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Venera Di Bella Barles

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By Venera Di Bella Barles
Monday, December 20, 2004

Rated "PG" by the Author.

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A romantic adventure on the train.




The bi-level Superliner, called the "Sunset Limited,” travels from New Orleans to Los Angeles.  In 1983, my travel-weary spouse and I book two sleeping nights.

The brochure reads

First class service which includes complimentary meals, bedtime sweet, morning wake-up service with a newspaper, coffee, tea and orange juice.

"Eddie, let's eat early,” I eagerly say, “That way we can check-out the views from the windows, as we have dinner."

"Good idea."  He moves to the upholstered swivel chair.

"This is so great!  Isn't it?”  I chatter.  “I've dreamed of doing this for a long time."

"Very nice."

"I’ve loved trains since I was a little girl.” I say, aware this is a one sided love affair.  “I know this is going to be fun.  Don't you think?"

"Yeah, it should be good.  Do you mind taking the upper bunk, Vin?"

"I guess not.  Do I have a choice?”  My hands dropped to my sides, in resignation.  "I'm glad we decided to get the deluxe bedroom with a bathroom."


We spend the afternoon relaxing in the lounge car.  I listen as one young woman questions her mate.

"Wouldn't you love to live out here in the peace and quiet of the desert, honey?"

"You gotta be kidding," replies the man, as he preens himself in the reflection of the window.  "I’ll bet the TV reception is rotten.  I'd have to go miles and miles to get to a lousy baseball stadium!"

Ed and I leave to freshen up for dinner.  I fill my head with flights of possible encounters with famous sleuths finishing final details of their latest mysterious murder aboard the Sunset Limited.

We finally weave our way to the dining room and select a booth.  I am prepared for our gourmet evening.

"Gee, I thought there were going to be tablecloths!  Here comes the waiter."

"Whataya gonna have?"  He blurts in a surly voice.

"We don't know what you're serving.”  I say politely.  “May we see the menu?"

"I'll have to find one."  He turns and leaves.  I see that my husband has picked up a decided attitude.

"Now Eddie, don't get negative on me.  Have patience."

But I speak too soon.  Another, tightly bound chap promptly replaces our previous ill-mannered waiter.

"Are you ready yet?” he asks, with pencil primed, but his head is turned to another soup juggler.  “What'll you have?"

I'd love to meet the person, who put a gun to their heads and forced them to work with the public.  My romantic feast and ride does not resemble the Orient Express.

My unrealistic eyes clear.  I am convinced that our sulky attendants were probably trained at the Motor Vehicle School of Dining.  We finish our ground-level airline food.  Sweetcakes, the server, brings our check, and because this is a classy place, we leave our plastic trays on the table, and head for our room.

Our last day in New Orleans plays out splendidly, but we are exhausted and looking forward to a soothing and restful night in our Deluxe Bedroom, anticipating that the sway of the train will rock us to sleep.  I can't wait to snuggle in bed with my new, juicy, true -crime paperback.  Ed brought a volume of his classic works to read; the one he takes on all his trips and never cracks.

I pull down the shade to the large window that looks like a TV screen and change into my pajamas.  Then I remove the sixteen hours of make-up.

My spouse turns on the nightlight and I draw the window cover up again, relaxed with the thought that only prairie dogs will be interested in peering into our rented room.  I crawl up to the claustrophobic top bunk.  I seem to have a knack of being stuck on top shelves.

The ‘who-done-it’ book is boring enough and the repetitious movement of the train is soothing enough, that I start to doze, and besides, my propped arm died about ten minutes before.  I am almost into my twilight sleep, when I smell smoke.  Cigarette smoke.  Big time, cigarette smoke.  I’m gagging.  Cigarette smoke pours through the ventilation grate next to my head.  The obnoxious odor fills our cabin, stinging my eyes and nasal passages.  My husband, whose snout has been dead since the day I met him, doesn't seem to be bothered by the offensive pollution.  My summation of the situation is that every one decides to light up when they return to their cabins, and the waves of smoke flow through the ventilation system.

I wonder if it ever occurred to the gentlemen planners of this rolling city, to have a separate sleeping car for non-smokers.  How silly I am.  They're the ones that run the dining room!

I climbed down from the bunk bed to wash my face and eyes in the tiny washbowl and give the night another try.

This time I succeed, despite the biting, rancid air.  I can feel myself approach a deep sleep, when suddenly I am once again jolted awake.

I hear Ed's frantic voice from behind the closed bathroom door.

"Ohhhhh no, Blast it!  How do you stop this thing?  Holy Mackerel!"

I’m disoriented.  I look at my watch and see it is 2:15 in the morning.  The nightlight reflects in the large viewing window.  My blurred vision clears; I can see through the glass, that we are entering a station.  A couple of cowboys, standing two feet from the window, are waiting to board.  One has a girlfriend that comes up to his belt buckle with clothing barely covering her vitals.  I have a sense of seeing a stage play.  For a fleeting moment, I’m distracted from the sounds emanating from the water closet.

"Eddie, what's the matter?  Are you sick?  Answer me, are you all right?"

I jump down from the bunk, and run to the small cubicle door, leaving the room light off so the colorful local spectators can’t see in.  The door is locked.

"Ed, for God's sake, what is it?  Unlock this door!  Are you sick?"

No answer.  In a few moments the door opens slowly.  Edward the Good, sits on the prime seat, the throne, in full view of the train depot and its travelers.  He is sopping wet.  His soaked pajama bottoms are in a pile around his feet, and the waterlogged, leather bound edition is on his lap.  On his face is the ‘mother of miseries,’ the look of poverty.  He is dripping from head to toe.

"Good Lord, Ed, what happened?"  I ask trying hard to stifle an uncontrollable laugh.  "It's almost three in the morning!  What's wrong?  Why are you soaked?  I better close the door or the cowboys will see you from the window!"

His eyes are wild.  "Can you believe this?” he sputters.  “They've got two damn buttons here on the wall, both alike, and I couldn't see that well.  One is for FLUSHING, and the other is for a SHOWER!  Naturally, I pushed the wrong damn one."

The next morning there is a knock.

"Good morning, Mr. Barles.  Here's your newspaper and orange juice.  I trust you had a restful night?"


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Reviewed by Cynthia Borris 12/20/2004

I agree. You were railroaded. Great title. Fits the story. Happy holidays.


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