On the fateful day of 9/11/01, I actually had plane reservations to fly home to New York City to visit the family. My flight was late in the day, as a result, it was grounded, my trip cancelled. I waited for two months and decided to go home by train. Two days after I purchased my plane tickets, an American Airlines jet crashed in Queens. I knew the train was the right decision.
I traveled with my friend Amelia. The early leg of our journey was quite pleasant. We talked, we ate, we read books, and we drank. We watched the West go by our window. Tucson, El Paso, San Antonio, Houston. We stopped in New Orleans and stayed one evening in a quaint Bed & Breakfast near the Garden District. Though I did not see much of the room, for we caroused the French Quarter until the wee hours.
I spent ten days in New York City, and returned to Los Angeles via Chicago. After a brief stay in the Windy City, I boarded the South West Chief and headed West.
Shortly after the train left the station, I noticed an odd sort of fellow sitting just on the other side of the aisle, to my left. He looked rather scruffy. If I had to guess I'd say he was around fifty years old. He wore a tattered thrift store suit that looked like it was at one time Navy Blue. Now it was more of a Dusty Blue. He complemented this three dollar suit, with a mustard colored shirt. Obviously oblivious to the rule "Blue & Green Should Not Be Seen, Except In The Washing Machine". Around his neck, he wore a wide blue tie that seemed to have been hanging there since 1968. There was also 40 some-odd years of lint on that tie. He had horn rimmed, coke bottle glasses. But I'm not talking Buddy Holly cool, or Elvis Costello style. No these were not quite tortoise shell in color. Rather, they were closer in hue to pink champagne. I noticed the thickness of his lenses, and figured he must be blind to go out dressed like that! His hair looked like it had not been combed in a month. If you ever read Mad magazine - think Don Martin. For reason's that will come to light a bit later in the story, I'll call him the Professor.
Somewhere between Ohio and Kansas, the Professor started to annoy me. He was talking out loud, to no one in particular. Commenting on the seats, the temperature, what he saw out the window, whatever. At first, I thought he was talking to someone, but I looked around, and no-one was paying any attention to him. Then I became concerned that perhaps he was trying to get my attention. For he couldn't be talking to himself? Could he? I immediately put my headphones on and blasted my walkman as loud as it could go. I had a box with twelve cassette tapes in it. All I heard for the next few states was Rock N Roll. Lou Reed, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee, The Dictators, Gene Vincent & The Ramones became my traveling companions.
The next morning, I awoke to hear the Professor's voice saying something about "Dodge City". I looked out the window just in time to see a sign pointing to "Boot Hill". The Professor was still going on about "Dodge City". He really seemed to be talking to someone this time. But no one was there. The rest of the passengers must have been in the dining car having breakfast. I know he wasn't talking to me.
I leaned over for a better look. He had his back to me as he looked out of the left side of the train. He was holding something in his right hand. The sun was just coming up, and he was a silhouette against the window. A ray of light reflected off the object in the Professor's hand. At that moment, I saw that he was holding two dolls in his one hand. One was "Porky Pig", the other was "Tweedy Bird". He was holding them up to the window, so they could see the view of "Dodge City". I know this, because he stated this, out loud. He did so right before he began to recite an episode of "Gunsmoke" to his two "friends". Complete with character voices. I knew no one would believe me, so I took out my camera to sneak a photo. I didn't want him to notice, so I turned off the flash. I figured there was enough light coming in from the window, I wouldn't need the flash. I clicked the shutter. The motor drive on my Olympus stylus made a funny sounding noise as it snapped the picture. It sort of sounded like, "Bzzzzzzzzzzzzt." I was busted. The professor turned around and stared right at me. I was caught red-handed with the camera to my eye. Before he could utter a word, I exclaimed in my fakest excited voice, "Wow! Dodge City! Got get a picture of that!" He bought it. He turned back to his 'friends" and told them more about Marshall Dillon & Chester. After we got out of Dodge, he put Tweedy & Porky on the seat next to him, and tucked them in under a blanket.
Later that day I made reservations to eat dinner in the dining car. The train was sold out. I was told to expect to share a table, since I was on my own. To my horror, I was seated at a table with two old ladies, and the professor. I noticed he had pinned a metal button with a picture of "Tweedy Bird", on his lapel. I ordered my food, and a drink, and sat quietly at the table, letting the others monopolize the conversation. The man with "Tweedy" on his lapel told the two old ladies that he was a college professor. He managed to carry on an intelligent conversation with them, while I wolfed down my food and guzzled my drink. He did so without lapsing into sheer lunacy. I wondered if either of them had noticed "Tweedy Bird" on his lapel? I also tried to imagine what they would think had they witnessed the "Gunsmoke' episode I saw that morning. Then I realized that we could quite possibly be sharing dinner with an axe murderer. I finished dinner and bailed.
The following day, at Union Station, I noticed the "Professor" also got off the train in Los Angeles. I'm not too comforted by the fact that somewhere in this city, maybe at this very moment, he's probably having a conversation with Tweedy & Porky right now.