Thursday, June 12, 2008

On the Train

Erik notes that Congress passed a veto-proof package to bolster rail travel. I'm all for it! We should have done it years ago.

Ironically that came right on the heels of an e-mail discussion with Wayne about the real City of New Orleans and the song as well. I think he'd mentioned passing Kankakee or something and that made me think of Arlo Guthrie.

All this reminds me of the time I got the ride an Amtrak train. Pretend the screen's getting wavy as we travel back to the '80s. I guess it was the '80s.

Billy Tauzin --who's now most famous probably for his 60 Minutes appearance about Congressmen who become lobbyists--was running for governor of Louisiana and he'd put together a Victory Train. Only it wasn't.

Anyway it was an Amtrak and he was traveling the state, and my buddy Steve The Photographer and I drew the the assignment to shadow the campaign for a day.

To do that, our editor arranged a light plane flight for us from Alexandria to Ruston so we could meet the train at one of its whistle stops instead of making an early morning drive to Shreveport. We finagled a car trip from the local airport downtown, giving us the opportunity to say we'd had a day of Trains, Planes and Automobiles.

And we rode all day, getting a good sense of what the train had to offer, one car with scenic windows, an Art Deco-looking club car and comfortable seating. We rode South toward home all afternoon, sat in on a press briefing in which Tauzin laid out one position paper or another and spent the rest of the time chatting with people and absorbing color as we rolled through the countryside.

Then we got to Alexandria in the late afternoon, and we stopped in the railroad yards. I'm not sure if there was some complication or what, but there must have been some decision made somewhere along the way that they had to get the candidate to his rally.

After we sat a while, the lead cars were detached and we were left sitting, I guess until the rest of the train came back for us.

Steve started getting ancy.

"I've got COLOR FILM," he said.


"It has to be processed."

"Isn't there, like, an automatic system?"

"Yeah, but it takes a while and things will have to be layed out, and the deadline is 9 p.m. The back shop will refuse the pages if they come in at 9:01."

I got up and told a gray-haired man in an engineer's cap that we were going to get off.

"Do you know where you are?"


The train tracks ran through the warehouse district, not far from where my father had had an office when I was a kid. He was a sales representative for a grocery company. Rail access was important to them. I'd also done a business report on the opening of a new cotton warehouse there a couple of years earlier.

I'd only been there by car, and I wasn't sure how far we were from the newspaper, but it was time to go.

"Do you take responsibility for your own actions?"

"Yeah, his too," I said, gesturing to Steve.

They let us off.

And the whole press core saw us.

"That guy's from the Alexandria paper," they said. "He must know where he is. Let's follow him. Do you know how to get to Hotel Bentley?"

Warehouse districts, as you probably know, some of you being from cities, are the, uh, best areas.

So there's me and there's Steve and there's a bunch of guys in white shirts and ties walking along through a fairly deserted warehouse district.

"We look like a gang of accountants," noted one reporter.

Turns out the cotton warehouse was a loooonnng way from the newspaper office. Did I mention I was wearing new, hard leather shoes instead of the cool and practical canvass dress shoes I had in those days.

I was long an adult, but old man still carped at me about my hair, which I wore as long as my hair would grow in those days, and things like shoes. He who joined the Navy so he wouldn't be in the infantry.

We walked the many blocks through areas where in some corners rumor had it illegal substances changed hands in sales transactions.

Nobody bothered us, and eventually we reached the train station where the Alexandria whistle stop was taking place. Steve hoofed it on to get his film processed.

I and the rest of the press corps stopped to listen to the final speech of the day.

And the editors had a guy there to meet us with a car.

All in all, a great day. Maybe we'll see train travel pick up again as a means of cross country transportation.

In spite of that little misadventure, I'd ride.



Miladysa said...

Enjoyable post Sidney :-D

Erik Donald France said...

Hilarious! "We look like a gang of accountants" is a cracking good image. Sounds fun -- makes me want to hop aboard a train asap -- and I know what you mean about warehouse districts. Have turned around in culs de sac (or is it cul de sacs plural?) in Detroit after mignight, very David Lynchlike. In daytime, Route 66the show.

All good!

Lana Gramlich said...

I'm for rail travel, too, but they need to do something about the cost. Some years ago, in planning a trip to my bro's in Florida (from Canada,) I looked at air vs. rail. Rail was over twice the price of air & would take 36 hours each way. In that instance, there was just NO contest.

Steve Malley said...

Mqan, what a great way to brighten my day! Fun post!

Anonymous said...

I've always wanted to take a train from the plains across the Rocky Mountains.
Preferably in a steam engine.
Chased by Indians...
or outlaws.
Maybe even shoot a buffalo (or a cow)

Sidney said...

That's sound's like a good trip, Ro! I'm hoping demand will adjust cost, or does that work the other way around, Lana? Don't things usually get better in time?

Charles Gramlich said...

I know the location your talking about. Had to laugh at the "gang of accountants."

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