Having a great deal of spare time allowed me to witness the old adage with a twist: Idle hands reveal the devil’s work.
This spare time brought me to Bourbon Street in the Big Easy on a Southwest jet and back on Amtrak’s Sunset Limited. I also spent 5 hours on the tarmac touring Louis Armstrong International Airport compliments of one outstanding airport employee and one heck of a guy. The first was nothing but a routine flight on Southwest –the same as 1985 when I started flying their few dozen strong fleet. But everything else was something I won’t forget for at least the next 20 years. Stay tuned and you’ll see 30+ of the pictures I snapped and meet people that Jerry Springer would feature as honored guests.
Tuesday, 17 May 2005
Houston William P. Hobby to New Orleans Louis Armstrong
I arrived at Houston’s William P. Hobby on a sunny morning with a few minutes to spare. I was immediately greeted by a Gestapo-esque skycap screaming something unintelligible reprimanding smokers below a Houston City Ordinance sign prohibiting smoking within 25 feet of any public building’s entrance.
Gotta love skycaps.
The drop-off point at Hobby affords a great view of concourse B. I chatted for a few minutes with a Coex pilot there. He commuted in that morning on Southwest from Phoenix. Continental was full and he was waiting for a friend to pick him up and drive to IAH to work his flight on ‘that one’ as he points to the nearby American Eagle ERJ. All in a day’s life of a Barbie Dream Jet pilot.
The Continental hangar housed two mad dogs. They both recently retired in January and were stripped of their titles as is their Uncle Gordo.
I by passed AirTran’s check in kiosks and the American counter.
The shoe carnival was in full effect at Hobby this morning. A TSA bouncer was barking commands at a frail elderly gentleman and a leisurely dressed party of three women. One had a harmless comment about why she had to take off her shoes (even though they did not meet profile) and all three received secondary as retaliation. I don’t want to waste the energy quarrelling with the TSA even though my loafers don’t fit profile, so I just kick them off.
Using common wisdom, I decided to not tell the TSA even if someone had a shoe bomb, they not might have a way to light it. Lighters were banned last month from carryon luggage, three and a half years after Richard Reid’s stunt on American 63 from Paris. One can still carry on up to four books of matches. Makes sense, doesn’t it?
I proceeded along side the moving carpet and entered the airy concourse C. I steer away from moving fixtures as last year’s brain tumor episode gives me great vertigo.
Photo © Alastair T. Gardiner - WorldAirImages
Southwest’s Shamu taxied by just as three Shamu-sized TSA screeners cut in front of me at Wendy’s and ordered oversized extra value meals. That answered the old ad campaign – ‘Where’s the beef’ – well, they’re in line. I hope one of them got the finger in their chili.
I consumed a plain biscuit while watching the comings and goings thru the bay windows in the food court. The comings and goings at Hobby consisted of Canyon Blue with a dab of mustard and the occasional American MD-80 thrown in.
Since I stand little chance of an upgrade on today’s flight, I parted with a buck and enjoyed a 3-minute back massage in a ‘first class’ seat. The pricing scheme was not pro-rated for a discount on higher amounts - an advertised $1 = 3 min, $5= 15 min, and $10 = a staggering half hour.
About one dollar’s worth was all I could bear.
The water fountains in Hobby’s new concourse C are for all heights.
A 10 year old 737-300 was at C21 discharging human cargo when I arrived. Within a few minutes, pre-boarding was called. I noticed a few envious stares from the A group. Nobody pre-boards on Southwest unless they have trolls or a pre-boarding stick.
Photo © Ralph Duenas
I settled down in 1F. I normally forgo a tray table in lieu of a bit more leg room. This row already contained one Orlando-bound occupant in the middle seat. Why anyone would want a middle seat is beyond me.
All other self-loading freight trekked aboard and the flight attendant took drink orders. The lady that settled down in the aisle seat (1D) nearly required a jack hammer to cram her carry on in the overhead.
Photo © Stephen Dobbins
I spotted my admirer – the Spirit of Kitty Hawk as we taxied. She seems to go everywhere I do when I do. It must be a conspiracy in Southwest’s system ops control.
