Journeys

Trains

Chuck Sat, 2016-10-01 12:00

From five thousand miles away, wielding Internet magic, I watched with interest the news of Amtrak’s recent trial stops along the Mississippi Gulf Coast and the rolling out of red carpets in towns interested in seeing a new era of the Sunset Limited. Given my own experience in Amtrak travel, I imagined the big, lumbering rail cars barely slowing for the Coast’s municipal politicians to jump off, wave to the crowds, and extol the economic benefits of Amtrak as the train rumbled on down the tracks nary noticing their absence.

I love trains. This shouldn’t be surprising considering how much time I spend in Europe. Should you visit the old country, train travel will surely account for much of your wandering. Sleek TGV and ICE trains are marvelous, but I enjoy the good-ole compartment trains where you might be locked in with a sweet-looking old lady who doesn’t speak a word of English. Or maybe a dour swarthy guy from “somewhere south”. That’s the excitement of foreign travel. You can still find these old clunkers here and there in Italy and Central Europe. And I am generally a sucker for nostalgia.

Passenger trains have click-clacked their way along the Gulf Coast’s CSX tracks for a century, carrying people back and forth to New Orleans and further. I’m just old enough to remember the dying years of “real” passenger rail on the Coast, back when my Papa (it’s what grandpas are called in the Ros family, myself included) could come visit us in Gulfport from Pascagoula. Those tall passenger cars with hard wooden benches and expanses of windows that could slide open in the Mississippi summer heat are some of my earliest memories.

Papa came to visit us for a week or so after Camille. Even though he was into his seventies and would live only a few more years, he and my Dad labored to dismantle the wooden fence that lay in pieces in our backyard. They did this while my brother and I played amongst the nail-ridden boards as if we had no care in the world, which we didn’t until we stepped on one of those nails. What I remember most about that time, though, was putting our Papa on the train back to Pascagoula. As if it were yesterday, I can still picture him sitting in that train car’s big window as we stood on the platform in Gulfport. He was crying. I never knew why, but I think it was his last time to ever ride the train over to visit.

I saw an old train like that again just a couple of years ago. We were standing on the platform in Carlisle, England waiting for our train to Glasgow when it came by. It was pulled by an old steam engine, puffing clean white steam noisily into the air, punctuated on occasion by a whistle. It was delightful. It made me think of my Papa. If you ever come to England you can ride an old steam train with passenger cars with wooden benches and big windows. Just for the nostalgia.

I do so hope the Sunset Limited comes back to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. And if it does, maybe it will bring me home one day.

I've Loved You

Chuck Sun, 2016-09-25 12:00

I wrote this poem for the occasion of my daughter Catie's wedding to Ryan. They're getting married today, Sunday, September 25th, 2016. 

 

I've loved you
Since I knew there'd be a you.

I've held you
Whenever you needed me to.

I fed you
Some strange baby food goo.

I drove you
To school, at least after grade two.

I comforted you
When you had the flu.

I questioned you
When you got that first tattoo.

I really questioned you
When you took your mama to get one too.

I've sung to you:
Jimmy Buffett, and Billy Joel, too.

I've sent you
Money when you couldn't make do.

I've kissed you
Just because I wanted to.

I've watched you
Become a woman as you grew.

I'll miss you
Being my little girl, it's true.

But I love you
For loving Ryan too.

And I'll love you,
My new son-in-law, too.

So thank you,
Both of you,
I can now love the two of you.

50 Years And Wandering

Chuck Tue, 2016-09-20 12:07

There was a time, not so long ago, that I would’ve sworn to you I’d never leave the Mississippi Gulf Coast. But Hurricane Katrina ran us off to Atlanta, and since then my wandering feet have carried me to Europe. Of the last two years, I’ve been there fifteen months.

Of late I seem destined to spend my something-oh birthdays away from home. I turned 40 in Seattle, commuting to the farthest corner of the lower 48 in the months following Katrina. And only a few months ago I turned 50 in a country village in England. Both were pretty darn good substitutes for home, but not quite.

Dad had a bad case of wanderlust, too. He left us for a heavenly destination back in 2011. He must like it, because he hasn’t come back complaining about the traffic or the rates at the Hampton Inn. I miss his unconventional wisdom about now. On getting old he’d impart some profound wisdom like, “never forget how to drive a stick” or “remember that when the seagulls huddle up close together on the beach, a hurricane’s coming”. No matter that hurricanes are rare in England, standard transmissions aren’t.

Hurricane lore being rather important, I remember Camille and Frederick and Elena and Georges and Katrina. If they were friends on Facebook I’d block them instead of unfriending them because even after all these years I still don’t want to get on their bad side, yet I don’t want to hear what they have to say. It’s a bit of poetic justice that when I mention those names out loud at a café in Zagreb or Warsaw or Amsterdam. or wherever my wanderlust takes me, the people around me don’t have a clue who—what, really—I’m talking about. And it’s not because I’m speaking a foreign language: the whole world speaks English now.

Well, maybe not my particular sort of English. In one moment I speak that unique convergence of New Orleans, southern, and Slavic accents one can find only in and around Biloxi. In the next moment I speak the proper tongue my Mom instilled in me and hundreds of other Gulf Coast natives she taught through the years. I’ve perfected a chameleon accent, from blending into a boardroom at Harvard to dismaying Californians with the admission that I’m from the deepest of the Deep South of Mississippi where, if you went any further south you’d get wet.

You know, if I had a doubloon for every time I’ve been told, “You don’t sound like you’re from Mississippi,” I could start my own krewe. I’ll tell you what: let me spend a minute with my brother-in-law in Gulfport or my Godfather in Pascagoula, and man, oh man, you ain’t never heard somethin’ lain on so thick. But it just sounds so right.

No matter where I am, I see that place, those people, their food, and their language through the eyes I grew up with on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. And the older I get, the more I realize that’s just the way it’s supposed to be. So if ya’ll back home will keep an eye on the seagulls on the beach for me, I’ll try not to forget how to drive a stick.