Christmas on the Paranormal Express: A holiday essay, Part 1

We present attorney Michael W. Hall’s annual Christmas Story, this year in three parts

Part 1

Ever since I was monikered with the nickname, “The Paranormal Lawyer” (decades ago), I’ve found myself skirting the outer-limits of sanity and incredulity, treading lightly between the clear-cut, analytical career of an attorney-at-law and my lifelong interest in the strange, esoteric subjects that are UFOs, Aliens, Bigfoot and Ghostly apparitions.  So, it wasn’t too odd that eventually I found myself, through a string of unpredictable synchronicities, kicking off the Christmas Holiday Season in Las Vegas, Nev., on a last-minute business trip to “Sin City” to firm up plans for the annual “Disclosure Aid” music-video fundraiser that I’ve been working on these past few years (to raise awareness for “UFO/ET Disclosure.”)  

Spoiler Alert:  If you haven’t surmised already, this year’s installment of my annual “Christmas Story” is quickly developing into a unique, but hopefully heartwarming, Paranormal Christmas Tale, in the spirit of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas! and Chris Van Allsburg’s and Robert Zemekis’ The Polar Express.

But, before I ruffle any righteous “Blasphemy!” hackles, let me point out how “supernatural” (indeed, how downright “paranormal”) the original Biblical account of Jesus’ birth must have been for those Old Testament believers back around 4-6 B.C. Indeed, to suddenly hear that a young (perhaps, 14-year old) virgin named Mary, from the small town of Nazareth, was inexplicably found to be ‘with child’ by the “Holy Spirit,” would have raised more than a few Middle-Eastern eyebrows at the time. And when Joseph, her betrothed husband (a much older, Jewish carpenter) found out about it, the event must have been the talk of the town! Then, as we read in Matthew 1:18-23, Joseph, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace Mary, benevolently planned to quietly break off their engagement. But, amazingly, before he could legally accomplish this, Joseph is visited by an Angel of the Lord (in a dream) and told not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife, because her unborn boy-child was conceived by the Holy Spirit, that He was to be called “Jesus” and He will save God’s people from their sins! If such bold statements didn’t win some historical equivalent of the ‘Chutzpah Award,’ I don’t know what would!  

And don’t forget those “Heavenly Hosts,” who dramatically appeared to the lowly Shepherds abiding in the fields and their frightening audio-visual display, proclaiming that a “Savior” has been born in the nearby town of Bethlehem, and that they would find the newborn babe wrapped in ‘swaddling cloths,’ lying in a feed-bin at the local stable! Forget about today’s rapid-fire social media, the news of this miraculous event must have traveled faster than the “Storm Area 51” Facebook meme, and straightened the curly sideburns of any ultra-orthodox believer of the day.

And what about that miraculous “moving’ star,” which lead the Magi (those ‘Wise Men’ from the east who were into astronomy, astrology and the natural sciences) to the baby Jesus, and the fact they somehow ‘remote viewed’ the birth of a new “King of the Jews.” So impressed were they, that they made the long, arduous journey to worship Him and brought expensive gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  

Now, I’m not saying that all of these things are paranormal… but let’s face it, they’re paranormal…! 

Thus, when my old college sweetheart and her husband (a really great guy… and no, I’m not saying she is “old,” only that we were an ‘item’ well over four decades ago….) picked me up at McCarran International Airport, where those infamous “Janet” flights land and take off each day ferrying scientists and technicians to “Area 51,” we had just enough time to take in the Christmas ‘Holiday Buffet’ at the Palace Station Hotel/Casino before my scheduled evening meeting with the local “Disclosure Aid” Board of Directors.  

The next morning over some home-cooked scrambled eggs and cheese, thick-cut bacon and Starbucks “Breakfast Blend” (all of which, soberly drove home what I’d been missing all these years; not having the fortitude to marry this wonderful woman when I had the chance), we decided that since I had made the trip all the way to Las Vegas (the adult Disneyland of ‘Chance’ and ‘Paranormal’), I should take advantage of a unique offer I had recently received to become a “Writer In Residence” on the Amtrak Railroad.  “A what, you ask…? Initially, when I heard that Amtrak had a ‘Resident Writer’s Program,’ I said the same thing! But, when I looked into the admittedly romantic idea of writing and riding the rails through America’s Heartland on the classic “Empire Builder” or a domestic equivalent of “The Orient Express,” with spacious passenger cars, stunning observation decks, dining and lounge cars, I realized it was an opportunity of a lifetime. 

