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NOTE: For the Photo Essay, click the link in the main header (above) or HERE.

Part One

I awoke to views that made my Arizona-desert-born soul leap with joy: fog, lush mountain forests, and lots and lots of water (lakes, rivers, creeks). I believe there were even—big grin—ferns.

Many photo opportunities were lost during breakfast, when the train was moving slowly enough past trees and abandoned industrial buildings (circa late 19th Century). After that, when I went into the thankfully nearly deserted Viewing Car, we sped up. Fast train + foreground trees + camera without manual focus option = terrible photos. I gave up.

I was soon joined by Bernice, a wonderful woman from Alexandria, Virginia. We had a phenomenal time, our friendship sealed after a man seated behind us made a yawning noise quite like a cow and we shared a Look. She then told me about her time with her sister in a church choir, where their position near the altar gave them full view of those attending the service.

First there was the man who would yawn, wide enough to crack his jaw, and sound exactly like the guy behind us on the train. In other words, like a cow. No concern at all for when the yawn might take place (during a sermon, for example) or the spectacle he was making of himself.

Then there was the older woman who would fall asleep nearly the instant she sat down—her head dropping back on the seat, her mouth gaping open—and would have to be awakened at the end of the service else she continue sleeping all day.

Then there was the gentleman who would fall asleep…and whose dentures would work their way half out of his mouth. He’d be sitting there, eyes closed, false teeth and gums protruding from his mouth in a bizarre sort of smile.

And, lastly, there was the man who–you got it–would fall asleep only to wake, at any time, and say with solemn loudness, “A-mem.” Not amen. Amem.

What a church. And what a great time to be in the choir.

Part Two

A very grand and majestic sculpture stands just outside Union Station in Washington, DC. My question is this: did its creator plan for it to be so well-loved by pigeons? Going by the figures’ expressions, it seems like it to me.

Birds, Birds, Birds

Oh, The Birds. The Birds.

*sigh*

“I’m Ignoring You”

*sniffff* Mmmm.



Part Three

Getting to my compartment on the Sliver Meteor was a comedy of errors. And one which begs me to ask, yet again, “Why must it always be the left knee?”

As I’ve mentioned, one of the perks of being a passenger in a sleeping car is the special escort to the train. Unfortunately, this one escorted us to an escalator—going down very steeply—which was barely wider than my very heavy suitcase. I have issues with escalators, most particularly the Down ones. My vision gets a bit boggled and I get apprehensive about where to step. Load me up with a bulky carry-on, a backpack, a computer-bag, a plastic bag loaded with snacks, and a Grande Latte from Starbucks, and you forget about my getting on that thing. The other luggage-laden women in the group agreed with my safety concerns, and we happily went into the elevator our escort pointed us towards. He, however, did not accompany us. Nor did he tell us which button to push. We made a guess.

When the doors opened, it looked like we had arrived at a platform. Hooray. But we saw no sign of life. A train, yes…but no people. Uncertain, it took us a second or two to decide to leave the elevator and venture into the deserted unknown. Much to our relief, we found that a large pillar had been obscuring our view of the group. It wasn’t a big deal, obviously, and we’d only been delayed a few moments, but they gave us “where the hell have you been” looks. Excuse us? You were the ones who were fine with sending us off into the wilderness—and couldn’t even be bothered to watch for our re-entry into civilization.

Our escort figured his job was done and left. I began walking the length of the train in search of Car 7711.

And by “length of the train,” I mean “length of the train.” There was no Car 7711. Only a Car 7811. I went up to a Conductor standing at one of the Coach cars, showed him my ticket and asked where Car 7711 might be. He told me a number and directed me inside. “Okay,” I thought, puzzled. “I’ll be able to find it through here.” I had a vague notion of walking through the cars. Fine. But then I realized the number he’d given me was for a seat. In Coach. I returned to the door in time to hear an older gentleman asking the same question I had: “Where is Car 7711?” And I chimed in, “Yes, that’s where I need to go, too.” I returned to the platform and the older man and I—as directed—walked back the way we came.

Still, no Car 7711. I went up to the Conductor at Car 7811 and asked where I needed to go. “Here,” he said, and pointed to 7811. “Okay,” I thought, puzzled and flustered. “I’ll be able to find it through here.”

Since I’d interrupted another man’s boarding process, I stood back, prepared to wait.

“No, no,” he said with a charming smile. “This is still the South. Ladies first.”

Oh, crap. My stuff wasn’t balanced well in my hands. I wasn’t ready! “But you’ve got your ticket and ID out. You’re good to go,” I protested.

“No, no. Ladies first.” Big smile. Charming.

“Thanks,” I said. Not once on the entire trip was my ID required, but this time, my ticket wasn’t, either, so I couldn’t even sort myself out while the Conductor looked over my information. All too soon I was mounting the steps to the car. Well…almost. I made one of them. As I attempted the second, both my carry-on and computer-bag had a different idea and started taking me back to the platform. My left knee volunteered to do the work of my hands (since they were busy maintaining a death-grip on my carry-on and sloshing latte all over my bag of snacks) and bashed itself against something hard in an attempt to halt my slow, inevitable backwards fall out the door. Finally, perhaps alerted by the handsome charmer, the Conductor took hold of my carry-on and said, “I’ve got it. I’ve got it.” I let go and managed to right myself. And what do you know—it’s super-easy to get on a train when you’re not dragging a +30lb anchor.

I retrieved my carry-on, got my computer-bag back on my shoulder, and headed for the teensy little hallway which, in theory, would lead me to Car 7711 and my compartment…though by then it had occurred to me that the Conductor had merely said, “Down the hall.” He’d said nothing about going into another car—and I knew very well the next car over was not 7711. I’d walked past it twice, hadn’t I?

Since Handsome Charmer was right behind me, I maintained a confident stride but felt like a fool.

The hall was ridiculously narrow and involved several 45-degree turns. After we’re forced to squeeze past people coming from the opposite direction, I said, “I feel like PacMan.” He laughed, and I felt somewhat redeemed.

I found a compartment with the same number as the one I was to occupy in Car 7711, so I went inside. (I didn’t have to go far. Unsurprisingly, it was very small.) While I sat, waiting for the Conductor to come by and collect my ticket—or tell me I’m in the wrong room on the wrong car—I noticed the fabric of my pants was hurting my knee.

What?

I frowned, not having fully understood the heroic rescue my knee had performed, and gently touched my kneecap. Somehow, unbeknownst to me, someone had placed a marble there.

Again.

It’s always the left knee, you see. It’s the left knee that gets kicked by steel-toed boots at film-school parties. It’s the left knee which is sat upon in a bad position for distracted hours on end. It’s the left knee which takes the brunt of the impact in any number of spectacular, wardrobe-related sidewalk falls. It’s the left knee which finds the stuff beneath tables—the legs, the sharp folding-table components, etc. It’s always the left knee.

It has been suggested by some that this is because it is the “weaker one.” Hah. If that were the case, it wouldn’t work at all by now. No, evidence seems to suggest it is the stronger. Strongest of all, perhaps, or at least the most bold. The most foolhardy, the most willing to sacrifice.

I have a daredevil of a left knee. (Though even it balks at escalators.)

Oh—as I later found out from the Server in the Dining Car, 7711 and 7811 are the same. When going north, the Car is 7811. When going south, it’s 7711…if someone bothers to change the number.


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