Mardi Gras, Many Moons and a Week Ago (Part One)

The first year or two I worked for my previous employer, I was irritated by a seeming disparity: the morning, mid-day, and afternoon drive announcers were occasionally called upon to host a ski trip or Caribbean dive junket.  Somehow, the night guy–yours truly–always missed out on these.

It didn’t bother me that much, honestly: I neither ski nor dive, and I don’t like crowds of strangers, but it would have been nice if they’d asked, right?

Along came one January, and I was finally given my free trip/hosting gig: the Beck’s Bier Mardi Gras Express.  A travel agency had put together my dream trip.  We’d ride the Amtrak Sunset Limited from Orlando to New Orleans.  On board, we had our own sleeper compartments and two-level lounge car.  The company had its problems–they couldn’t nail down accomodations in New Orleans, for one thing–and sales were slow.  Nonetheless, the week came, and I packed one little bag: toothbrush, a couple changes of clothes, Xanax (just in case), Prozac, 800 mg Motrins, money, etc.  I put on my best Nike mid-hightops and a pair of jeans, and I was off to the Tampa Amtrak station.

I should mention that I was going stag.  I was just starting to date the Devil-Bitch, and I was unable to locate Crazy Susan.  I was a little bummed about this at the time–I didn’t know a soul on the trip–but it worked out okay.

LJ, the sales rep handling the travel agency, had procured a huge bag of Mardi Gras beads for me to take.  Thus, with my personal bag and my treat sack, I was ready to go.

The Tampa Amtrak station is in a part of town you’re safest traversing on a train.  Amtrak didn’t even have that much faith in it.  The first leg of our trip was on an Amtrak bus.  I could have driven to the Orlando/Sanford train station in an hour, maybe 90 minutes.  On the bus, it took us three hours.  We made several stops en route, picking up fellow partygoers from Lakeland, Plant City, and Lord only knows where else.  At one stop, we picked up a father-son team of revelers, named Dick and Rich.  Dick, the father, was what could only be described as a dirty old man, God love him.  Rich was in his forties, and a nice guy.  They both were.  They were also my only listeners on the trip.  Oh, well.

Anyway, they brought with them two large thermoses filled with White Russians, and a stack of plastic cups.  We denizens of the last three rows began our Mardi Gras in some Plant City gas station’s parking lot.  As we drew nearer our train, we got louder and more boisterous.  I gave my new group of friends some starter beads, and the bus driver yelled at us to stop cussing.

Finally, we got to the train station.  I guess I’d been expecting Grand Central Station, or the Paris train depot from Casablanca, but this was basically a shack with a platform.  We found our car, found our compartments, then the train pulled away leaving our flat Central Florida reality behind.

Jack and April, a young couple from Lakeland, brought a fifth of Aftershock, which they began sharing as soon as the train started moving.  At dinner, I was seated with Maria, whose husband Rob was taking a nap, and a couple who were arguing.   I don’t remember their names.  I do remember the filet mignon medallions marsala were spectacular.  Train food proved to be very good the entire trip.  Thumbs up to Amtrak for that one.

Then it was off to the lounge car, a loud, smoky den.  A DJ from the Miami station played classic rock and dance songs, and there were coolers of Beck’s Bier everywhere.  I met the trip director from the agency, and noticed she had a red plastic cup.  Hmm.  “What are you drinking?” “Vodka and cranberry.” “Where did you get it?” “Downstairs in the bar.”

THE BAR!! Woo-hoo!

I climbed down the narrow staircase, and there was a small bar with Charles Durning mixing drinks.

Okay, it wasn’t really Charles Durning, but it could’ve been his younger brother.  Turns out drinks were free.  I ordered an octuple Smirnoff, rocks, with olives, and he dutifully poured eight little airplane bottles into a red cup for me.  Hooray for Charles Durning!

I made many trips up and down the stairs that night.  During the “kick-off party” upstairs, we played silly games, and I got to know some of my fellow travelers.  As midnight came and went, some folks went off to sleep.  Not me.  I had slept till 2pm, so I was just getting started.  Eventually, it was just Rich, the girl from the agency, a biker guy, and his skanky girlfriend.  We were sittling, slurring about nothing, and enjoying the ride, when skanko decided she wanted to dance.  The biker wouldn’t, nor would Rich.  She came up to me next.  I don’t dance, I told her.  She pulled up her shirt, revealing surgically enhanced breasts.  “Now will you dance with me?”

So we’re dancing, and she’s wobbling all over the place.  In an effort to maximize boob contact and minimize unnecessary motion, I picked her up.  She loved that.  She laughed and wiggled.  This wiggling, combined with the shaking motion of the train (and my vodka-adjusted balance), caused me to fall ass-over-teakettle over a row of seats, and crash into the wall.  She bumped her head (which was certainly not her most active part), and I got the muthah of all ankle sprains.  Ouch.  She was okay, and I was able to collect my beverage and limp back to my compartment.

I took a Motrin, and chased it with some Diet Coke.  I don’t think I ever actually got to sleep.  I wandered in to breakfast, and it was a ragged looking group, except for Dick, who’d gone to bed early, passed out, and gotten some rest.  He looked like Peter O’Toole, only shorter and less regal.  Somebody quickly discovered that the bar was reopened at 8AM, so we gathered for hair-of-the-dog drinks.  Sadly, all the vodka was gone, so I enjoyed a nice Jim Beam and water as we rolled through Alabama and Mississippi, then onto the final approach to The Big Easy.


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13 Responses to “Mardi Gras, Many Moons and a Week Ago (Part One)”

  1. Hahaha. Can't wait for Part 2. Isn't it just so much fun to think about all the weirdos we've encountered in the past? I think my life is much the richer for them. Free boobage must be a plus, eh? 😀

  2. Thing is, LC, I wonder how many people look back and remember ME as one of their encountered weirdos. lol Probably thousands of them.

  3. Isn't that a good thing? Quote from Dilbert: Everyone is someone else's weirdo. Heh. I'd rather be remembered as a weirdo than very easily forgotten…

  4. I wonder if I'm someone else's Devil-Bitch. I hope not.

  5. That's the best way to injure an ankle, ever.

  6. Thanks. Wanna go train dancing sometime? 😉

  7. I can't wait for part 2!!
    As much as I love reading about the entertaining happenings of your past, I would LOVE to read someone else's story about YOU. I don't know you, obviously, but you definitely seem like the kind of fella that people would remember, and tell stories about.

  8. Seriously Tom, you should write screenplays about your life… I'd pay to see every movie. Channelling an unholy mashup of Tom Robbins, Chuck Lorre, and Jack Kerouac… your stories are always entertaining and colourful. I can't wait for the next installment 😉

  9. all the vodka was gone? damn. that's nuts. hehe.i would say that the sprained ankle was TOTALLY worth it. 😀

  10. Frankly, I would fancy more stories involving the Devil Bitch. Said topic combined with your writing style I think I would find it HIGHLY entertaining. LMAO! Ps- Monty Python and that particular song..Epic Win..well except for the parent part. hahaha.
    PPs- I'm a tad jealous because I've never been to New Orleans and/or ever experienced their food..well obviously- lol. Do tell more though.. ")
    OH! But I have expierenced Amtrak before and the Chunnel! The lounge car is a good time indeed. 😉

  11. This is so fun, tom!It's good to have had "adventures" to look back on, innit? :DIt's SO fun to read your stories.

  12. I just wish I could remember more of my adventures. lolGlad you liked it.

  13. an unholy mashup of Tom Robbins, Chuck Lorre, and Jack KerouacThanks. I love all three of them, and I like the "unholy mashup" part. lol Have a good weekend.

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