Wednesday, December 26, 2018
I Believe in Santa Claus. And Santa Trains, too!
They're simple really: add Santa Claus to a train ride, you’ve got a Santa Train.
Unlike flying, train travel is still fun; there's no TSA, no tray tables in the upright and locked position, and no possibility of sitting next to someone toting an emotional support peacock.
And who doesn’t like Santa Claus?
A couple of years ago when my brother Jim invited me along with the rest of the family to take a ride on the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad with Santa and maybe an elf or two, I had my Santa Train baptism.
Santa, with a comely elf in tow, walks through the train ho ho ho-ing, and gladhanding, having the time of his life as he takes a day off from supervising the toy-making elves at the North Pole.
It was fun and the scenery was beautiful, but doing it once seemed like enough. Trust me, I do believe in Santa and I like trains. It just wasn’t a one plus one equals three sort of experience.
Cornelius Vanderbilt danced in my head. We were moving from the minors to the bigs!
The platform was crowded with lots of Moms and Dads with little kids, some in strollers.
Once he stepped down from the firetruck, I saw that Santa’s helper wasn’t an elf, but a little boy dressed as a train conductor. He was cute, but when I see a little kid in a costume so well done nice that it makes him (or her) look like a miniature adult, I’m creeped out just a bit. I suppose this is a result of reading too many People magazine articles about Jon Benet Ramsey.
Unlike the standard-issue Santa, this one carried a staff, an accessory right out of The Ten Commandments starring Charleton Heston and Yul Brynner. Moses would have loved this particular model since it came with an attached GoPro camera. I can only imagine the viral sensation a YouTube video of parting the Red Sea would have been.
Finally our train arrived and we could get on with our day.
Boston and Maine Railroad for service between Concord, New Hampshire and New York City on the "State of Maine Express". The car subsequently was assigned to first class trains throughout the United States until it was sold to the Canadian National Railway in 1966. In 1982, the car was put out to pasture, but it’s now restored and for the right amount of money, you can charter it. Santa, of course, costs extra.
The ride went quickly as we enjoyed the traditional view from a train of the back of everything. Greater Richmond covered more area than I expected, and as we neared Williamsburg we went through lots of swampy forests.
When the train stopped in Williamsburg, special buses were waiting at the train station to take all the Santa Train passengers to the historic district. The everyday Amtrak passengers stayed on the train as it continued on to Newport News.
We’d already decided that as far as the historic district was concerned, it was every family for itself, so once the bus stopped near the Capitol building, we were all free to explore. We were to meet the train at 5:45 for the return trip.
Basset Hall, the home of Williamsburg’s founding benefactor, John D Rockefeller, Jr. and his wife Abby. The docent ushered me into the tiny theatre to watch a short video about the Rockefellers—it wasn’t too long before I realized that I’d seen it on YouTube.
At the end of the video, we went over to the house; there were just two of us, I was the only one on the tour. I should have taken a photo of the docent’s nametag, since she really was topnotch. She was informative, engaging, and even humorous. She took the time to figure out what I was interested in and customized the tour on the spot to accommodate my interests.
One of the most remarkable things the docent told me was that the Rockefellers would arrive in Williamsburg with only their chauffeur. Their household help consisted of a Swedish couple who lived in Basset Hall year-round. That was it. No chief of staff, no security men, no hangers on, no nothing. Today Santa, Congressmen, and even the lesser Kardashians have larger entourages.
For people of their social stature and wealth, the Rockefellers were a good approximation of just plain folks. They went to a different church in Williamsburg each week and often invited folks from church over to dinner, followed by a movie in the theatre—air conditioned!—that Mr. R had built in downtown Williamsburg.
Capitol building to learn about Colonial government. The guide there, who I think would have made a kick-ass drag queen, was great, but perhaps not quite as good as the guide at Basset Hall. Then again, he didn’t have plastic cream of mushroom soup to work with.
R. Bryant, Ltd., the traditional clothing store. I walked in, browsed, and loitered, but no one waited on me.
Instead of a crowded restaurant, I ate in the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum's café. The art museum was great, even though I lost my warm hat there. However, the lovely ladies of the museum shop let me charge my nearly dead phone behind the counter while I browsed the museum galleries. You don’t come by that customer service just anywhere.
George Wythe House. In my memory docents showed you through the place, today you wander through on your own. It felt little forlorn without a woman in a long dress sharing the story of how Mr. Wythe was probably poisoned with arsenic by his wastrel great nephew.
I would have done the Governor’s Palace had I not lost my ticket someplace between the Wythe House and the Palace. Apparently losing my hat at the art museum wasn’t enough! Oh well, I can go there on the next trip.
At the appointed hour I walked back to the train station, which had filled up with Santa train passengers tuckered out by their day in Williamsburg.
The train was late, but that wasn’t so bad, everyone was too tired to be cranky, and on his or her best behavior.
On the ride home, we got out the champagne to celebrate my niece-in-law Marcy’s recent doctoral degree. With chilled champagne to hand out, it was easy to make friends with the family across the aisle. Yes, we appalled them just a bit, but they did their share of laughing, too.
Christmas Carol and came by to sing some carols. We couldn’t have been a less enthusiastic audience, but after some joking about which of the musical instruments she handed out could be used as sex toys (Correct answer: All of them), we were singing along enthusiastically. It was a Christmas miracle.
soupçon of American history.
There was still time for me to lose something else. I left my favorite fleece on the train.
But the guy who owned the railroad car mailed it back--the second miracle of the Christmas season.