Within no time we pushed back and rocketed up, up, and away.
In a few minutes, I spied the I-45 causeway linking Galveston Island to the mainland. The 6,000’ runway at Scholes Field visible.
I passed the 1 hour flight by reading the Houston Chronicle and peering at the tanker and oil platform dotted Gulf of Mexico. Soon the blue of the Gulf met the brown of the Mississippi River and we were on approach to Armstrong.
At MSY, I was the second off the plane and met up with Tom in NO and MSYtristar.
We went for a Subway and upon returning, Tom took a wrong turn and ~ voila! ~ we were on the airport grounds weaving between cargo carrying 727s and dodging passenger carrying 757s. In the terminal area ground equipment was swirling around us at record speed.
Tour of MSY’s airfield
USAirways Airbus preparing for flight. I found out later the belt loader has a very bad emissions issue.
Air Canada Jazz CRJ at United’s gate. United handles AC at MSY. Canyon Blue rocketing off from the Big Easy in background.
Delta 757 with thunderstorms in the background
Atlanta-bound AirTran 717 with Louis Armstrong’s tower
Continental 757-300 arriving from Houston
TACA’s taxing Airbus
Delta 767-200 at the gate then taxing for takeoff
DHL 727 with someone escaping the Big Easy in the background
Custom Air Transport 727 with ground power
The USAirways belt loader with a nasty emissions issue
MSY’s fire brigade uses this fuselage section from a former Northwest 727 for training
This animal after a flight from Denver
MSYtristar so kindly gave me a ride downtown and deposited me where I was lodging that evening. He said he rarely drives in that part of town and his Little Italy t-shirt was at the dry cleaners. I decided to bunk in a hostel that evening. Why? Simple – because you meet people and have experiences you’d otherwise not. You may even get hauled in for illegal soliciting whereas that kind of activity is commonplace in hostels.
This hostel advertised ‘private rooms’ for a mere $25.
They were out of said ‘private rooms’ and the inn-keeper introduced me to my Austrian roommate. Female. No further comment on that subject matter.
See why I stay at hostels?
I met a British Backpacker there - we decided to hoof down to Bourbon Street together and down a few liquid refreshments.
We went bar hoping and visited the balcony of some – he enjoying it more than I. Most bars on Bourbon Street have 3 video poker machines (Louisiana Gaming Control Board states bars may have 3 machines per frontal address) and some band singing the same Van Morrison song about a brown eyed girl.
We spent the night bar hopping – hitting six places. We then stumbled back and I got some much needed shut eye.
The next morning I had a couple hours to kill and checked out New Orleans’ Riverwalk and Canal Street.
Most structures in New Orleans are quite historic – of the gingerbread, real Victorian style.
I took a walk through Harrah’s. Very impressed. I’ve seen every Vegas casino in-depth. The floor was quite busy on this random Wednesday morning and contained a large poker room. Very Vegas-esque. Everybody is a poker genius after Chris Moneymaker won a few years ago.
I decided to eschew the ferry ride due to time constraints. I am about to achieve the trifecta of crossing the Mississippi way of train, plane, and automobile – and wanted to make it a superfecta by traversing the Mighty Miss on a boat.
Wednesday, 18 May 2005
Amtrak’s Sunset Limited - Every Man a King
Train Number One, Car #31031
New Orleans Union Station to Houston, Texas
New Orleans’ Union Station services three Amtrak lines: Amtrak’s Crescent, City of New Orleans, and the transcontinental Sunset Limited. Trains ‘back’ into the station, right up to a few feet outside the terminal. Union Station also serves as the Greyhound Bus terminal.
One guy rapped that he was not taking a train but a bus. I quickly directed him to the Greyhound desk and this walking pile of laundry strutted over that way with a limp worse than I have.
I took a seat behind an older Texas couple returning to Houston after a weeks vacation in New Orleans.
The ceiling of this 51 year-old Union Station was undergoing much needed renovation. The entire area was void of any barricades or safety tape. After a series of crashes and bangs, a foreman appeared and yelled to those working above, “Hey, be careful! I don’t want anything falling.”
