* The lad on the right in the photo is John Zimmerman. We were good friends. He went on to become a pilot in the Vietnam War and later a captain for a major airline. He sent me this photo a few years ago when we reconnected on Facebook.
WE MAY HAVE iPods and iPads and iTunes and even flaming Samsungs today, but we do not have trains. Freight trains are nice, but passenger trains are lovely.
One advantage of being vintage is that you had trains in your life, and now you have trains in your mind.
A railroad track passes directly behind the house across our street. Freights thunder by day and night. My favorite is the 5:45 a.m. Who needs an alarm clock?
Most passenger trains are gone, and we’re left with the occasional line that transports tourists. Alas.
As a child I boarded trains at the huge station in Jacksonville, Florida, and rode 200-plus miles northwest to Sylvester, Georgia, where I stepped down onto dirt.
Grandparents picked me up in an old Ford, and we drove to the farm on rutted, red-clay roads.
One evening in 1962 a staff sergeant deposited me at the station in San Antonio, Texas, handing me a ticket and ordering me aboard.
The Air Force paid for a solo sleeper to Rantoul, Illinois. I woke the next morning and watched a forest of white-barked birch trees passing. I’d never seen birches.
Also courtesy of the Air Force, a few months later, I railed from Rantoul to the San Joaquin Valley of California, via Chicago. All the way across much of America.
From New Orleans I would ride the elegant Southern Railway to Atlanta to visit my parents. “Southern Railway Serves the South.” It surely did. But not anymore.
Traveling solo with two bottles of tequila, I rode in a sleeper from Mexico City to Ciudad Juárez. I stood outside on the bucking platform between cars and watched the desert mountains in the distance, which was romantic.
With the woman who’s now my second ex-wife, I took a train from the English Channel to Paris, and a few days later an overnight sleeper to Barcelona.
The following year found me on a train alone from Edinburgh to Inverness and a few days later, with a new traveling companion in the form of a lovely American anthropologist, aboard a train from Inverness to the craggy coast of Scotland.
From there we ferried to the Isle of Skye.
I stood outside, six days later, as my traveling companion, leaned out the train window (just like in the movies) as it pulled from the station in Chester, England, taking her to Wales. My ride, an hour later, went to London.
I never saw her again.
Again with my second ex-wife, I took a train from Los Mochis, Mexico, to Chihuahua with an overnight at the Copper Canyon. After a following night in a Chihuahua hotel, we took a jammed, third-class train to Ciudad Juárez.
That was in the 1980s, and it was my last train ride.
TODAY IS MY father’s birthday. Flag Day in the United States. That’s how I remember it.
I think about my father a lot even though I did not like him. In spite of that, we were very similar. About the only difference between us was that I like to travel. He loathed it.
Other than that, we were clones. That’s him in the photo, which was taken in an Atlanta farmers’ market in the late 1980s.
I never called him Dad or Father or anything like that. I called him Charles because that was his name. I don’t know why I did that. I never called my mother Mom or anything of that sort either. I called her Dee, a nickname.
My sister did call him Daddy.
Charles was a newspaper editor, as was I. He retired from full-time newspapering when he was just 49, having fallen into some money when his mother-in-law died.
He became a haiku poet, and became quite famous in the small world of haiku poetry. He died in 1991 of a heart attack at 75, just three years older than I will soon be.
He would have been 101 years old today.
He had his good points. He was a lifelong liberal of the classical variety, as am I.* One wonders what he would have thought of Donald Trump. Today is Trump’s birthday too. He’s 70.
(The bottom photo was sent to me about three years ago by the fellow on the right, John Zimmerman, a good boyhood friend who went on to fly tankers over Vietnam and later became an airline captain. He’s retired now.)
* Classic liberals are very different from today’s “progressive liberal” collectivists of the Democrat Party.