Good morning, America

Michelle and I took the Crescent line from Philadelphia to New Orleans. The ride is kind of a forced retreat: 25 glorious hours where you can't do anything but read, write, play games on your phone and wonder who lives beyond the back yards and scrap yards clicking by outside.

But Amtrak has a kind of forced socialization policy, too. If you want to meet a few of the people from the other side of the glass, go to the dining car. Parties of one or two are seated at tables for four, facing strangers.

The only morning we were brave enough to dine, we ended up eating pancakes and sausage across from Tony, a volunteer guide with the National Park Service, and Judy, an Atlanta retiree training for his job. We learned that there's a Trails & Rails program that started in New Orleans in 2000 and grew into a year-round partnership with Amtrak. Today National Park Service guides hop aboard more than a dozen Amtrak routes to point out cultural and historic sites along the way. We picked up brochures on music history, civil rights and natural resources and followed the listings by mile markers and Google maps.