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The Ghost Train
By John Turner
http://www.trainweb.com/travelogues/2004/2004g24b.html

Sitting at an all but abandoned depot, watching my watch as the minutes slowly turn, and midnight approaches. I sit outside in the hot, humid, southern air of Florida, waiting, watching, listening; for anything that remotely sounds like a train.

Meanwhile, my thoughts wonder off into nowhere, extreme boredom sets in, and all I can think about is the moist, sticky sweat streaming down my face. Suddenly, I hear a noise. I turn and look to my left. No, no, it's not the train; just another transient walking under the station canopy. He has his most recent liquor bottle in hand, and appears to be in a drunken state. He mopes around, making a few unintelligible moans and then settles down at the other corner of the station building, and sleeps.

Again, I am left sitting here, waiting, watching, listening, and thinking, yes, thinking about nothing. "Where is the blasted train!?" I suddenly cry out to my parents. No one stirs at my question, and we return to our wordless conversations. I look at my watch; it reads "10:30 pm". "Why can't this train ever be on time?" I murmur. With that, I stand up and walk down the small, wooden ramp from the station to the platform.

"John, be careful. Don't go too far, you know this isn't a good neighborhood." My dad yells. "I won't" I reply. With that I get a little nervous and decide to return up the ramp to my seat. "Why can't Amtrak stations ever be in good neighborhoods" I think to myself.

Perhaps he'd had enough, or maybe he was nervous. Whatever the case, my dad finally decides to call one of his onboard friends, to see how the train is running. After his conversation, I quickly jump to question him the time it would be expected here. His reply is that the train is four hours late, and it won't arrive until thirty minutes past midnight, at the earliest. I shrink back; the current time is "10:45 pm".

We are stranded, like on one of those little tropical islands, with the one palm tree. Except this is worse, we have no little palm tree to shade us from the soaking humidity, and the killer mosquitoes. I sit and stare and stare and stare. Every once in awhile we try to amuse ourselves by playing games or talking, but all of these don't last more than five minutes. I find that each time we speak, our tone grows more and more annoyed. We begin to scowl the train, CSX, and UP. We know that this won't bring the train any quicker, but we still let it all flow out.

Oh! I wish we could leave, maybe relax in a hotel lobby until midnight, but we don't have a car, a phone number for a cab, or any public phones or directories to use. We are truly stuck at 11:30 at night.

Finally, a savior appears. Almost as miraculous as superman in real life, the man which Amtrak has hired to open up the station, has arrived. He is ordered to open up the station thirty minutes before the train is due to arrive, no matter how late it is. Well, at least we can be in the air conditioning for a while. I'm still a little worried about the drunk outside, though. But we are inside, and to a degree, in better spirits. The time is ten past midnight.

Finally, the scanner comes alive, the train is entering the block; it's almost show time. We all gather up the luggage and move back outside to meet the train. Finally, after a four and a half hour wait (four of them outside); the train pulls into the Tallahassee station. We hastily load our luggage into the sleeping car rack, board, and we're off. The time is 12:48 am.

Off into the night, the ghost train once again speeds, not knowing when, or if, it will arrive at the next station. It is an enigma, it is a specter, it is a hassle and a pain; no, it is the Sunset Limited!


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