Byrne, now 88, smiled but didn't say more.
This week, 900 people attended the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce's 76th congressional dinner, where those who wield power in New Jersey meet those who want some. Like the annual Pennsylvania Society dinner in New York City, booze fuels the schmooze cruise and the dinner that follows.
The train ride is formally called "the Walk to Washington" because people walk through (more like squeeze through) the train cars to shake hands, exchange business cards, and knock back a few drinks.
Byrne, who served from 1974 to 1982, held court in one of the more spacious cars with other state officials and dignitaries. He shook hands with hundreds of people, straining to hear them over the din.
Whenever Byrne encountered a Flynn, Donnelly, or Farrell, he asked what county in Ireland the person's family originated from. Byrne's grandmothers came from County Roscommon and County Mayo.
"Only the Irish," Ruthi Byrne said and laughed.
Although Gov. Christie and legislative leaders attended the dinner, none rode the train. Riders sniffed a bit indignantly at what they described as the "too cool for school" attitude of those who travel separately to the dinner.
Byrne said he would never think of traveling to the chamber dinner any other way.
"This is New Jersey culture," he said as people laughed around him. "I never get tired of this, seeing the people."
Byrne first took the Walk to Washington in 1956 as executive secretary to Gov. Robert B. Meyner. Back then, Byrne, a young lawyer, hustled about to make sure Meyner reached each event on time.
"Now," he said, leaning back in his burgundy leather chair, "I get to do what I want."
His favorite trip happened just three years later. On the always more subdued ride home, Meyner told Byrne he would appoint him to a job he had coveted: Essex County prosecutor.
Asked whether he did anything different or special to celebrate his 50th trip, Byrne quipped, "Yeah. I'm eating the apple from the lunch box."
Contact Joelle Farrell at 856-779-3237, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter at @joellefarrell.