Johnny took a deep breath and settled back into the comfortable cushions of his very own seat aboard the Amtrak train. He smiled happily. This was going to be an experience he'd want to remember forever.
He leaned over and groped around under the seat until he located the flap of his green backpack. From inside, he extracted a pen and the brand new black and white composition notebook his mother had bought him before leaving for their trip. He opened the book and on the inside cover he carefully inscribed; Johnny Washington, Age 10. His hand automatically smoothed the crisp white paper on the opposite page.
With his pen poised thoughtfully on the first of the light blue ruled lines, he watched the countryside roll past his window. Then he began to write.
A friend went on a train once and told me it was lots of fun, especially when it got dark outside and he went to sleep on a moving bed. Mom and Dad suprised me one day after dinner when they said the whole family was taking the train to Grandma and Grandpa's. I was so excited that I couldn't even eat the chocolate pudding Mom had made for dessert.
We left one Saturday morning after breakfast. We drove into town, parking in a lot next to the station. A man helped unload our suitcases, which took up the entire trunk! He put them on a cart that he wheeled next to us as we walked into the station. He gave the bags to another man who said he would put them on the train's baggage car. We could pick them up the next day when we arrived.
We looked around the station, which was really big. It reminded me of a church, for it had high ceilings and tall windows along the side. Mom picked out a magazine inside a store and she bought me a pack of Lifesavers. Then we heard an announcement over the loudspeaker; a booming voice said our train was ready to board.
We walked through a tunnel with shiny floors, then up a stairway. It ended on a platform right next to the train. The cars were bright, silvery steel, with a red, white and blue stripes on the side. There were two rows of windows one above the other. One car even had windows that wrapped into the roof. My Dad said it was a lounge car, where people talked and looked at the passing scenery.
We walked to the front of the train to the sleeping cars. We stepped aboard the first one, where a nice woman dressed in blue shook my hand and showed us to our compartment. We went up winding stairs to get there. It was a two level car, she explained. Then I began to explore. She said we had to stay in our compartment until the conducter came for our tickets, but that was okay with me, since there was lots to see inside the room. There were two beds, one which folded into the wall above the sofa, and a bathroom, which seemed pretty small. There was even a shower. I told Mom I wanted to take one later. She laughed and said that was the first time she had heard me say I wanted to take a shower!
The conducter came to our compartment a few minutes later. He took our tickets and told us the lounge car right next door was open and that they would serve lunch in the diner in two hours. I smiled at Mom as he said it. We walked to the lounge car as the train started to move. I could hardly tell at first, but the noise was loud and the floor moved as we walked between the cars. The three of us sat at a table. I was next to the window, and the waiter brought cups of coffee to my Mom and Dad and a glass of orange juice for me. He said that a showing of a Walt Disney movie was about to begin downstairs. I asked Mom and Dad if I could go, and they said "Sure."
I sat in the downstairs area quite awhile. There were others, too. We ate popcorn and drank soft drinks. It was fun! Later, Mom and Dad came down and said it was time to eat.
The dining car was a new experience. There was a flower on the table, and our train was going right next to the blue ocean. People waved at us as they played in the water. The car rocked back and forth and the rails clicked and clacked beneath us, but no milk spilled from my glass. The hamburger I ate was good, too.
I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering between our compartment and the lounge car. I liked our compartment, 'cause Dad pulled down the upper bunk and let me play up there. There were lots of coat hooks that folded out of the wall, and I hung things from them all. Later, I played checkers with Dad. He's not a very good player --- I almost always won.
That evening after dinner, the sky began to darken and the uniformed lady asked if she could make up our beds for the night. My parents went to the lounge car as she did this, but I stayed to watch. She made the sofa into a cushiony bed and rearranged the blankets on the berth above. I told her that one was mine. She smiled and placed a chocolate mint candy on the fluffy pillow.
When I climbed in, the night had become dark. We couldn't see much outside anymore, since there was no light. I turned on a night light above my bed, so I could read. I looked at a comic book, but it only took a few minutes for my eyelids to get heavy. So I turned out the light and went to sleep.
The next morning the sun was shining and there were green pine trees all around. We ate breakfast in the dining car, where the chef made me a pancake with a smiling face on it. Two strips of bacon made the mouth and strawberries made the nose and eyes. It looked funny, but tasted good! I ate his eyes first.
Before I knew it, Dad said we would pull into Portland in 30 minutes. I couldn't believe it---- our trip was almost over. We said goodby to the smiling lady. She gave us all Amtrak mugs to remember our trip.
When we slowed to a stop at the station, Grandma and Grandpa were waiting for us. They hugged us and asked if we had a good trip. I said that we sure did. The train stayed in the station for only five minutes or so, and I sadly waved goodby when it left. I walked away, holding my Mom's hand.
Our baggage was there, just like the man had told us it would be. I had fun at Grandma and Grandpa's house, but soon our visit was over. We flew home on a plane. That was fun too, but the train was better. I even used my mug on the airplane. I thought I saw a train winding along the ground below when I looked out the window, but it was far away.
I asked Dad if we could take the train again the next time we visit Grandma and Grandpa. He said we could.
I'll keep reminding him so he doesn't forget.
A grown-up Johnny Washington, father of four was still kneeling on the floor of the garage, next to an open cardboard box , the dusty little black and white composition book open in his hands, when he heard his wife calling him to Sunday dinner. He gently placed the book back inside the weathered box. Folding the cardboard flaps over, he carefully taped it shut. The movers would be coming early.
Although there was really nothing breakable inside, with a red marker he wrote the word "FRAGILE" across the top and sides of the box before standing, a bit stiffly, and dusting off his knees .
As he turned and headed towards the scent of pot roast and the sound of laughing children, he smiled to himself, thinking of his childhood notebook.
You can never be too careful with a time machine, he reasoned.
Courtesy of Benn Coifman
About the author:
Chuck Wullenjohn is a civilian Public Affairs Specialist with
the U.S. Army and is an evening college political science instructor and freelance
writer in his spare time. He mostly has written historical, travel or personal
profile articles in the past, and has been published in numerous magazines and
newspapers. He enjoys children, coming from a large household himself, and looks
forward to weekend trips he can take with his wife and daughter. And he
enjoys train travel!
Send Mail to Author: Chuck Wullenjohn