Wednesday, July 26, 2006

"Great Times," Chapter 23

Copyright 2006, Terry F. Phillips Sr.
All rights reserved.

Chapter 23

It took Connie a surprisingly short time to pack, Ted thought, as they made their way to the railroad depot.
Carol was used making travel arrangements for Howard, so she arranged for separate berths in a railroad car for Ted and Connie in a snap.
Howard wished he were going with them. He thought he might take a vacation trip, just for pleasure, but he wasn’t sure when.
Then it occurred to him. Why couldn’t he go now? It would be a business trip, but thoughts of California sounded inviting.
He quickly buzzed his receptionist.
“Carol, get me a ticket on that train the kids are taking to California, will you?” he said on the intercom. “That’s right. We’ll surprise them. Don’t say anything to Ted or Connie, all right? … That’s good.”
Because Beck was hospitalized and other announcers were taking over his shifts, including The Beer Hour, Ted was freed up to go to the rooming house and pack the clothing he would need for southern California.
He could only guess at whether to take or leave some of his things, but soon, decisions were made and his bulky two-suiter Samsonite case was stuffed to capacity.
He checked his imitation alligator-hide shaving kit and threw it into the suitcase when he was sure it was filled with everything he would need - including tubes of toothpaste and shaving cream, a toothbrush, safety razor and extra blades.
That night, he and Connie ate their last meal at Mrs. Davis’ table for a while.
The trip was expected to take two weeks, but Howard was willing to pay for them to stay longer, if needed.
So it was that when Ted and Connie got out of the taxi in front of Union Station, they had no idea of the adventure that they were embarking upon.
They made their way through the great train station, stopping to check on the status of their train.
Finding it arrived early, they went on out to the great covered walkways that protected travelers from rain and snow in all seasons and the heat of August in the great Midwest.
Boarding a gray passenger car, they were escorted by a porter to their berths, where they promptly deposited their cases on their beds.
Next was a trip to the club car and departure to Kansas City and all points west.
In the club car, Ted asked Connie if she would like something to drink. When she declined, he ordered a scotch and soda and the two took seats to watch the passing view.
Soon the train pulled out of the station with a mighty blast of its whistle. A spaghetti bowl of train tracks weaved in and out as the train left Chicago. On occasion, passing trains would suddenly roar past their window. Ted could only imagine passengers glad to be arriving in Chicago. Perhaps some were just as excited as he was when he had recently made the trip from South Bend on the South Shore Line.
Then the hustle and bustle of the city gave way to a more pastoral setting as the train passed mile after mile of corn fields, wheat fields and rural towns. Occasionally, children could be seen alongside the track, waving, hoping some of the passengers would wave back.
Bells would sound as the train made its way past small town railroad crossings, occasionally Ted could see men and women driving Ford and Chevy sedans waiting patiently for the train to pass.
This was exciting. He wondered if he would soon become a part of the television business and how often he would be making this trip to California for Mr. Howard. Perhaps. He would fly instead of always taking the train. Flying would have to be quicker, he thought, sipping his drink.
After a few hours of travel, Connie spoke up.
“I’m famished. How about a trip to the dining car?”
“I’m game,” Ted said.
Carol had given him a $1,000 check for spending money. He was expected to keep track of their expenses so he could account for it at the end of the trip. Remembering, this, he took a black leather notebook from his jacket pocket and wrote down the tip he had given the porter. He wondered if his drink should go in the book, but decided against it.
Howard smoked, but Ted had no idea how he stood on drinking. Caution might be the better tact.
After checking with the club car attendant, the couple found the dining car just past their sleeper.
It was already filling up with hungry travelers, but they found a table with a four-place setting. Realizing they might have to share their table, Ted and Connie took seats against the train window.
Soon, the waiter arrived to bring ice water and take their orders.
As they chatted about their expectations for the trip, a familiar voice startled Ted.
“Mind if I join you two,” Howard asked. “Or, is this a private party?”
“Boss!” Ted said, with a smile. “Have a seat.”
“Don’t get up, Ted,” Howard said with a grin. “I just thought I might join you two on this little excursion. Since I’m investing my money on the basis of your reports, and since it’s been a while since I’ve left the office, I thought we might make this trip together.”
“To the three amigos!” Connie said, lifting her water glass.
“Hear, hear!” Ted and Howard said in unison, then the three laughed together.
The rest of the trip out west was uneventful with the trio spending their days chatting away and enjoying the view. With an exception.
At Roswell, NEW MEXICO, Connie made an unplanned exit from the train.
The three were in the club car when Connie cried out unexpectedly and bolted from her seat. The train was stopped at the station and a few people could be seen on the platform.
Ted and Howard looked at each other and instinctively followed her. They were confounded to see her get off the train and run into the depot.
“Connie, wait!” Ted yelled.
He pursued her into the small train waiting room with Howard in tow. Neither man heard the train pull away from the station.
Inside, they found a bewildered Connie looking from corner to corner.
“What’s going on?” Ted demanded. “Why did you run away like that?”
“I saw him,” she said breathlessly. “He shouldn’t be here, but he is. I saw him.”
“Who?” Howard asked, catching up to the other two.
“Eddie,” she said. “Eddie Adams. He’s supposed to be in California but I saw him on the platform. Just as I ran into the station, I saw him get into a black car and drive off with another person.”
Ted explained to Howard that Connie was quite concerned about Mrs. Davis nephew. But Connie was not a compulsive person by nature. Her irrational decision to leave the train was just not in keeping with what Ted and Howard had seen in her to date.
“Mrs. Davis is worried about him,” Connie continued. “She even told me to keep my eyes open for him in California!”
Mrs. Davis, though she had met many show business types of people was not well-traveled or schooled. She did not understand that just because so many vaudevillians knew each other and were now working in Los Angeles, that California is a big state and the possibility of Connie finding Eddie were slim and none. But she had seen him. Not in California, but in the little railroad station at Roswell, New Mexico.
“Are you sure?” Howard asked, knowing the answer. Now he was not too sure he had made the best decision to travel with these young people. He looked back over his shoulder and saw the space occupied by their train was now empty.
“We’ve missed the train,” he said. “I’ll arrange to have our things put off at the next stop. Ted, you get a car to take us to - wherever that next stop is.”
Howard left the pair in search of a railroad employee who might be able to help him.
Ted was confused. He didn’t know whether to be upset with Connie, or admire her for her commitment to Mrs. Davis.
“I guess I better find a taxi or bus to take us to the next town,” he said. “Now, don’t you go running off again.”
Connie just stood there, looking bewildered .