There's something about the sound of a train that's very romantic and nostalgic and hopeful. ~Paul Simon
There's no trip home for the holidays for me this year, but if there were, I would head to Brookwood Railway Station--just off the Peachtree Street exit on the South expressway--early in the morning. I'd board and ride homeward into my past to the click-clack and rattle of my beloved train, the Crescent.
I love the romance of a train, the motion, the history, the slower pace that life onboard demands from us. I love that I can stretch my legs and walk around and talk to other passengers. I love naps, books and waking to go through tunnels and see the changing sights of our country from my window.
If I left Atlanta first thing in the morning, the night would be young when I arrived in New Orleans. But even the most dyed-in-the-wool railroading fanatic would admit that fourteen hours in a railroad car can get tedious. And what about food? One must eat, yeah chere.
Picture immaculate tables set with tasty menu items. Congenial people carry on sophisticated conversations over wine with their entrees or coffee and dessert. Idyllic? Definitely. But I know first-hand—dining cars run out of food, have logistical problems or depressingly long lines. You’re not going to pull through the next Mickey D’s or amble over to the food court when that happens. You’ll be happy you packed like my grandma, Miss Alice.
My grandmother’s wisdom during mid-twentieth century was that train travel in the United States was a study in vagaries and one had better be prepared. If one missed a train, it could be days before the next. She would have scolded G. K. Chesterton, who said “The only way to be sure of catching a train is to miss the one before it.”
Miss Alice’s belt-and-suspenders philosophy of travel was formed in the early 1900s. Travel by rail was luxurious in the early days, but peaked a couple of years after the end of the Great War. The rise in personal automobile ownership caused a dramatic drop in passengers, followed by the Great Depression. The Golden Age of Rail Passenger Service was over.
By the Thirties much had changed. According to my grandmother, basic necessities were not easy to find, certainly not on a train. People were poor and if one didn’t bring it, one did without. My grandmother did not travel without food and plenty of it.
Once I was old enough to travel with her, Miss Alice was set in her ways. You did not trust a train be on time, to feed you, or to give you solace of any sort. Her solution was to be so vastly over-prepared that no train dared thwart her. The family tradition continues.
If a train trip is in your future, dress comfortably and travel with several amusements and, God bless Miss Alice, have plenty to eat.
It's important to get up and walk about on long train trips. It helps with the butt freeze. Phone service is unpredictable/impossible and your computer will jiggle too much to be useful, even if you have internet access. Visit with your fellow travellers. How's that for a novel experience?
Bring books and magazines if you can read in a moving vehicle. Maps and travel books help you orient yourself and understand what's outside your window. A small set of binoculars is nice, but not necessary. Program your iPod with good music or download audiobooks. I have no problem listening to a book while I'm working a crossword or sudoku. Decks of cards and handheld games are also fun to pass the time. And, luxury of luxuries, you will also want to nap. Bring a pillow and a lap throw. If light bothers you bring a sleeping mask. Earplugs, too, if you like. It'll still be noisy, but less distinct.
My grandmother would have had a whole roasted chicken, pickles, a loaf of bread, along with other assorted goodies, including lemon bundt cake. Have enough to eat, but streamline to be more user friendly. Remember cutlery, cups, napkins and wipes. And if you're like me, as much bottled water as you're strong enough to carry. Here's a typical menu for two.
- Thermos of coffee
- Two boiled eggs with salt and pepper
- 2 small multi grain rolls, buttered if desired
- Easy to eat fruit—like blueberries
- 2 small cans of V-8 juice
- 2 small plain Greek yogurts
- Remainder of the blueberries from breakfast
- Chicken Liver Paté with Carmelized Onions or Crescent Chicken Salad, recipes follow, on multi grain rolls with spinach greens
- Kalamata olives, pitted
- Fresh pears
- Dove chocolates
- Bottled water
- Red Hot Blue Tortilla Chips
- Roasted almonds
- Bottled water
Paté is just chopped chicken livers, cheap and simple. The caramalized onions are also cheap and easy, but put the two together and your eyes will roll back in your head. Add a touch of truffle oil and watch out!
- 1 medium onion, cut into strips
- 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
- salt to taste
Chicken Liver Paté
- 1 pint carton of fresh chicken livers
- 2-3 teaspoons olive oil
- Salt, to taste
- Coarse ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 to 2 tablespoon cream or half and half, as needed (or use chicken stock)
- 1/2 teaspoon sherry or brandy, optional
- 1-1/2 to 2 cups leftover breast meat from home-cooked or store-bought roasted chicken
- 1 finely minced celery stalk
- 1/4 cup finely chopped pecans
- Best quality mayonnaise to moisten well
- Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning, to taste
Combine all ingredients and chill.
Woody Guthrie's Train 45 evokes the poignancy of wishing yourself home while living in the rhythms of a train. Woody saw much of the country from a train, but he probably didn't pack like my grandma . . .