In the distance, it lay in wait, deceptively quiet, big and bold. A sleeping monster of grey steel, two storeys high. A trail of passenger converts were lined up. A temporary stillness hung in the air. Trolleys overladen with bags, cases and boxes decorated with tags sat balanced.
And then it happened. The machinery growled, spluttered and screeched into life, louder as it gained more energy. The audience changed pose in anticipation. A station officer appeared with an air of power and control efficiently equipped with documentation to assign seats in allocated carriages.
Just like a spaceship, the doors opened and out stepped what looked like uniformed toy soldiers standing guard. A stool placed at their feet to assist their entrants. Tickets checked and, one by one, the selected group marched eagerly to board this steel capsule. Turn left, right or upstairs, some to numbered seats, some to roomettes and the luckier individuals, to bedrooms. This was life on the inside, cocooned in a moving motion machine.
Sliding doors as seen in many movies opened to day rooms or bunk bed compartments. In other directions, oversized coach seats lay in an orderly fashion, reclining in comfort. Bracing the leap between carriages, the sightseeing lounge offered seats configured to look outbound. Then came the dining car, with tables laid ready and finally a café, a more relaxed affair. All this revealed while in motion – a moving restaurant, sightseeing tour, café and hotel all on the rails.
I was on a journey from New Orleans to Chicago, a total of over 900 miles trailing through the heart of America’s musical heritage aboard Amtrak’s train number 58. A journey following in the shadows of some of music’s greatest artists, Louis Armstrong, Muddy Waters and, of course, Elvis Presley.
Travelling this way allows the journey to converge with the cultures of the southern states.
Picture windows display an ever-changing Americana – the neon lights, rocking chairs on porches, open lands, big cars and scary overweight trucks.
New Orleans is the departure point, the place known as the birthplace of jazz and with it, the chaos of Bourbon Street home to most of the revellers who visit the bars and consume the bourbon. Over 8 hours later, Memphis comes into view and with it the promise of the blues belting out on Beale Street, sounds of BB King, Graceland, Elvis’ home, and music museums galore.
As the night draws in, and passengers exchange, the grey beast continues its steely journey to the Windy City of Chicago and to the sophistication of its world-renowned Symphony Orchestra.
I share the voyage on rails with all types, from budding musicians or possibly buskers with guitars slung over shoulders, Amish groups keeping close together, backpackers, couples reminiscing on their Elvis pilgrimage and families discovering America. We are all together, young and old and from all walks of life, a modern world in acceptance of a love of music and style of travel.
One by one, we descend from our steel cocoon, the toy soldiers now grown-up guards, the steel machine, an Amtrak train and onwards to a bustling modern American city.
Jane Wilson, Editor of The Healthcare Holiday & New You Holidays
Check out Holidays by Rail for tracking along…