Thursday, December 16, 2010

City of New Orleans

Good morning America how are you?
Don't you know me I'm your native son,
I'm the train they call The City of New Orleans,
I'll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done.

Dealin' card games with the old men in the club car.
Penny a point ain't no one keepin' score.
Pass the paper bag that holds the bottle
Feel the wheels rumblin' 'neath the floor.
And the sons of pullman porters
And the sons of engineers
Ride their father's magic carpets made of steel.
Mothers with their babes asleep,
Are rockin' to the gentle beat
And the rhythm of the rails is all they feel.

I never heard Arlo Guthrie sing Steve Goodman's immortal lyrics, but after the first of the year the Lady Friend and I will do the next best thing: we'll experience them by riding Amtrak's version of the City of New Orleans.

Our trip will be just a 19-hour, 934-mile overnight joyride for a couple of days in New Orleans. We'll enjoy coffee and beignets at the Morning Call, po'boys for lunch and Cajun cuisine for dinner, and we'll exercise our cameras in the Vieux Carre. Then we'll return to Chicago on the northbound CONO.

It'll be our first trip on Numbers 58 and 59, although both of us have ridden the Chicago-to-West-Coast trains, especially Nos. 5 and 6 (the California Zephyr) countless times.

As Amtrak hardware the CONO is nothing special -- several double-deck Superliners and one P42 engine, same as everywhere else except the East Coast, where single-level trains must run. There's one difference: the on-board cuisine is said to have a distinct Cajun flavor -- bread pudding and redbeans and rice, for instance. I'm a sucker for both.

The last three times I've ridden a long-distance Amtrak train, the on-board experience has been much better than it was in the early 2000s. The once spotty dining-car cuisine has improved to reliable American-Road-Food standards, and seemingly the service crews have been to both efficiency and charm schools.

Afterward I'll of course post a full report for the civilized travelers among you.


  1. Be sure to have a shrimp bo' boy for me , Henry

  2. I think I wore the powdered sugar for a couple of days after eating the beignets! You can't eat just one! Never ridden the CONO (only the Crescent Birmingham to/from NOLA), but used to play the song when I did a radio show, and have sung it innumerable times in jam sessions! One of these I hope to ride it. RIP, Steve Goodman.

  3. Willie Nelson's recording of the song is superb. And, if you have time, visit the D-Day Museum. Wonderful experience, especially for folks of our vintage.

  4. Looking forward to your coments.....I start my journey on CONO next Thursday....Have a Muffelatta at the Central Market on Decateur St.

  5. ... and a couple of hurricanes at Pat O'Brien's for me.

  6. I agree about the D-Day museum. I was in NOLA in August the year before Katrina (try to find a copy of the movie "Hurricane on the Bayou" filmed both before, during, and after Katrina). I also did a walking tour of one of the smaller cities of the dead - fascinating. And there's a small but interesting pharmacy museum maybe a block from Jackson Square.