Aug 18, 2023
Last week I danced in front of a train to try to get it to move.
Trains have always held great symbolic meaning. They represent the future, a new destination, an opportunity. In movies, the characters board trains in the hopes of greater things down the tracks. Lovers tearfully depart at train stations. Though tragic it’s what’s best for each of them. Bandits of the wild west knew there was a strong box on a train full of money. Convicts break out of jail and if they can make it to the train it will take them away from the misery of prison.
Songs, too. The Midnight Special. Midnight Train to Georgia. Folsom Prison Blues. People Get Ready. Downbound Train by Bruce Springsteen. Lots of train songs. Lots of them. Trains are a metaphor. They represent a passage. A transition. A breakthrough, though that breakthrough is often difficult.
A transition, a passage, and a breakthrough was anything but the case two Thursdays ago here in Mobile. Our GulfQuest Museum invited me to give a speech called The Stories Behind Keepin’ It Real. They wanted the stories behind my most popular commentaries. The stories behind the commentaries most difficult to write. And I offered to play the commentaries and tell the stories behind the ones that never were allowed to broadcast. The ones that were veto’d and blackballed.
Having never given this speech, I was nervous. What would I say? How would it go? I love writing and recording these things, but a formal presentation about them? I was nervous. Excited. Very excited. But also very nervous.
And rolling into the GulfQuest Museum early to get set up I was greeted with…a train. Blocking the tracks. And cars beginning to pile up at the train crossing waiting, like me, to get in. In the cars were my audience. They waited patiently, avoiding the brutal heat by sitting in their cars in the AC. I called the train company to ask them to move the train. “Ok,” the CSX dispatcher said. “Any minute now.” We all waited. I went to the federal transportation bureau website and submitted a form asking them to move the train. Nothing. I called back to CSX about their train. “Any minute now,” they said again. I danced in the tracks in front of the train to try to get the conductor’s attention. I called CSX a third time. Nothing.
I began walking to the waiting cars to assure them they wouldn’t be late to the speech and they wouldn’t miss the speaker because I was the speaker. I begged them to wait. Don’t give up hope. The train will move eventually. Because there is nothing worse than giving a speech to one or two people in a nearly empty auditorium. It’s humiliating. And nervous as I was, I knew an auditorium with some people was better than a nearly empty one.
About forty minutes later, the train slowly rolled away. The speech went well. You can find it on the GulfQuest YouTube page.
At one point I was excited about Amtrak returning to Mobile. Now I hope I never ever see another train.
I’m Cam Marston and I’m just trying to Keep it Real.