Saturday, March 22, 2014

Riding the Rails

It had been too long since I'd ridden the train.

True, I'd ridden plenty of trains in Italy last year - trains to Florence, Sorrento and Rome - but I hadn't ridden good, old Amtrack since 2000.

A shame for one who enjoys train trips as much as I do.

You see, I despise I-95 north, that soul-sucking stretch of road that gets me to my hometown and beyond. Since I'm one of those people who rarely exceeds the speed limit, I have no place on such a road.

But on the train, I excel. I can delve into the Washington Post and get deeper into my book. I can waste all kinds of time staring out the window and observing the landscape. And I can chat with strangers, always a forte of mine.

Minutes before the train was due to arrive at the station, an announcement was made that it was running behind.

For those of us waiting outside on the platform in the morning sunshine, the news was irrelevant. If you're headed out of town at 11:04 on a Friday morning, it's probably not for business so it's probably not a big deal to be delayed 25 minutes.

Sitting closest to me was a man with thick, dark hair and mustache and after the announcement, he turned and said in a beautifully accented voice, "More time for us to get some sun."

That's the way I was looking at it. He turned out to be South African and on his way home to NYC, so we spent the remaining 24 minutes chatting.

Once the train began pulling in, I looked across the platform and spotted John, one of my Jackson Ward neighbors, up ahead. What are the chances?

It was my first time riding business class although I soon discovered that all the leg room and New York Times in the world can't compare to the quiet car, which will henceforth be my car of choice. Having to listen to the inane phone conversations of a mindless woman behind me soon wore thin.

Beyond that, my interest was divided. One part of me relished the hours to get lost in reading while the other part couldn't resist the changing scenery outside my window.

The initial boredom of suburbia meant I soon got lost in the Post but then I looked up to see fields and farms and we weren't even to Ashland yet.

Going through the center of the universe, I got a bird's eye view of the Caboose wine shop and Ashland Coffee and Tea from a different perspective than any of my visits to them.

I pulled out my book and was back in the 1950s with Elvis before glancing up to see a golden field all but covered in wild turkeys.

Continuing to lumber north toward Fredericksburg, I marveled at how many bodies of water we passed - marshes, ponds, streams, rivers, rarely more than a minute or two without a water view.

Pulling into Fredericksburg, I had a bird's eye view up Caroline Street catching sight of four church spires punctuating the bright blue sky.

It was easier to return to my book once our route got past the Marine base at Quantico and Occoquan marina because the train wound within sight of the dreaded 95 and who really wants to look at that?

Before I knew it, I was at the quaint station being picked up by a friend who had invited me up to help her get organized in her new place.

For her, organization is a challenge she can't master despite a razor sharp mind and a wildly successful six figure career and for me, bringing order from chaos is as natural and effortless as breathing.

So after breathing all over her new apartment in Annapolis, we got cleaned up and on our way to dinner.

She was hoping to introduce me to one of her favorite new restaurants, but I stopped her cold by saying I wanted to go to the riverside dive that served crabs. Off we went to Cantlers.

I don't even want to think about what that place must be like during tourist season because on a cool, Friday night at 9:00, it was 95% full, albeit with locals and regulars.

Our bartender was delightful, a savvy server with a great smile and, like us, a tequila drinker. My friend is a recent convert to tequila and wanted a primer on blanco, reposado and anejo, an easy topic for me expound upon.

"Whoa, this girl knows her stuff," the bartender said. You drink only one spirit for 21 years, you learn a little.

When the guy next to me also ordered Herradura, I commented that our side of the bar was the tequila side.

"This is where the cool kids sit," she said, bringing us a tray of extra large crabs and a basket of hushpuppies.

I have to admit, before my friend first brought me to this place, I'd never eaten hard shell crabs out of season. Yet here we were, eating extra large Louisiana crabs in March and it felt right as rain.

The tequila kept flowing, our hands kept getting messier and all of a sudden, we were out of crabs.

My friend, a regular at this place, had an inspiration. "Do you have any supers?" she inquired about the largest of crustaceans, a size I'd never even heard of.

Sure enough, they weren't listed on the board, but there they came, hot out of the pot and so enormous, so completely beyond any crabs I had ever laid eyes on despite being a crab eater since age five, that I understood when my friend handed me her phone and asked that I take a picture of them.

The claws were just slightly smaller than a lobster's and almost as meaty. They were easily the best and biggest crabs I'd ever eaten, with or without tequila.

By this time, the dining room had cleared out and it was just us and the regulars at the bar, a comfy vibe of people enjoying happy hour that lasted as long as the March madness game did.

The gang to my left was considering organizing a game of Flintstones "Jeopardy."

"Ann Margrock!" the guy next to me called out as a possible answer. Perry Masonry, I said to him. He smiled widely and nodded silently in approval, not a word being necessary to show his pleasure in my memory.

That's nothing. Leonard Bernstone, I could have said.

We left them to their game planning and returned to the town center and her apartment building, going up to the rooftop terraces with an Anna Nalick soundtrack playing to admire the twinkling views of Annapolis' state capital and the Bay bridge beyond it.

Sing if you understand
and breathe, just breathe

It's wonderful how effortlessly the train gets me to some place so different than my place.

You don't even have to be a cool kid to ride it.

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