On the eight hour ride up to Memphis from New Orleans, on which we were hoping to get a ton of typing done, I have taken an unconditional and irrational dislike to the City of New Orleans as a train (not as a city, I like that very much) – mainly on the basis that it shakes a lot. It is impossible to write postcards, to work on the computer on other things, to do anything, really, apart from listen to This American Life podcasts and stare out of the window, occasionally smacking your forehead against it really hard when the train goes over a particularly bad bit of track. A lot of the track is bad.
Partly, though, I get grumpy because the grunty man in the cafe car has none of his wares on display and apparently no interest in telling me what they are, making me go through a complex guessing game for every type of item, complicated by the fact that Im British, hes from somewhere DEEP down south, and our languages are apparently not the same. At all. It is a trial.
Do you have soda?
Soda? He says, a completely clueless look on his face.
SOH-DAH? He repeats, parroting the syllables back at me hes disgusted at having to speak whatever foreign language I am talking to him in. I am at a loss. I am using my very best half-American accent and using a word that I know is, if not the local word, at least a recognised equivalent.
Yes, I say, like Coke? Ginger Ale? Pepsi? Diet Pepsi?
Mph! Soda! Yeeeh! I gat pepsi, daht pepsi, spraaat
Right. Two diet pepsi, please. Do you have any chocolate?
Chocolate. Yes. Candy? Of any kind?
(We stare at each other. I cannot see what he has. Apparently, he is not willing to volunteer the information)
Do you have Twix? I say, hopefully.
Yes. Yes. Twix.
Do you have a twix?
Or perhaps a? Oh, just a twix. Please.
I sigh. Yayus. I say. Yayus.
And Ive been here two years. I was using my best non-threatening vowel sounds and bi-cultural-friendly words.
The people who stepped up behind me were REALLY English. I almost hung around to see how long it would take them to manage the same, but was in such a terrible mood by then I just couldnt.
Two countries separated by a common language, indeed.
This trip, we end up eating more twix than we have in the last two years put together.