Heading to New York for the Opening of LADY DAY AT EMERSONS BAR AND GRILL – Part II

April 7


Penn Station by Alan TarkusBack on board, I begin my last five pages before lunch. The short brisk walk has energized me, and I scribble happily. My characters are coming alive. The dialogue is crackling. I’m humming along so smoothly that I decide to have lunch in my room so I can keep going. I put my head out the door and summons my attendant, Jose. “A veggie burger, please,” I call, “when you have a minute.”

Soon a veggie burger arrives. I munch away writing happily as mustard stains a margin. Who cares? It’s the first draft. I pause to look out the window at five horses nudging each other by a wooden fence. Then I focus back to the page. The writing is always waiting.

After five more pages, I lean against the back of my seat. I’ll take a little twenty-minute snooze. I close my eyes, and the last thing I see out the window is a small creek winding through a mass of trees. When I awake, the twenty-minute snooze was forty minutes.

Back to the writing. I’m on a roll. The characters are speaking the way I want them to–funny, witty, well…… so it seems at least for now.

My dinner reservation is for six, so I stop and go to the shower area. I unpacked clean slacks and a new blue sweater. I shower, change, and proceed to the diner.

I’m seated next the woman with the clip board. She says she is going to China and is studying her route. I assume she’s going to New York City to catch a plane at Kennedy Airport. Wrong. She tells me she’s going to take a boat to England. She’s a professor who will be a guest speaker at a Chinese University. When they asked her to lecture there, she stated she did NOT fly. They said: “No problem.” she has been routed across Europe on trains to Russia, then on the Orient Express to China. I playfully ask: “Why don’t you just send a video.” She doesn’t smile, and I wish her happy journeys.

Back to the room. I write three or four  before we pull in to New York City. Lanie will meet me at Penn Station and help me with my suitcase. New York City. I’m excited. I hope Lanie’s nerves are under control. I wonder how I can help him. We always find things to laugh at. Laughing is the calming thing.

Onto NYC for the opening of my friend’s play, “LADY DAY AT EMERSON’S BAR AND GRILL” on Broadway

April 5, 2014


Billie Holiday via US Library of CongressChicago’s Union Station is a fun complex of fast-food restaurants, newsstands, a bar, and numerous tables and chairs. Amtrak has a lounge for sleeping car passengers, so I go directly there for free coffee, chips, and leather chairs. There’s a computer station and I check my e-mail. Then I sit before a large TV screen to watch the news.

I’m looking forward to Lanie’s play, LADY DAY AT EMERSON’S BAR AND GRILL, as well as having the next day to write another chapter of my novel.

Thirty minutes before departure, the lounge-attendant leads us to the back door exit and out on the platform to Train 48, Lakeshore Limited.

My bed is made and I lie down to relax and reminisce. Lanie and I have been friends for many years. We both had plays produced in Tokyo. In fact, Lanie’s Billie Holiday was performed successfully by a Japanese actress. My play about Joan of Arc was wonderfully acted by a Japanese actress. We both find that watching our play in a foreign language alerts us to any “dead” spots in the drama. Our own sometimes flowery language can cover some blank spots where there is no action and the engine of the play stops.

I remember when Lanie and I did a workshop together at a theatre in Florida. We were housed by a woman who was a designated “friend of the theatre.” She had a lovely outdoor pool in her backyard, and Lanie and I spent a whole afternoon on a hot day standing in the cool water and trying to outdo each other in inventing plots for possible plays. We must have devised hundreds of ideas, laughing over the outrageous ones. That kind of simple memory is what I most treasure.

Soon I am rocked to sleep. Often, in the middle of the night, I peep under the window curtain and watch tiny dots of cities that streak by. I might see a single car speeding on an open road. Who is that driving at 2 a.m.? Where is he or she going? I devise a possible plot. Perhaps a woman escaping a rejected lover. Perhaps a man driving madly from the police.


April 7, 2014

At 7 a.m., I am wide awake and ready for breakfast. First I pour myself a cup of steaming coffee from the alcove at the end of the car. There is also juice boxes, and I sip on apple juice. I stand in the passageway looking out the window at fields and barns and even a line of windmills.

