I woke up before there was light in the sky. I think it was 5 am, but I’m not sure. It didn’t really matter.
The train had slowed for a crossing ahead. I looked out my window and saw the reflection of the red lights on a white pickup truck waiting on a country road. The engineer sounded the horn, then we gained speed and pushed further south.
I couldn’t go back to sleep that night. Actually I didn’t want to. I could doze comfortably in a bed the next night, and the night after that into eternity. Right now, I just wanted to peer through the glass to see what came next.
We were about an hour from Memphis. I had never visited Tennessee, and I guess technically I still haven’t. When we rolled to a stop at the station, my steward stepped on to the platform and lit a cigarette, all in one motion. It had been a long stretch since the last stop.
Melvin had two young girls. They were on the Amtrak as well.
“I’m going to take them for beignets,” he said exhaling. “They love them.”
I strolled along the platform in the morning light. I watched the lines of people waiting to board their cars. At the other end of the train, a truck drove up and a worker began refueling the engine.
Melvin had finished his smoke and was greeting new passengers.
After everyone entered, I returned and headed to my roomette. The next stop was Jackson, then the home stretch to New Orleans.
I took pictures all along the way, my camera lens pressed up against the window to prevent reflections. There were homes, shops, and abandoned cars. I studied them all.
You would have thought that I was tired when we reached New Orleans, mid-afternoon on a Tuesday.
My head was filled with images of the South, as seen through a train they call The City of New Orleans.