It was the summer of 2006 the first time we attempted a trip to New Orleans. We had no real reason to go other than to take the train that went in that direction.
The plan was to take the train (a first for all of us) and then rent a van to drive to our final vacation destination of Gulf Shores Alabama. We loved going there. This would be our second trip to the same area. White sandy beaches, sunshine. And a week of relaxation. We could hardly wait.
Our first order of business was to drive a couple hours north to get to the nearest Amtrak station. We prepared to the nth degree for a fool proof trip.
A thorough search of the Amtrak website instructed us to have birth certificates for each of the children in addition to their tickets. I was on the phone for weeks getting them for our three newest little ones.
We went shopping for matching t-shirts for our litter of six. I plaited the girls’ hair in matching Pippy Longstocking braids. New insulated lunch bags and water bottles were purchased and filled to the brim with goodies. Each one color coordinated to the child who favored it most.
Bags were packed with requisite beach attire. Sunscreen was purchased in bulk. Swim suits, flip flops, and beach towels were located and labeled with their owner’s name. A dog sitter was found and temporarily moved into our home.
We were prepared for everything. The kids were briefed on proper train etiquette and we mapped out our route from our house to the station. We set alarms. The beach house was reserved and waiting. Nothing could go wrong.
Until one after another, everything did.
The drive to the train station was uneventful but for the funny noise the van was making. It seemed to be running louder than normal somehow. The husband had recently done some car repair. We were sure of his handy work though. We ignored the noise.
We were early to the station by more than an hour. We took a quick tour of the little Illinois town. Dinner was a chain buffet and we dashed into the Wal*mart for a mini field trip. We kept an eye on the time and quickly as possible returned to the station.
It was still dim there. No one but us wandering around. The whole place had the feel of a ghost town. Figuring train station staff would present themselves in due time we explored. Playing photographer, I lined the kidlets up on a wooden bench and snapped their picture.
We were having fun together. Exploring a new place. Anticipating a new adventure. We were ready…or so we thought.
Without warning a door to one side opened up and people started to spill into the space we were occupying. The train had arrived! We gathered up the kids and all our belongings and headed toward the door. The sight we saw outside took our breath away.
The train had emptied itself of the inhabitants who wanted out in Illinois. And left. Our view was of the behemoth sized vehicle racing away from us. In one window was a man with a guitar. I wondered what his music sounded like.
We stood on the platform for a few minutes stunned into silence with what had happened. After months of planning, gathering all the necessary items, paying for tickets, and preparing the kids for what to expect on this new adventure; the travel gods had betrayed us.
There would be no train ride. No memories made as we watched the world speed past us in those big picture windows. We would not get to go to New Orleans and experience a different culture. We were heartbroken. Our daughter cried.
That night, we gathered up our things and left the unmanned train station. Our only option was to drive to our final destination of Fort Morgan, AL to visit the beach; the strange noise of the motor notwithstanding. The Crescent City would have to wait.