We present Part 2 of attorney Michael W. Hall’s annual Christmas Story. You can read Part 1 here.
As I drift into the zone, an ever-changing Louis L’Amour Wild West landscape slides by outside.
It’s captivating how the view from a train is much more immersive than any other mode of transportation. On the train you’re not insulated from tour environment like you are on a concrete freeway in a car or a bus. On a train, the world is literally only inches away, not across multiple lanes of traffic or thousands of feet below on a crowded plane. And the soothing motion of the rocking rails is almost primal and therapeutic, reminiscent of those turn of the twentieth century ‘Wells Fargo’ coaches that lulled their passengers to sleep as they flew across the desert. I find traveling by train both hypnotizing and freeing at the same time, providing a welcomed opportunity to turn off the incessant monkey-chatter that permeates my subconscious left-brain.
As twilight dims on the desert, I can almost hear the wistful sounds of Leonard Sly (Roy Rogers) and The Sons of The Pioneers singing Ghost Riders In The Sky, while stark scenes from Zane Grey’s novel, The Riders of the Purple Sage, materialize in my mind. The classic vocals of Kay Starr and Patsy Cline take over where “The Sons” leave off, and the night becomes eerily populated with the haunting apparitions of stunted Joshua trees and looming saguaro throwing their long, lonesome shadows to the east as far as the eye can see….
When darkness falls, I make my way to the dining car, where I am seated at a four-top with a single, no-nonsense woman named Lori and her savvy, 70-ish-year-old mother, Miss Trudy, both from Tennessee, headed for “Pennsylvania and some homemade pumpkin pie.” Seated next to me is a cattle rancher named Omer from Hemet, Calif. And across the aisle are three crew-cutted “Camo Dudes” in crisp military fatigues with “Area 51” patches on their shoulders, obviously just off-duty from Nevada, heading home for the holidays. The other nearby tables are filled with a cross-section of “American Gothic,” “Gothic Emo” and Agrarian-types, spanning both ends of the ‘economic and age” spectrum of those who find themselves traveling by train during the holidays. Despite the classic song, There’s No Place Like Home For The Holidays, there’s definitely no other place like spending Christmas, “romancing the rails,” to provide an immersive experience of what “Americana” is all about.
Our dining car waiter is well-versed in his trade and pleasantly takes our orders, answering specific questions about the evening’s available cuisine. The delicious, down-home smells emanating from the kitchen set the stage for our awesome Christmas Eve dinner. I decide on the honey-baked ham, scalloped potatoes, corn off-the-cob and ham sauce, with pumpkin pie for dessert, so as not to be outdone by my tablemates, Lori and Miss Trudy. Omer goes for the full-blown turkey dinner with all the fixin’s. Our conversation is light and congenial as we rumble through the dark desert night somewhere near Flagstaff, Ariz.
After dinner, I judiciously decide to take a short nap, so as to be awake and coherent for the advertised “Polar Express”-style gathering in the lounge for late-night Christmas carols and hot chocolate. My dinner-mates and I decide to partake in tonight’s casual celebration to ring in Christmas in style. Being single and living alone these past years usually finds me asleep well before midnight on Christmas Eve. But, since there’s no late-night mechanical toys or Barbie houses to put together this year; no last-minute recipes to make and bake before the In-Laws show up early for Christmas Dinner; and since there’s no Midnight Mass or Christmas Eve Pageant to attend this Christmas Eve, I figure a little Holiday Cheer might do me some good.
When my alarm rings at 11 p.m., it takes me a few groggy moments to recognize my whereabouts; with the blurry vista of blazing stars looming outside my window. When I finally recall my fortuitous circumstances, I quickly work to make myself presentable for the Christmas Eve party. On a whim, I decide to wear the cozy “I Stormed Area 51” hoodie sweatshirt that I bought at the Las Vegas Airport. So, with my face washed and teeth brushed, I weave my way down the gently swaying hallway toward the Lounge car.
Once there, I am quickly waved over by Lori and Miss Trudy to their table next to the bar, which is being held down by the same three Camo Dudes. The lounge is sparsely populated at this late hour with us and a few rancher-types that Omer has befriended and a small band of Amish Friends, each enjoying the festive “Polar Express”-themed party with hot-chocolate and holiday cookies. It goes without saying that none of us have much else to do on this late-night Christmas Eve, “West of the Rockies,” in the high New Mexico desert.
Eliciting a cheerful round of “Hellos!” I sit down next to Lori and notice that Bodine is doing double-duty as tonight’s hot chocolate bartender. I begin kibitzing with Lori and her Mother to catch up on what I may have missed since dinner as a pleasant feeling of good friends and easy conversation takes over with each sip of hot cocoa. Then suddenly, our “All is Calm, All is Bright” night takes a decidedly paranormal turn, for good or ill, depending on your point of view or religious leanings….
— By Michael W. Hall, J.D
Michael W. Hall, a 1971 graduate of Edmonds High School, is a local attorney who enjoys fly fishing, writing and “all things Fortean.”