I started the day in South Carolina, then watched the sun rise over Georgia.
It’s a little blurry because the train was really moving down those rails. A roommette may be small, but it’s also cozy, and everyone should have the experience of waking to the rocking of the rails, turning your head and watching the landscape of the country roll by.
The breakfast car was empty when I get there at 6am. It’s possible I was the only early riser in the sleeper car.
We stopped briefly in Gainesville where one man was standing at a small station, coffee in hand, waiting to greet his friends.
In Atlanta, we had to get off the train and transfer to a large bus (because of the track work I mentioned in the last update). I would talk about how late the bus was and how much I hate riding on buses, but I’ve read research that definitely proves telling others about your bad travel experiences makes you feel better, but makes them miserable (a strong entry in the “No Duh” category of research). Ergo, I will leave all of that out.
I will, however, tell you some of the stories I heard from people on the bus. This is Spencer, who is almost 20 and hopes to fly for the Navy some day. He’s on his way back to school at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Spencer has his trumpet in the seat next to him.
He overheard me talking with someone else about people who seem to be accident-prone and said, “That’s me.” Spencer was once hit by a car, went through the windshield and was then sent home from the hospital with a clean bill of health. He was wrapped in gauze and told to take it easy.
He’s also a member of a boomwhacker choir at U of A, called “Alabooma.” Boomwhackers, if you’re blissfully unaware, are brightly colored plastic tubes that have been cut into different lengths so they sound distinct musical tones when they’re hit. Here’s a video of a boomwhacker group playing a cover of “Sail.”
There are lots of interesting tidbits that Spencer has to share. For one thing, his great uncle is leaving him a pristine ’74 Maserati in his will, along with a stuffed fish that Spencer says is “worthless, but I know the story behind it, so I really love it.” He’s heard that they are lots of teaching jobs open in Kalispell, Montana, so that’s where he plans to head when he finishes flying plans in the Navy.
Two row behind Spence is Fran and her big-eyed granddaughter, Miracle. The adorable little guy with bouncy pigtails is Fran’s 13th grandchild. They’ve been in North Carolina for two months visiting Fran’s son (“We went for Thanksgiving and then he said we might as well stay until Christmas and then it seemed silly not to stay until New Year’s”) and are finally on their way home to New Orleans.
Fran overheard me talking to Spencer about his summer job in an ice cream factory and peers eagerly over the seat: “Do you work at Tony’s on East Franklin?” “Yes,” Spencer answers. “Oh my god,” Fran responds, “That ice cream is FRESH. It is fresh.”
We were on the bus for more than eight hours and I needed some quiet time, so I started reading a book about halfway through the trip. The conversations continued, though, in a quiet murmur behind me.
It was a real relief when the bus pulled up to the Union Passenger Terminal. I know there are people who love the bus, but I’m not one of them. I will be very happy to step back onto my beloved train later this week. In the meantime, I’ll spend a little time in the Crescent City, get a beignet and chicory coffee, eat some gumbo, and listen to some jazz. One bonus: my hotel room looks directly out at the Superdome.
After just a day or so of travel, one thing is clear: train travel makes me very aware of the miles as they go by. I can see the tree lines change as we pass from suburbs to national forests. I see the big houses of small rural communities give way to townhomes and then high-rise apartment buildings. Some of the small towns have decorated their train stations with strings of lights and cheerful welcome signs. This is not the view from 10,000 feet. This is travel that really feels like I’m going somewhere.