for release Friday May 30, 2003
by Melodie Davis
Tales From the Rails
I had the opportunity recently to travel overnight by train. In my book, even if you're traveling economy class, trains are the most physically comfortable way to travel-leg room measured in feet instead of inches, seats that recline generously without bumping into the guy behind you, and recliner-type support for your legs. There are dining tables, tablecloths, fresh flowers, and real china.
One gentleman from England noted that the only drawback he found to U.S. train travel was that stations were woefully undermarked: you have to guess where you are if you miss one measly sign announcing the town. "America is well suited for highway and air travel, but not rail," he noted. He marveled, though, at the re-furbishing of the Washington (D.C.) Union Station from the rubble of the 70s when it had toadstools growing in it, to the major gallery of shops, eateries and train center it is today. "The grandest station I've seen in awhile," he said. The nice thing about train travel is that if you don't have anyone to sit with at dinner (or breakfast as the case may be), the maitre’d puts you with someone.
"I'm a drifter," said my first breakfast companion as he casually introduced himself. No beating around the bush with euphemisms like "not currently employed." He had served in Vietnam, got messed up there, and is on 100 percent disability but he claimed not to have any money problems. He showed me his "starter" pack of checks, which made me wonder just a little bit. He traveled from here to there, visiting old friends, and indeed every place I talked about, he had either been there or lived there. He had gotten on at the previous stop, and was getting off at the next, which seemed just a little curious. He ordered a big breakfast of pancakes, three sausages and Sprite. What would it be like, I wondered, to just drift about? Did that technically mean he was homeless?
The other two women at our breakfast table were on their way to Washington D.C. to a theater production and to visit the one woman's daughter. As conversation flowed, I learned the daughter had written the theme song for the 2002 Olympic Torch Relay, a song called "Carry the Torch," and recorded by Aretha Franklin. When this woman's daughter, Karin, was a junior in high school, she was inspired watching the 1994 Olympics in Norway, where skater Nancy Kerrigan's blind mother strained to watch her daughter compete with the aid of an upclose television set. She was also inspired by Paul Wiley, the skater who earned a medal after barely making the team.
Karin wrote down some lyrics along the idea of "Carry the flame, with every step you take, what a difference you will make, hold it high and let it shine, light the way for those who come behind." She put her scribbles away, and then later when she was working on her master's in conducting at George Mason University (Va.) and going through some of her files, she found the lyrics again and thought that the song was worth finishing. According to the mother, Karin showed the lyrics to her father, and it was her father who told her she ought to send it to the Salt Lake Organizing Committee. The committee had solicited submissions for such a theme song from about 250 composers/writers, and Karin's song was the only unsolicited submission-a very long shot indeed. But eventually she got a call telling her that her song had been chosen. (For complete article and lyrics see: <http://www.gcc.edu/news/collegian/02-08-02/carryflame.htm>) After the pleasant breakfast, we each proceeded to pay for our meals. But the "drifter" only had a check.
"We don't take checks," the hostess said, clearly annoyed. "They should have told you that when you came in. Do you have a credit card?" she asked. No, of course not. And he didn't have the cash. She said she would take care of him after she finished with the other three of us. I wondered briefly if I should offer to pay, but I have a feeling the train simply "ate" the bill. I strongly suspected he did not have a ticket for his little jaunt. Where else but on the train would you sit down to breakfast with what people would have previously called a tramp or vagabond and the mother of an Olympic song writer!
These are all the stories I have space for. Perhaps they will inspire you as you plan or take off on some summer adventures of you own. Whether by train, plane, bus or car, be open to the fascinatingly different people you have occasion to meet.
Have you met any interesting people traveling? Send your stories to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 788 words; end material = 105 words
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