Sunday, September 7, 2008

Day Four, Part One -- Take Me Home Country Road

The New River Gorge Bridge, West Virginia

Our Trailways bus arrived in Indianapolis at about midnight. We disembarked and walked through the train station, past a concession stand, and up some stairs to the train whose departure we had missed in Chicago. Friendly conductors hustled us onto the train, families with children and individuals with special needs first. When I finally got on, there were not so many seats left. There was an empty one beside a well-dressed teenage boy, but in the seats directly in front of him were an older woman next to another teenage boy who was dressed in Goth black and chains. I had seen both of these people on the other train – and knew they were not traveling together.

Being as old as I am, I pulled ranked on the Goth. I leaned over him and suggested firmly that he sit in the seat in back and that I sit where he had been sitting, next to the older woman. He said, “Ok,” and got right up as if he knew better than to resist.

For me, it turns out that was a good move. I never caught this woman’s name, but when we both awoke the next morning, in the hills of West Virginia and alongside the New River, I found out that she had been living and working in Hawaii doing social work with foster children for many years. Recently, she had retired, and she and her daughter had returned together to her family’s native Nebraska to care for her elderly father. She was a quilter and told me that she and her social worker co-workers in Hawaii had given a quilt to every child in their care. She had also recently been involved in the Hillary Clinton campaign, but had resigned herself to the Democratic Party nomination of Barack Obama for president. He would win, she thought, if they didn’t kill him first, as they had Mel Carnahan and Paul Wellstone ...

The train in West Virginia traveled through the Appalachian Mountains, alongside the New River, through Charleston, Montgomery, Prince, and a number of other small, anonymous towns. The mountains – long and verdant – were similar to the ones in which I had grown up in Pennsylvania. But the New River valley through which we traveled was narrower and deeper than anything from the part of Pennsylvania that I come from. In fact, there was some kind of tour guide or train buff then aboard making announcements and pointing out sights of interest.

We were in coal mining country, and at one point we passed the West Virginia University Institute of Technology. Not long after that, the guide told us to look outside and up quickly – so that we could get a view of the New River Gorge Bridge. Again, it passed by us so quickly that I did not have time to take a picture. But it’s the same bridge as the one pictured on the quarter for the state of West Virginia.

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