As promised in the last posting of Day Eighteen, I will indeed give a full and vivid description of what the ordering of our dinner was like from the nearby Popeye's fast food outlet on Bennings Road. Having gone to the door of the Senegalese place to find it was closed, my secret wish was granted, I would be able to eat some greasy chicken. It wasn't that I didn't want Senegalese, for I did, but I wasn't all too disappointed because the back up plan was intriguing. The reason for this sense of intrigue was simple. In the middle of a fairly old resedential area which had, in a sense, seen better days, stood a colourful fast food joint. While it was yellow and red, other buildings around it were grey and frankly dodgy looking. This is not to say that Popeyes was to win an award for the world's most outstanding paint job for you could tell that only a few hours after it opened the locals were hard at workl, modifying, the paint scheme if you will. Still, it all added character.
We walked in slowly, hungrily, past the two or three cars laying in the driveway area away from the drive-thru section. There's drive-thru's for everything here, even for laundry and for banking. I still remember going through my first McD's drive-thru in Douglas, Cork. It was a novelty to say the least, here you were driving to a window to get dinner in a paper bag and putting money through a window. As unglamourous as that sounds, it seemed as if the world was all of a sudden a better place for it. I realise better now although I do harbour the urge to go through a drive-thru in a shopping trolley some day.
As we pushed on the door to get in, I noticed that we would have the option, if we so wished, of sittign in with our food. Options are funny things though, we all have the option of throwing a brick at a cop but knowing the consequences we tend not to. Well the option of sitting down in here was much in line with that area of thought. The principle occupiers, big and broad black guys, were having a good time amongst themselves and who would we be to interfere? Iit wouldn't be right.
I had spotted on the menu that the chicken, which they specialised in drowning with hot oil, was served with biscuits. Nnever before, and I bet you haven't either, have I seen a mother load her shopping trolley with chicken from the freezer and rich tea biscuits. Therefore when the menu kept issuing that combination to me as my eyes scrolled around it, I naturally was curious. Chicken and biscuits? Only over here. I asked the lad in front of me who had just put his order through the plexiglass what exactly these biscuits were. He pointed to the items piled up in the kitchen, items that looked like scones to me. I thanked him, knowing that he wasn't a threat but to be honest that thought did cross my mind a little. Iif things wanted to kick off in that place then they would and the staff knew it - they were behind half inch thick plexiglass. Never before, in a food outlet of any kind, have I ever experienced anything quite like this. It was a complete sensory overloading, boysterous failed gangsta rappers eating merrily (they made it show) in the corner, a drunk guy who recieved the odd crumb from them who nibbled like a squirrel and dropped beer on the floor near Donal and I as we ordered (and no this wasn't anywhere near midnight or a nightclub) and staff who seemed oblivious to it all behind the half inch of clear plastic. And why not be oblvious, they were behind enough protection to stop a Scud missile nevermind a baseball bat or similar dynamic hitting device that the failed rappers used as protection of choice.
Ooh, and the food came out through a rotating box, at no point could you touch a member of staff unless your arm was only a centimetre thick and quadruple jointed. As the food was being prepared actually I saw that my drink, a large one no less for I had walked all of Washington that day, was in a Coca Cola plastic glass which I of course duly left at the hostel despite promises to take it home.
I can't really blame the fast food for this but God loves a tryer. I was asleep and because Popeyes use too much fat in their cooking process I was still processing my meal in my sleep thus casuing me not to get up at 8am like I said I would. I just made that up on the spot and Ii'm impressed...if only it were true. Bascially I overslept as I was up too late the night before and was cruely woken by Donal. Never before had I been so quick to grasp a situation as Donal pushed me to wake up, seeing my eyes open and then warning me,"We've got one hour".
"Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck". I can't say that I have ever responded to anyone like that in the morning either but there you go. Donal packed his tuff, I packed mine before rushing a shower and we both skipped breakfast in order to get out to the bus and to the train on time. We literally had one hour between waking up and that train going on it's way to Raleigh.
We caught the X2 bus without much of a wait but it looked shaky, time was ticking and as we boarded, I wondered would we have been better off making a run to the subway station which at that time may have been more reliable for us. Too late now, our quarters deposited, the bus was moving, slowly, but moving. Donal was calm, or seemingly so, but I was really fearing that we would miss this train and I was hungry into the bargain. I watched every bus stop, counting the people, were they old or young, did they have kids? Old people and kids took longer and old people especially for they like to engage in cobversation with the bus driver and I really wasn't in any mood to hear how Mrs Darling's knickers flew off her line yeseterday in a breeze or how the last bus driver had been rude to her. While this didn't happen, thankfully, there was always a group of people waiting at every stop and possibly some imaginary stops as well for that is what Murphys Law does to people. It fiddles with the mind.
