Friday, January 29, 2010

Train, 47 hours, Los Angeles to New Orleans

Hour #21, somewhere outside of Alpine, TX – near Big Bend National Park. Dad and Becky probably went through here.

There is an old man strumming a guitar and a younger guy picking a banjo. He sound like Levon Helm, and sings almost too loud; his hair is slicked with oil. He’s talked for hours and hours about how he should get a six-pack and start pickin’, he’d have a crowd around him. The crowd in the sightseer car claps and cheers occasionally after “Your Cheating Heart” and “Good-Hearted Woman.” He’s fairly obnoxious when he’s not playing, yelling and crowing. He covered standard Americana and honky-tonk for about two hours before a car attendant asked him to stop.

There is an Amish man on the train who seems to hang around the dirtiest women aboard: an obese desert hick who explains to him that her sex life sucks and that she’s okay with gays raising children over the course of an hour and a half; an alcoholic cokehead, dyed blonde, wearing Uggs and sunglasses who endlessly compliments him on his beard and the blue of his suspenders; an eleven-year-old goth skinny as a whip who already has a Celtic tattoo across her chest. I hear him later giving marriage advice from the Bible to a poor black single mother.

I realized I'd gotten somewhat homesick at this point.

One young man on the train has a Bell’s brewery hat – I have a sticker with the logo on my computer. I wonder if he noticed. C’mon, anything for a conversation. I played scrabble with two women for an hour or so; I’m about ready to move into my sleeper. Since I got up at 5:30, I haven’t really been back to my seat – that makes almost 12 hours sitting in the lounge car, reading and now writing.

First Class. (It gets its own section. Get it?)

I decided to upgrade to First Class for the last 20 hours of my trip. It was fairly expensive, but I thought that the experience would be worth it. I was feeling pretty strung-out by the second day on the train, and thought to treat myself. All my meals in the dining car are included – up until now, I’d eaten travel-bruised fruit, English muffins, tortillas, warm cream cheese and hummus. Some cheap candy and black coffee. I also get a shower, a more private restroom, a private room, and a bed (!). I realized that since I left home, I hadn’t had much of any privacy. Staying with friends and family, public transportation, and coach class hadn’t afforded me much space.

So when I walked down to the sleeper cars and Brian, my car’s attendant, greeted me by name and showed me to my room, I just about swooned. I felt like a queen. Free coffee and juice awaited me upstairs, and a virtually sound-proof room let me make calls without feeling like I was being rude to my fellow passengers. A large window in my room gave me a great view, and the restrooms were roomier and cleaner. I slept through the entire night. The difference between coach and first class is astronomical!

If you do a series of overnight train trips, first-class is the way to go. Do it for at least one night. I’m glad I did it once, but doing it coach for almost 150 hours made it all that much sweeter. This is luxury.

At dinner, I sat with two men from Kinocha (sp), WI: a professor - cyclist and sailor – and a man who’d grown up there and simply loved the town. Breakfast, I sat with a former president of Earlham College, a Quaker school in Richmond, IN, and his wife, who is well-traveled and seemed to take the same curious approach I do to cities. They were well into retirement. The husband now is a senior advisor for Mercy Corps, an international aid and relief organization. After hearing about my degree (Nonprofit Management), he told me about the work they do and gave me a card – said to look for a job with them.

I heave-ho’d my pack a few hours later and stepped out into the comparatively utilitarian Union Station in New Orleans around 1:30pm.

No comments:

Post a Comment