All Nonfiction Bullying Books Academic Author Interviews Celebrity interviews College Articles College Essays Educator of the Year Heroes Interviews Memoir Personal Experience Sports Travel & CultureAll Opinions Bullying Current Events / Politics Discrimination Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking Entertainment / Celebrities Environment Love / Relationships Movies / Music / TV Pop Culture / Trends School / College Social Issues / Civics Spirituality / Religion Sports / Hobbies
- Summer Guide
- College Guide
- Author Interviews
- Celebrity interviews
- College Articles
- College Essays
- Educator of the Year
- Personal Experience
- Travel & Culture
- Current Events / Politics
- Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking
- Entertainment / Celebrities
- Love / Relationships
- Movies / Music / TV
- Pop Culture / Trends
- School / College
- Social Issues / Civics
- Spirituality / Religion
- Sports / Hobbies
- Community Service
- Letters to the Editor
- Pride & Prejudice
- What Matters
Cherise Esther Thompson
In some ways, London is not all that exciting of a place to live. The buildings seem drab and old after years of seeing them; the paint peels and the ivies climb in all the same places. The people on the streets are just people. They aren’t family, they aren’t friends, they’re just average, boring people. Day by day, I peer out the window of my rowhouse, and I see the same thing. Horses pulling carriages trot down the streets, their hooves clicking against the cobblestone. Cars roll down the road, and a river of people flows with them. From above, the river of people is composed of hats of little variety. Most of the men are wearing bowler hats, while the women are wearing similar types of floppy caps and wide-brimmed hats. From the side, the river of people is composed of dull colored suits and long, swishing dresses. I see no colors except for olive green, black, brown, white, tan, and gray. All of this nondescript environment makes me yearn for excitement, to see new places and meet people who I can actually connect with. Truly, each average day in London nearly bores me to insanity. Even at a young age, I couldn’t stand it! However, my father, Russell Thompson, conductor of the Golden Eagle Express, could always be relied on to lead me to a world where I could find my adventure and excitement.
As my father and I walked together through King’s Cross Station, I hid behind his legs, only peering out ever so slightly. This was my first time accompanying him on the Golden Eagle Express. At the time, I was six years old. My father had decided to take me along because whenever I was at home or school, I’d complain frequently about feeling bored. Unlike other children my age, I didn’t play often and I never made friends at school, which swept away most of my options for things to do. Living in this gray city for six years didn’t help my boredom, either.
“Do something, Russell,” ordered my mother. “All she does is sit around every afternoon, complaining!”
“I’ll take her to work with me tomorrow evening,” replied my father. “That way, she’ll have something to do for once in her life!” When my parents broke the news to me that I would be accompanying my father on the Golden Eagle Express, I didn’t approve of the idea. As much as I struggled to stay firmly planted in my favorite armchair, I was dragged away into the streets of London, all the way to King’s Cross Station. When I had arrived there, I wasn’t enjoying myself any better than I was at home. All of my surroundings were so grand compared to a tiny six-year-old such as myself. The height of the ceiling in King’s Cross Station was so vast that it was intimidating, and the gruff-looking members of my father’s train crew towered over me like the giants in the fairy tales told to me by my mother.
After meeting with Joseph Ackerman, the superintendent, my father and I waited in silence, staring at the empty track where the train would arrive. Every once in a while, he reassured me that the Golden Eagle Express, or as he called it, the “choo-choo,” would arrive soon. I stood there without saying a word as my heart raced with anticipation. Suddenly, a whistle sounded from outside the station, causing me to nearly jump out of my skin. Then, again it sounded, followed by a soft chugging sound. The volume of the chugging increased until a majestic train painted glittering red and brown entered the station. A cloud of steam trailed over the cars, and began to dissipate once the train halted. As the steam cleared away, I was able to read the silver plate attached to the last car: Golden Eagle Express. I squealed, jumping up and down and reaching towards the vehicle. It was large compared to me, but not the type of large that made me nervous. It seemed noble, in a way, as if it were a handsome prince who had been transformed into a train.
“I want to go ride!” I yelled, grabbing my father’s arm and pointing towards the train. “I want to go, I want to go, I want to go!”
“Patience, Cherise,” he scolded, wagging a finger at me. “We’ll ‘go ride’ soon enough.” I stuck out my bottom lip and crossed my arms impatiently. I waited all this time for the train to arrive, and now I had to wait even longer to board it? I began to pout in disapproval.
Almost immediately after the Golden Eagle Express arrived, my father’s train crew flocked around me, waiting for the other crew to exit the vehicle. When my father and I had first arrived at King’s Cross, I had met some of the crew’s members. I didn’t like any of them one bit. The engineer was obese and greasy, and had an abnormally bulbous nose. The brakeman had a permanent sneer plastered to his face. While I was surrounded, I scrutinized the neat, clean uniforms that were worn by the crew. The shoes were polished, shiny and black, and the crisp suits made everyone look so professional. The only imperfection was the oil and food stains on the uniform of the overweight engineer. While I was wrapped up in examining the clothing of the crew, the doors to the Golden Eagle Express opened, and the conductor stepped out calling “All change!” The crew and passengers poured out, completely trapping me in a huddle of unfamiliar people. I cried out for my father, who signaled for his crew to begin working. Just as he did, they cleared away and headed for the train, freeing me from the prison of people. “Daddy has to check over the choo-choo to make sure it’s just right,” my father explained. “Come on!”
