Ridin’ On The City Of New Orleans

Tue. 8:30 PM: As it turns out, I did need someone to get that song stuck in my head. Amtrak didn’t try hardly at all. They didn’t play the song in the south terminal at Union Station, they didn’t mention its title over the loudspeakers on the train itself, and heck, they hardly even said the name of the train. There was certainly no reference to Arlo Guthrie’s recent fundraiser.

Well. If no one else is gonna say it, I will:

Good morning, America, how are ya?

There.

Tue. 8:45 PM: My neighbors in coach consist of a crowd of young women with, apparently, friends and family riding in Argus come Fat Tuesday its-own-self, and a musician name of Sean whose last trip to New Orleans was with a crew of volunteers. Bless him, y’all.

Tue. 9:30 PM: The exceedingly cheerful lounge car steward has turned on the evening’s movie, Dream On. He is so exceedingly nice and cheerful (“You’d love a cup of coffee? Well, I would love to get you one. I’d love to get you two!”) that I really don’t want to harsh the buzz by getting in trouble with him by peeling the company-ordered duct tape off the electrical outlet under the TV. So I put the laptop on standby to give its battery a rest and I start marking up the hard copy of the manuscript currently undergoing revision.

Also in the lower level of the lounge car are a man seeking to hire flag men in New Orleans and a lady taking her fourth trip to Memphis. The lounge car steward (did I mention how wonderfully cheerful and fun he is?) has said that “after Memphis, the ride’s practically over,” but I suspect that point of view comes from staying up late to close the snack bar. The lady expects to arrive in Memphis by 6:00 AM, and we aren’t scheduled to pull into New Orleans until at least 3:30 PM.

All of them are amazed that I’ve chosen to take the train from Denver to New Orleans, and appalled that the only way to do that is via Chicago. What the hell. I like trains.

Wed. 12:00 AM: I have been so very good. I’ve logged two whole hours on the novel currently undergoing revision, and that includes time spent sitting in one of the closet-like restrooms to use the “120 Volts / Razor Only” outlet on the sly. The miraculously cheerful lounge car steward is closing up shop, and he’s not sure whether he has to be back behind the counter at 5 or 6:30 tomorrow morning. Bless him, y’all.

And good night.

Wed. 6:00 AM: Woke up a little ahead of my alarm clock. Had some kind of bizarre dream in which I was discussing dream interpretation with some other guy. We’ve apparently arrived in Memphis early, and we won’t be departing until 6:50 AM. After some time spent puttering around with toothbrush, hand lotion, cell phone, and breakfast, I get back to work on various writing projects. Until the laptop runs out of juice again, that is.

Wed. 7:30 AM: The world outside was midwestern when I went to sleep. It’s southern now. The gray of the sky is warmer. There’s water on the ground instead of snow, water that pools in ditches and puddles and big square fields that might have something to do with rice and wide, tree-stumpy swaths that might be swamp. Swamp! With knobby-kneed cyprus and mallard ducks! I’m going home.

The train’s doing a lot of whistling today. I can’t help but remember hearing that sound in the distance, growing up, in the distance while I lay in bed or much more close while I sat in a Metairie Park Country Day classroom where “the train is no excuse for being late.”

In a little while, say an hour or two, I’ll give Mom a call and let her know the train’s on time so far.

Wed. 11:05 AM: Pulled into Jackson, Mississippi a bit early. Pulled out the camera. Got a great shot of the capitol building in the distance with the Amtrak location sign in the foreground.

Wed. 2:45 PM: Past Hammond, everything starts looking familiar. I end up in the sightseer lounge with a rowdy bunch of sightseers trying to spot their first alligator in the swamps on the south shore of Pontchartrain. One of ’em starts explaining about cyprus knees and knudges me to back him up. Egrets, cormorants, ducks, and at least one pelican watch the train go by. Everyone shouts at the first sight of downtown.

Wed. 3:10 PM: Everything lines up for me as the tracks start to parallel Airline Highway and then I-610. The big wooden Crystal sign shows up on the left, and I remember P.E. bus trips to a nearby bowling alley when all the boys would yell “Hot saaaaaawwce!” as the sign came into view. The green roof of Xavier shows up on the right; the 9/11 memorial mural goes by on the left after the big green “T * U * L * A * N * E” letters. All around, the whole way in, is the varied spectrum of destruction: houses looking like new, houses with blue tarps on the roofs, houses with no roofs and no life showing through the broken windows.

Wed. 3:20 PM: Train’s backing up now, switching tracks for final approach to the station. Mom’s on her way there too. The Superdome looms on our right hand without warning, right next to the tracks so you can’t see the top. Here’s Poydras. Here’s the station. Here’s my parents.

I’m home, I’m home, I’m home! Even if it’s only ’til the first of March, I’m home. God, I love this city. Bless it, y’all. Bless it forever.

Ah, crud. Someone gimme a Kleenex.

2 Comments so far

  1. Sue (unregistered) on February 22nd, 2006 @ 11:36 pm

    I’ll be coming home for a week in March. Hooray!!!!


  2. Laurie (unregistered) on February 23rd, 2006 @ 1:29 am

    “Woohooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

    “Illinois Central……..”

    Laurie



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