To the diner: I am seated next to Janice who is beautifully dressed in a white silk blouse with thick blue beads hanging nearly to her waist. We both order pancakes, a good sign that we’re compatible. Then she excitedly tells me that she is going to New York City to see her birth mother for the first time. She was adopted at 3 months. Now at the age of thirty, Janet wants to meet the woman who is her “real” mother. I ask her if her adopted mother isn’t her “real” mother. She says: “Oh, I love my adopted mother. But I want to love another mother, too. Aren’t they both real?” I wish her luck.

Back in my room, my bed has been reverted back to seats once more by the terrific attendant, Jose Segundo. I pull down the tray-desk and begin to write. Ten pages before lunch is my goal. Always ten pages. It seems like such a solid number. I chew on the end of my pencil–then begin. After five pages, there’s an announcement that we can de-train for a few minutes. Just what I need. A brisk walk. I grab my jacket and head for the door. I jump down to the platform and begin strolling.

As I walk up and down, I can’t help but think how nervous Lanie must be. To a playwright, an opening on Broadway is like an athlete at the Olympics. The top. Everybody of theatrical importance is watching–particularly The New York Times. And The New York Times can close a play with bad reviews in a matter of days. Few people realize this. But I know. Lanie knows.


On Route to Chicago – DAY TWO (morning/afternoon)

Via Pixabay - chicago-train-transportation-urban-191876I am awake at 7 a.m. I’m told we’re running hours late but will probably make up the time. I hope not, I want to write more pages.

At 7:30 I arrive in the diner for breakfast. I order the French toast, my favorite. This time I’m sitting beside a four-year-old and her mother. The child, Betsy, is making a choo-choo train with all our silverware. I smile and lean over to take my fork from Besty’s caboose and acquire a sucker in my hair. I have children in my novels, so I consider this research.

Do Amtrak passengers sometimes end up in my novels and plays? You bet!

When I return to my room, my wonderful attendant, George Dell, has already restored my bed to seats. So I fling my tray-desk. Ten pages to go before lunch.

After several hours, an announcement states that we can de-train for 15 minutes at the next stop. I am eager to walk. I pace up and down the platform, swinging my arms. I read that when you swing your arms, it makes your walk more aerobic. Two young boys from coach are flinging a Frisbee. A man is smoking intently. A group of school children board the train waving their school flag.

Back inside, George has put a morning USA Today newspaper in my room. I pour myself a cup of black and read the news.

NOON – Day Two

Two more pages before lunch. I decide to eat in my room so that I won’t interrupt my thoughts. I ask George if he could please–when he has a minute–bring me a veggie burger. Very quickly a veggie burger appears.

Ten pages to go. I am determined to stay on target. I pause to look out the window as we rush by small towns and streak across what seems like the backyard of houses.

When Chicago is announced, I’m on my ninth page. I scribble a rough page ten. I can always revise.

I gather my belongings and take a last look around this room of my own. Now, I must give it up to another writer, business man or mother. But for two days it was all mine and provided me with the solitude to complete several chapters of my new novel.

I detrain. After a brief stop here in Chicago–to do research at the library–I will continue onto New York City to attend the opening of my friend’s play on Broadway.


A Room of Our Own – DAY ONE (evening)


I go downstairs to the washroom area. I’ll take a shower and spruce up for dinner. Yes, Amtrak has a shower room. I soap up, turn on the hot water and sing “New York, New York.” I return to my room with 30 minutes to spare. Ah, just got an idea. I excitedly write two pages, then noticed that I am 15 minutes late for dinner.  Will I get yelled at? I arrive to a cheerful “hello” and seated without any evidence of hostility.

This time I’m placed next to a man who has just been working in the oil fields  of North Dakota. He tells me he’s lived in a men’s dorm and been eating frozen dinners every night from Jewel. I watch him attack a juicy steak and mash potatoes as I devour my pasta.

Back at my room, I flip down the desk-tray and begin to tackle my ten pages before bedtime. The ideas seem to be flowing–maybe because “a flow” is all around me. It is now dark. I look out the window and see pin-points of light. We ding…. ding…. ding…. through little towns and through railroad crossings.

The attendant arrives to turn down my bed asking politely if I’m ready. “I’m ten pages worn out,” I say.

If you have trouble sleeping, as I do sometimes, a train can actually rock you to sleep. I snuggle under clean white sheets, a blanket, take one last look at the flickering signals of light outside and then fall into a deep snooze.

