Two days ago, I was in the midst of rearranging some pending travel to include a stop to visit my father. Daddy’s been dealing with a bad cough and shortness of breath. He’s spent the past week in the hospital with pneumonia or something like it. I had already planned to travel to New Orleans from Denver this weekend to meet up with a group of lifelong friends. I figured it would be easy enough to extend my southern travels and spend some time with my parents.
After renegotiating the air travel, I logged on to Amtrak to book a ticket from New Orleans to my hometown of Jackson, Mississippi. I bought the last available coach seat and sent a text to let my friends know my plans had changed and I’d be traveling by rail with them after all. Despite the circumstances, I felt upbeat about the pending trip. Summertime and I’m heading south; it feels right.
Summer travel always makes me want to pop in a mix tape and sing at the top of my lungs. When I was young and we took family vacations, my father started every trip by singing a few bars of Willie Nelson’s classic “On The Road Again.” It was appropriate, as we always traveled by car. We were not a family who could afford plane tickets, so we crammed into our Chrysler or our Chevy or whatever American-made vehicle my parents were driving at the time, and hit the highway to Gatlinburg or Dollywood or Dauphin Island. Once we even drove to New York City.
At the end of my senior year in high school, I loaded up my car with a pile of suitcases and five giddy girls and headed to Florida for senior trip. Most of those girls are the same women I’m meeting in New Orleans this weekend. On that trip in 1987, we sang along to Van Halen and Bon Jovi and Rick Springfield and the Outfield, as we headed toward a week of sun and sand and bad decisions that, nonetheless, didn’t end up with any of us getting into too much trouble. We’ll sing those same songs this weekend and laugh too hard about the past.
And then, my band of gypsies will board the City of New Orleans and head home to the town where we first became friends. Of course no one boards the City of New Orleans without humming a few bars of Steve Goodman’s famous tune. Which brings me back to my father, who raised me on the music of the Guthries (both Woody and Arlo) and Bob Dylan and, of course, Willie Nelson, among others.
As I was circling around all these plans and memories, my phone rang. An unknown number, but I answered anyway. A woman introduced herself as Julia from Amtrak. Naturally, my first thought was that something had gone wrong with my online ticket purchase. But, in that strange way the world has of creating synchronicity, the call from Amtrak had nothing to do with my pending travel. As it turns out, I’d been chosen as one of the 2016 Amtrak Residents. I’d filled out the online application months ago, and then promptly forgot about it. It’s the kind of thing I never expect to win. But I am so happy to be chosen. I’ll be hitting the road again in the near future with the goal of writing while traveling by train. Who knows what tune I’ll be humming on that trip.
You can read about all the Amtrak Residents at the official blog. I’ll keep you posted as I plan my trip and I promise to blog and tweet about the experience. I’ll be blogging more often in this space about the Amtrak Residency, my writing life, and other news. I hope you’ll follow along and join in with your comments.
In the meantime, happy trails!