Monday, April 17, 2017

Last Train to Clarksville

It's the end of the summer of 1990. I'm 24 years old and driving from Georgia to the Chicago suburbs in my 1979 Mustang, accompanied by my 16-year-old sister, my friend Kim, and a toy poodle. Somewhere along the endless, multi-state stretch of Route 65, we see an exit sign for Clarksville, Tennessee.

Naturally, we decide to get off the Interstate and go looking for the train station. I'd like to blame this on my sister. Not only was she a huge Monkees fan as a child, but just this week she argued that they'd "held up." I can't, though. We were all equally eager to visit the famous train station and...take pictures? Sing? 

Our hopes were dashed, though.

After searching in vain for the train station or a visitor center--remember, there was no GPS or even Google in 1990--we spotted a bearded man walking down the street and pulled over. I rolled down my window and asked, "Can you tell us where the train station is?"

My sister says she still remembers the expression on his face. It only held for an instant, and then he laughed and said, "There's no train station here."

We laughed at ourselves as we made our way back to the Interstate, but I think we were all more than a little disappointed. It wasn't that we didn't get to SEE the train station so much as the sad news that it wasn't real.

27 years and dozens of hilarious retellings of this story pass.

It's Easter Sunday of 2017 and I'm sitting at my mother's kitchen table with my mother, my sister, my 21-year-old daughter and my daughter's boyfriend, who is a photographer specializing in historic sites (this becomes important later).

Well, not much later.

We tell the story. 

My sister says, "The look on that guy's face!" 

I look to my right, and I see that look again. This time, it's not followed by laughter. Instead, my daughter's boyfriend quietly passes me his cell phone.

This is on the screen:


Yeah, that's the historic Clarksville train station.

Unbelievably, this story that's been making us laugh (and others laugh at us) for nearly three decades just got funnier.

My sister and I had just been discussing a weekend trip around my birthday in June, and it's decided. We're going to Clarksville. We're TAKING THE TRAIN TO CLARKSVILLE. Maybe Kim (who I've seen only once in those 27 years) will want to MEET US IN CLARKSVILLE. 

On the way home, I say to my daughter, "So, there's a train station in Clarksville. This is the best thing that's ever happened to me."

"I'm glad to hear that," she says, "Because it could have been the worst."

This morning, just before I started to write this post, I consulted Google to get a picture of the train station. In the process, I learned that although there IS a train station in Clarksville and there IS a military base not far away, the writers of that song didn't know either of those things at the time. The original draft used "Clarksdale," which was a stop on their own train line, and they changed it because Clarksville sounded better.

We're going anyway.