“There's pride on Bourbon Street”

If there was any doubt I was back in the city where I grew up but as a hayseed tourist this time, it was made clear in my very first steps onto Bourbon St.

   “I can tell you where you got your shoes,” a tall, African American man said walking straight up to me. Still possessing the sting of having lost $10 on this scam some thirty years ago on a Mardi Gras visit to New Orleans, I was ready for it this time.

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Do you know what it means...To miss New Orleans

It's not overstating it to suggest a visit to New Orleans is a great tune up for an extended trip to Europe. Parts of the city come closest to the look and feel of Europe that no other city in the United States can muster. New Orleans is unique, I think, among American cities in that way. European cities of comparable size all seem to come with a charm, grace, pace and architectural beauty that is at once nostalgically Old World, yet eminently livable by every modern measure. European cities are as much playground as centers of commerce. They clang, ring, chime and clatter. Cafes spill cheerful patrons onto sidewalks and along cobbled squares. They effuse joie de vie, gemütlichkeit and la bella vita. They invite walking, if not pure wandering.

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Valen-times

  For our first Valentine's Day together, Carol suggested filet mignon and a movie at home. “The restaurants here are all crazy on Valentine's,” she explained. I'm blessed her idea of crazy matches mine, especially when it comes to dining. It will, though, be my first Valentine's Day lacking any exuberant panache or over-the-top flair.

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Three widows

Back in the early 1970s, at the height of my self-delusion of single handedly saving the world, I applied to Antioch College in Yellow Springs, OH. I remember writing the required biographical essay in language so flowery that I had to water it before sealing it in the envelope. So filled with myself at the time I might have included a photo of me in leotards and a cape. I never heard back from Antioch, not even a form rejection letter. I think it was the cape, though it might have been the leotards

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Descent into the Polar Vortex

   Turns out I had timed our January arrival in Chicago via Amtrak's Southwest Chief to coincide with the delivery of the Arctic Circle's Polar Vortex. I say “turns out” because planning the trip had nothing to do with advance weather forecasts. Even if it had, I would not have been put off by any climate effects emerging from something that sounded like a new thrill ride on the city's Navy Pier, or a new constellation of planetary alignment revealing itself for the first time in Chicago's night sky. In this I would soon become much enlightened.

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“I thought you'd be younger”

   It was sweet by comparison to hear “Grandpa!” as a stand-alone greeting coming from a squeally voice, instead of following a string of expletives out of a swerving monster truck on the I-5.

   The purpose for Carol and I traveling to Chicago in January was to meet and babysit for my side of the generational issue of grandchildren. The run-up to Carol's meeting of Harper, 7, and Juno, 3 1/2, was upbeat. “She sounds nice,” Harper had told my daughter. This was to me anyway, in sharp contrast to this exchange with Juno on my previous visit at Thanksgiving:

Me: Did you have fun with Grandpa?

Juno: No.

Me: Are you sad Grandpa is leaving?

Juno: No.

Me: But you're going to miss Grandpa, right?

Juno: No.

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This train part two

This train don't carry no con men, this train;
This train don't carry no con men, this train;
This train don't carry no con men,
No wheeler dealers, here and gone men,
This train don't carry no con men, this train.

                                              -- Woody Guthrie

 

   Carol and I were enjoying an afternoon of profound joy and utter dissipation on our third and final day aboard Amtrak's Southwest Chief, when my idle mind wandered into the devil's workshop that belonged to the new CEO of the nation's one and only long distance passenger rail service. Seems the same kind of cost-cutting mentality that would reduce the cost of a face by cutting off the nose has invaded the executive halls of Amtrak. Get this:

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This train

This train is bound for glory, this train.
This train is bound for glory, this train.
This train is bound for glory,
Don't carry nothing but the righteous and the holy.
This train is bound for glory, this train.

                                         --Woody Guthrie

 

    There's two ways to look at the climate change issue from the observation car of a long-distance train:

 

1)    The planet is just too big for one species to destroy it on its own.

2)    What a horrible species we are to be able to destroy a planet this big all on our own.

   Fortunately, Carol and I were simply enjoying ourselves too much as we awoke to day 2 of our excursion from L.A. to Chicago to consider the prospects of global warming. Except maybe to smugly contemplate the smaller carbon footprint we were impressioning on the earth compared to planes and automobiles. We had bigger fish to fry, ecologically speaking.

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The Southwest Chief to Chicago

   Happy Hour began the moment Carol and I located our berth, unpacked what we'd need for the night from our bags and turned the luggage over to a steward for stowing below. Our initial gales of laughter were less from the wine than from discovering the dimensions of our “bedroom” accommodations. Opposite of the TARDIS, it seemed somewhat smaller on the inside. Two people maneuvering around soon resembled a game of Twister. The berth contained everything you'd find in a master bedroom. There was a full-size bed, a sink, a bathroom and a shower. We eyeballed the total space at about 36 sq. ft., perfect for two pygmies built like #2 pencils.

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Tunnel

Throughout my thirty-seven first marriage that I ended in 2012, I’d measured my success in life with the reassurance that I would never divorce. When I did divorce, though, I knew from the beginning it was the right thing to do, even while acknowledging it could never be a good thing.

   Unlike that divorce, widowhood was thrust upon me quite unexpectedly. Throughout what turned out to be an all too short marriage to Carolyn, I'd never expected I'd be living my life as a widow. Yet, when it happened, my sorrow over losing Carolyn - from the first moment I kissed her cold cheek for the last time - has been buoyed more by the happy years we were able to share than the ones ahead we were never going to have.

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The little Reid that could

The New York Times columnist Russell Baker once recalled going for a walk because he was stuck for an idea for a column due the next day. Someone threw a potato out of a window along the way, and it hit Baker in the head. Suddenly, he had his idea. As I recall from his memoir, he was never stuck again.

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Brief Encounters II

   I’m trying to figure out the deeper meaning of getting conked on the head by a San Clemente railroad crossing barrier arm. That the incident is related to a train is definitely part of it. That it’s the only place to cross the tracks to get to the beach from our hotel, unless you take the underpass, would make it more or less predetermined that it was going to happen eventually. That it involved me is what made it inevitable. Nixon’s revenge? That one had my vote when it happened.

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Brief encounters

My previous familiarity with San Clemente was its being known as “The Western White House” during the Nixon Administration. So imagine my surprise and delight to discover a thriving beach town of charm, historic Spanish architecture and elegance, as well as magnificent Pacific sunsets that wash away for me its former association with cynicism and paranoia. Plus, it’s only about a twenty-minute drive from our house in Lake Forest. Also, Amtrak stops right at the entrance to the town’s wonderful pier! (Yes, an arrival by rail is in our future plans.)

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