TRAVELS WITH TIM – FINAL LEG
For my brother and I, the most exciting time of our transcontinental train trip began at Chicago’s venerable Union Station at 545pm on Tuesday. AMTRAK’s three days a week departure of “The Cardinal” (the bird and not the ecclesiastical variety) had backed into the station for its eastbound departure and passengers began to board. For the second segment in a row, we had a superior sleeping car attendant named “T” for Tyrell who got us settled in our slightly smaller double bedroom for what would be a twenty-three hour voyage down familial memory lane.
The Cardinal is AMTRAK’s orphan child and, as I have previously mentioned, they would like nothing better than to eliminate it. When it comes to overnight train amenities, it barely meets the “minimum test.” There is no dining car. The one sleeper has three double bedrooms and twelve roomettes but five of the twelve are occupied by the crew for their necessary overnight rest. Full, as was our train, means that they are only committed to serving twenty first class passengers maximum. Not enough to even think about one of AMTRAK’s greatest sore points with the feds, its food service costs. So there is a lounge and in one end of the lounge there are about four tables set, tended by one attendant who is waiter in charge, waiter, cook, and cleaner-upper all rolled into one. The meals come like airline meals and are reconstituted in a convection oven. The process is slow but the end-product is tolerable – not great, but tolerable.
As the sun set over the miles and miles of corn fields in central Indiana (we saw a deer poaching on one farmer’s field), we “sped” along at an average speed of 50 mph toward Indianapolis (midnight), Cincinnati (four a.m.) and points east. Tim went to sleep early, wishing to rise and be wide awake as “The Cardinal” made its way along the Kentucky side of the Ohio River through Cattlesburg and South Portsmouth where he had worked decades ago as the freight agent for the Chesapeake and Ohio. But the big moment was a hour and a half ahead of us – Montgomery (population today is 1,942 ) and the church where we were baptized, the three houses in which we lived for the first ten years of my life and eight of his, the elementary school we attended and a much different and depressing downtown than either of us recall.
Tim set his camcorder up in the vestibule and our man “T” opened the window on the door so he could shoot pictures of all those places, the first memories of our now aging lives. Although Montgomery is shown as a station stop in both directions for the “Cardinal” if there are no passengers to get off or on, the trains slows somewhat and glides by leaving Montgomery in the distance. Today, we were in luck, however, as there were four passengers to get off and two to board. “T,” God Bless him, opened the door and allowed Tim and I to descend briefly to the platform. With tears in his eyes, Tim turned to me and said, “Bobby, we are finally home.” “T” cried and brothers embraced. We could have remained in Montgomery for two more days save “T,” with tears in his eyes, saying, “Bros, get back on the train. We are leaving.” Tim continued to film on his camcorder the Kanawa River and the falls at its headwaters and New River Gorge, the scenic highlight of the “Cardinal” journey up and down the Alleghanys, up and down the Blue Ridge and arriving for us into Charlottesville. We took a look at our dad’s old office, all the remains in Clifton Forge of a once vibrant, now dormant railroad town where on this day, only the crew changed and no one got off or on. Soon it was Charlottesville and the sixty minute bus ride to meet the “Silver Meteor” to Florida, all anticlimactic following a day of good memories and fond farewells to places once important, but now never to be visited again.
I said good-by to my brother in Orlando early Thursday afternoon and he remained on board until Hollywood, Florida. I close this perhaps too personal reminiscence with this compelling thought. My brother said to me with deep emotion, “Bobby, we are home, finally home” and in one sense he is right but now we must both prepare for a more important homecoming in heaven. Until then, our day is West Virginia, almost heaven as John Denver once sang, will sustain our past and our time together will prepare us for the future. Thanks for reading and now to much more important matters.