WE TOOK A TRIP ON A TRAIN January 14, 2012
This is only one of many. It must’ve been quite memorable to remain in my old noggin so vividly all these years. Aunt Mae announced — and everyone paid attention when she announced — that my sister Vivian and I were going to accompany her by train toDetroit, Michigan to pick up a new 1941 Cadillac which she had just ordered.
Aunt Mae said she was just sick and tired of her old 1935 Cadillac Fleetwood Limousine. Now with that announcement, it put a different slant to this trip for me because I was simply crazy about that automobile. Number One, it was unique — you rarely would see this model running around willy-nilly. It oozed expensive, classy, you name it. The paint job was a beautiful subdued blue. It had little jump seats that folded down out of the back of the front bench seat for the little peoples, or take a total of 7 out for dinner or to the opera — if it were the opera the 7th person would naturally be a uniformed chauffeur.
That automobile — you would never call it an “auto,” or “car”, NO, Never — it was very new during my last 2 years in high school (1935 and 1936) and I had a driver’s license very early (remember the Judge in San Juan was a far-removed cousin of my Dad’s) so I could tour it around. We had a Homecoming Parade every year so now I had finagled Aunt Mae to let me drive the car in the parade. She acquiesced (I spelled that word just like I knew what I was doing, the red underline didn’t show up) and would then drive up from San Juan for the day, while I “paraded” her car around town in the parade with 6 or 7 gals representing the Athletic Department with their red-and-white uniforms on— and this is after we had decorated the Cadillac with red-and-white streamers. Mom and Aunt Mae would sit on our front porch across the street from the high school and watch the parade go by. When all was over, she would drive back to Capistrano.
And all of this hasn’t had anything to do about getting on any train trip. When we finally started out on our trek across country, we boarded the Santa Fe Chief inLos Angelesand would be taking the southern route. We crossed through northernArizonaintoNew Mexicowhere we made a passenger stop inAlbuquerque, and that’s when everyone gets off who wants to stretch. Viv and I, racing to get off, and who do we almost run over? — Well, it was Greer Garson and her husband (much younger than she) Richard Ney. I was so taken aback, thought I was going to lose my uppers and lowers, and my bugged-out eyes. She was simply gorgeous, and have to say, if you didn’t know, she was an Oscar winner, very popular in the 40’s, and I remember her in a couple of movies — one was “Pride and Prejudice” with Laurence Olivier, and “Mrs. Miniver.” She was dressed like she was going to be strolling downRodeo DriveinBeverly Hills. Richard Ney was so handsome, also dressed impeccably — simply to die for. Viv was 21 at the time, and I was 23 so you can imagine how impressed we were.
The trip continued, but without running into more celebrities — we loved going to the Club Car and watch the world go by. Aunt Mae would come join us at cocktail time. Her favorite was an Old-Fashioned, and I can’t remember what Viv and I would have, but it would’ve been something like a Tom Collins, or a Rum and Coke.
We had great accommodations. Always First Class for Aunt Mae. She was in a Stateroom, Viv and I in the adjoining Compartment. Some days we would have breakfast in the Stateroom. Aunt Mae would stay there, watch the scenery, or read a book. Viv and I loved to travel through all the cars of that train several times a day when we’d get antsy after watching all that scenery.
We had traversed through northernTexasandLouisiana, then throughAlabamaandGeorgiawhere the scenery was quite different from the previous states — now lots of trees. Then through the Carolinas and Virginiaand intoWashington,DCwhere we disembarked to spend several days taking tours all over the place to see the monuments, museums, government buildings,ArlingtonCemetery, etc. The monument that impressed me the most was the Lincoln Memorial. It is heart-stopping. I had such profound feelings, and it gave me those same sensations when I returned 57 years later in 1998.
Aunt Mae was unable to take in all the sightseeing with us because of all the walking — she had a bum hip that gave her a limp. She spent the time at the hotel having her breakfast in the room, then she would go down later for lunch in the restaurant, maybe chat awhile with guests in the lobby, and even go take a nap. She loved naps — took one everyday at 2 o’clock back home.
