Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Chicago Train Ride Memories Part I

My parents lived in Chicago during the days of Speakeasies and Gangsters, but my Grandparents continued to live there after Mama and Daddy moved to Alabama, where I was born.

Chicago Vintage Postcard Folder Portfolio

That's why so many of my best traveling memories are of going back and forth to Chicago. We used to take the City of Miami or the Spirit of New Orleans train every summer to visit, and those trains were like magic carpets to a young girl.

The trip did get very long, though, so I had little games I played to keep myself from getting bored. One of my favorites was something you might call See How Many Times You Can Drink from the Water Fountain Before You Have to Go to the Bathroom.

This entailed lots of hopping up to get water, followed by an urgent trip to the bathroom. Going to the bathroom on a train was so much fun, because when you flushed, a little flap opened at the bottom of the stainless steel toilet bowl, and you could see the railroad bed speeding by as the water "flushed" onto the cross ties. The sound of the train rushing along the tracks got really loud then, too.

Something else that was always fun was the picnic lunch Mama or Grandmama always packed for us, with home cooked fried chicken and bisquits to eat. We did that to keep from having to eat so many meals in the dining car, as that was considered to be very expensive eating (Daddy remembers 60 cents, but he's not sure how long ago that was). Of course as a child I really wasn't aware of prices, but I do remember the dining car was dark wood paneled with shiny brass hardware, with heavy starched white linens on the tables, fancy folded napkins, and heavy dishes.

I remember the waiters, wearing their starched white uniforms, all very polite and dignified, standing tall and imposing over me at the table. Of course they were all "Colored," as were all the porters and others who worked in service capacities on the train. I took all that for granted, never questioning the fact that I only saw "White" passengers on the train, when we were down South.

There were "Colored" Cars, of course, but I would never have been allowed to wander there. An awareness of segregation, and its inequalities would come later in life.

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