A good chunk of my skull is missing compliments of the Nevada Neurosciences Center and I did not want to play roulette with debris falling 30+ feet, so I scurried outside.
There I was greeted by a guy who seemed to live everywhere I have even been. The cobweb tattoos on his arms centered perfectly around the vein on the inside of his elbow. He had literary gonorrhea like I have never heard before. Let him be the precursor to my 11-hour train trek.
Once I returned inside, a conductor emerged and announced now boarding ‘Train Number One, the Sunset Limited.’ I heard a grievance behind me from one passenger, “I don’t know what train I’m on.”
This is going to be interesting, I thought.
The conductor took my ticket while an Amtrak Policeman looked on.
I was greeted by a friendly Amtrak car attendant who asked my destination. Nixing my smart-aleck comment of ‘wherever this train goes,’ I replied ‘Heading to Houston.’ She jotted something on a post-it and told me ‘Seat 24.’ This Post-It turns out to be integral in their logistics.
I entered the Superliner and wound up the spiral staircase.
Amtrak keeps track by placing a post-it below the seat number with the passenger’s destination. Notice each seat is assigned a number as opposed to number/letter combination.
After a few minutes, the train rolled out of the station. No announcements of any kind, not even the venerable “All Aboard!”
One of the pinnacles on the Sunset Limited’s scenery came immediately after departing New Orleans’s Union Station – traversing the Mighty Mississippi River on the Huey P. Long Bridge. I hear that driving it is quite the feat as the lanes are as wide as Prague’s streets and half way thru contains an unexpected bend.
Huey P. Long is the famed former Governor and Senator from Louisiana. As a stepping stone, he was elected chairman of Louisiana’s Railroad Commission. As Governor, he was a champion of public works, including roads. Many bridges in the state bear his name, but this the most well known. He is perhaps the only US politico more familiar with the IRS than James A. Traficant, the impeached Ohio Representative now serving time in a Federal Penitentiary for racketeering.
Huey P. Long’s autobiography is titled Ever Man a King after his gubernatorial campaign slogan.
The view from this bridge is fit for a king. Probably the highest point in the state of Louisiana.
Amtrak station in small Schriever, Louisiana
Crossing a draw bridge in rural south Louisiana
The Superliner’s sightseeing car
Cruising down the tracks in rural Louisiana
The first stop was small Schriever in the Mississippi River delta. The train stopped for no more than 90 seconds. No one go off, no one got on.
Seated next to me was a very courteous southern gentleman also traveling from the Big Easy to the Bayou City. I nickname him Brut (the aftershave). Seated a few rows behind was a guy that had a bad case of literary gonorrhea, too.
I proceeded to the sightseeing lounge as the sugar cane fields became rice patties.
Brut and I went outside in Lafettyte for a nicotine fix. One lady – henceforth known as Wild One - asked us why we have canes. I told her it’s primarily for dueling purposes. She proceeded to tell me about her various addictions, mainly cannabis and a prescription drug named Xanx. She also had an interesting saga that occurred on a flight 4 years ago from ‘North Dakota to Florida.’ Her then-current husband went to visit the lavatory for his nicotine fix. Once he emerged, the ‘stewardess’ yelled at him threatening jail time and a stiff fine. I strongly suggested she not relate herself to anyone in the future that is going to smoke anything on an airplane.
The station at Lafayette is renovated very nicely. The entire structure and décor points to an era when trains were king and transportation by air was a wild dream. An era when moving pictures in your house was beyond fathomable – let alone a PTV in the seatback in front of you.
And Amtrak’s Sunset Limited chugged on – rolling by small town America. The Superliner passed countless one-horse towns with distinct Main Streets identified by their water tower and the saga of its passengers continued.
Lafayette Regional Airport – Coex E-145 with winglets and a UPS heavy
Wild One and I returned to the sightseeing lounge car and engaged in conversation while downing Bloody Marys and Heinekens. Apparently her attention deficit disorder kicks in with alcohol. While going thru photos on my digital camera, Wild One asked if my dog is male or female after I said “her name is Lady.”
