Sunday, December 28, 2008

Holidaze 2008

Left: Maga and Zelly; Top: Wanda, Z-Girl, Mike; Left: Jesse, Wonder-Z and Corey

Here I thought I was Amtraking it to a sub-tropical region and, upon arrival, Platform 12-21 was absolutely freezing. The next day was no better. My son-in-law's parents, Wanda and Mike, had the greatest concept of going to an outdoor Santa village. Amazingly, it included a side trip to the North Pole AND and African savanna for Jesse, Corey and Zelly. This incredible wonderland is set up every year benefiting a really worthy medical cause. Bundling up, that next evening we were walking around the most darling outdoor Santa village I've ever seen, sipping hot chocolate, riding merry-go-rounds, trains, sitting on Santa's lap (okay, we all didn't do that, thank God) and staving off hypothermia with a ho-ho-ho.

And then, what to our wondering eyes should appear the next morning, but a thermostat in the 70s. A little weather menopause if you ask me. But what is a little temperature variation among friends?

This year, our girl is three this year and in fine form! No, not Barbie; the Divine Miss Z. Barbie did her best to make the occasion festive, thanks to the birthday girl's mom. Her impressive baking techniques were only exceeded by the icing! Ace of Cakes, you can't even lick the batter bowl on this one. In my heyday, I have done a fairly decent presentation with "ice cream cone" styled individual cupcakes, but beyond that, I am strictly a 1/4 sheet cake gal. I don't know if I would have had the skill to put this one off successfully. Barbie, I am chilly in your shadow. You're an accomplished astronaut, attorney, NASCAR driver, and, gosh darn it, everything you set your blond head to do. Add to every other accomplishment that you are the greatest third birthday cake ever! What a resume, girl! Now, please, go get dressed!
Here is our birthday girl, Zelly, showing off her arms in the afternoon sub-tropical sun. (See what I mean about the wacky weather?) She is showing off her mom's budding hydranga and her Federal Expressed gift from Aunt Mo. We had just received a call from Mo who was tracking the package from Maryland. Her update was it had arrived and was on the truck for delivery. Who was at the back door as soon as we hung up? You got it. More importantly, Zelly got it. Thanks, Aunt Mo! Talk about ESP!!!

Back to Amtraking: In oh, so many ways, I would LOVE to claim market insight and advanced intelligence opting for a train ride instead of flying to see my family. Who knew that the airline industry would have such a challenge flying for Christmas week; but, my travel method this year was a stroke of accidental genius. Last summer I decided to make my Christmas (yes, Christmas--not holiday, but Christmas) travel plans early. So, in August I booked my train trip mostly inspired by the fuel costs which were plaguing all of us at that time. Perhaps if the artificial shortages and subsequent falsely jacked-up gas prices wouldn't have been pinching my wallet, I wouldn't have considered traveling by rail.

I've traveled this way before and loved it. But, getting real about it, you need time or money when you travel. Sometimes it is both as some poor, unfortunate stranded weather victims realized this season.

Airlines were blocked by snow and crazy weather all over the place, but this kid was flying down the rails as the choo-choo left its sparks in the dust. We stopped at platforms built as if they belonged under an ideal Christmas tree. Stop signs, striped traffic arms, conductors imitating Tom Hanks. I felt like I was on the Polar Express, except I was heading south. (photo: Charlottesville, VA station)

Everyone I traveled with on this line was great. Polite, considerate, conversational or, when projecting proper body language, they'd leave you the hell alone. This was true, with the exception of a pack of rude jerks who boarded at 5 a.m. sounding as if Foghorn Leghorn was having a family reunion. They even had the absolute nerve to discuss LOUDLY about the rudeness of train personnel requesting them to enter quietly. The worst one sat right in front of me and several hours later just when he was slipping into his nap, darn it, I had to open and close my tray to and from the full and upright position multiple times. Opportunities are delivered to you if you employ patience, my friends. Eventually, we all hang ourselves, once a sufficient length of rope is extended.

After a wonderful visit, I am heading out early morning of New Year's Eve and "TRAKing" north. I bet some of you will be at parties or watching fireworks at Alexandria's First Night Festivities (LOVE IT!). Arlo Guthrie and I will be singing "Good Morning, America, How Are You? I'll be gone 500 miles when the day is done." You will be kept abreast of other passengers and their behavior, but here is hoping I'll be listening to pins drop. If Mr. Leghorn boards at any point, I just might punch his ticket personally. Should success allude me, I'll play conductor: my foot behind his chair.

Meanwhile, I'm off to enjoy another fantastic food-o-rama family gathering tomorrow. That brings us up to 4 total. If we keep going at this rate, we might as well double the number and confuse people by making them think we're Jewish. We might have to surrender those shamrocks. Who knew?

