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“Next Official Smoke Break: The Paris of the Prairies”

Iowa was just a brief interlude between Illinois and Missouri, where we were now. As the train was arriving at La Plata, the conductor had a message for the smoke deprived: this would just be a short stop. “Next official smoke break is Kansas City, the Paris of the Prairies.” We would be arriving there around 11:00 PM.

Oh this Paris obsession. Buenos Aires was said to be the Paris of South America and Beirut, where a majority of my extended family used to live until the Lebanese civil war broke out in 1975, was called the Paris of the Middle East. There were some six or seven Paris cities and towns in the States –including one made famous in a 1980s movie, Paris, Texas. Other than that, I thought the U.S. to be free from the Paris syndrome. Only once, in Friends, one of the sitcom characters had called Tulsa “the Paris of Oklahoma.” Then again, that was a joke.

“Go to the end of the platform and you’ll see the skyline,” the conductor told me, with a hint of pride at what was probably his hometown. He had seen me snapping shots at every station we called. Still with his kepi style hat on, he would be getting off here, where conductors would change.

Indeed, at the very end of the platform – a narrowing tongue of concrete – you would see the cityscape, quintessentially American. A compact cluster of glass and steel towers outdid each other in their sky-bound rise. Nonetheless, it was a much more modest affair than New York, with none of its forbidding architecture. One or two were bathed in a blue light. I did see Kansas City but my eyes missed Paris.

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This is the fifteenth part of The Trans-American Railroad: New York to Los Angeles at the Speed of Iron, a travel diary. Please see the previous stories below:

The Trans-American Railroad: New York to Los Angeles at the Speed of Iron
The Trans-American Railroad (Part II)
Penn Station: The Journey Begins
Suburbia and the Ruins Outside Philadelphia
The Flies, the Blue Whale, and the Boatman on the Potomac
Descent into West Virginia
The Grain Express: How Tomorrow Moves
The Amish Travelers of the Old Order
The Color-Blind Passenger
To the Sides of the Railways
Away from Cincinnati, and the Sun
Chicago: Four Blocks Around Union Station
The Southwest Chief
The Crossing of the Mississippi