I would say aww, it was about 2016 when I decided to leave the fold of whatever it was I was folded into. I was life deep in a career working as a Locomotive Engineer running trains for CSX Transportation, married to the Teamsters union with all of it’s disfunction and entering into a mid-life freakout of epic slipknots. And Slipknot is how it felt, more like many slipknots all stuffed in a Steamboat locker long forgotten. Steamboat? Well that is where I ended up. After leaving my marriage and of course my job, I eventually needed to become employed. The steamboat The Belle of Louisville is a magical place on the river front in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. I loved her, the boat that is, as a child, so when I met an engineer from the boat at a Kentucky Alliance awards dinner, fate was in a pleasant mood. Kentucky Alliance? Anne Braden, she was the founder and inspiration for the organization that was holding the affair. I was and guess still am an activist.
My mother was a teacher. She went to School late in life to be one. She would suggest that everything is a teachable moment. Now would be a good time to Google Anne Braden. This is the notes in the margin. This is the BOLD underline in the book. As a reader, in the new digital world, I hope you do one thing for me and the many writers like me who share almost insanely freely as we do … so slow down!!
And slowing down means several things. One is find a way to pay the writers, aka, local artist, aka indi writer, also known as crazy for sharing this much. For free. Anne Braden is one of my favorite writers and political activists, ever. Her and her husband were journalists, anti-racists fighters from the old CIO days of the 1940’s. Somewhere in this writing I will be writing about media and the ways we are taught history wrong and why. Maybe I will tell stories, share experiences. Write about elders… whoa … full stop. Elders. If you would like to support my work? Go here and just buy an MP3 or maybe a book, or share this post, … ok back to the story.
My friend Ira Grupper, also a political activist suggested I go to the dinner. I was not that interested in Louisville politics at the time, but had been interested and very much active in The Union so I went. Glad I did because I was at the end of my rope with many things and where to get a job was something I had not thought about since 2000 and one. I just so happened to sit at a table with an Engineer from the boat and somewhere in the introductions I mentioned that I used to be an Engineer with CSX railroad. Less than two weeks later I was starting as a deckhand at the boat. One of the slipknots was untied and life was about to take a turn for the better. The main slipknot was a divorce. One of those. Cue going up the river of life and meeting Kurtz and killing him. Yes this is a mention of many things, the hero’s journey, Apocalypse Now. The horror.
There is something strange and quite understandable about being here in this small town in Western Austria. Half my family tree is rooted less than an hour drive from where I am now. I am two blocks away from the Swiss boarder and a block away from the Rhine River. So me, being a river town kind of guy, I feel at home, plenty of metaphors to mine. A small historical steam railroad operates in the spring and throughout the summer months. My wife told me you can hear the whistle from here. All my roots are up-river from here, just around the bend, those kind of metaphors. A new life is what I am doing. Married again and in many ways starting over.
If you were to go back in time and read some of the posts on this WordPress, you would be able to make heads or tails of how I got here. Over the Pond. My life has been liken to the twists and turns of the Mississippi river. A flood of life’s epic experience cuts a new path and just like Old Man River is known to do, a new river bed is made. A change of direction that renders the old way unreachable, or in another State … of mind … that is. As of right now, I am feeling pretty God dang happy and content. I miss my old mentor. I never knew that an inanimate object could serve in the role as such. When this writing takes better shape I might even get serious and make an outline. There will be much more on how a boat can be a SHE and here is a bit about her now.
The Belle of Louisville Steamboat has a way of mending broken folks. I mean, people get work there, they got life problems, they work, and then life goes on and there are plenty of examples of that. The river being the backdrop flows and goes, not much one can do about it. Floods come, stillness of current with mirrored surfaces. Harsh weather, sudden storms, cooling rain while it’s sunny, hot and humid. The river front is also the home of Muhammad Ali. His memorial center is backdrop to the river front. A large picture banner looks down on the riverfront with his “I told you so” smile. . The riverboat workplace is also where Lewis and Clark left for their journey to inject the west with the American Dream. So, ghosts, old stories, metaphors dripping with every ingredient needed for deep contemplation, wayward thoughts, day and night dreaming. It’s all there. Not to mention the Belle, our river Queen, she.
The Belle of Louisville was built in 1914 and is the oldest surviving, still in operation Western Rivers Steamboat in the U.S.A. She has quite the mysterious alluring spirit. Her story is a story of over work, exploitation, almost near death rebirth. She knows what it means to be almost worked to death. She was almost scrapped and then sold at auction in the 1960’s and might not have made it to Louisville if a few river minded folks, politicians and then a host of many dreamers would not have painstakingly preserved her. So, without saying, she can spot a broken soul and knows how to mend one.
I met my wife there, kind of. I met her online and we talked and talked over social media. My son met his lady friend in the same way a few years before. He taught me as a concerned Father how to date over the screens. My wife’s family is rooted here in Austria and we live in a house that has been in her family for a long while. Our house was built somewhere in the 1860’s. To me that is crazy because I build a timeline in my head with 1865 being the end of the civil war. The 1860’s was when the L&N railroad got the charter from the State of Kentucky to exist. Old. I am learning that old in Europe is not the same as it is in the States.