“A Room of Our Own” – DAY ONE (afternoon)

Dining car by Mackensen

Image by Mackensen

Ten pages later, I hear the announcement for lunch. I am a vegetarian, so the Veggie Burger on the menu is a favorite of mine. And recently they’ve added sorbet. I step forward gingerly in the swaying car and head to the diner. If you’re alone, you are seated at a table with three other people, an arrangement that often can be very interesting.

This time I’m seated next to a woman who is a surrogate, carrying her sister’s unborn baby. It’s the least she can do for her poor sister, she says. I congratulate her on such unselfishness. She adds, however, that she has a 50-page legal document assuring her of visitation rights to the child.

Back in my room, (I bring the little carton of sorbet with me), I drink the bottled water placed in my sleeper and spoon-nibble sorbet. Ten page to go before I allow myself a short nap and an earnest read of The New York Times.


A knock on my door. The diner is taking reservations for supper. I choose 6:30. I’m looking forward to their usual vegetarian pasta.

An announcement is made that we can briefly detrain at the next stop and stretch our legs. I am soon walking briskly up and down the platform for some much needed exercise.

After re-boarding I decide to get back to work instead of a quick snack. I finish a difficult segment, chew on my pencil, then add an ending sentence. So far, the writing is going well.

Amtrak is Giving All of Us “A Room of Our Own” – DAY ONE (morning)

The novelist Virginia Woolf once wrote that a woman needs a room of her own. Virginia, I found that room. And it’s on wheels. On Amtrak, even men can have a room of their own.

DAY ONE (morning)

I start my trip from the Whitefish, Montana train depot after visiting some friends. I walk there from my hotel pulling my suitcase along with a satchel containing all my papers and notes. I am on my way to New York City for the Broadway opening of my friend, Lanie Robertson’s play, LADY DAY AT EMERSONS BAR AND GRILL about Billie Holiday.

I am also finishing my second novel. I wrote my first novel, THE PATIENT ECSTASY OF FRAULEIN BRAUN (Opus Books, 2013) on Amtrak over a two-year period. So I don’t know why people are all excited about the new Amtrak Residency for writers. Or maybe I should say I do understand the excitement. I’ve been writing on Amtrak for over ten years.


Whitefish_Depot Image by "Elkman"

Historic Whitefish, MT Depot







I board. The friendly attendant announces: “Welcome to Amtrak. Altitude–five feet.” I smile.

I hate air travel, so this is a happy intro. Sitting in a middle seat on an airplane, amid periodic turbulence, my arms crushed against me, doesn’t provide a proper place to write. If I pull down the tray in the seat in front of me, then the occupant decides to take a nap and lets his seat fly back. My pen, that has no seat belt, sails in the air.

Here on Amtrak, I have a small, but quiet room with a sliding glass door and two big windows to view the landscape. Several fluffy white pillows have been carefully placed on my seat. I pull down the tray, put my pencils and papers before me. I like to write a first draft in pencil because I feel closer to the material that way.

At the end of each sleeper car is a pot of coffee. I pour myself a cup, close the sliding glass door, and begin to write. After three or four pages, I have to stop. We’re going through Glacier National Park. I rush to the observation car with its large viewing windows. The train is snaking around cliffs, mountains, rivers and ravines. Is that a bear I see? A moose? A lion?

Soon it’s back to work. I plan to finish ten pages before lunch. I go to the end of the car to the bubbling coffee pot and pour myself a black one, then return to my desk.

Heading to NY for the Broadway Opening of ‘Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill’

curtain-269920_150 - Public domain licenseThe sun is out and the Montana air finally warming to a pleasant 50 degrees. But I’m especially warmed right now because soon I’ll be on my way to see my dear friend, Lanie Robertson, in New York. His play “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill” opens on Broadway April 13th, with the stunning Audra McDonald playing Billy Holiday. A five-time Tony Award winner no less.

Lanie and I go way back. We both had our plays produced at the same time and stayed in touch all these years. Lanie’s been keeping me updated on the process of the play coming together for Broadway.

In ‘LADY DAY’ Billie Holiday talks and sings to her dog and so they had to hold dog tryouts (of course) with Audra to make sure the doggie actor was the right one.  I find it quite amusing and you can see more about it here:

So next week I am off on Amtrak again to Chicago and then onto New York to see the play with Lanie. I prefer to travel by train anytime I can, and in fact, I wrote my last novel over two years of riding on Amtrak. I love it. I’ll have a whole four days of writing time this trip.