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The train - Ronda Rich

When the yearning for a weekend trip to New Orleans appeared, much like the late-night craving for a bag of potato chips, it took no persuasion to convince Poet to meet me there.

"Name the day and I shall arrive happily," he declared when the words had barely been released from my lips. "I am, my dear lady, at your beck and call."

And so, true to his word, the weekend dates I suggested were deemed "perfect" and the plans were put into motion.

"I have a notion," I said to Poet, "that I shall take the train to New Orleans."

"The train?" He sounded only slightly surprised, though he will readily admit that little about me surprises him. "And prey tell, what has brought forth this notion."

"I've never taken a train trip," I began, my voice then drifting off a bit dreamily. "They seem so romantic." I paused. "Did you know that every time that Dolly Parton leaves her lover in a song, that she always goes on a train?"

Poet's deep, robust laughter sprang forward, rippling on for several seconds. "Why no," he admitted in a tone that was clearly smiling. "I was not aware of that important fact."

"Well, it's true. She always goes on a train. Never a plane. Isn't that romantic?"

This is all to explain how I found myself on the south-bound Amtrak Crescent, chugging at a steady pace toward the Crescent City. Like most folks, I find I am way too weary of plane travel and all its hassles, so I was quite delighted to pull my car into a front and center parking space at the train depot, grab my bag and walk six feet in the door. It was early morning, so early the sun was still asleep and the few passengers waiting were barely awake.

Lucille, the queen of the depot (she's been there for more than 37 years), was working on her needlepoint. She looked up for a moment and in a no-nonsense voice said, "Getcha an Amtrak luggage tag over there and put it on your bags."

"Gee," I thought to myself. "This is a lot better than the hassle of the airport."

I did as I was told, then settled down on the old, church-like wooden pew next to her. I peppered her with questions about the train, explaining it was my first trip.

"Now, the train leaves at 6:58, what time does it get here?" I asked.

I'm used to having to be at the airport well over an hour before my flight leaves.

"Oh, 'bout 6:58."

I did a double take. "6:58? That's not much time to load and unload."

"Girl, you better grab them bags and jump on that thang 'cause it don't stay long."

A few minutes later, the train slid to a quick stop, Lucille and the porter helped me scurry aboard. I dropped my bags in the stateroom, then headed to the dining room for breakfast.

"Welcome aboard!" greeted the New York-born waitress who, when she heard me speak, said "Oh, that's the best Southern accent I ever heard. It sounds like music."

For twelve hours, I watched from the window of my compartment as the train passed through towns I know well, but had never seen from the railroad tracks -- Atlanta, Anniston, Birmingham, Meridian and Hattiesburg. I saw the magic of the small-town South as the train edged toward New Orleans. I read to my heart's delight, enjoyed the view of laundry blowing in the wind on clothes line, diners welcoming customers, churches longing for Sunday and simple clapboard houses. I was entertained and mesmerized.

I stepped off the train in New Orleans and walked forty feet to Poet who, handsome and elegant, was waiting at the door.

He took my bag and grinned. "So? How was it?"

"Dolly Parton was right. Train travel is romantic."

Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of "What Southern Women Know About Faith." Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her weekly newsletter.