WILSON: Riding the rails: Part seven

Published 8:39 am Thursday, August 29, 2019

“Dealin’ cards with the old men in the club car. Penny a point ain’t no one keepin’ score. Won’t you pass the paper bag that holds the bottle? Feel the wheels rumblin’ ‘neath the floor. And the sons of Pullman porters, and the sons of engineers, ride their fathers’ magic carpets made of steel. Mothers with their babes asleep, are rockin’ to the gentle beat, and the rhythm of the rails is all they feel.” (City of New Orleans — by Steve Goodman).

As a local NOLA resident explained, “If you can’t remember what you did on Bourbon Street, you did it right.”

It was time to leave the debauchery, aroma and socio-economic lesson known as Bourbon Street. My Intrepid Traveling Companion and I departed the Big Easy and journeyed north, eventually settling into a surprisingly comfortable mode of travel aboard the City of New Orleans. On our previous rail excursions, we rode Coach Class, which provided an affordable means of transportation with (slightly) more comfortable seating and (somewhat) better dining options than discount fare airlines — just a whole lot slower. However, for this leg of our adventure, our dedicated travel agent booked us into a superliner roomette — a private berth with a large window and two comfortably plush seats. Ours was on the upper level of a series of rail cars, discretely separated from the riff-raff that were riding in coach (our former selves).

This was an entirely new world of travel. In the evening, the Porter provided turn down service and converted our spacious seating compartment into sleeping mode, offering surprisingly comfortable bunkbeds (at least, comfortable for me — I had the bottom bunk). Travelers on this special end of the train enjoyed their own dining car with linen tablecloths, real cutlery (not plastic sporks), and a select menu from which to order (I had the Beef Bourguignon — tender beef loin braised in red wine with bacon, mushroom and pearl onion, served with mashed potato and green beans). These delicious meals were not over-priced, prepackaged and frozen (then microwaved), and served at a counter in a box — such as the fare the poor folks in Coach were offered. They were chef prepared, table setting served and included with the price of the roomette — BONUS!

While watching the sunset from the comfort of the swivel chairs on the Sightseer Lounge car, my Intrepid Traveling Companion and I struck up a conversation with a gentleman who really knew the rails. His name was John, and he was an obvious frequent rail traveler — all of the Amtrak personnel knew him, greeted him, and referred to him as “Mr. John.”  He was traveling to the Santa Fe Railroad and Modeling Society Convention in Pueblo, Colorado and had been a railroader since his grandfather introduced him to riding the rails at an early age. John was more than a fan of riding the rails — he was in training to be the engineer on an historical line near his hometown. He was our age, equally well seasoned, and had a story to tell for every one of ours — and there were two of us.

Rail travel, at this level, sure beats flying. Yes, it is much slower — but, that is kinda the point. It ain’t the anticipation of the destination, it’s the joy of the journey. Rail travel is relaxed, comfortable and affords the time and opportunity to meet folks who are willing to share their unique experiences — all while rolling through the best of the country (and the worst of the city).

Unfortunately, our sojourn would soon be ending. We had experienced a multi-city sensory explosion of sight, sound, taste and olfactory. We sampled different cuisines, listened to great music, enjoyed the company of recent (and brand new) friends, saw where history was made, did our best to make a little history of our own — and survived it all. Most importantly, we have stories to tell and pictures to prove our lies.

As our adventure came to a close, in the purest form of guy-talk, my Intrepid Traveling Companion succinctly summed up his thoughts on our journey, “Here’s where I am, and it ain’t too bad.”

To that, I could only add, “Yep.”