I heard the song “City Of New Orleans” by Arlo Guthrie this morning. This, on the heels of recent status updates I've seen about the prospects for an Iowa City-Chicago passenger train got me to thinking about railroading, passenger rail in particular. I have many positive associations with riding trains of various varieties. My dad was a railroad buff, so if there was a train museum within reach of wherever we may have found ourselves, we usually made time to stop. There were lots of steam train rides at these places, which were a wonderful journey back in time.
Having spent most of my youth in Chicagoland, we had easy access to commuter trains, too. When I was a little pup, my mom used to take me on rides on these trains, which was relatively cheap entertainment, I guess. We'd ride to some other suburb where there was invariably a park near the train station. So for the cost of a round-trip ticket or two, we'd kill a nice chunk of the day with the ride and some swings 'n' slides 'n' whatnot for me, and mom could sit on a bench nearby and get some reading done. Perfect for both of us!
I so enjoyed riding the train as a boy that it was my dream for a time to be a conductor on one of these trains so I could holler “Glencoe!” to the passengers when we were approaching that stop. The only thing better than that would have been having the power to reach up above the doors with my special poker (get your mind out of the gutter) and open the doors when the train reached a stop. I may have been allowed to do this once as a boy, or I may have just made that up in my head, but it was cool just to be in the vestibule area when it happened. It seemed like so much authority, the power to open and shut a train-car door like that! So fixated on this occupation was I that I used to make my mom cut paper into strips, which then became pretend tickets to various destinations along the Chicago & North Western or Milwaukee Road line. Then, while she was trying to do paperwork or sew or cook dinner or some other important grownup activity, she'd have a four year old trying to punch her ticket to Kenilworth or Round Lake.
The positive associations with trains didn't end there, though. Perhaps the best thing that ever happened to a young lad of nine happened to me on a train. I remember it like it was yesterday. We were taking Amtrak from Chicago to Albuquerque to visit my grandparents. We were riding the Southwest Limited route, now called the Southwest Chief. This was something on the order of a 23 hour trip, so there is a lot of time to fill, but it really is a wonderful ride (even without the story I'm about to tell you). There is so much beautiful scenery to take in as you cross the country, it's something I'd recommend highly. Plus you can meet some really fascinating people in the Club Car.
So here we are, my family and I, watching the world go by either somewhere in southern Colorado or northern New Mexico, somewhere way up in the mountains where the train is going pretty slow negotiating a winding journey through the higher elevations. I'm minding my own business, looking out the window when what do I behold? A NAKED LADY bathing in a mountain stream! Jackpot!
I'm not talking an “Oopsie, my boob fell out of my bikini” moment. I'm not talking half naked. I'm talking full-blown birthday suit. It felt like, to a 9 year old, what I imagine winning the lottery would feel like to me now. Or, I suppose, seeing the right woman naked at that just right moment would to me now, though I'm slightly more demanding these days: For example, I prefer my naked women to not be going past me at 20 MPH. Lathering up is still okay. What were we talking about? Trains? Oh, yeah, I like trains.