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Mammy Train
From Chicongo to Saint Louis: Saturday, 4/9/2022
© 2022 James LaFond
SEP/5/22
Written on 4/12/2022
I woke and it was dimly lit outside.
I was fully clothed but for socks and boots.
The TV that new me read 8:50.
“Shit!” some idiot exclaimed, as I hopped out of bed and put on socks and shoes. My train had been at 7:20. But there was another leaving at 9:30. Paul and Leanna would already be driving from the Ozarks up to Saint Louis. The top flap where my condoms are kept had not been opened. My wallets and checkbook were in pockets still. I looked into the trashcan. I checked the bathroom, which she surely would have used if there had been a mighty mistake made. Nothing.
‘Oh yes, the shampoo, lotion and conditioner for the beard and shaved head—got it!’ Into the side pouch they went. One of the four kurig cups was missing. ‘Oh well.’
I shucked the ruck on, stood, buckled the straps and headed downstairs. Realizing that I was still drunk—real drunk, I took the elevator. Leaving the card at the counter, I walked back up across the river to the station and got to the ticket booth, explaining that I overslept to the young ebony doll behind the counter. She said, “Let me change your ticket, its boarding now.”
Within ten minuets I was boarding a commutor train, a single level coach, on the Lincoln Service. It was manned by a stern, competent Caucasian man conductor of 25, a fat Latina attendant of 30, and a good looking and buxom—great rumped—mammy of 40 in the dinning car.
I asked the conductor what time we were expected into Saint Louis and he politely told me. I texted this to Paul’s Woman and sat back as the train took off.
A young woman of 35 across the aisle began asking me about my travels, seeming intrigued by a clean hobo. I discovered that she was an employee in onchology at The University of Chicago Hospital and that she had a 9-year-old step son that loved trains. I informed her of the most scenic train routes and about the man who has the train art website and gallery.
Still drunk, I rose to head forward to the cafe car, manned by the buxom bronze woman, who did the masking announcements, which were less threatening than the white lady computer announcements and focused on the fact that the train was “federal property, believe it or not folks.” There was no mask racism on this train. All races must mask on the Lincoln Service.
I asked the young step-mom reading her James Patterson novels, if she wanted anything and she said, “No, but thank you, sir.”
Back in the cafe car with all three of the staff, Bronze Mammy, paused as I admired her triple Gs jutting from her apron, grinned and said, “What can I do for you, honey?”
“I’m not sure. I think I’m still drunk.”
A tall, light skinned quean, a businesswoman traveling between Chicongo and Saint Louis in a curtained alcove, emerged from the sleeper car ahead and, in the same country accent as the cafe attendant, said, “Let’s start you out with coffee, baby.”
“Okay, ah, two coffees. With cream.”
I was quite admiring the attendant, as she looked up, from the counter, flushed, looked at the light-skinned lady passenger smiled and said to me, “Anything else, sweetie?”
I paused and the lady passenger opined, “Oh, our man had a good night last night!”
She then turned to me and declared, “Baby, after your coffee, come on back here and get some food, something with bread to finish soaking that liquor up. Then take you a nap and you’ll be right as rain—no headache, need an asparin?”
“Thanks, no. I’ll be fine. I’m fortunately short enough to sleep in the seats,” noting her great height, as she smoothed her dress down over her hips and posed for me and said, “We ain’t all so lucky as all that. Have a wonderful trip, sir.”
I returned to the seat, offered a cup to the lady and she declined. She did however, insist on buying me a vegetable tray later in the day.
And the further south the train rolled, the easier and more polite the world mazed up before me to greet the damned descending form the northern night.
I was awakened by the rattle and rumble and clatter and metal groans of the training crossing the bridge over the Mississippi into Saint Louis. Rain pattered. Passengers were not as frantic in offloading as in the North. We let the ladies go first, unlike in the North.
The Gateway Station in Saint Louis is under a sweeping concrete arbor of highway overpasses, much like the hideous span of interstate between U.S. Rout #1 and U.S. Route #40 north of Overlea and west of White Marsh in Baltimore County. It was raining and the single Amtrak security man directed traffic at the passenger pickup. My hosts rolled up in a blue rental car and the rucksack went into the trunk, Paul’s Woman taking to the backseat so that I could ride shotgun.
Paul is a thick, bearded man with reddish skin, Caucasian, East Asian, Cherokee, Huron and Iroquois, “basically a mestizo, I suppose, I don’t speak Spanish and the Mexicans don’t know what to think of me.” He is a quiet and pointedly articulate fellow who uses the term “annoying” a lot when referring to third parties. He is taking me to the edge of the Ozarks, to Exeter and environs, where he grew up and now shoes horses for a living. In his youth hunting, hiking, riding and working, Paul acquired a mental map of this land as detailed as my inner chart of Baltimore City, which he visited as a truck driver, both of us noting the rusty, brick hut similarity of Saint Louis and Harm City, each the most dangerous city of its size for 8 years running.
His “Woman” Leanna, is a sweet southern girl with a metaphysical compass delicately attuned to the world she has come to call home. She had been raised “by a little old Indian woman in Oklahoma." She is Paul’s personal business assistant, who he, “treats like glass—he won’t even let me have a step stool for the cupboards because he’s afraid I’ll fall.”
As we drive south it is snowing a dusting in the southwest Missouri uplands and along the high Ozark Prairie. They call this region, The Four States, including Kansas and Arkansas. The land is mighty deserted and the clerks at the roadside gas-liquor-and-grocery stops kind—one colored clerk even marking me for homeless and not charging me for the fountain soda. Homeless folk in wrecked and rusted vehicles abound. Sagging and abandoned homes haunt the countryside and it makes Leanna “sad,” frustrating Paul, because there is such a “dearth of able-bodied men willing to work,” that he cannot build a business beyond the reach of his own hands, which are very thick and strong.
I discover in three days that convicted criminals and jailbirds in this area are more giving and genteel than church men and successful businessmen in northern parts. There is an easy kindness even among certain violent men. The working man of this region, displaced by the landowning class with Laotions, Somalis, Mexicans, Central Americans, West Indian Islanders and Hmungs have the easy manner of a feral hound who has been kicked enough to stifle his bark and knows better than to snarl when the domestic dog owner goes for his gun.
Another time I will seek to write of this drear and dear here and now. But this time, I will sign off of travel writing and attempt to write a story set in this land, in a time when it was not squashed, hollowed, mowed, sold and abandoned by our betters.
Notes
I would find that Paul and Leanna had driven five hours from the Missouri-Arkansas border, a short distance from Oklahoma, and possessed none of the rampant impatience of my northern kind. From here I will endeavor not to write of this place and time other than to sketch the nature of the land and the character of its people in relation to the medieval western fantasy Ranger?, that odd novel I am setting in this area upon another Time.
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