Riding on the City of New Orleans Train

Chicago to New Orleans, City of New Orleans, Amtrak Train No. 59

City of New Orleans Amtrak train Every evening the City of New Orleans train is scheduled to depart Chicago’s Union Station at 8:05pm. Boarding this night train was like joining a large slumber party. People unpacked their blankets early, lodged cushions near their heads and tucked themselves in to seats in coach. Quiet came quickly. Every seat was filled. The Conductor announced: “Let’s all get along as if we were at grandma’s house for dinner.”

It was dark outside as we passed Chicago’s commercial loft spaces and warehouses. A full harvest moon was beaming light from the sky. We paused on a bridge. What I was actually gazing at in the sky was the Earth-facing side of the moon being lit by the sun’s light. During a full moon the Earth, moon and sun are all aligned. While on the train there was time to marvel at this beautiful alliance.

As my seatmate settled in, I recalled seeing him in the station ticket line with a young woman. Her arm was wrapped around his torso. He is not an old man, yet he looked frail, tall and thin with a tight face. After having his ticket inspected, the woman released her arm. He told me his name is Chris. He was getting off the train at Yazoo City, Mississippi. Of his decision to take the train, he said: “There’s too much going on at airports. I like staying on the ground.” He then asked my name.

Station stop in Memphis on the City of New Orleans Amtrak train.

Seatmate Chris stretches his legs during a station stop in Memphis on the City of New Orleans Amtrak train.

His phone rang and I heard him say “Thank the Lord, Amen” several times. He took to calling me “Miss Mary.” A baby fussed several seats back. Chris tucked a white nylon skullcap around his head. He unfolded a blanket and closed his eyes. Clouds covered the moon.

Most of the people seated in this car were going to Mississippi. I knew this because as the conductor punched tickets he asked each passenger to confirm their destination. I read for a while then flipped up the leg rest beneath my seat. I placed my blow-up neck cushion against the window as a pillow and fell asleep. What I was anticipating I wouldn’t see until mid-day the next day. Continue reading