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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.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

The Train to New Orleans / July 2015

Yours Truly in a Swamp, 

LEJ's Louisiana

Monthly e-column by
Leonard Earl Johnson, 
of Lafayette and New Orleans

July 2015

* *

The Train to New Orleans

by Leonard Earl Johnson

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.

The Sunset Limited bound from Los Angeles to New Orleans, was listed to stop at 5:12pm, Friday, but did not pass through Lafayette -- 140 miles out from NOLa -- until 1:30 Saturday morning.

Sunset Limited / photo courtesy of Amtrak
It was well into the next day when it finally reached the City of Dreamy Dreams, our Big Swamp City, New Orleans!

The passengers were grumpy. The exhausted crew grumbled they were expected to sweep out the train and be up for a 
turnaround scheduled for 9a.m.  (It actually left five hours late.) 

The sun was rising when we stepped out of Union Passenger Terminal on Loyola Avenue, next to the Superdome, 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.

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.

click image for information
 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, because the only part of the "what-ever incident" that concerned us was Amtrak's delay. 

"If that isn't an Amtrak-incident," Norma bellowed, "Ray Nagin is 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 windows, too, and breaking our hearts all over again with news of more lashes from the 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 Street. 

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 the station that Italy was playing in the European Cup. The game would be on TV, "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 

Amtrak / photo courtesy of Amtrak
Hemingway's Pamplona-NOLa 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.

* *
Copyright, 2015, 
Leonard Earl Johnson
All Rights Reserved

Your comments and corrections are welcome: Comments

(Note: this story appeared in other years in slightly varied forms. Its recurring currency is as true as hurricanes, late trains, crumbling bridges and Republicans.) 

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Contact me if you want on the list - that may get e-mailed. If you wish to read any month's column go to www.LEJ.org anytime. They are posted on the first of each month and polished for the next few weeks. 
Hope you do, I love talking with you,
Leonard Earl Johnson,
Columnist to the elderly and early weary. 

© 2015, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved.
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Harold Battiste