Amtrak to Miami was my final overnight rail journey. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food and service. Although the days of elegant rail travel are gone, Amtrak presents a comfortable alternative to the flying oubliettes which infest the airways. Leo, my cabin attendant, kept me smiling. He sang popular hits as he went about his duties up and down the car. When not singing, he was laughing. I went to sleep that night to Leo’s rendition of ‘Strangers in the Night.’
The following day our train had to reduce speed because of heavy rain and flash flooding warnings in Georgia. I thought of Sherman’s march through Georgia which isolated Robert E. Lee from supplies and brought the American Civil War to an end. Like Hiroshima, Sherman’s March remains controversial, but no one denies that it brought the war’s inevitable outcome sooner.
I had an honor guard for the cab ride to my hotel, a young motorcyclist wearing jeans, trainers, police body armor, and little else. Apparently more concerned with gunshot than traffic mishap, he wore neither helmet nor gloves. His motorcycle did make a manly roar and his wrap-around sun glasses complimented nicely his black Kevlar chest plate.
Miami, with appropriate double vision, reminded me of San Diego and Las Vegas. It is beachy, boozy, and built yesterday. On sand. Panhandling is illegal in the tourist zones, the poor are neatly swept under the municipal carpet. Tourists on the trail were soft, financially comfortable, and tipsy. I wore my Hawaiian shirt and floppy sun hat to fade into the pack. Pleasure boats and homes of the super-wealthy abound and, according to our tour guide, the richest of them all is the retired CEO of an American pharmaceutical company. I forget his name. Now I know where my co-payments live. Can you imagine the bad karma of becoming a billionaire by overpricing chemotherapy?
On my final afternoon in North America I visited the Everglades by air-boat and cuddled Sunny, a baby alligator. Alligators have tongues, crocodiles do not. Our host warned us not to french kiss Sunny. Not tipsy, I wasn’t tempted. The air boat trip commenced at a tilting totem pole which looked suspiciously contemporary. Did the Seminoles now running the Everglades casino worship totem poles before they moved on to slot machines?
Our guide pointed out the Florida State Prison and told us that there were fifteen prisoners currently on death row awaiting execution by electric chair or lethal gas, their choice. Or, he happily concluded, they could escape into the surrounding Everglades and take their chances with alligators, venomous snakes, and speeding air boats packed with tourists. I’d try running. Sunny would help me make my getaway.
So long, America, God bless you.