Around about the time my chronological age went from single to double digits, I received in my Christmas stocking a double LP album of Glenn Miller’s greatest hits.
My guess, looking back, is that it was a fulfilled request that may have been an attempt at filling in the dots of ‘what did you do in the war, Daddy?’, as Daddy didn’t talk much about the life-changing period of service he experienced as a 9th Division artillery officer in North Africa. If I didn’t know the details, I could romanticise what I thought Daddy’s experience might have been.
The music of Glenn Miller’s orchestra was instantly captivating.
And in the strange way that Miller’s somewhat twee and hokey tune ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo’ told the story of travelling a train to the expectation of a story fulfilled, by the time my musical tastes had progressed in my teenage years, via Queen, and post-puberty, Led Zeppelin, to my 20-somethings, I discovered big band jazz, in particular, Duke Ellington.
While I sit writing this, in a walk up brownstone in West Harlem, Ellington’s ‘Take the A train’ (to Harlem) is ringing very true.
A week and a half ago, on the other side of the Great Divide, our young family, in the first quarter of a 7 week odyssey in the States, gathered our luggage together to take the Southwest Chief Amtrak from Los Angeles to Chicago, in a 2 day, 2 night journey; and the train-themed music of childhood and early adulthood was playing in my head.
There was an expectation of rocking and rolling our way, via a family sleeper, a dining, and observation car, to the big smoke of Chicago. After the lowlights of Las Vegas, we hoped for and expected at least some somnolent and languid relief.
Union Station, located on the edge of Chinatown in LA, is a beautiful example of Art Deco, Mission Revival, and Streamline Moderne style.
After a quick chat with the gracious African-American gentleman in the Information Booth…
we were off to check in our non-required luggage, and thence to Platform 11….
to meet Cynthia, our soon to be ever-smiling carriage attendant.
For the duration of our journey, Cynthia occasionally regaled us, via a softly spoken microphone PA, with historical, geographical, and occasionally architectural anecdotes of the scenes that unfolded outside our family sleeper cabin windows.
The food in the dining car was surprisingly beyond our expectations, but what was most satisfying was meeting ordinary American folk, who quietly, and with curiosity about us, were more than happy to chat the small talk, occasionally and quite spontaneously going down the conversational siding of current American politics, then, after a brief period of restrained silence, steering the conversation to topics more comfortable.
Train travel, on a sleeper if you can afford it, is a wonderfully satisfying way to clickety clack, rock and roll, and occasionally to catch you out, pitch and yaw your way, in familiar company, from A to B.
Next (post)stop, Chicago.