News and culture through the lens of Southern California.
Hosted by A Martínez
Airs Weekdays 9 to 10 a.m.
Local

Only in SoCal can you take the train with the sunset...and a song




Anthony Bryant runs the café car on Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner route. He's also the only employee in the country who uses the loudspeaker to sing to the entire train.
Anthony Bryant runs the café car on Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner route. He's also the only employee in the country who uses the loudspeaker to sing to the entire train.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Listen to story

04:00
Download this story 3.0MB

The East Coast has the most-traveled Amtrak route in the country – 11.6 million riders board the line connecting Boston, New York City and D.C.

But it's only on the West Coast where passengers get serenaded by Anthony Bryant.

Bryant runs the café car on the Pacific Surfliner, Amtrak's second busiest route in the country carrying 3 million riders each year.

He does more than sell sandwiches, coffee and cookies to passengers.

"It's aaaaaa beautifuuul and sunny Saturday morning foooooooor a traaaaaaaain riiiiiiiide," he sings at the start of a recent weekend trip, taking command of the PA system so his voice echoes up and down the train cars.

"E-ver-y day's a beauuutiful daaaaaaaaay (deep breath) fooooooor aaaaaaaa traaaaaaaaaaaain riiiiiiiiiiiiiiide!"

Bryant, who is as tall as his voice is booming, then waits for customers behind the counter of the café car with a mix of jazz music playing off his iPhone at the side.

A pencil-thin mustache lines his smile as people begin to file in, eyeing one of the hotdogs, maybe, or wondering how early is too early for a bottle of Arrogant Bastard IPA.

"A lot of people tell me, 'Oh, the only reason I came down is because of the song,'" says Bryant, thinking passengers want to put a face to the pipes.

"What a beautiful voice you have!" exclaims one older woman. "Thank you, young lady!" replies Anthony, "Young lady?" the woman blushes and laughs.

"Have you ever tried out for the opera?" chuckles a gentleman.

"Keep singing. It brightens my day!" says a student wearing a UC-Irvine t-shirt.

He started working for Amtrak 23 years ago, the Pacific Surfliner being his first and only route.

It was only three years into his career that, like a musical, he decided to break out into song.

"I guess I was just having a good day, and maybe it just came to me," he recalls. "It gets people talking, if nothing else, but at the time it was getting people to come down."

Bryant says there was a three-year stint in the early 2010s when he was silenced. He recalls that a directive from Amtrak corporate headquarters floated down to him, saying he needed to stop singing and playing music in the café car.

"Bureaucratic stuff, you know," he sighs.

But in 2012, just as mysteriously, he was given the green light by his superiors to use the speaker system to sing.

"Maybe a nice letter came in or maybe ideologies changed a little bit," he guesses, not questioning his luck.

Amtrak says it's unaware of any other employee elsewhere in the country who takes liberties with the loudspeaker like Bryant.

In his repertoire, Bryant has a range of songs including one he made up himself as well as California's state song, "I Love You, California."

The latter is perfect for one of the best views on a train: the Pacific Surfliner spends part of its journey hugging the coastline, chugging right along the beach where people can see the surf, sand and sun.

Bryant, who's originally from Philadelphia, says he's mostly seen urban grime and graffiti from the trains on the East Coast.

But he says the Pacific Surfliner has some of the best scenery that you can see while riding.

"Every day it blows me away," he says. "This is my utopia."