UNITED STATES—“Eee ha!” shouted Gloria as Rusty’s red pickup sped over stretches of what had once been Route 66. “We’re bringing relief and salvation to the prisoners aboard the Southwest Chief. Vegetables and fresh smokes.”

Rusty added, “I’ve got a flame thrower to install torch-down roofing. If we encounter resistance aboard the train, it’ll come in handy.”

So it was, beefy Lee, Gloria the Gluten-Phobe, Rusty the Roofer and Raveendran Patel, this band of smokers and vegeterians who had been kicked off or left behind by the Southwest Chief, this small yet fierce alliance pulled up to the Albuquerque station and hopped out (rolled out in the case of Lee). They lugged bags bulging with American Spirit cigarettes and carrots, squash and diverse fruit. Led by Rusty they ran stealthily down the side of the station.

“Train here yet?” they asked the vendors of Navajo rugs and turquoise. “It’s coming,” they said.

This instilled confidence in the band of rebels who only wanted to be free to puff their own toxins or be free of the packages toxins sold on the snack shop. They waited on the platform and kept glancing at the perspective were the rails vanished in the east. This could mean, arrest, jail time, and even being banned from ever traveling on Amtrak again, but they were a group of Americans committed to their pleasures and freedoms. Even Raveendran, the Indian first-time traveler in America.

From faraway over the New Mexico landscape lobbed the toots of a train whistle. This mournful sound was mixed with a riotous dinging of trestle bells.

Gloria, Raveendran, Lee and Rusty held their garbage can shields aloft, ready to enter into action. The passenger train was preceded by a smoke plume that shot up straight into the platinum blue sky. That was odd since the Chief wasn’t pulled by a steam locomotive. The closer the train got, the more obvious the source of the smoke became. Flames from the observation car were licking the sky. The bells clang-clanged, the train lumbered forward and screeched to a stop. It made a deep groaning sound and wheezed as a tire losing all its air.

Passengers came out choked, some limping, others running. The sirens got louder as firetrucks and ambulances moved in. Stretchers were hoisted onto the platform.

Raveendran held onto Gloria’s hand. It seemed the right thing to do. The heat from the burning observation car made sweat bead on Gloria’s forehead, and both felt the flames’ warmth, beyond that of the setting sun, on their faces and shoulders.

“Great scot,” said Raveendran, “what happened?”

“There was a coalition between the smokers and the vegetarians.” It was the woman with the funny hat who had denied Raveendran the almonds the first night out of Chicago. “They disabled the porters using foam from fire extinguishers. They seized the observation car. Then the vegheads looted all the tomato and lettuce from the dining car coolers. Somehow the upholstery caught on fire as they puffed away.”

Rusty thrust his garbage can shield down onto the platform overrun by dazed passengers and rescue workers.

“Darn! Someone stole my idea.”

From one of the big sacks of fruit and cigarettes there rolled a single green apple. Raveendran picked it up gently and took a refreshing bite out of it.

“Here,” he handed it to Gloria. “It’s gluten free, and so am I.”

He planted the first of many kisses on her and drew her close to him.


Humorist Grady Miller is the author of “Lighten Up Now: A Diet to Lighten Up Your Mind and Body,” available on Amazon. Reach Grady at grady.miller@canyon-news.com.

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Hollywood humorist Grady grew up in the heart of Steinbeck Country on the Central California coast. More Bombeck than Steinbeck, Grady Miller has been compared to T.C. Boyle, Joel Stein, and Voltaire. He briefly attended Columbia University in New York and came to Los Angeles to study filmmaking, but discovered literature instead, in T.C. Boyle’s fiction writing workshop at USC. In addition to A Very Grady Christmas, he has written the humorous diet book, Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet and the popular humor collection, Late Bloomer (both on Amazon) and its follow-up, Later Bloomer: Tales from Darkest Hollywood. (https://amzn.to/3bGBLB8) His humor column, Miller Time, appears weekly in The Canyon News (www.canyon-news.com)