Together, we ascended the steps, and then, I got my first look at the interior. My eyes widened and my jaw dropped as I realized that the beauty on the inside was even greater than that of the outside. A velvety red carpet was spread across the aisle. Not a single speck of dirt was seen on it. Clean, white, lacy curtains hung across each of the windows, and the seats looked awfully comfortable. To me, this looked like a mobile version of Buckingham Palace! What a wonderful place for my father to take me! I pranced across the carpet and plopped down in one of the seats, gasping with delight. “You like it?” my father asked, beaming. I was too gobsmacked to respond, so I just sat there, giggling. I explored all around the passenger car while my father gave the train a thorough examination.
Now, the departure time was nearing, and my father needed to constantly check his pocket watch. It was now the perfect time for the passengers to board. Shoving his watch into his pocket, he descended the steps. Holding his hand up like an angry king silencing his underlings, he shouted the one phrase known to all--conductor or not: “All aboard!” Then, the passengers flooded in.
Imagine yourself as a shy six-year-old. How would you react if nearly every passenger on the whole train cooed at you and crowded you like children to a puppy? My cheeks were pinched, I was complimented, and I was called “Little Queen” and “Little Princess.” This attention would have been enjoyable if I wasn’t receiving it from nearly one hundred different people. I panicked internally, firstly because I had nowhere to go, and secondly because I saw the line of passengers waiting to drool over me next. “Say hello, Cherise!” coaxed my father as a woman squatted before me, beaming warmly. “Don’t be shy!” I decided not to listen; this woman needed to learn about giving personal space to terrified children. I buried my face in my father’s belly, hoping that the woman and the rest of the passengers on board would forget about me and just wait for the the ride to begin. “I think she’s had enough,” said my father, waving the woman and the rest of the passengers away. Just as I had hoped, they turned their attention away from me and found their seats. Seeing my frightened expression, my father took my hand, and offered, “Come here! I can teach you everything you want to know about this choo-choo, if you’d like.” I gleefully agreed. During the ride, my father began to teach me the simple facts of the railways, I was entirely hooked, and he took me again later in the week.
Accompanying my father on the Golden Eagle Express became a regular activity for me, and for most of my life, he taught me everything he knew. Over my childhood years, I began to realize that the Golden Eagle Express was the thing that could find me the mirth and adventure I craved. I traveled all over England with my father, to places like Manchester, Leeds, and Liverpool. Visiting each of these cities and breathing a new type of air dispelled any ennui that resided in my soul. My interests lie near my father, in places I haven’t yet visited, and most importantly, inside the Golden Eagle Express.
My father and I had a mutual love of travel and trains that helped us form a special bond, a kind of bond that was stronger than the one I had with my mother, Geraldine. In our small rowhouse, my mother took care of my younger sister, Thelma, while my father and I were out and about riding the rails. Both Thelma and my mother were typical women, with nothing but housekeeping on their minds. I was never that type; the last thing I wanted to do as a living was look after the house and the children. Working on the railroad was my main focus. Although she didn’t want to discourage me, my mother tried to convince me multiple times that I should give up my ambition of becoming a conductor like my father, since it wasn’t considered “proper” for women to take railroad jobs.
“Cherise,” she’d say, “You’re off your trolley! I know how important this is to you, but it simply cannot happen! Stay home! Learn how to keep the house tidy! If you keep thinking about all of this train business, you’ll never be able to live a normal life!” I ignored this comment, because I didn’t want to live a normal life. All I wanted was to be able to work like my father! When I was with him, I felt so much more content than while doing housework, because my heart knew that my place in the world was aboard the Golden Eagle Express. My father and I were so happy together, it seemed as if nothing could happen to separate us, but that feeling of security ended when England decided to enter the Great War, and my father was called to duty, away from me, and away from the Golden Eagle Express.
It was 1914, and I was seventeen years old on the day he departed. When we said our goodbyes in Paddington Station, my father placed his pocket watch in my hand.
“You’ll be needing this soon, railgirl,” he said, smirking. Railgirl was his pet name for me. I gripped the gleaming pocket watch and examined it.
“Thank you,” I sobbed, embracing him one last time before he boarded the train. My mother, Thelma, and I wept in devastation as the train carrying him away chugged into the distance. The awful thought that his return wasn’t certain was too much for us to bear. It was hard to think that this might’ve been our last walk to King’s Cross together. If he died in the war, I’d have to live without his powerful voice yelling “all change,” and chatting to me about the purposes of the porters and the brakemen… forever.
A few weeks before my father departed, it became clear that war was unavoidable. Knowing that he was likely going to be called to service, I wasn’t sure how I’d find happiness with him gone. I felt like I would be shoved into a dark corner and forced to stay there until my father came back. However, I’d forgotten that my father was always there to shed light on me, no matter how dark the corner was. Before his departure, I learned that he’d spoken to Ackerman and left me with as much hope for happiness as he could.
