Greetings from The Chemical Coast! I am somewhere north of Beaumont, Texas (I believe we just passed Vidor, Texas – a city with a rich and colorless history) We are just across the border now from Louisiana after visiting Lafayette, New Iberia, Lake Charles, and kicking things off in The Big Easy itself. I am having a good time so far.
This part of the country is quite beautiful (I am 99% I saw a Roseate Spoonbill – one of my all-time favorite birds, and also one which is shockingly pink!), particularly the Cypress Swamps I saw in Louisiana. Amazing stuff.
While I am having a good time - and loved rollin' out of N.O. in my private cabin - nothing comes easy in this world I tell you. Nothing. I did everything I could to prep for this trip. Half the weight of my f'ng suitcase & backpack is all the food & drink I need on these long-haul rides (more on this in a moment), so I bring my own food and drinks (they have Mtn. Dew, but it is $1.50 a can or some shit – I would need 30 bucks a day if I didn't bring my own.) I am actually over-prepared if anything. Very little was left to chance, yet I would - just as the Steve Miller Band predicted - "have to go through hell before (I got) to heaven"...
I walk into the station thinking I am 100% ready to roll and I am at peak excitement, so it would follow then that I showed up at the train station without my f'ing ticket! YES YES! I have enough Dark Chocolate Covered Macadamia Nuts for all 3 days, but I left my ticket in the f'ing hotel room. I did this without enough time to go back for it. This train, The Sunset Limited, only runs westbound on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Today is Friday. If I miss it, I am truly screwed. Amtrak does have a system for lost tickets, namely that you buy a new one and send proof of dual purchase to get refunded. Simple enough I guess except that I didn’t pay for this ticket. I used Amtrak Guest Reward Points. One doesn't buy a new ticket, use that ticket, and then get refunded for it. One simply eats the cost of the ticket (whether they get their points back, I don't know.)
At first, I went to the counter thinking this would be no big deal since airlines can replace lost tickets on the spot these days fairly easily. Not so Amtrak it seems. Not today. Not here. In addition to that laid-back Southern “attitude” (especially to people in hats identifying themselves as being California residents – ooh, and also in tie-dyed shirt...yes, I wore a tie-dyed shirt, but it is a part of Southwest Airlines promotion of its entry into the San Fran Airport again, and I got it free from work, and I wore it here so I wouldn’t waste a GOOD shirt while doing nothing but sitting in a train car all day – I hope that makes sense.) No, not only did Agent #1 have that charming Southern laid-back sensibility to him, he also had the “I Am An Amtrak – Thereby Government – Employee And I Am On My Break Now” attitude. He just said there was nothing to be done about it other than maybe seeing if my hotel will run it over (GENIUS!!!)
I was so desperate, I tried calling the hotel. No cellphone reception. With 20 minutes before the train left, and left me, I turned all of my perfectly-packed luggage inside-out on the off chance I just misplaced it in there. I didn't. It was not with me. I get worked up too easily I suppose, but at the prospect of being stuck in New Orleans without any way home, and more importantly, without my super-awesome train adventure to look forward to, I was crest-fallen. I saw a different agent at the counter, so I went back and asked if there really was NOTHING to be done. Long-story-short, this gentleman AT LEAST CALLED someone to ask. With literally a few minutes to spare, I got a new ticket, and at the sound of final boarding, I got on.
Naturally, I was happy just to be on the train. In the 15 minutes of final-limbo on the phone there, I was sweating worse than I had the day before in the mid-day New Orleans peak-of-summer heat. I was freaking out. I did see dickhole agent #1 again, and he realized the fact that I was getting a new ticket COMPLETELY showed him to be a lazy good-for-nothing shit. I don't think he actually cared all that much except for the fact his other co-worker knew I had asked for the same help and got it from someone else while #1 stood there looking like he had just eaten a full triple-coiling #2.
Again, I was just happy to be on the train. Yes, I missed my usual walk-around-and-photograph-everything moments (usually a highlight for me.) No, I can’t show you what the NOLA station looks like (not sure you are missing much), however the loss of some photos isn’t my problem...the problem is that Amtrak showers suck ass and I had just taken the last decent shower I was going to get for 3 days; and within 90 minutes of drying off, I was wet with my own (delightfully clean, mind you) sweat. I had also trashed a full day's clothing. Not at all cool. Sucky in fact. Very sucky.
I could go on and on with the bitching (we are already 4+ hours behind and we just left Louisiana, but that is what the Union Pacific calls “Customer Service” these days as any good train nerd will tell you), but I won’t. The delays could mess up my connection in Los Angeles, but we have loads of time to get caught up. It really is no skin off my nose to roll slow or sit somewhere. I actually kinda dig it.
I got to go over the Huey Long Bridge over OLD MAN RIVER, which is the bridge Johnny Cash is talking about in his cover of The Rock Island Line (if the man was still there collecting tolls, I would have told him I had livestock, then told him he had been fooled, and that in fact I had pig iron – I bet he never tired of that joke.)
I got to see a Little Blue-Heron, along with lots of other awesome birds and turtles in the swamps. I got to see lots of stuff I thought might be gone by now – shotgun shacks not being the least – but that the small-town south seems to have kept (little small-town railroads being another, I don't just mean bad stuff.) I am currently looking at the lights of the big chemical processing plants that have dotted the coast for many of the miles of the trip (we are slow-rolling right into Beaumont as we speak) which I never thought I would see (I can see why Janis Joplin had to get out of Port Arthur, though the Pearl Beer sign is pretty cool...)
In short, I am getting to see tons and tons of detail I would otherwise never see. I will get all philosophical about it in other entries; for now, I like seeing homes with piles of catfish boxes & crab traps up past their roofs. Small-town coastal Louisiana is pretty righteous - at least out the window of a train.
I tried hard not to even nap today, but the sway of the train pulled me under a few times already, as it always does. There is no sleep better than train sleep. Since we are so late, I think I might get to see San Antonio in the sun by the time we get there. No such “luck” with Houston. In all, even if we kept the schedule, it would take almost 24 hours to cross Texas alone. I will definitely get to see Del Rio, El Paso, and Alpine – home of the awesome Big Bend National Park, which is bird nerd paradise, and to which I will return one day – by sunlight, and I kinda look forward to it. I have seen a bit of West Texas by car, and it was other worldly (I always think of Woody Guthrie out looking for a silver claim and setting up his own mine, though I am not sure how long he was out there, and he might have been looking for gold come to think of it...) Again, I am still seeing America in the macro sense, and am interested in finding those things I need to go back and see in detail. So far, this trip has already suggested loads of stuff; from Avery Island, LA and the Tabasco factory to Lake Charles to the Spoonbills of the swamps and even to the Chemical Coast itself (the railroading out here is intense and worth it just on its own – not to mention the high number of casinos near the tracks.) I am still learning my way around America, and even though I am in the heart of Murikkka, I feel the pull to see more of it. I know New Orleans rekindled the love for the city I have felt over the years. Like I said, the ride is just starting.
Tomorrow, I will get some serious writing done. For now, time to pack up for the night and catch some zzzzzz's. I am sleeping near the engine so I will surely get a sleep filled with the sound of that lonely train horn blaring out into the Texas night. Even with the light from the train I can see stars aplenty, so I know even my sleep is going to be stellar. Til tomorrow, I say woo-woo to you.