Before moving on, I just thought I'd show off my favorite Christmas gift and highway to my next career: LAW SCHOOL IN A BOX. In my 20s and 30sI saw corporate law in high action and misdemeanors and loved it. Being a single-mom limited career options, so I never took advantage of that experience. Later I did get my masters degree in teaching, which has been a wonderful challenge in and of itself; but law school still loomed as a dream---until now! Thanks, Jesse. You are always listening. Thanks for making this come true for me. It even has a diploma. In the state of Virginia it was possible to "read" in lieu of attending school. That meant you were indentured to an attorney, studying at the winged-tipped shoe sporting feet of the master before sitting for the bar exam. That has been "struck down" in recent years.
Have you noticed the immediate and phenomenal success of this program? I'm already flaunting legal terms!! Actually practicing law using my new sheepskin might present jail time, so I think I'll have to wait for my next lifetime to make the big bucks and drive that Mercedes. Meanwhile, I'll continue granting my "Illegal Legal Services" as my friend Rosa calls it, without the benefit of billable hours. Through this new educational process I have come to find out that "Pro Bono" is not Sonny's sister, but what you call working for free. Here I've been calling it volunteering. As of now, the shingle is officially out and flapping in the breeze, friends. When spring comes, I'll build a stand like Lucy from Peanuts: LEGAL ADVICE 2 cents.

If you don't hear from me between now and 2009, HAPPY NEW YEARS, MY BROTHERS AND SISTERS. The topic of resolutions will be discussed in a future blog. Until then, I'll be contemplating how to resolve not having any.

Before departing, please allow me to pass along a fantastic piece of American folk poetry at its absolute finest. Here are the lyrics to Arlo Guthrie's "City of New Orleans." Its imagery is unmistakable. If you can't ride the rails, you can listen to his opus or read the lyrics and it will transport you with its own power.

Ridin' on the City of New Orleans, Illinois Central, Monday mornin' rail
15 cars & 15 restless riders, Three conductors, 25 sacks of mail
All along the southbound odyssey, the train pulls out of Kankakee
Rolls along past houses, farms & fields, Passin' graves that have no name,
freight yards full of old black men, And the graveyards of rusted automobiles
Good mornin' America, how are you? Don't you know me? I'm your native son!
I'm the train they call the City of New Orleans, I'll be gone 500 miles when the day is done
Dealin' cards with the old men in the club car, Penny a point, ain't no one keepin' score
Pass the paper bag that holds the bottle, And feel the wheels rumblin' neath the floor
And the sons of Pullman porters & the sons of engineers, Ride their fathers' magic carpets made of steel
Mothers with their babes asleep, rockin' to the gentle beat, And the rhythm of the rails is all they feel
Good mornin' America, how are you? Say don't you know me? I'm your native son!
I'm the train they call the City of New Orleans. I'll be gone 500 miles when the day is done.
Night time on the City of New Orleans, Changin' cars in Memphis, Tennessee
Halfway home, we'll be there by mornin' Thru the Mississippi darkness rollin' down to the sea
But all the towns and people seem to fade into a bad dream, And the steel rail still ain't heard the news
The conductor sings his songs again, The passengers will please refrain:
This train got the disappearin' railroad blues, Good night America, how are you?
Say don't you know me? I'm your native son! I'm the train they call the City of New Orleans.
I'll be gone 500 miles when the day is done.

If that doesn't elicit a call to 1-800-USA-RAIL, then nothing will.


  1. Wonderful, Scoop! I, too, always looked forward to receiving Life Saver books. I thought they were the best present! My father also did the icicles one at a time, painfully, but the end product was always a beautiful tree. You failed to mention the water bubbling lights. Surely you had some! Sounds like you have enjoyed your travel and your visit. We look forward to seeing you again up here in the north, where it was 70 today! Safe travels. We'll be in the Hilton suite if you feel like joining us for the fireworks...

  2. Great blogging!!!! I’m glad you are having a wonderful time down there!!! J My parents just left today! Very sad!! Wish they lived right next to me.

    Let’s catch up with some bubbly soon!! xo TK

  3. Awe, I miss the train. For years that was our only mode of transportation.
    Haven't been on one since Dan died. I've been iching to go for a ride for a while now.

  4. Dear Ruth, I enjoyed your story very much!! You are a very creative writer!! Let me know when you do more. When did you get home? I am trying to keep busy. Write soon,

  5. This was a fantastic blog and I enjoyed reading every sentence in it. You have such a wonderful way of putting events, people and activities together and making the reader want to be a part of it in a very big way. It was great and your granddaughter is beautiful and looks like her grandmother.

  6. Irene,
    You really need to jump on-board and at least travel to DC again. The entire freight for coming to New Orleans was $250, plus gas and Jesse's time coming for me and dropping me off (2.5 hours each way). It has been a great experience so far and I see no reason for it to go any other way on the return.