Regina G Beach

The only constant is change.

Night Train Cairo to Luxor

Steve Goodman’s 1971 song City of New Orleans has always been one of my favorites. I’m partial to the Arlo Guthrie cover myself.

Good morning America how are you?

Don't you know me I'm your native son

I'm the train they call The City of New Orleans

I'll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done

The Cairo train station is fancy.

The Cairo train station is fancy.

Aside from municipal subways, I’ve really only ridden one train any distance in the US. The South Shore Line runs between Millennium Station in Chicago, Illinois and the South Bend Airport in Indiana. I took it once to visit my aunt and uncle who live in Elkhart. The ride was only a few hours and I stared out the window for most of the it. The rail line goes through the south side industrial lands then through neighborhoods, rural land and small town on the way out of the windy city into Indiana.

Riding on the City of New Orleans

Illinois Central Monday morning rail

Fifteen cars and fifteen restless riders

Three conductors and twenty-five sacks of mail

I feel a strange nostalgia for rail travel in America. People still ride Amtrak cross country, but it’s often just as expensive as flying. I’m not sure when the golden age of the railroad was but I always think of the Pullman porters tending to the wealthy in the fancy cars leased to the rail companies. They were made on the far south side of Chicago in what was at the time the company town and is now the Pullman neighborhood. I adopted a kitten that was found in the neighborhood and I named her Morty for George Mortimer Pullman. I had to give her up when my traveling life meant I no longer had an apartment of my own but I thought of her fondly on my most recent rail journey.

All along the southbound odyssey

The train pulls out at Kankakee

Rolls along past houses, farms and fields

Passin' trains that have no names

Freight yards full of old black men

And the graveyards of the rusted automobiles

This model of the Cairo rail station makes parking look orderly and easy to understandable. It’s not. Cairo traffic is a nightmare.

This model of the Cairo rail station makes parking look orderly and easy to understandable. It’s not. Cairo traffic is a nightmare.

There are a few ways to travel the 400 miles between Egypt’s capital city and Luxor (known to the ancient Greeks as Thebes.) We opted for the night train, first class, which was a splurgy option that included dinner, breakfast and a bunk for the night. Megan and Chris had one cabin and I had another to myself. There is an adjoining room, but it’s on the opposite side of Chris and Megan’s so I don’t open the door. It remains a mystery person’s cabin. I offer to take Megan’s bag, which lives with mine on the bottom bunk, which converts into three chairs like a row on an airplane.

Dealin' cards games with the old men in the club car

Penny a point ain't no one keepin' score

Pass the paper bag that holds the bottle

Feel the wheels rumblin' 'neath the floor

Our porter is an elderly gentleman wearing a navy porter outfit and a cap with some English skills. He comes to check my ticket and asks if I want to sleep on the bottom, I decline. I fish the heavy metal ladder out from under the lower bunk and attach it to the hook on the wall. The door to the bathroom sink fits behind it. The toilets are down the hall. The air conditioner is on full blast so I tuck myself into bed to read when I hear another persistent knock on the door. The porter knocks loudly and doesn’t stop until I climb down, fiddle with the lock and the very sticky handle that never opens the first time. This time it’s the porter with two other men who he calls ‘security check.’ I must have passed muster because as soon as they announce themselves, they move on to the next cabin.

My train cabin had a sink cupboard, window and metal ladder up to my bunk.

My train cabin had a sink cupboard, window and metal ladder up to my bunk.

And the sons of Pullman porters

And the sons of engineers

Ride their father's magic carpets made of steel
Mothers with their babes asleep

Are rockin' to the gentle beat

And the rhythm of the rails is all they feel

I climb up the ladder and tuck myself in again. The bed is much wider than the sleeping train I took in Danang, Vietnam where six beds stacked three high occupied the same amount of space as my single compartment. At 8:40 there’s another knock at the door. It’s dinner time and the porter “shows” me how to attach the TV tray to the wall, a job I most certainly could have done myself. I eat in silence alone as the train continues along the Nile river. There are some hangers hidden behind a curtained “closet” next to the sink. I don’t know if people actually unpack and change their clothes or what but I slept in day-old sweaty leggings and an Ohio University tee-shirt. There was a plug for a razor, but not one for a phone showing the age of the car.

My bunk had a metal bar and (thankfully) a blanket and sheet because the train was freezing!

My bunk had a metal bar and (thankfully) a blanket and sheet because the train was freezing!

Nighttime on The City of New Orleans

Changing cars in Memphis, Tennessee

Half way home, we'll be there by morning

Through the Mississippi darkness

Rolling down to the sea

There’s another knock at the door and I think I’m going to go mad with the amount of “service” I’m receiving but this time it’s Chris with a report that the “fancy” dining car isn’t worth going down to. He hands me a Fanta and tells me it’s 6 cars down, past fancier sleeper cars that say they were made in “West Germany” for context of how old ours must be. The porter comes back and takes my tray and asks many times over if I would like to purchase a juice. I decline. It’s 9:45 and I’m exhausted. It’s a 5:15 wake up call to get off the train so I need to get to bed if I’m going to have any chance of a full night’s sleep.

But all the towns and people seem

To fade into a bad dream

And the steel rails still ain't heard the news

The conductor sings his songs again

The passengers will please refrain

This train's got the disappearing railroad blues

The Egyptian country side flew by outside the train window.

The Egyptian country side flew by outside the train window.

Laos has no train and neither does Senegal. The Chinese are building a railway through Laos and while Senegal has miles of tracks and cars, it owes money to the foreign investment company that’s making the rail line a reality. It’s doubtful the line will be completed by the original 2020 completion date. The Egyptian train experience was largely a good one. The train was on time, we had reserved beds that we bought online (a rarity in Egypt.) We made it to Luxor before 6 a.m. and walked to the Sofitel for a day of luxuriating in the gardens, pool and fluffy beds.

Good night, America, how are you?

Said don't you know me I'm your native son

I'm the train they call The City of New Orleans

I'll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done