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Location: New Orleans, Louisiana, United States

Leonard Earl Johnson (photo credit Frank Parsley) covered Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (2005), and the 2010 British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico for ConsumerAffairs.com. He is a contributor to Gambit Weekly, New Orleans Magazine, SCAT, Baton Rouge Advocate, Advocate Magazine, The Times-Picayune, Country Roads Magazine, Palm Springs Newswire and the anthologies: FRENCH QUARTER FICTION (Light of New Orleans Publishing), LOUISIANA IN WORDS (Pelican Publishing), LIFE IN THE WAKE (NOLAfuges.com), and more. Johnson is a former Merchant Seaman, and columnist at Les Amis de Marigny, New Orleans; and African-American Village. Attended Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, and Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship at Piney Point, Maryland. Winner of the Press Club of New Orleans Award for Excellence, 1991, and given the Key to The City and a Certificate of Appreciation from the New Orleans City Council for a Gambit Weekly story on murder in the French Quarter.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

The Sunset Limited also Rises / January 2013

Yours Truly in a Swamp


Leonard Earl Johnson
January 2013

* * *

The Sunset Limited also Rises
                          by Leonard Earl Johnson

"Hi, ho. Hi, ho. 
It's off the cliff we go.
No brains, no thoughts, just the guns we brought. Hi, ho. Hi, ho. Hi, ho!" 
~ L. A. Norma singing to herself at Bar R'evolution, Hotel Royal Sonesta, Bourbon Street, Big Swamp City New Orleans, New Year's Eve 2013.

New Orleans is a town with trains, ships, music, food, even a style of literature named after it. If ever you must be awake and weary at daybreak there is no dreamier place to suffer it.

Friday's Sunset Limited bound from Los Angeles to New Orleans did not pass through Lafayette -- 130 miles out -- until 1:30 Saturday morning.  It was well into the next day when it finally reached the City of Dreamy Dreams.

The passengers were grumpy. The exhausted crew was expected to sweep out the train for its Los Angeles turn-around at 9a.m.  (It actually left five hours late.) And the sun was rising when we stepped out of Union Station and climbed in a United Cab headed for a French colonial breakfast of beignets and café au lait at  Café  du Monde, next to the Riverfront flood wall.

U. S. New York, 
built in New Orleans containing steel from buildings fallen on 9/11. 
Passing under the old Huey P. Long Mississippi River Bridge at New Orleans.  
Four more auto lanes have been added to the outside of the old bridge. 
Photo courtesy of the USA

L. A. Norma closed the cab door and said, "They could'a re-named her the 'Sun-rise Un-limited.' "  

Our cab driver nodded but said nothing.  We had seen him before. And he had seen us.  He was wearing his T-shirt that read: "My Parents Went to New Orleans and All I Got Is This Lousy I.Q."

There had been a derailment two days before, way out West.  For the next two days Amtrak could not tell us anything.  Except that the "Incident" was not an "Amtrak Incident."  

We did not know what that meant, but the only part of the "what-ever incident" that concerned us was Amtrak's thirty-hour delay. 

"If that isn't an Amtrak-incident," Norma bellowed, "Ray Nagin* is not an honest man." The cabbie pulled up to the curb and turned around and stared at her.

* * *

Furtherless, The daily Times-Picayune, venerated grey old lady of New Orleans letters has lifted her skirts and shown us she has only enough petticoats left for three days a week. The Times-Picayune has not exactly folded, but she ain't goin' dancing any more. 

Since Katrina, The T-P has been pushing her faithful scribes out the door. Now, she is pushing them out the windows, too, and breaking our hearts all over again with news of more demon change.

On the decadently optimistic side, however, she has given us yet another forget-me-not theme for fundraiser dinners, parties and coffee shop chatter for years, nay, centuries to come.  

"That will fill our T-P-less days," Norma said, standing beside the cab lighting a cigarette.  She blew smoke in the Cabbie's face and handed him a large bill, "Keep the change."

  * * *

We awaited an early strong storm from the Gulf of Mexico.

"Debby's the name, flooding's the game," Norma said through a cloud of cigarette smoke. "She's headed for Florida." 

We prayed for Florida, but worried the storm might slip past the point of our prayers and come here.

"Thank Gott, we have a flood wall sturdy as the one that failed last time,"  L. A. Norma told the checkout clerk at Rouses on Baronne.

On our way back to Faubourg Marigny we reminisced over storm preparations of long, long ago. When the effort was no more than stocking up on Camel Cigarettes (for Norma), Chocolate Ice Cream (for me), and batteries for a little transistor radio that had traceable DNA directly back to the 1950s.

Norma called Amtrak and found out the morning train West would not be leaving until the afternoon.  She booked two sleepers to Lafayette. 

We phoned for our cabby. And told him during the ride to Union Station that Italy was playing in the European Cup. The game would be on TV at Carpe Diem! Gelato-Espresso Bar's one year anniversary party. "In forty-feet-up, twenty-miles-in Lafayette," L. A. Norma said.

He said, "But is it worth it?"

"We will be back in a couple weeks for Hemingway's Pamplona running-of-the-bulls party on Frenchmen Street," Norma said to the ticket-taker at the Sunset Limited's platform gate. The ticket-taker closed her eyes and handed us back our ticket stubs. We closed the curtains and dozed off as the train slipped out past the Arena and the Superdome.  

"The big one looks like the box the little one came in," Norma said, before snoring.

LEJ in the Bahamas
Copyright, 2013, Leonard Earl Johnson
All Rights Reserved

This story was published in July 2012 in a slightly altered form

*Ray Nagin, 

controversial mayor of New Orleans during Katrina and after.

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