15 May

My journey on the Crescent began with a visit to the so-called “Metropolitan Lounge” at Penn Station”s Moynihan Train Hall Amtrak terminal. Essentially, this is Amtrak’s way of elevating the service offered to those passengers who had often pai above the odds to travel with them by choosing not to ride in coach, but instead in some sort of sleeping accommodation.  Metropolitan lounge customers have access to free WiFi, free alcohol, free food, basically everything is free. They will even assist you with your baggage if it needs to be stored somewhere temporarily, I service I knew I would need to call on when I arrived in San Antonio, Texas, a week from now.

After a brief respite, I had thankfully recovered from my dalliance with New York street food, the call came across the tannoy for all Crescent roomette and sleeper passengers to make their way to the platform where the train would be arriving at shortly. Some minutes later, the train pulled in and I made my way in the direction of the sleeping cars.

Now, I knew from my extensive research before setting off that sleeping cars are always located at the very back of the train. These are then followed by the observation car, if there is one and that is following by the dining car. The last cars are for those people travelling in coach including a cafe or tuck shop. The idea behind this arrangement is that each group of passengers can access their own eating arrangements without getting in each others way.

Heading to the end of the line I was surprised to find that my car was mysteriously absent from the rear of train. The car attendant popped his head out of the opening of one of the other cars and registering the look of confusion on my face called out to me to wait for him for just a minute while he finished checking in the other passengers. His last passenger checked onboard, the attendant explained that because not all sleeper rooms having been assigned, one of the cars was removed from the train. Those passengers assigned to the train would therefore be re-assigned a room in one of the existing cars and in minutes I had my new assignment and got checked in.

As expected, my car was part of the Viewliner Class, the one with the build-in toilet and drop down sink arrangement. While this may have been practical for the size of the passengers at the time it was designed, people tend to be much fluffier nowadays then back then. This includes yours truly and so while both features were suitable for use for quick usage, anything more thorough woul require the use of the restroom down the corridor of the sleeping car, where a large, disabled toilet also provided a stall for passengers to shower in if needed.

Soon we would be on our way and while I had rigged up my camcorder to capture the landscape passing by, I quickly realised that the driving range made it impossible to make any decent recordings. Slightly deflated by this, I decided to work on my travel blog, only to realise that this would only work if I had access to the internet. As I mentioned in an earlier post, WiFi on Amtrak is patchy at best and so it came as little surprise that either I was able to connect but the connection kept dropping or I was not able to connect at all because the signal was not strong enough. This happened several times throughout the journey. So, I decided to go old school and capture my experience in a regular notebook which I had taken for exactly this eventuality … yes, if there is something we Germans do well, it is plan well in advance …

Still, there are some things you cannot plan for. One such thing is to lose the use of one of the main diesel engines. Luckily for us however this happened in Washington D.C. and it took them just 30 minutes to locate a replacement engine, uncouple the old one, connect the new one and we were off one more. Had this happened sometime later during the night while the train was heading through the Carolinas, it would have been a different story entirely. 

As it was, the car attendant came first to take my dinner order, which I elected to skip on account of my stomach still feeling rather delicate and then to make my bed for the night as we headed along the east coast into Georgia. I watched the towns and dwellings fly by through drizzle outside and soon I was one my way to the land of Nod.

I awoke the next morning feeling astoundingly refreshed. I had not expected to fall asleep so soundly and sleep so comfortably as I had. A tall person like me could be expected to struggle in a sleeping car roomette and yet it was surprisingly comfortable considering. My car attendant took my breakfast order and after freshening up in the disabled restroom, I made my way down winding corridors past sleeper rooms of different arrangements and dimensions until I reached the dining car. There a queue had formed as passengers waited for their orders and as always happens in such situations sooner or later someone will turn to you and ask or tell you something.

No as many of you know, my love of the USA extends way beyond the culture and the people. It also includes the ability to copy and speak in a number of regional dialects this vast continent has to offer. Now on my way to the South, my classic Brooklyn dialect had given way to my Georgia / Alabama southern drawl. Once in Louisiana, it would morph once again into the long drawn out Cajun dialect the city and surrounding region is know for. 

So, I spent some time chatting with the Amtrak staff and some of the passengers while waiting for the food. This I discovered was part of the so-called flexible menu - pre-packed and then microwave heated dishes and snacks which should not take anything way from the taste. Indeed, the cornbread was delicious and so was the burger that accompanied it. I had to suppress a laugh when I came to the muffin and saw the brand name on the wrapper. Check out the picture and you will quickly realise why.

Back in my roomette, I managed to get internet long enough to check and answer some e-mails received since setting off from New York before the train came to the first of many unscheduled stops along the second part of this journey. Each time involved either waiting for the Crescent”s sister train heading in the opposite direction while we waited for it to pass us or we had to make way for one of the various freight trains whose tracks our train was “borrowing” at the time.

All in all, by the time we crossed Lake Pontchartrain which separates the city of New Orleans to the south from the town of Slidell in Mississippi to the north, the train was almost 3 hours late. To be clear, I was not worried about not getting a taxi to the hotel. When trains are delayed, taxi drivers stay late so that passengers arriving later than scheduled will still be able to find a ride to their accommodation. No, the problem was that in some hotels, arriving after Midnight incurs a late check-in charge and my hotel was one such example.

Still, this is where my knight-in-shining-armour steps into the picture. Forrest Parker, taxi driver, 80 years old and a lifetime resident of New Orleans. Not only was he waiting to pick me up from the station, he got me to the hotel before the Midnight deadline. He also gave me his cell number and offered to pick me up the next day when one of my trips required leaving the city limits for a trip to see the alligators of the Louisiana bayous.

Oh and in case anyone was wondering why the train is called the “Crescent”, well, the train goes between New York and New Orleans and as I later found out, New Orleans has been known  as “the Crescent City” since 1835, the crescent referring to the course of the Mississippi River that the city was built near.

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