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On the road again Canada and the US Dec 2011-Feb 2012 - Observations, musings and random thoughts jotted down mostly during loooong train and bus trips.

CHICAGO TO NEW ORLEANS

USA | Wednesday, 25 January 2012 | Views [689] | Comments [1]

The Spirit of New Orleans backed out of Union Station and sat on a flyover for twenty minutes in deference to another, favoured, train using the shared tracks before jolting forward to begin the long journey south.

Almost every seat was occupied in the designated rear carriage so my hopes for a comfortable night were dashed when a very tall black man indicated he had been assigned the seat next to me. Polite and affable, my fellow-passenger was easy to talk to and we soon found ourselves discussing everything from the best way of encouraging his six-year old daughter’s love of reading, to gun control, to his wife’s employment conditions as a blackjack dealer at a Native American casino in Missouri.

The windows of the carriage were opaque blackness as we left Chicago and a twenty hour journey lay ahead of me – I was glad of the good company until at midnight he decided to try and sleep and managed to find some empty seats with a bit more room to fold himself into.

The train lurched from station to station during the night – Champaign-Urbana, Centralia, Newbern-Dyersburg – sometimes whistling through, sometimes stopping to spill and retrieve passengers, a sad-looking group of smokers sidling onto the platform for a hasty puff at each stop. From Illinois we dipped into a corner of Kentucky, spent a little longer in Tennessee and fell into Mississippi at Memphis.

A drunk fell into the carriage, mumbled that there were ‘ too many black folks’ and to everyone’s relief, disappeared.

In the seats behind me: “What did he say?”

“Oh, you know, pay no min’…”

As another local said to me in another place at another time: “Racism is everywhere, especially in Mississippi.” Still.

Memphis appeared out of the darkness as a name and a Mississippi bridge with a guitar-shaped span, all lit up and ready to party – there were just no people in sight.

Morning brought green fields, dishevelled clapboard towns and swamps. Flocks of white birds arced and dipped above the bare winter trees.

By nine we reached Greenwood and my fellow-passenger got up to leave the train –just a coat, no luggage.

“I don’t know your name.”

“Calson” he said “You take care now.”

American names are intriguing.

Next stop Yazoo.

Overcast, breezy, with power poles leaning under the tangle of  lines covering the main street, Yazoo was declared ‘open’ by a red neon sign on the nameless shack advertising ‘gumbo shrimp’ and ‘ribeye’. 

As multi-cultural as America is, it is the most segregated country I’ve travelled in: from New Mexico with its dearth of African-Americans to  southern towns like Yazoo where I didn’t see a white face, it is a nation made up of many separate worlds, sometimes intersecting but often spinning in different universes.

Flora, Slobovia, “Next stop Jackson, Mississippi.”

(c)FMPDH 2012

Tags: amtrak, chicago, city of new orleans, mississippi, usa. train travel, yazoo

Comments

1

Wow what an eye opener, racism is alive and well in the land of the free.

  tony Apr 25, 2012 12:16 PM

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