A Travellerspoint blog

Happily Being Re-Trained

From Ann Arbor MI to New Orleans French Quarter Music Festival 2013

sunny 67 °F

“Next stop; Greenwood Mississippi.” A robust motherly African American female Amtrak employee breezes through the lounge car, “This will be a smoke stop; ya’ll gotta be quick though, it’s only a few minutes”. Her friendly voice makes you glad to be under her watch.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been on a train long enough to blog about it. This is my sixth trip through the Mississippi Delta, once driving down the Mississippi Blues Trail, once a fly over, but mostly on this train, the City of New Orleans. Oddly, the swamps, cotton fields, these poverty stricken towns which most of my lifetime I never gave much thought to seeing now feel familiar as I gaze out the lounge car window.

This train is a friendly train. Not all are. I’ve been on some Mardi Gras trains which, to my disappointment, were none too festive. Sharing a meal in a captive situation with people who have no desire to connect with one another - awkward! Last night was a different story; I was seated with an enthusiastic couple whose passion for New Orleans equals, possibly even exceeds my own; there was instant rapport. They have been to the French Quarter Music Festival numerous times, were even married there (on a paddle boat) and they return every FQ Music Festival to celebrate their anniversary. How’s that for a love story folks!

The fourth man in our dinner booth last night was a retired biology teacher, seemingly nice man whom I would have liked to have gotten to know better but he was extremely quiet so I was disappointed in that regard. He travels two times a year, part of his retirement plan. This time he decided to see New Orleans and imagine this, he was completely unaware that he’s going there during one of the biggest events of the year, The French Quarter Music Festival! He told us he “doesn’t like crowds”. No wonder the poor man didn’t say much, the three of us immersed him body and soul, evangelical we were in our passion and determination to make him a convert! We all exchanged contact info, but I doubt I will see John again, my guess is he’ll rent a car and drove to quieter parts of Louisiana!

As usual I did not sleep in my sleeper last night, I comatosed; happens nearly every time I do an overnight train. The experience does not feel like the frustrating sleeplessness one experiences at home when trying to go to sleep but can’t. This is a semi-conscious state of being, everything goes to sleep but my ears and my thoughts, I hear every sound and the mind drones pleasantly on and on. Such a comfortable state of being, the sounds, the rocking, and the isolatation of the sleeper compartment. I arise thinking I have not slept a wink yet there is no hangover from lack of sleep. I only attain this state of being by purchasing an Amtrak ticket.

I’m relieved to have finished this blog entry having wondered if blogging would be words too many for you all since I basically and inappropriately semi-blog on Facebook every day! Out of loyalty to Train of Thoughts and my oh-so-loyal friends who patiently indulge and share in my passions, I put down these words and hope they find their way to someone who enjoys reading them.

Louisiana bound………Helen

Posted by OnTrack 09:19 Archived in USA Tagged trains new orleans amtrak train_travel Comments (3)

Blog of Few Words

Mardi Gras 2012


Thinking is good; our trains of thought carry us through our many days. But sometimes it is good to put thinking aside, especially deep contemplative thinking, the kind which often inspires writing. This week I gleefully abandoned thinking (except for utilitarian purposes, you know, the kind which enables one to find the appropriate corner for catching the right street car - that kind of thinking). Consequently, no thinking this week, no writing!

But a picture is worth a thousand words, and since I don’t have a thousand words waiting to spill out of me right now, I will give you pictures which were taken this week at Mardi Gras 2012. Simply go to the photo gallery (should be to the right on your screen?) and look at photos grouped under this blog post entitled Blog of Few Words. I invite you to look and ride your own train of thoughts.

Posted by OnTrack 05:38 Comments (0)


Mardi Gras '12


“Laissez les bons temps rouler”…….
I’m glad to be typing those words to you instead of trying to speak them! In my mind’s ear they ring lyrically in the air as they pirouette across the page in my mind’s eye. Were I to speak them, however, you would hear the mutterings of a native Appalachian gal awkwardly attempting to speak in French! The meaning of those beautiful French words? It is……“Let the Good Times Roll”. It’s the traditional Mardi Gras slogan, but a sentiment understood in all languages.

As I write about letting the good times roll, I do roll; literally. I’m rolling down the tracks aboard Amtrak’s City of New Orleans bound for Mardi Gras 2012. This afternoon I will be greeted with sweet southern hospitality by new friends whom I made at last year’s Mardi Gras experience, and we will begin celebrating a week of Carnival. On Sunday I rendezvous with my sister-in-law (a Mardi Gras virgin) who is flying south from Jersey. The two of us, along with a few hundred thousand other kindred spirits, will go forth through Lundi Gras (Monday) and Mardi Gras (Tuesday). We will also be there for Ash Wednesday when New Orleans will abruptly go into repentance mode as has been customary since about the 1700’s. I’m not sure what Michelle and I will be doing on that holy day (hopefully not having too much to repent for), but up to that day we fully intend to do what people have done for decades this time of year in this unique American city where frivolity is officially proclaimed, where one’s extreme imaginings are materialized, and where citizens are literally ordered by law (well sort of) to cease all normal behavior and go forth to create fun!