The first day of touring, we glommed on to two cute college fellas from Georgia, and it was really a good thing that they were on the same tour with us because they were also going on to New York City to see the sights there, so all four of us were quite excited. Aunt Mae was thrilled to think we would have escorts to take us out to see some night life there in the big city.
She invited them to have dinner with us on our last night in DC — so she could look them over. Well, after all, she was our chaperone.
On to New York, and while the porter was putting our luggage on the cart to wheel into the Hotel Pennsylvanian, he read one of the name tags and remarked, “Oh, you’re from Capistrano where those Swallows come back to every year.” A feather would do the job — I’m flat out on the curb in the great big city. (That’s how I felt.) Leon Rene’s hit song (When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano) had made it all the way to the Big Apple.
We settled in to our digs at the Pennsylvanian, and then for dinner we went down to the main room where the entertainment would be. I had spotted posters throughout the lobby when we checked in so I knew who would be in that room. I insisted, and so we had the great pleasure of being entertained by Glenn Miller Orchestra with Ted Beneke and the Modernaires with Marion Hutton. Well, you gotta know this was the era of the Big
Bands, and Miller was one of the icons. What more of a thrill could you have? But wait — more thrills to follow. We three spent a couple of days getting around seeing sights that Aunt Mae was able to partake in; and then remember our 2 guys that we had unearthed in DC arrived up in NYC, so we had to get busy with them. All of us went off one afternoon to see the
Rockettes in their perfect, unbelievable routines, and then we saw more sights during the days. Each night Aunt Mae would take the four of us to dinner, then she would pass me some cash and we would be off to other hotels. Over at the Hotel Lincoln the spot light was on Harry James and appearing with him was Helen Forrest. Another evening we took in Jimmy Dorsey and his band. Our escorts had to return home, and it had worked out so great having them accompany us in the evening.
But I have to admit the piece de resistance was our last evening, and I had done some research and found another must see. Aunt Mae would always go along with my choices — even if I had to cry a little — so off we went to the Waldorf Astoria in whatever finery we may’ve had on hand, and we had a simply marvelous dinner, and then the great Benny Goodman to entertain. And what was so terrific about this is the fact that this particular gig was the debut for Peggy Lee at the age of 16. She became one of my favorites. She was a great singer and songwriter over many, many years.
We had such a fantastic time in the Big Apple, and then we were back on the train travelling north along the Hudson River, then over through Buffaloand into Toronto,Canadawhere we stayed a couple of nights so that we could go over to see Niagara Falls— awesome.
Back on the train, closing in on our target, we dropped down throughWindsor(still inCanada) and then toDetroit and into the Hotel Statler. The next morning, Cadillac sent a driver in a big Limo to take us on a tour of the plant, ending up right in front of this dazzling new 1941 Cadillac Sedan, and of course it was in that wonderful mid-blue color that she adored. Just sitting there, waiting —. Someone handed Aunt Mae a set of keys which she in turn handed to me. We were off and out of there, and when we returned to the hotel, we checked out — it was early afternoon — so we would take off and drive for a few hours. At this point, we were TIRED, and “wanna go home.”
Viv was my navigator, Aunt Mae was in the back seat on the right so she could keep her eye on the speedometer; and the two of them had the maps that the Auto Club inSanta Anahad prepared for us.
We drove for several hours, and I gotta tell you the rest of this trip is a blur. All I can say about the return is that only a stop overnight inMemphisremains in my memory. It was a night to remember. The bugs were all over, coming out of every crack and dive bombing the air space, and the humidity was overwhelming. Not much sleep that night. So I was tired.
And right now on this day in 2012, I am REALLY TIRED of writing all this stuff. I QUIT.
The Cadillac, however, WAS another Dream Boat.
Have to add one more thing: as I drove along homeward bound, I kept an eye on the rearview mirror, and if I noticed Aunt Mae nodding off, I would pick up the speed a little because then it would always happen. “Queenie, the speedometer.”
And the last thing: Someone asked me how long it took us to make the drive home. You know, I cannot possibly tell you. We would get up in AM, not too early, have a nice leisurely breakfast, start the car and move along until lunchtime, stop for that, then drive till about 4, or maybe 5, get the motel, then find a place for cocktails and dinner. Not many miles covered, but somehow we made it.