“Seat R-34, right here, sir. Welcome to The Ghan.”
And with that the porter turned and headed back to the doorway to help the next passenger board the train that will take us through 1640 km of outback territory between Adelaide and Alice Springs.
The greeting was economical yet friendly. There is a single porter for our car of 50 passengers and he obviously doesn’t have the time to chat up every passenger. I expected no more since I’m traveling in Red Class (coach) and not the much pricier Gold, Platinum or Private Service. I figured that I would save cash and collect a unique experience by traveling in the second to last of 30 train cars to one of the most remote cities in the World. If the first 50km of the 1640km trip is any indication, I’m in for an experience all right.
About 20 minutes ago I met my seatmate. I was initially relieved to learn that I would be seated beside and likely dining with a very elegant looking 75-year-old lady. She was dressed head to toe in black and white with lots of silver jewelry. As I put my bag in the overhead rack I overheard the tail end of her Skype conversation with a granddaughter. She had promised to post photos on Instagram as soon as she got to Alice. After saying goodbye, she slipped her iPad into a stylish black leather case, looked up, and offered me her hand in a very regal gesture.
“Hi, I’m Mike,” I said as I shook her hand, trying hard not to break one of her long, bright red nails.
“And I’m Joyce, she said.”
I was impressed, to say the least. Things could certainly be a lot worse. I sat beside the most boring man in the world on my 18 hour flight from Rio de Janeiro to Sydney, and I spent 24 long, gruelling hours with 40 ex-cons when I rode a Greyhound bus from Winnipeg to Calgary. A tech-savvy granny like Joyce will be much more pleasant… and she’ll probably have candies in her purse, I thought.
I was about to comment on her iPad when she launched into the second part of her introduction.
“But please, call me AJ, or Granny J. Most of my grandkids call me Granny J but Samantha – Jason’s youngest – she has always called me Gran because her other gran died before she was born and she never knew Granny C. Actually it wasn’t before Sam was born because she was born in March of 1982, on the 3rd, and Mrs. Carlucci passed away on 28th of February and her funeral was on the day that Carol went into labour. Oh my! We thought Sam was going to be born right there beside the open grave but Jason drove a Mustang convertible and as soon as the minister was done speaking he got Carol into the front seat of his hotrod and they high-tailed it out of there, leaving everybody standing by the grave in big cloud of dust. Well, they made it to the hospital in Wagga just in time, thanks to that Mustang. I think he got that car up in Tamworth, or was it Armidale? No, it was Tamworth because it was a Mr. Ramsay who bought it for his daughter and she didn’t like the colour. It was bright lime, not really a nice lime but more gaudy than I’d care for, and she wanted orange or red or blue or anything but lime, and that was right after Mr. Ramsay sold the hardware to Bunning’s so he was pretty flush and he went out and bought her a red one. I love red. I painted my deck red. Well, I didn’t paint it, I had Christopher – Harold’s middle boy – do it and he made a whale of a mess so Harold came over and sanded it down and did it all over. Oh boy, what a mess. Harold had to sand out the pieces of grass that had dried into the paint after my neighbor, Mr. Gowers – Professor Gowers – cut the lawn between our houses and wasn’t watching what he was doing. He’s funny that way. He’s a biologist. Or is it botanist?”
As Joyce paused on that question for a split second, I held up a single finger and said, “Sorry, I’ll be right back.”
That was 30 minutes ago. I’ve been writing from a table in the dining car ever since.
I’m afraid I’ll have to leave soon as they just called the people in seats 1-to-24 to come for lunch. This could be a very, very long 25-1/2 hours.