I NEVER TOOK MY ARMY BOOTS OFF
Train trip from hell: PART 1 & PART 2
TRAVELING BY TRAIN AS A KID WITH MY MOM
I grew up in New Orleans, Louisiana. As a kid, I often traveled with my Mom by train to visit my grandmother and great grandmother. They lived in White Castle, a small country town in southeastern Louisiana. After we got to the train station in New Orleans, my Mom went to the counter to buy our tickets. Then, she took my hand and led me to the platform outside to wait for our train. While waiting, I gripped her hand so that I could safely lean over the platform. I had to look down the tracks to see if I could spot that familiar white light on the train's engine. When I saw it, I jumped up and down.
As the monstrous train thundered into the station, I bubbled with energy. The deafening whistle pierced my ears, and the steam spewing from around the massive steel wheels made me scream in delight. Satisfied with its arrival, I covered my ears and stood in awe as the hulking steel cars slowly snaked to a clamorous, screeching stop.
As the patient porter waited, my Mom helped me up the metal steps. Then, I raced down the aisle to a booth to claim a window seat. I heard my Mom laugh as she followed close behind me.
After settling in my seat, I became anxious for the train to pull out from the station. I knew it wouldn't be long before I would enjoy my privileged views of the unique Louisiana countryside I had come to know.
The train's path took us through the sparsely inhabited bayou areas. I remember seeing places where Cajun families lived in shacks on stilts. I recall seeing pirogues, like canoes, tied to wooden ramps leading out to the water. I loved the beauty of the serene, green marshy lakes. The mysterious bayous possessed a unique charm of their own. Tall, somber-looking trees rose from the murky swamp waters. They seemed to sag under the weight of Spanish moss hanging from their crooked, skeletal branches. Sometimes I would see flocks of birds soaring through the air. As the train sped by shanty towns, I often saw kids wave to us as they ran alongside the tracks at a safe distance. Indeed, those trips left me with pleasant, unforgettable memories.
A JOB INTERVIEW IN DARMSTADT, GERMANY
After I retired from the Army, I applied for a job in my field of security. For the interview, I had to travel to Darmstadt, Germany. It was about a four-hour drive by car from where I lived in Vilseck, Germany, near the Czech border. To lull in the comfort of my precious childhood memories, I took the train instead of driving. That was my first mistake.
THE TRAIN TRIP TO DARMSTADT
The train trip to Darmstadt proved worthy of bragging. Only train travel aficionados would appreciate it. The smooth, comfortable ride, the solitude of my sparsely filled car, and the picturesque German countryside validated my wise choice to take this mode of travel. Even changing trains in Nuernberg and Aschaffenburg amounted to minor inconveniences. Yet, surprising chains of events lurked around every corner, and my trip turned into a comedy of errors. Sadly, Mom wasn't there to help me survive.
After arriving in Darmstadt, I checked into the hotel. The next morning, I woke refreshed and ready for the day's interview. But I had to undergo more scrutiny in sessions, which lasted three days. The long meetings and the company's hard-sell tactics stressed me out. I decided not to make a commitment until they ironed out some issues I had with their offer.
CATCHING THE TRAIN FROM DARMSTADT...