Indeed, through a stringent but not too repugnant process, I applied and was accepted into Amtrak’s Resident Writer’s Program and given the amazing opportunity to pick a long-distance, round-trip excursion of my choice to any Amtrak destination, with food and drink and private sleeping quarters provided.  And as a bonus, plenty of requisite “white noise” atmosphere and/or solitude, and adventure, to get into the ‘Literary Zone’ that I crave so much. Such an opportunity would be difficult for anyone to pass up, let alone someone like myself who just has to write.  The only difficult decision was, when to do it?  

As fate would have it, the upcoming Christmas Season was looking to be a bit low-key for me. With my four kids all grown and living on their own, and those lingering “recovery years” since my divorce finally fading from my memory, with no real plans or demands for this year’s Yuletide festivities, I thought to myself; “Self! You can do anything you want this Christmas…!” Hmmm….. What a tantalizing prospect to contemplate for a middle-aged free-spirit who is well overdue for a good mid-life crisis, and who has never actually (or at least, recently) thought outside of the box!  Indeed, what box….? The fact is, I love to write and to escape from my surroundings and myself, not even ‘outlining’ or planning ahead of time where my keyboarding thumbs or fingers will take me. So, the Amtrak Writers Program was something I couldn’t pass up.  

Writing for me has always had the romantic allure of high adventure, whether I am engrossed in the cozy bustle of a local coffee shop, the high energy atmosphere of my hometown athletic club, or at the beach on some sun-drenched shore.  Thus, the idea of escaping on a “ribbon-of-rails” safari traveling to far-flung destinations without a worldly care… now that’s pure romance in the making.  

My plan, if you can call it that, was for my “Ex” and her Hubby (like I said, he’s a really great guy!) to drive me the hundred miles or so from Las Vegas to Needles, California, where I would catch the Amtrak “Southwest Chief” on Christmas Eve Day, for a week-long Holiday “Writing Adventure” east and north to Chicago, then on home to Seattle; effectively spending the entire duration between Christmas and New Years on the train, which I calculated (erroneously or not) would be a wonderful time to travel; with most everyone already safely tucked away at their Holiday destinations, opening presents and binge-watching TV, stuffing themselves with Christmas Goose and pecan pie and hosting the ‘In-Laws,’ who previously made their own ‘over the river and through the woods’ Christmas trips, providing me with a relatively uncrowded itinerary during some of the ‘least busiest travel-days of the year.’ Or so I thought….

My unique literary journey begins at the train station in Needles, CA, saying my heartfelt goodbyes to my “Ex” and her Husband with conflicting thoughts of how this scene might simultaneously be playing out in some alternate universe, where I had married my youthful flame and this same scenario is happening under very different circumstances.  But then, that has always been a lifelong problem of mine, or perhaps a weird gift of some sort; having the tendency to view my situation from outside myself, from some macro-universal perspective, for just a split second.          

Waving farewell to my friends, I grab my suitcase, sling my computer bag over my shoulder and board the famous Amtrak “Southwest Chief.”  

I present my ticket and paperwork to the friendly Attendant; a salt and pepper haired, androgynous-looking gentleman with a crisp mustache and traditional Conductor’s hat. He seems the epitome of congenial and competent service, all wrapped into someone you’d immediately take to, or at least I did. I have no idea whether I’m being treated with any special dispensation because of the “Writer In Residence” notation in my papers.  But, I rather believe that “Bodine,” as his name tag indicates, treats every passenger with the same dignity and respect. I follow him along through the lower-level passenger cars, then upstairs through the labyrinth of second-level sleeper units, toward the rear of the train and my deluxe sleeper unit.  Stepping inside the beautifully-appointed space, Bodine shows me around the suite, which is not that much smaller than my first studio apartment as a starving young writer/actor/wannabe in Los Angeles; complete with a writing table, a roomy couch for gazing out the large picture window, and an impressive bed to stretch out on and watch the night glide by, as I slumber to the rhythm of the rails.  

