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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.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Today's Train is not Running Today / July 2017

LEJ's Louisiana, Yours Truly in a Swamp
Archives: www.LEJ.org
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July 2017

Today's Train is not Running Today
BY  Leonard Earl Johnson
© 2017, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved

An Australian couple we had met ~ earlier, aboard Amtrak ~ waved from across Boulevard Jefferson. Behind them sit the double engines of Amtrak's Ole #1The Sunset Limited, West, out of New Orleans. 

The engines are large.  Blue and silver with thin red racing stripes.  Softly the engineer blows the whistle.  He is calling the smoke-break passengers back aboard.  The train starts to move.  The baggage car, two Pullman sleepers, a restaurant car, observation car, with huge windows ~ and the last two cars, day coaches ~ snake off down the track.

The Aussies detrained with intent of staying behind. They are now standing with L. A. Norma at the Cypress Street crosswalk, in front of the Rosa Parks Transportation Centre ~ a Lafayette city-zentrum where taxies, trains, buses (City, cross country, and tourist) all converge.

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We are sitting at Reve's sidewalk cafe, eating a great biscotte and drinking a harsh black coffee without chicory.

Norma is informing the Aussies of such oddities in the culture of Louisiana such as, "No chicory in the coffee outside of New Orleans."

"And horns?" she adds. "Horns! The quintessence of New Orleans' music! 

"There are no horns used in the music of Zydeco or Cajun. Here they use the German-introduced accordion for wind. Or the downswing of the rubboard."

These differences are exactly what has brought our Aussie friends off today's Sunset LimitedWest.

They are on one of those famous ~ often once in a Lifetime ~ Australian journeys to the Upper Earth. They arrived in California by plane, and have been months taking trains across the whole continent, even flying to Europe and back.  

After a week in New Orleans they decided to stop somewhere outside of Big Swamp City.

"To see the countryside," the man says. They chose Lafayette, "Hub City," to French Louisiana. 

The Alamo      /      courtesy San Antonio, Texas
All three join me, and we talk of our World travels.

"Our intent was to go as far as Turkey..." says the man.  The woman finishes their sentence, "...but because of today's troubles we did not."  

Both of them had lost ancestors, in 1915 ~ at Suvla Bay, on the Aegean Coast of what was then the Ottoman Empire, during Australia's starcrossed entry into World War One. One of history's most costly and utterly pointless wars.

"That's the way our boys used to see The World," the woman says.  "Pretending they care about Europe's wars ~ some still do, I guess." 

The train aboard which we first met was named, City of New Orleans. It carried us from Chicago to New Orleans, for French Quarter Festival, and the fabled 
Touro Synagogue's Jazz Shabbat.  Today we are happily in Lafayette, helping these friendly Aussies find a phone with an Uber app ~ more compatible than the Australian one on their phone.

Pamplona's sangria in production

Ryan, a bartender from Pamplona Tapas Bar, down the street, came out of Reve holding a steaming cup of coffee and an open phone. 

He offered to call Uber. Then suggested simply driving them to their Airbnb ~ which happened to be near his house in a section of Town ~ across the tracks, where large older homes give shelter to bartenders and travelers off whistling trains.


few days later, I went to Amtrak's website to check the train the Aussies were booked on to San Antonio, "By God Texas!"

"We can not miss stopping in 'By God Texas'," they laughed ~ mimicking American accents as they have learned them in Louisiana.

Over Pamplona's award winning paella, and a bottle of Spanish wine, I told them of being five years old, staying in a hotel across the street from The Alamo. Our Parents went out to dinner. Oldest

Pamplona's terrace      /      courtesy Pamplona
Brother, age 11, was our commandant apparent. For behaving well our Parents hid our clothes and rewarded us in advance with footlong hot dogs and French fries from room service.  

Done with the dogs and free of restraint, we three little boys crossed the street in our hotel bathrobes, and pushed open the huge doors to the Alamo. I remember the floor was dirt and there were no guards.

