Last week Harold and I traveled from New York to New Orleans on the fabled Southern Crescent, now called simply the Crescent by Amtrak. Wanting to lie flat down and sleep through the night, we engaged a roomette in one of the sleeping cars, an experience I haven’t had since I was seven. Come to find out this entitles passengers to first class treatment. From the time we arrived at Penn Station in New York to the time we got off in New Orleans we were treated like royalty.
First of all the lady behind the counter at the entrance to the Amtrak passenger lounge, upon glancing at our ticket, cheerfully told us we were in the wrong place. “You want the first class lounge. It’s on the other side of the waiting room, through the gold doors.” Gold doors! Yes!
The first class lounge receptionist told us to find seats and wait for the escort to take us to the train. Comfortable chairs! Free refreshments! The escort showed us right onto the train and steered us to our “room,” a cubicle with just enough space, taller than it was wide. A little table folded out between our seats with a chessboard on it. Sadly, we hadn’t brought chess pieces. Harold read, I knitted. The scenery in the East is not as inspiring as the scenery you can see from the western railroad trains, they say, but it was pleasant enough.
Robert, the porter for our car, a tall young man with amazing dreadlocks, stopped by to tell us he would be back and make up the beds when we were ready to go to sleep. After awhile he strolled through the car announcing the first call to dinner in a booming voice. A real dining car! Waitress Tanya was pleasant and charming. The food was tasty.
Robert made up the beds by flipping the seats around for the bottom berth, putting a three-inch mattress down, lowering the top berth from its place near the ceiling, and presenting us with blankets. Harold chivalrously took the top bunk and closed his curtains. I left mine open so as to experience night on the railroad. Lights from oncoming trains woke me sometimes but it was all good. At two in the morning the train stopped at Greensboro. (My iPhone told me it was two o’clock and we were in Greensboro.) I was charmed by the way the station looked, all empty, and took a picture.
And so it went. Robert called us to breakfast. I like being summoned to eat food. While we were eating he put the beds back into seating. The day passed in watching Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi go by the windows. We were late getting into New Orleans, but being on time wasn’t the point.
Was it like it used to be? Was it like the last trip I took with my mother and sister from Philadelphia to Bangor, in 1947? Was it like in the movies, Twentieth Century Limited, Some Like it Hot?
Not exactly. I remember our old roomette having more room. The old bathroom was separate, for one thing, whereas the potty in the current roomette is kind of an emergency convenience under a fold-down shelf which is used to step up into the upper berth, as is the shelf under the fold-down sink. It’s rather a climb. There is certainly not enough room in the roomette for Carole Lombard to throw a good tantrum, or enough room in the bunk for two, even if they were very thin, except maybe two small children sleeping foot-to-foot.
I recommend it, though, train travel, certainly over modern air travel. It may not be quite what it was, but what is? I thought it was great, the whole trip.