Mississippi River – October 7, 2012
The American Queen floated down the river like a ghost. I saw her through the trees and ran, moving without a thought, drawn in, just wanting to be close to her. I raced along the banks trying to keep up, staring at her decks stacked high like a wedding cake, at her crowned smokestacks, at the pilot house rising above it all.
I ran and ran, the pavement fading under my feet, the picnic tables and RVs of a campground vanishing next to the big paddlewheel. A sleepy rivertown rose around me. I saw old wooden houses, empty dirt streets, and no one but a single drunk sitting on a stoop. I ran and he stared at the water until he saw the Queen too and called out, his voice rattling people loose from every building.
Clerks, businessmen, kids, mothers, dock workers, and drunks arrived in a frenzy. Young and old running, all of us running, just hoping to glimpse the floating palace, the finest thing we’d ever see in a life spent along a muddy curve of the Mississippi.
I waved my arms in the air, yelling cheers, given over to that barefoot kid inside me until the American Queen disappeared around a bend taking the town with her, leaving me alone on a quiet riverbank, wondering if I’d imagined it all.