Finally we were at the Capitol, our stop for Union Station, but our jounrey wasn't over yet. Mental torture, such as the bus trip was with the counting of minutes, the anxious glancing at a watch that kept ticking on and on, the people waiting at every stop to get on, was never going to be complete without some physical torture to. With a backpack and 20kg of luggage each, we had 7 minutes to get onto that train before it's wheels began to turn and we still had about one and half blocs to go. We crossed the road and looking at my watch, I began to run pulling my case behind me, Donal followed. My legs ached, my arm stretched too much to reach back to my case and drag that at speed, it all seemed too much but looking at my watch was the incentive that kept us going. There was no way we could miss this train.
Union Station is a grand building and worth looking at but all I remember from it is some letters indicating platforms and after finally seeing our letter, the final boarding call was issued and tickets were thrust into the hand of the waiting attendant at the door. A rush down a flight of steps to the platform and finally we were aboard, drenched in our own sweat but content to be on the train at last.
The train was something we were both really looking forward to and I had done a lot of reading as regards train journeys in America before even leaving the shores of the Emerald Isle. Apparently you got to talk to a lot of people on the train and that really the journey was not so much about the desitination but actually a lot about how you got there and who you talked with. It turned out to be true for having settled in, I got out at Richmond, Virginia where a smoke stop was scheduled. Not being a smoker I took my camera and went picture taking but got talking to the guy sitting across from me and so it remained until he got off to meet his family about two hours later. Before all of this however I had made my way to the lounge car to get a coffee and a bagel, two items that I thought of as a temporary breakfast, and while they won't break any taste records, they did the job. Besides, the scenery outside was much too nice to really allow me concentrate on the food although when I went back to my seat and got talking to Joe again we ended up on the subject of BBQ's. He was a 52 year old black guy, originally from DC and working as a cook something he had an obvious passion for it must be said. He roasts whole pigs on his outsized grills in his yard and by the way he was talking seemed to collect BBQ's for fun but had yet to acquire a small one, the only type that I myself have. We were both quite appreciative of our food, esepcially meat, and there were times when I felt like a learner driver in an L-plated Fiesta next to this guy with his collection of Cadillacs, BMWs and Alfa Romeos. You can imagine then that I was extremely chuffed when he mentioned to me, as he prepared to leave the train, that he was going to go and buy a small and cheap BBQ, like my one, right that day because he thought it'd be a good idea in case he ever wanted something just for himself and so avoid a big clean up job on his bigger ranges. I nodded in approval many times, possibly even when he had left the carraige altogether.
Try cooking your steaks directly on the hot charcoal having brushed off the dust from the coals first. Hhe could have told me to eat it raw and I would have beleived him he was that engaging but on this bit of advice, I think I'll be following myself. As engaging as he was though I was glad to put my neck back to a normal angle, until a clearly overweight lady one seat behind where Joe was, commented on my blue, white and red shoes. I turned my head to face her when she asked me did I play soccer, answering that yes I did. And here was where the fun began for she then enquired if I was going to NC State. Asuming that she was asking was I headed for the State of North Carolina, I dult responded that yes I was but obviously our wires had crossed. As nice as the lady was, we were never quite on the same page and when we did eventually land on at least the same book, I was taken slightly aback. She had been to France and Germany and wanted to go next to see Ireland and Britain. I must be honest now and say that this was unexpected, she looked more at home in a battered pick up truck sharing a seat with a banjo and a husband named Cletus. My sincere apologies to that lady go out to her now for I was working from stereotypical imagery, not something I am proud of but that's not to say that she didn't need to lose a few pounds if that was possible for her to do. I'm making no assumptions this time, maybeshe couldn't. Either way, her heart was in the right place.
It was in the middle of a phone call from home that I noticed the change between north and south and it's nothing if not pronounced, the houses changed and the towns too. There was more oepn space, more greenery and the houses had white pikcte fencing and ornate wood work on them. Yes indeed, this was the south and it wasn't long before I had to funnel my way through people getting on the train in order to get my luggage and get out, a difficult process it must be said but once it was done I felt my phone vibrate and Suzanne and Allison had made it to collect us. Nnow here was luxury, an air conditioned and sculpted Honda Civic coupe to bring us the 3 hours to Boone. I hadn't realised that this was the length of the journey because looking at some maps I reckoned that the drive was less than an hour but how wrong I was and I'll never forget how nice a gesture that was. They didn't point out any worries over fuel or distance, nothing at all and we even stopped off to get dinner in a masive mall before continuing on the Interstate to Boone, a welcome sight after the big cities that had so drained us so far.