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by | Nov 10, 2014 | Adventure | 7 comments

Our good friend David was turning 40, so of course there had to be a celebration of some sort. Rather than have a party in his home or gather in a bar, David decided to up the ante. The plans involved our driving to Wilmington and presenting some paperwork to the woman behind the ticket counter.


At the appointed hour, we were to ascend to the platform and await the arrival of the Silver Meteor, bound for Miami.


Because I prefer to arrive everywhere far earlier than is necessary, there was time for me to take pictures of Robbi taking pictures of me.

The evening sky was gorgeous. It was an auspicious beginning to what promised to be an exciting weekend.


At 5:25 PM, the Silver Meteor pulled into the station.


We waited until the train came to a stop and then walked all the way to the end of the platform. We were looking for the final car, a vintage Pullman passenger car by the name of Dover Harbor.


Yes, David rented out an antique rail car for the weekend. It originated in New York and traveled south, picking up various friends in various cities along the Eastern Seaboard. As we peered through the window, it was clear that the fun was already well under way.


We boarded the car and were escorted to our room. And when I say “our” room, I am referring to the berth I was to share with my dear friend Christian, who would be boarding the train in Baltimore. Christian and I were roommates for two years in college, and so have a good deal of experience dealing with the assorted eccentricities of one another’s sleeping habits. I chose the top bunk, which was folded down and awaiting my arrival, including a Lindt Truffle on the pillow.


As thrilling as my berth may have been, there was a party happening down the hallway. I found the birthday boy and settled in for pre-dinner snacks. I’m trying to remember a time as surprising and enjoyable as that first leg down the tracks, but it’s not coming to me at the moment.


There were eleven of us on board, various friends of David’s from various stages of life. We knew them all and even liked them all. Quite a bit. It was a funny, smart, fun-loving group of people, and we had nothing but hours of eating and games and miles along the rails to anticipate as the porters set the table for dinner.


After saying my initial hellos and paying repeated tribute to the snack platter, I explored a bit. The train is an original Pullman passenger car, owned and maintained by an organization dedicated to its loving preservation.

Every detail is as it was way back when. (When exactly “back when” was I did not ask, I’m afraid; I was too busy enjoying the charms of the era to bother identifying its exact location.)


Including the china, which they had made as an exact replica of the original plates and mugs that would have been used on board.


The staff was a group of train enthusiasts from various parts of the country that come together whenever the train is in use. The cook was an amazing guy from Minnesota who flew in for the weekend. He prepared this pork on a charcoal grill in the tiny kitchen in the middle of the car. The food was almost as good as the company.


This fellow, Bill, was the main porter our first night. Apparently, he owns an investment banking firm in DC but volunteers on the Dover Harbor because he loves trains so much.


This lady agreed to be my dinner date in spite of my refusal to dress in clothing of the proper vintage.


The aforementioned Christian boarded the train in Baltimore. David’s high school friend Liz brought a package of fake mustaches along. Christian claimed that he would have gladly put one on if his actual mustache didn’t look so much like a fake one.


We ate. We played cards. We laughed with alarming frequency. Eventually, we all were exhausted and so we retired to our berth for the night. I had to remind Robbi of the present definition of “our.” Eventually she wandered down the hall to set up camp with David’s high school friend Liz – and Christan and I settled into our pre-bed hygiene rituals.


At first glance, the room did not seem to have a sink, just a chair where one might sit to tie one’s shoes or read one’s old-time newspaper.


However, one may cleverly pull down the cushion to reveal an elaborate sink just right for really classy expectoration. And Christian and I are nothing if not extremely classy guys.


By flipping the bottom cushion up, a very different sort of reveal occurs—a cleverly concealed toilet seat. Neither Christian nor I used the in-room toilet. Mostly because of the aforementioned “classy.” But also because it was out of order.


Eventually, it was time to turn in. And so we did.


I awoke the next morning to considerable jostling. My bed was lurching back and forth as our car was pushed onto the proper track and then attached to the proper passenger train. We had spent the night in the DC rail yards, tucked out of harm’s way as the train with which we had begun our journey continued on toward Miami. Around 7:30 on Saturday morning, we were attached to the end of a train bound for Colonial Williamsburg, which was to be the day’s destination.


As I splashed cold water across my face, I could not help but admire the well-labeled antique faucet.


I read the signage hanging above the toilet.


Since we were standing in the station, I did not flush. Upon returning to the sitting room, I was informed that the sign had been maintained for historical purposes but that the car had been fitted with newfangled plumbing technology that made it entirely possible, nay advisable, for one to flush regardless of the train’s status vis a vis motion. And so I returned to the bathroom and finished my work.

When I returned, Bill was describing breakfast. He made an extremely persuasive argument in favor of consuming it.


If you ever have the opportunity to wake and stumble in your nightclothes from your sleeping berth to the social area of an antique Pullman train car where coffee and dear friends are waiting, I do recommend it.


The sad truth from which I have been so far protecting you is that Christian had to get off the train after breakfast. He took a different train back to Baltimore (in order to be a good father to his children, apparently), while we moved south in search of Colonial wonder.


It was a spectacular day, perhaps the perfect day to be traveling on a train from Washington to Williamsburg. We were grateful for the abundance of windows.


Various enticing landmarks presented themselves and were gone or far too small before they could be properly documented. The wonder of it all was far too large and amorphous and fleeting for mere photographs, anyway.