I have not blogged about a trip in quite some time, but feeling inspired by the muses that will most certainly be bountiful this week, I think I’ll try to do occasional blogging. Finding the time to write may be an issue, but we shall see how it goes as I would like to bring you along with me on this trip.

Welcome aboard The City of New Orleans, my friends…….
“Laissez les bons temps rouler”…….

Posted by OnTrack 08:14 Comments (3)

The Points of Reward-July 13, 2010

Train of Thoughts......

sunny 85 °F

It is 10:00 p.m. Except for an occasional flash of light that rushes by, there is nothing but darkness to be seen out the window of the sightseer lounge. This car is quiet, nearly deserted. One man has sat alone in the first booth by the door talking to nobody and doing nothing for the longest time. A young adult woman with gorgeous red hair is working on a scrapbook, scissors, papers, colored markers and other implements of creativity spread out on the table before her. When my computer battery went dead and there was no electrical outlet to be found in this car, I envied her choice of solitary entertainment which required no electrical power.

The stories I’ve heard about The City of New Orleans being a party train have not proven to be true for me. When traveling south nine days ago, even on July 4, the train was sedate. I’m reminded of the scene in an old Woody Allen film when he’s riding on a train surrounded by passengers who are sullen, dull, depressed, ugly; he looks out his window at a train speeding by going the opposite direction filled with glamorous beautiful people partying the night away. I’m reminded of that scene, but I’m feeling quite content to ride my quiet train tonight without the pressure of having to be glamorous or beautiful or entertaining.

Dinner was served at 6:30. Dining booths on a train are an intimate experience. I sat cozily beside an African American woman who seemed to be about my age; she was traveling from Mississippi to Chicago. We sat across from an eleven year old girl and her seven year old brother who were traveling alone. The woman appeared to be extremely quiet and uncomfortable at first so I thought this meal would not be much of a social experience, but by the end of the meal we talked so long that we lingered until the waiter told us we had to move on so they could serve the next round of guests. Turns out the woman has a thing for trains too. She gave me tips for accumulating Amtrak Guest Rewards points; she has accumulated 52,000! (Mine hover somewhere just above zero.) She told me she spoke to her husband by cell while on this trip and he gave her the thumbs up for planning a trip on the Empire Builder this Fall, her goal is to see the Northern Lights. She plans to use her Rewards points to make that trip. There is a subculture developing on these train tracks, a class of retired baby boomers turned middle-class hobos, hopping sleeper cars instead of boxcars.

For dessert the little boy sitting across from me ordered Mississippi Mud Pie. I ordered one too but had them wrap it up and I gave it to him for a midnight snack. I hoped it would give him one more reason to believe that there are nice people in the world who do nice things unconditionally.

It looks like there are lights appearing out of the blackness. We’re approaching Memphis so I will pack up this computer so I can step off the train when it stops. Memphis is one of Amtrak's “smoke stops”, passengers can get off to take a few drags,or just to stretch their legs for twenty minutes. At the last smoke stop I met a woman who told me she began smoking at age 62. I was aghast and asked her "WHY?" She said she has Crones and IBS and her doctor told her that smoking would help eliminate some of the stress that is causing her bowel problems! One learns a lot on a train. I think I'll keep the tip about accumulating Amtrak Guest Rewards points but not take the advice about how to have a healthier bowel!

Until morning……..

Posted by OnTrack 20:59 Archived in USA Tagged train_travel Comments (2)

Boarding a Magic Carpet Made of Steel

July 3, 2010


It’s America’s big week end. While you all head for fun filled community fireworks, cookouts and baseball games, I’m in locomotion toward Chicago where I’ll board America’s “native son”, the train they call the City of New Orleans. One stop before its final destination (New Orleans) I will get off in Hammond LA, then travel by car to Mandeville to become part of a team of folks who are supporting my life long friend in getting back on her feet following a recent surgery.

The idea of creating a train travel blog has been incubating in my head for months. And now it has materialized. On this first draft of this blog I learned a valuable lesson about blogging while in transit: compose first in Word, then copy and post online. Should the computer go offline while transferring one’s thoughts from head to computer, all is lost. Verizon mobile online connection – not so reliable……“Can you read me NOW?”. Thus, I rewrite.

I know not what the content of this blog (which I’ve entitled Train of Thoughts) will evolve to be. I’ve a passion for riding trains as of late, thus the inspiration for this blog. Trains are loaded with stories. When I watch a train pass by, I see carloads of stories being pulled along, each passenger carrying their own collection, some untold, and some that will be shared on the train with total strangers or travel companions. There is lots of time; a train is an environment which opens people up and stories fall out. As miles pass beneath their feet, people connect face to face, intimate communication is rediscovered as stories flow freely from one passenger car to the next. And new stories are born; stories that will be told later to others about that day we rode the train.

And so this is the birth of my little blog. We shall discover together what it grows to be. Journey with me by sharing your thoughts, feelings and reactions in the comment section of the blog. You can either check the blog regularly to see if there are new posts, or you can sign up to be notified when I have posted something new. I will be writing mostly when I am traveling by train, but there may be times I'll write when the wheels are not clicking beneath my feet. I look forward to traveling this segment of life’s railway with you.


Posted by OnTrack 07:25 Archived in USA Tagged train_travel Comments (3)

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