Sunday, November 23, 2014

Trains and Buses

Unlike so many college students today, I did not have a car of my own when I started my studies. That was not a really big deal because I lived on campus in a dorm or in an apartment across the street from campus. But it was interesting going home at break times. There was a lot of distance between home in Jacksonville, Florida and school in Columbia South Carolina. There were two basic choices, bus or train.

This was back in the day before the interstate system was built so the buses of the day were bound to the two lane highway system. The bus route ran from Columbia down US 321 to Savannah Georgia then US 17 to Jacksonville. There was no express route, everything was a “milk run” that stopped at every town on the route: Norway, Denmark, Olar and Switzerland were all stops before one got to Savannah. No, I was not on an international magic bus: those are real town names in South Carolina. The good thing was that there was no transfer in Savannah so I could keep my favorite seat on the front row on the right side so I could see where we were going. Once on US 17, things got worse, not better. If you look at a map of southern Georgia, you can see what I mean; highway 17 meanders back and forth across the Georgia low country from Darien to Brunswick to White Oak to Woodbine to Kingsland and yes, a stop at each one of these communities. It took two and a half hours to drive between Brunswick and Jacksonville, a distance now managed in 45 minutes on I-95. Columbia to Jacksonville, 8 hours!

Conversely, the train traveled more directly with a stop only in Savannah. Total trip time was usually 6 to 6 ½ hours. The down side was that the train left Columbia at 2 AM. Actually, that worked pretty well in that I arrived at Union Station at 8 AM, a reasonable time for my parents to pick me up. Another good thing was that the train station was closer to my dorm than the bus station, easily within walking distance. The cream on the top was that the train was never at capacity so quite often I could stretch out across two seats and catnap my way home. That is, unless there was a pretty girl who wanted to talk all night and then I didn’t mind the loss sleep of at all.

There were only four times during the school year that we had enough time to go home: Thanksgiving, Christmas, semester break and Easter. So Thanksgiving was the first break from studies and I eagerly boarded the train for a few days away from my studies. I would board the car and immediately be surrounded by the ambiance of train travel. There is a certain odor, a cache’ if you will, to riding a train; the smell of the axle grease and diesel fuel. Even in recent years catching a commuter train out of New York, I still smell the train and it immediately took me back to those exciting trips back in the day.

I think train travel must have an affinity with my family. I just saw a Facebook posting from Peggy Glass Holland, from my mother’s side of the family, showing her and her husband at the Amtrak station here. They were up here for the football game. Those of you who are Gamecocks may remember that she and her twin sister Laura were basketball players on the Lady Gamecocks team a few years ago. Peggy’s picture looks as if it could have been taken at the old station but it is the new one, just a few blocks further south along the rail from where the old one was. Just how did all this train stuff get into our blood? I think it is because my maternal grandfather was a conductor for the railroad; he was such a company man that their home was only one lot from the railroad track on Atlantic Boulevard. So, I grew up to the sounds and the cache’ of both steam and diesel trains.

So no matter how you go home for Thanksgiving, or even if Thanksgiving is coming to you this year, I wish you and yours the merriest of holidays. And lest we forget, now is the time that the Christmas Season REALLY kicks off. Oh MY!

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