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Riding on the City of New Orleans


Here's a little piece of trivia for you music-lovers out there:Who was the first person to record Steve Goodman's "City of New Orleans"?(Hint: It wasn't Arlo Guthrie.)It's amazing what a clip of music can do. Whenever I hear a certain version of "City of New Orleans" I can feel the train wheels rolling beneath the floor, feel the jerk of the car that eventualy lulled me to sleep. I remember how it felt to walk between the train cars and how at first it seemed like a sudden lurch might toss me into someone's lap! I can see sunset all awash with pinks and lavenders in Chicago, the stop in Kankakee, morning in Memphis, the cotton fields of Mississippi and the swampy ground alongside the Pontchartrain.I took a train trip to New Orleans in early June of 2005, just months before Katrina. We took the Southwest Chief to Chicago--my mother and brother, Mark, and I--from the dank and deserted Lawrence depot. There, I was delighted (and also bruised from tumbling down the busy escalator with my suitcase) to find that the train heading south really WAS The City of New Orleans. No kidding. For two nights and a day and a half, as our train rolled south, I heard Willie Nelson singing "City of New Orleans" in my head. As we passed the cotton fields, Mother kept singing over and over, "I never picked cotton..."It was a marvelous trip, in spite of a few flaws. For instance, the train to Chicago ran out of food in the club car. Mark and I split a muffin for lunch. We heard the same movie about six times in the lounge. ( Who needs a movie when you've got such scenery, I wondered?) On the last leg of the journey home, we half wondered if they'd stop the train for us here in Lawrence. Or would they simply boot us out the door as the train slowed for a curve? These weren't flaws, really. They're something to look back on a laugh overm just as much as our days in New Orleans.So I was thrilled to read in the paper of Amtraks proposal to expand services south. It'd be great if we could all see this country by train. We need to use our rails again. But first of all, they do need to be more efficient. And our depot does need a lot of attention. (When we set out, we weren't even sure if we were in the right place. The place was so dark, so empty.)I hope the Kansas Legislature will support this plan!By the way...Any guesses on the trivia question? I'll be in later with the answer.


Ronda Miller 10 years, 4 months ago

I know John Denver did it also. Very interesting post, Sarah. I am with you when it comes to trains. They are a great way to relax while traveling and if you are traveling with friends and family, well, the party has already started.

I haven't taken the train on as long a trip as you have, but I took the train a couple of times from Lawrence into New Mexico. Riding in the glass car through the Colorado mountains is delightful. We could see the front and back of the train at the same time going around curves. We played a lot of cribbage, slept a lot, visited and met new friends. Travel by trains is good!

Linda Hanney 10 years, 4 months ago

When I think of that song, I hear Willie Nelson sing it in my head. However, I also have an old album with Judy Collins that I love. I have traveled on the train a couple of times and love it. My earliest memory is riding the KATY from Junction City to Skiddy. (Yes, it's in Kansas and there was a train depot).

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 10 years, 4 months ago

I had the privilege of seeing Steve Goodman and John Prine in concert together before Steve's untimely death. It was a stupendous concert.

Sarah Posch 10 years, 3 months ago

I stand corrected. I'm glad to learn so much more from you all about this song. John Denver was the first to COVER Steve Goodman's "City of New Orleans." Somehow, I favor the live version, where he forgot some of the words.

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