While Bodine finishes demonstrating each of the cabin’s amenities, I fumble for an appropriate gratuity but am waylaid by his sweet tenor voice, “No gratuity is necessary Sir. You’re our ‘Writer In Residence!’ We want your stay with us to be memorable and relaxing. And we wish you all the best in what you are writing.” Feeling nonplussed and wonderfully welcomed aboard, it suddenly occurs to me how honored and truly blessed I am to be here, under these incredible circumstances; with no pressure or daily demands to worry about for the next full week of travel and “writing bliss.” I vow that tomorrow I will insist that Bodine accept my customary daily gratuity as a small expression of my joy and gratitude.

After admiring my new surroundings and stowing my things, I decide to take a self-guided tour through what truly reminds me of a ‘thin’ cruise ship gliding through the scenic landscape that presents itself out each window. Much roomier and more inviting than a typical holiday plane flight, you can actually exercise your legs and stimulate your brain as you move about. A leisurely stroll through each car provides a slice of “Americana” you can only experience traveling by train.  Families with small children dressed in their holiday travel outfits, on their way to see Grandma and family for Christmas. Business people, Salesmen and unique Souls from every walk of life. Even “Old Order” Amish travelers who are venturing farther than their traditional horse-drawn buggies can conveniently take them. All heading in the same direction at this same moment in time, for purposes as varied as the DNA flowing through each of our veins.  

I take pleasure in noticing that the train is tastefully decorated for the holidays, enhancing the festive mood for the Yuletide travel season. Old-fashioned tinsel and sparkling garlands bring forth those precious “Currier & Ives” memories of traveling home for the holidays as a young child. The Lounge Car provides relaxation, coffee and snacks and a gathering place for casual conversation.

But, it’s the Coach Car that really puts me into the true Holiday Spirit. In Coach, where a least-expensive ticket will bring you to the same designation as a First-Class sleeper unit (without the amenities of course), many passengers have brought their own blankets, pillows and food baskets; fully prepared to spend the next few days and evenings reclining in their seats, instead of incurring the extra cost for a private sleeper or roomette. And they can always venture up to the Observation Car to enjoy the scenery or take advantage of the Lounge or Dining cars. 

These soothing images remind me of a classic Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post magazine cover, if one can imagine such an “American Tableau” taking place on the Amtrak “Southwest Chief” from Los Angeles to Chicago.  

Eventually, I make my way up to the Observation Car, with its curving overhead windows providing a premium view during both day and night time.  Settling into a padded chair, I put my feet up on the rail, open my ChromeBook in my lap and recline to an amazing vista that completely surrounds me. My fingers find their customary places on the qwerty-keyboard and my mind quickly fades away into this very paranormal Christmas tale you are currently reading right now…. 

As I drift into the zone, an ever-changing Louis L’Amour ‘Wild West’ landscape slides by outside.

It’s captivating how the view from a train is much more immersive than any other mode of transportation. On the train you’re not insulated from tour environment like you are on a concrete freeway in a car or a bus. On a train, the world is literally only inches away, not across multiple lanes of traffic or thousands of feet below on a crowded plane. And the soothing motion of the rocking rails is almost primal and therapeutic, reminiscent of those turn of the 20th century “Wells Fargo” coaches that lulled their passengers to sleep as they flew across the desert. I find traveling by train both hypnotizing and freeing at the same time, providing a welcomed opportunity to turn off the incessant monkey-chatter that permeates my subconscious left-brain.  

As twilight dims on the desert, I can almost hear the wistful sounds of Leonard Sly (Roy Rogers) and The Sons of The Pioneers singing “Ghost Riders In The Sky,” while stark scenes from Zane Grey’s novel, “The Riders of the Purple Sage,” materialize in my mind. The classic vocals of Kay Starr and Patsy Cline take over where “The Sons” leave off, and the night becomes eerily populated with the haunting apparitions of stunted Joshua trees and looming saguaro throwing their long, lonesome shadows to the east as far as the eye can see….

— by Michael W. Hall, J.D

Michael W. Hall, a 1971 graduate of Edmonds High School, is a local attorney who enjoys fly fishing, writing and “all things Fortean.”


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