Recollections of a Journey Through the Deep South

copyright 1995 by Monte Nordstrom
from issue # 20 - Cosmic Debris Musicians Magazine - Aug '95

I had spent a frantic week in Austin, Texas, taking in all that the SxSW - convention could offer. I continued my journey leaving the conference a day early, taking a bus to San Antonio. This was necessary in order to connect with the train, en route to New Orleans, my next destination. This train, called the "Sunset Limited", travels coast to coast, from Los Angeles to Jacksonville, Florida and back every two days. This is also the headliner that plunged off a collapsed bridge into an Alabama Bayou just a month later.

The connecting bus ride to San Antonio was an experience in itself. It was a Mexican encounter with Los Ninos climbing on my lap, mamacitas scolding the more rambunctious ones and old folk emcumbered by the burden of years and heavy bags, bringing treasures to family in the south.

I arrived in San Antonio to a spectacular rosy sunset. I caught a cab to my hotel, stopping enroute at a liquor store for tequila. I had been nonplussed during my stay in Austin to find that hard liquor outlets are relatively scarce, despite the Texans' legendary prowess for drinking.

I asked my driver to take me by the Alamo. The actual structure of the Alamo is surprisingly small opposed to it's mythic proportions in American history. It is impressive nonetheless. The city surrounds the old Spanish mission with a bustling fervor. An aerial view approximated by a map reveals a similarity to the spokes of a broken wagon wheel. Bridges crisscross the meandering Oxbow River which bisects the dusty metropolis. This oasis city is festive and picturesque with fabulous shops, galleries and cafes, all accessible by river taxi. I had chosen a motel away from the downtown core to be closer to the train station and following a brief tour, I checked in.

Later, after relaxing for the first time in a week, I walked a couple of blocks to a tejano restaurant called "El Asador", to sample local cuisine. There I enjoyed a mouth watering meal of authentic El Norte cuisine and Cervesa. Adjoining the restaurant was a disco where I was treated to an evening of hot fandangos, watching strutting senors and sulky senoritas whirling the night away. Muy Bueno!

Eventually I retired to my room and awoke before dawn to catch the morning train. As I waited for my cab outside the lobby I was approached by a villainous looking character with whom I avoided eye contact. He slunk off around the corner and when he reappeared coming from the other direction, I bolted into the lobby with all the hairs on my neck doing the cha cha. Travel Rule (# 29-B): never wait outside at night - you are the bait.

My cab arrived and I moved on to the station to catch the train which ended up leaving over two hours late. I settled in to my seat and was presently joined by a man wearing black and a clerical collar. His nose was packed with tissue and he didn't appear to be amused by the tardy departure either. I thought that this fourteen hour leg of the trip could be rather tedious but as it turned out, this nasally impaired priest was off to take over a diocese in Birmingham. His dry sense of humour made the long hours drift by with sarcastic wit belying the austere trappings of a prospective bishop. I hoped that his flock would not be too conservative. Later the priest and I ventured into the lounge car where we encountered a genial pair of vacationing ladies travelling from El Paso back to New Orleans. I learned quite a bit about "Nawlins" from these secular sisters who took to referring to the bishop as "his unholiness". Southern repartee, all in good humour.

The trip cross the vast arid oil patch of east Texas was uneventful. This was "coonass" country, named after the Cajun hunters who occasionally were observed to have a recently bagged racoon hanging over their shoulder. I had a ceremonial toast to compadres back home as the train rumbled through "Beaumont", Texas and rolled into the backwaters toward Louisiana. The scenery became more exotic with fields of burnt sugarcane shimmering in the distance. We were rattling along through topography flatter than grits on a griddle, approaching the Bayou country.

Viewing towns and cities from a train you see the backyards of the common folk and witness life from an unpretentious perspective. Crossing the Sabine river, we were now in the state of Lousiana, rolling lazily through Lake Charles, Crowley and Lafayette. I got my first sight of the Mississippi coming into Baton Rouge. Cajun country and the bayous. Witchs' hair hanging from the trees. Home of zydeco, rice and red beans. Night was falling as we snaked past Lake Ponchartrain. Excitement onboard was rising with all the passengers anticipating our arrival in the jewel of the Delta. The languid night was whispering a seductive name which was echoed by the conductors call, "Next stop, New Orleans"!
Note: Monte Nordstrom has produced over 75 demos and has recorded 8 albums to date (Nov '99). He performs regularly at numerous venues on Canada's West Coast.
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