy
by Fran GoldenPosted Apr 1st 2011 01:00 PMUpdated Apr 1st 2011 04:54 PM
Bryant, 52, has been working for Amtrak for 18 years. But it's only in the past few years, on the scenic Southern California coastal route, that he's felt the urge to break into song.
He comes on the PA system as the train pulls away from the station – the Pacific Surfliner serves the coast from San Diego to Los Angeles up to San Luis Obispo – and sings to passengers both a greeting and the café car menu.
"The reason I started to sing is primarily when it's not too busy in the café car, and people are sitting up and enjoying the fine scenery of the ocean, they need a little push to come downstairs and purchase something," Bryant says.
But he says he also sings to make people happy.
"I have a passion about this job and seeing people enjoy themselves," he says. "And people have problems, so anything you can do to enhance a person's experience, and bring an interchange between people, I think is good."
Bryant starts every trip off with his own little ditty that includes the line, "Every day's a beautiful day for a train ride."
He then sings favorites on the café car menu – among the items are sandwiches, snacks and beverages.
In a phone interview, Bryant describes a typical day, "I say, 'Good morning, welcome aboard, this is your café attendant Anthony,'" and then he bursts into song on the phone: "We're featuring coffee, tea, herbal tea, Sara Lee muffins, 'because nobody doesn't like Sara Lee...'"
Bryant's repertoire also includes "I Love You California," the official state song. A Philadelphia native, now living in San Diego, Bryant sings with enthusiasm, "I love you, California, you're the greatest state of all I love you in the winter, summer, spring, and in the fall."
He says people often comment on the song, "because we have a lot of people in California who have never heard the state song."
Bryant does not sing the folk song "I've Been Working on the Railroad." But he has been known to sing "Happy Birthday," on request.
All in a Day's Work
The café car employee does a rotating work cycle on the train, which has him doing some 15-hour days followed by days off.
Bryant starts his day typically around 4:15 a.m., heading straight to the commissary, about two miles from the station in L.A., to stock up.
Riders are most likely to see him on the route between Los Angeles and San Diego, which takes about 2 hours and 45 minutes, with 12 daily round-trips. But Bryant also sometimes works the train farther north up to Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo.
The bi-level Pacific Surfliner has panoramic windows to view ocean stretches including around San Juan Capistrano – Bryant's favorite. Because this is California – there are also racks on the train for both bikes and surfboards.
Bryant says he used to play jazz on a CD player in the café, but ran into bureaucratic issues with that. "So I spread to singing a little bit," he says.
He also tries to attract customers to the café car with other little gimmicks.
"I have a rotating fish tank going and a 'sharks' sign on the wall. A lot of gimmies going on here," he says.
The café car sells "adult (alcoholic) beverages," Bryant says in a hushed voice. But his personal favorite is the jalapeno cheeseburgers, pre-packaged and, he notes, "not the same as what you'd find at Costco."
Why Trains Rock
Bryant, who has also worked in food service at restaurants and hospitals, says he's always been a fan of train travel and doesn't drive.
"For me trains are just a beautiful way of traveling," he says. "When I was a kid I went from Philly down to Baltimore and up to New York by train. And you could met a lot of different people n the train and in the café car."
Bryant first started with Amtrak on the cross-country route from Los Angeles to Sanford, Florida.
"There were 15 to 20 stops along the way and loyal travelers. Say, in Alpine, Texas, a couple of ladies took the train from Alpine to New Orleans. It was so gratifying to see them every time they came through."
These days, Bryant's PA system performances have been known to earn him an ovation, though he gets suddenly shy when asked how people respond to his singing.
"Most people like me, I guess. The conductors seem to like my singing. Some people tell me they really enjoyed it."
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