The weekend after I got back from my solo Ohio trip, I had scheduled a surprise for our family. (This was a bad idea; I’m even worse at planning surprises than I am at keeping them.) I wrote the melodramatic message “Make no plans. Board the dog” across the calendar weekend of December 10th and waited for Scott to notice.
I actually did a very good job of waiting, since I bought the tickets towards the end of November, and he didn’t notice until the day before I left for Cincinnati. He was adding a kid therapy to the calendar and asked “What plans aren’t we making next weekend? Why are we boarding the dog?” And, the kicker, “Doesn’t Caroline have Nutcracker practice?”
And that, my friends, is why I know better than to go off and plan something without consulting my better half. Of course Caroline had Nutcracker practice. It wasn’t a dress rehearsal, but the show was only a week away, so it was a full cast run-through, and she really wasn’t supposed to miss.
I had to delay coping with this until I got back from my trip. Then, the following Monday, I asked Caroline, “next weekend, would you rather have a sleepover with a friend if I can arrange it or…”
“SLEEPOVER WITH A FRIEND!”
“Don’t you want to know what you’ll be missing?”
“I want a sleepover!”
“OK, but only if I can figure one out for you!” So I scrambled around and located a saint of a grandparent who was willing (nay, enthusiastic!) to have Caroline come spend the night with her granddaughter (who is one of Caroline’s best friends) AND take her back and forth to Nutcracker practice. And Caroline wasn’t even moderately disappointed when she found out what she would be missing.
By then, Scott and Caroline knew what was coming, and I knew I wasn’t going to get Sam on a four hour long car ride without some serious bait, so let him in on the fun as well. I asked him, “Do you want to come on a Santa train ride?”
And so, on December 10th, we dropped Caroline with her friend at the mall and drove four hours to north Georgia to ride the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway. We were in an open air car, it was around 30 degrees, and Sam did not want to wear his coat.
We didn’t fight it. We were running late by the time we got to the station, we almost missed getting onboard, and we were still better prepared than one mother, whose children didn’t even bring coats. To her credit, she had been told the same thing I had. The website clearly states that the cars are open air. But when we called the ticketing booth to reserve, the lady on the other end of the phone said, “Oh no, they have roofs and everything. It’s the middle of winter!”
If ever a more literal minded person I meet, I will be astounded. Yes, the cars DID have roofs. And walls. But there were no windows meaning they were absolutely as ‘open air’ as they had been advertised to be. We had dragged our coats from the car, even if Sam was refusing to wear his, because this particular railway actually goes somewhere. It takes a scenic tour from one town to another, lets passengers disembark in a little town for an hour and then takes them back.
I had already been looking forward to taking train pictures. But then, when I got my awesome camera while up in Cincinnati, my very first thought, before even the baptism and wedding I was attending up there, was “Oh my GOD the train pictures just got incredible”. And that was before I snapped photo one.
The open air car only increased the picture quality. I captured shots that I had been dreaming of since our Amtrak honeymoon. If I could have gotten just ONE photo like these ten years ago, I could have saved myself rolls and ROLLS of film.
I’m pretty sure that when we went over a narrow bridge and the conductor announced on the loudspeaker “everyone please remain completely in the car until we have completely passed over the bridge” it was entirely for the benefit of myself and a couple of restless kids who kept sticking various body parts out the window.
And then, the world’s coolest Santa Claus came down the aisle. It takes a LOT to cool me out over Santa, and this guy totally did the trick:
I love the victorian vest and ruffled shirt. And that thing in his hand is a silver sleigh bell. (Yes, we got one for Caroline, too.) Of course, those things made it that much harder to watch the bastardized version of the Polar Express that Disney puts on. (And yes, it was that night after we got back to the hotel from the train that it showed up on our room TV.)
Anyway, once we reached our destination and got off the train, Sam FINALLY realized it was cold and let himself be stuffed in his jacket. We wandered around the little town, got a hideous meal at a local pizza place (So what if it sucked! We were in love!), and bought me a hat, because the temperature was rapidly dropping and my coat lacked a hood.
The next time we go, Caroline has made us promise to take her, too. I don’t think she’s going to have to wait for next Christmas, either, because all of us were completely enchanted, and I don’t think we got to see even half of what was available.