December 4, 2009

Alvin Aubert

HOPEFULLY SOON
       c. 1940

Would like to have gotten on board only to realize he’d be told
he couldn’t, his money no good but there was a slot down
below for a stoker working next to another “boy” down there in
the boiler room by the name of (he could have sworn they
said) Shine and if they worked out OK, the two of them
together, they might even be allowed on shore with the rest of
the crew in ports-of-call, maybe even London or Paris.

Word came of openings on trains and even though he was
near the top of a hiring list at the post office, having had some
experience as a waiter and intrigued by the name of one train in
particular, The City of New Orleans—running between its
fascinating namesake city and Chicago—he signed on to wait
tables in its splendiferously new art deco dining car.

He came to work one morning to find he was no longer a waiter
but a porter, lugging bags and trailing in behind a pock-faced
conductor making his rounds through the cars validating tickets—
close in behind him so the passengers in the white cars might
be doubly assured of his knowing his place. At bedtime he let
down the overhead sleeping berths, making them up again
with fresh white sheets and pillow cases in the morning…

The pay wasn’t all that bad, only with fewer and smaller tips
than in the dining car and all the while the ink had yet to dry on
his diploma from one of the South’s leading Negro colleges
qualifying him to teach American history in some up-north
American high school, somewhere hopefully soon.

from Rattle #31, Summer 2009
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