On the midnight train to New Orleans

Published 9:03 pm Friday, January 19, 2018

It wasn’t exactly the midnight train to Georgia.

It’s more like a midnight train to nowhere.

At least, for now.

I’m sure you have met the passenger we’re about to tell you about somewhere along the way. Oh, not the exact same one, but one very similar.

He’s the man who makes you thankful for the things you have and sorry that that man could not seem to find it.

Some time ago, on a cold winter night much like we’re having now, my big brother Wayne and I took the train to downtown Dallas to watch a high school basketball game. When we boarded the train and plopped in our seats to head back home, we saw him.

He was a pretty ordinary looking guy, as ordinary as you get on the train that late at night.

As I sat in a seat facing the fella, he looked fifty, but it turned out he was only thirty-something. It kind of hit me hard when I realized he was quite a bit younger than me.

He had sandy hair and a three or four-day old beard, and he had a hard life written all over him.

By the time the train started pulling out to head toward Fort Worth, we had started a conversation with the man. Actually, Wayne started the conversation. He’ll talk to anybody, even before I will. The man’s story didn’t surprise me.

He had just gotten out of jail that night. He had gotten picked up on some long-time traffic violation that he couldn’t pay.

He had no home, was just heading to Fort Worth to spend the night at a homeless shelter.

He was a bricklayer by trade, but because he had no tools, his most recent job was laboring until he could afford to buy his tools. Knowing that trade myself, I was able to pick up that he had a pretty good knowledge of bricklaying.

He hoped to hook up the next day with a bricklaying outfit he used to work for in Fort Worth.

He was not married, but he had been at one time. His ex-wife lived in New Orleans.

“Do you have any kids?” I asked, almost afraid of the answer.

“One,” he said, “I have a daughter who’s 13. She lives in New Orleans with her mama.  I haven’t seen her in a year and a half.”

“That’s tough,” I said, and I couldn’t help but grimace as I spoke.

The train seemed to agree. Just about that time I said “That’s tough,” it screeched its brakes and slowed down to a crawl. It had neared the end of the line.

“Let me tell you what I’d do, for what it’s worth,” I said, the train crawling the last hundred yards to the depot.

“They have brick jobs in New Orleans just the same as they do in Fort Worth. I think I’d find the first train to New Orleans and get aboard and do whatever it takes to get to know my little girl.”

“Yeah,” he said, “that wouldn’t be a bad thing to do.”

The train came to a halt, its signal that our visit was finished. We headed for the door and Wayne turned around, pulled out five dollars and gave it to the man.

I just said, “Don’t forget New Orleans, now.”

He nodded his head.

Outside in the cold drizzle, we watched the train pull away, carrying our new friend.

I don’t know how many stops that train will make.

But one day when it screeches its brakes and hits its whistle, I’m hoping our friend will hear through the window that long-awaited sound I know he’s longing to hear — the sweet sound of New Orleans’ jazz, ringing from the depot.

Steven Ray Bowen is a former Granger who lives and writes in Red Oak, Texas.