Big and easy visits The Big Easy

I am a train girl at heart. I commute every day and have done so for the last 15 years or so. I am not a lover of driving. I do it because I have to, but rarely enjoy it. In fact just today I cracked my side view mirror and am currently toying with gluing back together before my husband sees. Anyway, back to the train. I love riding the Amtrak. I know. It’s kind of bizarre. But not really considering it’s still in business. Before you get all high and mighty about the train vs. air experience, let me list the pros of train travel.

1. I do not have to walk through security to get mishandled, strip searched and be placed on suicide watch. I don’t have to unpack my whole suitcase, have my privacy grossly violated, and molested by a very underpaid and hyper-bored  airline employee. I did all of the above in the early 90’s. Been there, done that.

2. When packed and prepared properly, you can thoroughly enjoy your lengthy train ride across the country. I bring music, books, writing materials and just recently, a portable DVD player. I pack up some fruit, trail mix, peppermint gum and some water. I have a small blanket, and a travel pillow. It all fits together like a Tetris game in my back pack. I find a good seat by a window and sit and zen out.

3. Nobody on that train is in a hurry to get anywhere, and it shows. Everyone is so nice to each other. It’s like stepping on to another world. Group conversations, singing, playing cards, and quiet small talk is the norm. No snotty passengers with a deadline. Just regular people going at the same pace as you and just as comfortable on your side of the tracks. Literally. Yeah, you get a weirdo. But the weirdo’s on the plane want to kill you and everyone around you. Train weirdos want to touch your knee or smell your hair in the middle of the night, or mask their farts with body spray.

Aside from these 3 examples, I can go on forever about the sightseeing car. It’s surrounded by all windows, with various comfortable seats stretched out so you can go and sit and watch the world go by. On my most recent trip to New Orleans, I fell asleep in Chicago and woke up in Memphis. I got up, got some hot tea from the lounge car and sat down with a book and my little blanket and looked out at the countryside. Four contrite and very proper southern women boarded in Memphis and I gave up my seat to them so they could sit together and knit. Yes, they were knitting. They weren’t old bitties either. They were decently middle-aged and going on a little trip together. It was like watching a live version of Gone With the Wind. They went on about how plantations were scarce now, and how lovely it was to grow up in their neighborhoods. The African-American gentleman sitting near us chuckled. I can only imagine why.

A man sat across from me who I honestly thought was a mean good ol’ boy, until people started getting off in Jackson Mississippi and he shook their hands, smiled and bellowed out a lovely and convincing “God Bless Yew Nah”. The southern version of the Kennedy Clan stepped on in Jackson, heading to Nola for a boys weekend. I could be wrong here, like I was with the good ol’ boy, but something tells me those boys were well equipped with condoms and roofies. I may be wrong. But I doubt it. One of them waved goodbye to me when I got into a cab to the hotel. It wasn’t out of southern hospitality, it was because I stole their cab. I didn’t mean to, I think they just got into the wrong line. But in their minds, I was the Yankee who took their cabs, because that’s how Yankees roll.

The gentleman behind me spent most of the time calling his cousin and asking about cooking up greens, and there was also lively conversation about how God Himself was in charge of landing the Hudson River plane. Sully the pilot had little, if nothing to do with it at all.

I love the train. I love the solitary feeling I get when snuggled down under the blanket for the night, listening to music, and wondering about all of the little houses that fly by me. I love the whistle that blows as we leave town. It’s hypnotic to me, the whole process. I rarely get bored and I cannot think of any moments in my life that make me feel as Zen as I do when I am on a train.

I headed into New Orleans after 19 hours on the train, showered and met friends out for a drink. I went for a wedding and traveled alone. The Mr. couldn’t make it with me and the boy was with my mom. I met my friends, enjoyed some hurricanes, the rum variety of course, and wandered the streets. I have a delightfully high tolerance to rum based drinks so I was able to have a couple before it’s coying sweet flavor drove me nuts. We headed to a bar that’s been in business since God was a boy and sat in the corner and talked by candlelight. I can see why people love the city so much.

Bourbon Street is……..a variety of things. It’s smelly. But something I thought funny was that I took a walk one dayand stepped over a large steel grate on the sidewalk. Hot air blew out and all I could smell was pastry dough baking, with a hint of the chicory coffee they serve. The streets smell like piss and partying. But the smells of sweets and warmth waft up from the underbelly of the sidewalk. I saw a cabbie drive down the narrow streets and slowly pull up to a garbage can and toss out his trash. I would never in a million lifetimes see that at home.

The wedding was very sweet and first wedding like. The cathedral was extraordinarily beautiful but oddly not extremely gluttonous with statues and jewels. It fits in nicely in that city. I gazed at the paintings and listened to the prayers and felt at ease there. I thanked God (or my version of Him I suppose) for my life, for my family, and for my friends. It was one of those moments that I knew I wanted to savor; soon I would be home to reality and knee-deep in ups and downs.

I sang karaoke for my friends at a very crowded bar. I rocked out some G & R and it was hilarious and liberating. I was wearing sensible gym shoes and jeans, which I normally hate wearing. But I wore them anyway and went out there looking like someone’s mother and sounding like a chic who just wanted to walk out of her skin for a while and be a bit silly. And I did.

The next morning I grabbed a cup of Southern Pecan medium roast coffee and a brownie, and walked around town one last time before heading back on my train home. I said my goodbyes to my friends and to the beautiful city of New Orleans and stepped on to my train. I said hello to the same folks who rode out with me. One of them I even ran into at the coffee shop. The gentleman behind me got his greens. The Jackson Mississippi Kennedy Clan got on board and looked hung over and content with their boys weekend.

I settled in to my seat and cracked open my book. I tried hard to not watch movies or listen to music until the sun went down. I don’t think that I should avoid looking out at the world when there is still so much sunlight to guide my eyes. Even if I did go over swamp land with gators lurking about. Well, I didn’t see them, thank God. But I did see turtles all lined on branches in the water as if they were at a swim up bar in Mexico. And I saw a lot of green grass and flowers. I saw a BBQ festival in a really small town, and a funeral parlor that was about the size of my little house I grew up in. The sign was very simple and literal. It read “Funeral Parlor”.

Amtrak just sent me a note saying I have earned enough travel rewards for a free reserved coach ticket anywhere in the next 36 months. If I am unable to use it, I plan on donating the rewards to a soldier who wants to sit back and be Zen and watch the world go by.



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