Drinking Alcohol taught me how to fly
Then it took away the sky....

Saturday, September 21, 2013


Love Train: Story 1

This year 2005--Valentine's Day was celebrated four successive nights on the Dinner Train--accompanied by a Mystery Theater group and a strolling violinist (me!) During the first night I decided to log some observations, chiefly for my recollection. Five long, old-time coaches are transformed into a restaurant, strung out into five dining "rooms". An old diesel is attached behind train. Also an old 1920-styled passenger car is connected in place, for use of the theater actors and me. Seats, bathroom, and floor in "our" car--called the "Green Room"--are covered with thin layers of eighty-year-old coal dust, green, of course! This is real nostalgia! Trip begins in Ft. Myers, Florida and whistles its way north for about two hours. Then we perch on an unseen, dark bridge over a large bay (appearance is that we are sitting right on water).  Dinner is served, after which everything speeds back to the terminal. "Terminal" is an assemblage of a couple trailers (mobile homes) dressed up with lush tropical foliage and faux brick, located on property (also old) of an abandoned shopping center. Tickets, excluding tax, tips, and drinks, are about seventy bucks a head. So that sets the scene.

In all, I entertain four hours with two ten-minute breaks--I bring coffee from home. They always offer me dinner, but there's absolutely nowhere to put down my violin, and it is only with great balancing skill that I can get from car to car without hurting me or the violin. Walking (swaying, twisting, bouncing) from one car to another, I go through smokers' haven, a "breezeway" between pieces of train, joined together (I always pray that is so!) While planning what to play for the next group, someone yells out "PLAY CHARLIE DANIELS!" (He must be the only guy ever to play country fiddle?) So, I break out some "Orange Blossom Special" and "Freight Train".  They hoot and holler.  I spot an elderly couple (lots of older folks aboard, that's good) and play, e.g., "I Love You Truly". Atmosphere goes from boisterous boil, to calm, satisfying simmer. An 8-year-old girl asks why I play so fast ("Flight of the Bumblebee"), and I tell her because I am in a hurry--and everyone laughs.

During nine years on this Valentine gig, I've noticed that people really enjoy the food. With a restaurateur's brain, I watch how they eat, notice what's not eaten, and overhear comments only a strolling performer can note--i.e., they *love* the soup, chicken is cold, etc. It is difficult to serve several hundred people at the same time, in the separate Pullman dining rooms. All food, drinks, on trays shouldered by waiters, must be carried through those "breezeways"--actually outside. I feel compassion for the staff. So the "table-wait-time" makes my musical contributions useful. The Mystery Theater group is a band of seven theatrical warriors, who break up into segments, and traipse from car to car to performing their show. I work around them, no easy task. How they keep track of which car they've been in, and which of their group has performed where, I'll never know. They are true professionals.
One lady asks me to play "Happy Birthday" at her table, just as a segment of the "show" enters the car. Moving on, I say "I'll be "Bach" (like Arnold Schwartzanegger)...and...later, I forget which car, and which table asked for the birthday tune, so I move through all five cars playing "Happy Birthday". In time I spot a smiling woman who says, "You REMEMBERED!" Note: Six more "birthday people" I discover during this set.

My first "accident" in nine years occurs this night--my bow arm knocks over a lady's tall Margarita--right into her soup. She yelps, "It don't TASTE like tomato soup!" Thankfully, it doesn't spill onto her jewelry-be-gowned person. Anniversary Waltz is good for THREE 50th Anniversary celebrations. People arrive from all parts of South Florida and tourists from Europe, China and all over the globe, to ride this train. Some groups board the train from chartered buses.
I make $64 in tips during first night this year. My story set out to be one lengthy single posting. It has gotten away from me, so I've decided to go on the installment plan. There is more! End Installment 1.

Steve E.


  1. very cool... wow... i would've loved to be on that train and hear you play...and just watch people...so interesting..smiled on the knocking the margerita in the lady's soup.. i was working as a waitress in a pub after school and one night i poured a guy's beer all over his trousers..ugh.. i thought he would be very angry but he just started to flirt with me...oy.. smiles

  2. smiles...i would like to take a train trip again...what a romantic place...the rhythm of the track....good music....a bit of mystery...all sounds fun to me...and hey even the best of us make those mistakes eh? smiles.

  3. What a fun experience this must have been, Steve. Cool that you are / were a violinist. Both my daughters took violin (and did well but never used their talents beyond high school - sigh), and now I have a grandson beginning to play. I loved your happy birthday story. Good for you for finding a way to make sure the one woman was sung to, and nice that you made many other birthday celebrators happy as well. $64 tips sounds not bad at all for one night. I will look forward to installment #2.

  4. What a great adventure!
    I would have so enjoyed to have been on 'that train' and have heard you play the violin as I so so enjoy the violin!
    It's been ages since I've been on a train but my husband and I were talking only a few weeks ago about taking the amtrak, so maybe :)

    Accidents happen, I would say if that was your first in 9 years was a major accomplishment, bravo :)

  5. This year 2013, we still enjoy your love, but I miss your play.

    If I happen to be in that train, shall I meet you?

    This year, which year?

  6. Sounds like it is a truly memorable experience for all involved.