Irv Cuevas' Trip on the Amtrak Crescent
A decicious steak and a charming dinner companion turned my recent trip
aboard AMTRAK's "Crescent" into a memorable rail experience.
But if you had asked me earlier, before dinner was announced, I
would have had to say my December 28, 2001 trip from Atlanta, GA. to
Slidell, LA. was strictly rail transportation from point "A" to point "B".
This is not to say I don't enjoy rail travel. I do, and in all my
travels, I seek out AMTRAK when possible. It's just that on this particular
run, on this particular day, with this particular train number 19 consist,
there were few opportunities to offer solid and hearty praise for train
But first, back to the dinner table. I entered the
dining car about
five p.m. local time as the New York City to New Orleans "Crescent"
approached Hattiesburg, MS. Of course, there is random seating, but
fortunately I was led to a table occupied by a personable woman traveling
the Big Easy.
Quickly it became obvious that she, like I, enjoyed train
travel, friendly conversation and banter. It was a "traveling matchup"
easily comprehended by true rail fans. Each of us chose the New York steak
as our entree ... rare for her, medium for me.
As we chatted, we sipped red wine, and polished off our crisp
salads. We then thoroughly enjoyed our tasty and perfectly prepared steaks
and freshly mashed potatoes and steamed veggies.
Dessert was out of the question, but we lingered over coffee and
more conversation ... sharing tales of families, lives, and careers. This
dining interlude, of about an hour's duration, was the highlight of my trip.
It's the kind of happening I'm convinced that can occur only on a train
one is open to such social contact.
As written at the outset of this trip account, meal service garners
a high mark on this run of the "Crescent". However, other aspects of the
onboard experience left me less than satisfied. And believe me, I attempt
when at all possible, to live with an attitude of acceptance.
It's just that I expected or anticipated more. I would have
preferred coaches of a later model and cleaner, in and out. The seats and
lounge car had a musty feel and air to them.
In Birmingham, during a 15-minute stop, I de-trained for fresh air
and some exercise. During a stroll along the length of the consist, many
signs of wear and tear and rust were evident. In a way it saddens me that
on many occasions, this is the state of U.S. rail transportation.
as a means to escape many of the hassles and hustle and
bustle of travel, especially on airplanes, the train is still the way to
Since we began this article on a positive note in the dining car
with a delicious steak dinner and charming tablemate. Let's also conclude
on a positive note ... from my coach seat as I marvel and thrill over the
ever-changing Deep South landscape.
There are the ever present kudzu vines that encase and choke the
right of way, devouring trees, trash, rusted car hulks, and assorted debris
that somehow seems to find a final resting place along America's rail lines.
Thick stands of slim pine trees create a narrow corridor for the
"Crescent". Intermittently, our path is broken by lonely country roads,
some paved, others not.
At other times, there are vast pastures, crop
land, and grazing
fields, with cattle and horses more intent on munching grass and weeds,
interested in a passing train filled with humans.
There is a feeling of peace and of being at one with my fellow
travelers and the nameless souls in the small, rural towns dissected by
twin ribbons of steel.
This is an opportunity to do some mind-reading ... with the children
and older folks who wave as we speed through their corner of the world.
If only for that brief instant, there is a connection made.
As a train traveler, I've always felt that those of us on the train
were the envied ones. We were going somewhere ... anywhere. And those
bystanders somehow wanted to "escape" with us ... that we were the "doers",
and they were just the "watchers."
All of us however had one thing in
common on this late December
evening ... a gorgeous sunset. And as the fiery ball slowly sank in the
west, I breathed deeply and relaxed to the sway of my train.
worth the price of this trip--$80 bucks(with my AAA