New Orleans to Los Angeles: Sunset Limited

After running errands–Walmart to purchase a blanket and the post office to mail my textbooks to St. Louis–I arrive to board very late, by my standards. The line is long, and an attendant had already distributed seat numbers. I’ll be on this train for two days, so I hope to get a window seat. My gadgets and I need to be adjacent to the electrical outlet.

As I approached the coach car, I request a window seat, but the attendant insists that he cannot give the seats out of order. Thankfully, my neighbor, a Hispanic woman from Yuma, lets me have the window seat. She, too, only stayed in NOLA overnight. She did not even bring a bag.

“What do you do?” she asks.

“I’m an adjunct professor,” I say, which surprises her and prompts additional questions.

She is in social work, she says, and thinking about going into education. She talks about her Guatemalan boyfriend, and the train departs.

There are two white lesbians across the aisle who whisper and snicker. There is a French family of three, and the father needs a bath. He sits next to a black man who has trouble with flatulence. This leg of the trip will be long.

After a stunning view across the Huey P. Long Bridge over the Mississippi, I catch up on sleep for 5 hours. We arrive in Houston early and stay for 1 hour. I appreciate the nightview of downtown Houston with a bright moon.

It occurs to me that I should have contacted my brother or father, but they did not know I was passing through Houston or traveling this summer. According to my itinerary, I did not have enough time to stop here anyway. (I did not feel bad about this since I’d just seen both of them twice this year, which is more than the usual.)

We continue on board the Sunset Limited, and I write poems until late into the night. I intend to finish my second manuscript–a series of disjunctive, non-linear poems–before I arrive in Los Angeles where I would meet my significant other and continue the trip northward. I am at poem 25 of 30. Aside from the man of flatulence in front of me, I am as happy as can be.

For breakfast the next day, I have a banana, an apple, and mixed nuts. My neighbor–the woman from Yuma–stayed in San Antonio, although her ticket was for Tucson. We pass a ravine:

It was windy, beautiful, breathtaking, short-lived–exactly what life should be. (Those are my neighbors who wished to get across as quickly as possible.)

The landscape for hours is amazing: vast blue sky, green horizon, hills, wildflowers, prickly pear atop cacti, which reminds me of the best margaritas I’ve ever had at a now-closed Delmar Loop bar, Mirasol, in St. Louis.

 

I read about a town called Langtry, Texas, which was named after a saloon keeper’s love: a British actress he had never met. I think about our obsessions and their legacies.

Somewhere near Mexico, I have no cellphone service for three hours. There is something freeing about disconnection, a theme I have previously visited in life and in poems. I’m sure I will again.

Behind me, a 4-year-old child reads a story about Harriet Tubman to her grandmother. A spelling lesson follows after.

 

We stop in Alpine, Texas. There is no platform for us to step on, only rocks. Not much is here but sun and distant hills.


In El Paso, we switch to Mountain Time. A lady gets left, and the passengers discuss it for some time.

New Mexico greets us with a haze of gold, sunset, rain, mesas. Cornflower blue sky. Cerulean storm clouds.

The Arizona desert disappears into the blackness of the night. I want to see it during the day. We stop in Tucson, and a friend brings by a sandwich. I find out that Mountain Standard Time is really Central Time in the spring.

Another night passes, and the morning brings another adventure.

 

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