"Today you would be shot, arrested, tried by Texas Homeland Security, and imprisoned in a for-profit prison, for Life!" Norma said.  
She stood and raised her glass, "Antonio López de Santa Anna save us!"  She says this while exhaling a cigarette plume, and glancing about the room for Texans.

The Amtrak website had no information other than services were down at every stop from Los Angeles to New Orleans, in both directions.  It advised us to call "1-800-USA-RAIL, for more information." A long wait on hold got me to a recording suggesting I check for further information on their website, Amtrak.com

Back on the ole website I again tracked the train all the way from Los Angeles to here and back.  At each stop the information was the same, service down, check the 800 number.

I don't know how our Australian
 friends got on down the line. I suspect they took the Greyhound Bus, with its new airline-inspired cramped seating.  Recently I took Greyhound from Big Swamp City, and never again.  Am-trickle may disappear for a few days, and close the diner before we board, and never know exactly when they will be anywhere.  But they don't cramp your legs. 

"And you get to meet Australians," Norma added.

I wrote an e-mail to Amtrak, asking about the days of the missing trains. They responded with the following letter.  I have no idea what offensive anything they are talking about.  I don't write that way, and surely "Where's the train?" is something their delicate customer service representatives have heard before.

I wrote back asking whatever did they mean.  I have yet to hear.

Amtrak's strange letter:
Dear Customer,

Thank you for writing to us.

We are unable to respond to your inquiry at this time.

An automated mail reader that shields our customer 
service representatives from certain offensive language 
intercepted your communication. We respectfully request 
that you either visit Amtrak.com to re-submit your comments 
or contact us at 1-800-USA-RAIL to speak to one of our 
customer service representatives.

We apologize for any inconvenience 

and hope to hear from you soon.

© 2017, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved.
Lagniappe du Jour,

Across The Alley from the Alamo

The Mills Brothers / You Tube

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Australian War-song by various artist

~     ~     ~
~ with lyrics ~

~     ~     ~

~     ~     ~

Marjorie Lawrence, 
1946 NBC Radio introduction of 
the Australian 'anthem' Waltzing Matilda 
to an American audience 
upon her post-polio return to the stage.

Marjorie Florence Lawrence

CBE (order of the British empire)
~ 17 February 1907 – 13 January 1979 ~

an Australian soprano, particularly noted as an interpreter of Richard Wagner's operas.

She was the first New York Metropolitan Opera soprano to perform the immolation scene in Götterdämmerung by riding her horse into the flames as Wagner had intended.

She was afflicted by polio at the height of her career, in 1941

Lawrence later served on the faculty of the
School of Music,
Southern Illinois University ~ Carbondale.
Altgeld Hall, Music Department, SIU
My own alma mater, where I knew Marjorie Lawrence during my college daze.

I, too, a mild-polio survivor (1948, age 5), was drawn to older women singing Wagner,

coffee house revolution (it was the Fabled Sixties), and the greater World of which they sang.

I last saw her in the early 1970s, at the Met's touring company production of Aida, in Memphis, Tennessee.
~   ~   ~
Tommy Emmanuel - Waltzing Matilda

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Waltzing Mathilda / Johnny Cash

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Suvla from Battleship Hill.jpg

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An American in Paris on Bastille Day 2017
"Selling 'Freedom Fries' to the French!" ~ L. A. Norma

Alliance Française de Lafayette


LEJ.org  with Rosa Parks,  Rosa Parks Transportation Centre 
Lafayette, Louisiana   /   photo credit  Mark  Konikoff

Louis Armstrong Summerfest

New Orleans, August 4 ~ 6, 2017

For more L. E. J.'s Louisiana, Yours Truly in a Swamp  go to www.LEJ.org                    

© 2017, Leonard Earl Johnson, 
All Rights Reserved.
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Go here For  

and such falderal ...

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is a monthly e-column @ www.LEJ.org
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at Les Amis de Marigny, New Orleans,
publication of the
It is written by Leonard Earl Johnson
of Lafayette and New Orleans, Louisiana
Archives: www.LEJ.org
© 2017, Leonard Earl Johnson, 
All Rights Reserved.
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