The light was such that the Potomac looked like mercury.


We ate. We talked. We checked our phones, if only to remind ourselves that real life was still transpiring on the outskirts of this daydream.


Occasionally, we walked out to the back of the train and stood on the back deck, watching the tracks fall away behind us.


I suppose I should mention that, in addition to being David’s 40th birthday, it was Robbi’s and my 11-year wedding anniversary. Be are both grateful to David for having the foresight to be born on a day of such tremendous convenience for us.


A few hours after setting out, we arrived.


At the most Colonial of towns.


After a short walk from the station…


We found ourselves overwhelmed in the presence of Colonial signage.


And puzzling offers that felt like demands.


We opted to ignore the triangle and spend our time in conversation with the people of a bygone era. This one gave us helpful suggestions as to where we might find a bite of colonial fare.


We soon located the pub in question. While we waited to be seated my old friend Penn tried on my incredibly sexy sunglasses. Persuading him to give them back was no easy task.


Robbi enjoyed an old-timey sit on a strange colonial sitting apparatus with our friends Matt and Brian.


While we dined, a man with a tin whistle played a few too many songs.


Perahaps you did not know that fried chicken was basically a stable of the revolutionary times, especially when bundled with a “rasher” of ham.


And especially when followed by an overly generous quantity of ice cream sitting on an overly crunchy bed of merengue.


As I writer, I am ashamed to admit how unprepared I am to reflect on the nuances of the strangely-satisfying-yet-oddly-unnerving time warp that is a stroll through Colonial Williamsburg.

The bricks are quite lovely.


And the bonnets are quite generously available for anyone willing to embrace the earnest good cheer that must surely go along with wearing one.


Upon reaching the Governor’s Palace, I was challenged (by myself) to jump over it.


Lest you assume that it was my body double doing the heavy lifting in the shot above, here is another. I kind of feel bad for the olden times. It was impossible for them to predict that someone with my springs might someday come along to put them in their place. I jumped and I jumped and did a little colonial smack talk (various iterations of “Huzzah” were involved).


Moments later, I was apprehended by the colonial constabulary and punished for my impudence. Robbi was required to join me. Which she protested, of course, before being reminded that women had not yet earned the right to vote.


Once freed, I played a small role in resolving a colonial dispute. Or else I played a role in instigating revolution. Frankly, it was really hard to tell.


At the appropriate hour, we walked back to the station.


Where the Dover Harbor was waiting to take us back into another century.


After dinner, again delicious, it was time for cake.


I have only a limited window to make jokes about how old David is. I will be joining him in just under 40 days.


After dinner, we played a game called Spoons.


The game involves cards, spoons, hilarity, and me losing almost every round.

This morning I took a shower. Which, on an antique Pullman rail car, is no ordinary thing.


The operation is straightforward, but the rules are much stricter. Turn on water. Turn off water. Lather. Turn on water and rinse. Water is limited on the Dover Harbor.


Much like the toilet, one can use the shower while the train is moving, but after listening to Robbi describing her (failed and nearly injurious) attempts to do so, I can’t say I’d recommend it.

After the shower, all possible outlets for train-based fun had been exhausted, so we decided to debark. That, and we were back in Wilmington. And so we left the train and waited on the platform as our truly mobile home rolled slowly away.

It was a tragic moment. Penn was thoughtful enough to send me this photo that he snapped from inside the Dover Harobr as it pulled away from Wilmington, that I might relive the trauma again and again.


It was a magnificent weekend with an amazing group of people.


Thanks to Aaron, Neil, Matt, Matt, Penn, Brian, Robbi, Liz and the aforementioned (but unpictured) Christian for being such wonderful traveling companions.


And thanks to my dear, dear friend David for having the vision, wherewithal, and generosity to make this incredible adventure a reality. You have always made my life several shades more remarkable. Thanks for being my friend for the past 22 years. I look forward to spending the next decade with you and to seeing what manner of miracle you come up with to celebrate 50.






  1. Liz W.

    This is so wonderful! Thank you for documenting our fabulous trip. I truly loved spending time and getting to know you two better. xxoo Liz

  2. Adrian K.

    Happy 4oth, David and Happy 11th Anniversary, Robbi and Matthew! What a cool idea for a celebration!

  3. Robbi

    Liz W. is the best, everyone! She also bakes very delicious things and will tell you all about them on her blog – prepare to drool. And then to rush out and buy the makings for a pie. And then say “Thanks a lot, Liz W, now I have to do this thing, instead of watching The Bachelor Season 74 like I wanted to.”

  4. Robbi

    Also: showering on a train is truly, truly horrendous. Way more hazardous than skydiving. I mean, the risk for injuries is much higher, and though the injuries are a lot less substantial, they are much more humiliating.

  5. Aimee

    WOW! What a great way to welcome 40. Hmmm, this has my mind spinning, as my 40th is soon to arrive. I never would have thought of something so unique! Looks like a great way to spend your anniversary too.

  6. betsykulman

    Wow. So perfectly documented… I feel like I ate the rasher of ham! Traveling in a tightish space with the closest of long-time friends is the absolute best (you could try a barge next time)!! And Happy Anniversary.

  7. Clare

    Your pal Dave is one cool mofo. What a fabulous, clever, fun celebration!


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