The train tracks abut Interstate 10 periodically, passing an endless stream of eighteen wheelers bringing their goods where they need to go.
Mr. and Mrs. Beaumont were also in the sightseeing car – a young girl dragging her tattoo clad boyfriend to her hometown. He eagerly told me about his stint in an Illinois state penitentiary.
Dining area in café and coach car
The bridge over Prien Lake and the Calicasieu River in Lake Charles. In the bottom right are casino riverboats. In the bulk of the picture, notice a reflection of the Superliner’s windows.
Emergency equipment including a well used sledge hammer
Amtrak’s Sunset Limited sailing off into the sunset
The Sperliner continued to chug through rice patties strewn with acres of oil drilling equipment. Crop dusters were visible making spectacular 180 degree turns.
Wild One eagerly anticipated the next stop so she could smoke her joint. [I saw it]
Jitter the chatterbox was on his third Vietnam rant of the journey. I can’t possibly fathom how he served much time given he was born in 1958 according to an earlier monologue.
Another interesting character on this train odyssey was the cowboy hat clad Queen Memento. She was also in for the long haul, returning from Florida to her hometown of Sacramento, California. Her 53 rings more than likely prohibited her from flying. Could you even imagine what the TSA would do to her at the security checkpoint? She claims she is not scared of flying, just doesn’t want to.
Through her dark sunglasses – even though nightfall had come – she told me the story behind her 53 rings. Pretty interesting.
Her jewel encrusted 3” dragon dangling around her neck and numerous bracelets told less a less violent spectacle. I’d snap a picture of just her hands to show the 53 rings but I’d know it’d get shot around the internet before the next equinox.
Mr. and Mrs. Beaumont were busy in their seat trying to join the mile long club (as opposed to the mile high club).
I mentioned to Wild One that Beaumont’s sister city, Port Arthur is the birthplace of Janis Joplin. She made me think that Janis Joplin’s drug abuse and subsequent fatal overdose made her an idol.
At the Beaumont stop, private autos are able to drive right up to the train. I am told this is an unmanned station.
I noticed some teens jumped on, then got off once the train departed. I wondered what they were doing. Perhaps this was The Great Train Robbery – East Texas style.
Ma and Pa Texan were seated in front of me. Ma Texan cracked a joke about Moon Pies and RC Cola. At least I thought it was a joke until she started passing out banana flavored Moon Pies. Seriously. Nothing like the taste of Yellow #5.
About 15 minutes shy of the Houston station, we stopped. The conductor announced we are awaiting passing freight train traffic on Union Pacific owned tracks. And 15 minutes came and went. So did 30 minutes, as did 45 minutes. After a few more announcements of the same type, we were under way a full 1 hour and 45 minutes.
Jitter the chatterbox kicked into full overload during this delay. Brut and I grew incensed at this. Brut went to the café in pursuit of alcohol. I went to search for Wild One and her joint.
Jitter’s topics entered the grotesque. He was describing a catheter during his many surgeries.
I was a pretty brazen character before my medical scare last year and before he stooped to this point, I probably would have told him to shut up with a few choice 4 letter words. But this did it.
I stood up and looked at him and said, “Did you find the shoes to match the bag” in response to his catheter story.
He didn’t get it. But several sitting around him did.
And the train pulled into the Houston station, just shy of two hours late. I am told this is as close to ‘on-time’ as the Sunset Limited is going to get.
The Houston station is rather small, with wooden pews (the kind in a court room or church).
A pint sized lady stepped off and retrieved 3 pints of Blue Bell ice cream from the vending machine. That’s a novel idea, stocking a vending machine with Blue Bell ice cream.
I noticed the train quickly develops a society. It seemed a soap opera to me given everyone had drug problems, odd habits, mental issues, etcetera.
Ma and Pa Texan departed in a Dodge 3500 Cummins diesel dually as the train took off from the station with the omni present horn blaring.
I would like to thank profusely my hosts, Tom in NO and MSYtristar. And I highly suggest to anyone to take an Amtrak trip. You never know who or what you’ll meet.