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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 service rendered.

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 to 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 if 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.

However, 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 go.

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, than 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 the 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.

All definitely worth the price of this trip--$80 bucks(with my AAA discount).

Irv Cuevas

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