Saturday, May 9, 2009

National Train Day

I was going to write a story about autographs but it will have to wait. Today is national train day.

I’m old enough to remember real train travel in America.

When I was very young we lived in the Delmar-Debaliviere neighborhood. My dad could walk to the Wabash station on Delmar and catch a train to Chicago to visit his friend Koester. It seemed like there were stations everywhere back then.

My dad and I took a train from Union Station to visit my grandparents in Arkansas. The trains still had Pullman porters. Bald headed black men in white coats that looked like Uncle Ben.

They were all called George, as in George Pullman, after the practice of calling slaves by the master’s name. When Pullman died Robert Lincoln, the president’s son, took over the Pullman Company. Apparently he tried to undo his father’s work when it came to employees. As bad as things were, the porters were the beginning of the black middle class in America.

At some point in the 60s train travel changed. Amtrak made taking the train feel like you were taking a Greyhound bus. Even the stations began to get seedy.

In the 80s my girlfriend Pam moved to Milwaukee to join a theater company. We kept our relationship going for a year by train. I’ll never forget how great the trip was from Milwaukee to Chicago. I would ride on the upper level. The countryside was beautiful. It all changed at Chicago. The train got dirty and the passengers were scary, especially when you got to Joliet. Everyone seemed to have just gotten out of the prison there.

After a year Pam got involved with a director, but that’s another story.

There was a beautiful, refurbished antique train car called the North Star parked at Union Station. They’d hook it up to the back of an Amtrak car and it would travel across the Northwest. Only corporate execs could afford to ride it. My friend Kent took care of them. My band Wax Theatricks rented a car and met up with the train in Chicago after they unloaded its passengers. Fojammi wrote Different Voices on the way up.

We partied in the train yard for a couple of days. We had a little back porch on the car. I remember drinking Bloody Marys and shooting bottle rockets from it on our way back to St. Louis.

I can’t remember who threw my bachelor party. It was Kent, Stephen Martin, or Tracy. Maybe it was all of them. It was on the North Star connected to a couple of other cars. There was a band on one of them. It was spectacular.

For Kim’s birthday, one year, we took the kids on a dinner train tour from Union Station. It traveled up the Mississippi, then across to Illinois and back down. It stopped across from the Arch where we had dinner. It turned out my buddy Michael Slay was the chef. He came out from the kitchen, bought a round of drinks and sat with us. It was a lot of fun.

Madison County in Illinois is the lawsuit capital of the country and it’s all from the railroads. Ninety percent of the work I got videotaping depositions was railroad cases.

My mother’s brother and Valerie’s dad are old railroad men. Valerie’s dad went from lighting flares and throwing switches to everything being completely run by computer.

They’re talking about a high speed rail line from St. Louis to Chicago as part of the stimulus package. I hope it happens. As big as our country is, it’s hard to believe we don’t already have one.


dominic schaeffer said...

I have absolutely no recollection of that WT trip to Chicago. Was that the John Rosen version?

Doggie said...

I remember Tracy and Fojammi. Maybe it was just us.Maybe we were going up for some other reason on that trip. I just remember Danny in back the whole time writing Different Voices. I'll have to ask him. When I do i'll post a comment!