Both Ackerman and my father were aware of my wide knowledge of trains. They did not need to interview me or quiz me. They simply agreed to something extraordinary--to start my training to replace my father as conductor. This news astonished me. I had always dreamed of being a conductor since I was a child, but it was only a dream. Women weren’t conductors! The closest I could even come to working on a train before the war was assisting the porter in carrying the luggage. My mother was so surprised by Ackerman’s plan, and although she was proud of me, she seemed slightly guilty. She’d tried for years to tell me that I could never work on the railroad, and now that I’d proved her wrong… well, let’s just say she bursted into tears and apologized to me thousands of times over. Even Thelma, who had spent her whole life doing housework, dreaming about marriage, and thinking that my passion was ridiculous was happy for me. Despite the fact that my father was about to leave home to fight in the war, my heart was filled with joy and gratitude for the opportunity he had left me with.
My first day as a brakeman was a few days after my father departed. I rose early, trying to ignore the needles of grief that poked at my heart. It was hard not to think of my him, but today, I needed to focus on my job as a brakeman. I washed much of the grief away by thinking about how I’d be working on the Golden Eagle Express in no time. After pulling on my flat cap and struggling to plait my dark, frizzy hair, I started down the busy street, hands clasped behind my back, swerving around the huge crowd. Like always, the faces of everyone around me were unfamiliar, and as usual, the chipping paint on the buildings was no different. Cars roared down the road, honking wildly, which mixed with the sounds of chatter, creating a typical city cacophony. However, I thought nothing of these familiar sights and sounds, because the only thing on my mind at the moment was King’s Cross Station. I continued down my route, thinking of nothing else but the destination and what was to come. A mixture of nervousness, tension, excitement, and just plain happiness swirled around in my body as the station came into view.
Once I was inside, I found Ackerman pacing about the platform. His expression was permanently stern and cold, which completely defied his friendly, bubbly personality. His black-and-gray hair was hidden under a hat, which he toyed with constantly. Near him were two women. One was rather small and had a stocky build. Her expression was impatient and stern, even more intense than the one Ackerman wore. Whoever she was, she did not look like someone I wanted to work with. The other was equally short, but was lanky like a toothpick.
“Ah, hello Cherise!” exclaimed Ackerman, approaching me. “I’d like to introduce you to Henrietta and Mildred. Until you have been fully trained to be a passenger train conductor, Mildred will be replacing your father.” Mildred, the stockier woman, eyed me suspiciously, as if she didn’t think I was the right person to be replacing my father. “Henrietta, however, will replace me as superintendent when I report to duty in a few weeks,” Ackerman said. “Many women will be working in our crew while the men are going off to war.” Nearly jogging forward, Henrietta began to babble on about how much she’d heard about me and how much I learned from my father and… oh! She was certainly friendly, but I wasn’t sure if I could deal with her!
“Nice to meet you two!” I chirped, motioning to shake their hands. Henrietta gladly shook, but Mildred acted as if I carried the plague. Cringing, she eventually brought herself to touch her hand to mine. Touch, not even shake.
“If you’re unsure of what you will do when you are upgraded to conductor, it may help you to watch Mildred during your runs,” Ackerman offered. “She’ll be a great role model!”
Yeah, right. I thought, trying to flash Mildred my best smile. She can barely even touch my hand! You think I want to use someone ill-tempered and disgusted like this daft cow as an EXAMPLE?! At the time, I hadn’t the slightest idea why Ackerman was dim enough to put me to work under Mildred. Over time, however, I learned that she was more skilled than she was polite, and skill was all that Ackerman wanted.
“Mildred will take it from here,” said Ackerman. “Enjoy yourself out there!” He and Henrietta began to walk towards another part of the station, the soles of their shoes tapping gently against the hard floor. As he began to shrink into the distance, Mildred locked eyes with me, sneering. My heart raced, and I began to wonder if she was about to do any harm to me. Just as I became certain that she was about to slap me across the face, she looked in the other direction.
“PORTER!” she barked in a voice that could only be compared to a thunderclap. She even looked like she could spew lightning at any moment. “BRAKEMEN TOO! I HAVE INSTRUCTIONS!” The majority of the crew had been scattered around on the platform, doing their own thing, and as soon as they heard the summon, they came rushing to Mildred.
“Yes, Conductor?” they chimed. When Mildred realized that I was the only brakeman who hadn’t responded, she gave me a dirty look, but then began her instructions. After she told the porter the series of stops we’d be making, she reminded the brakemen of our job on the train. I already knew my purpose on the Golden Eagle Express, but I payed attention because I was afraid of what she would do to me otherwise. After that lecture, which seemed to take hours, Mildred set us free to do whatever we pleased until the Golden Eagle Express arrived. In the meantime, she called over other members of the crew, and gave them equally long lectures. While I waited, I spoke to the engineer, the obese one I met on my first day on the Golden Eagle Express. Moments ago, I’d found him noisily scarfing down an oversized ham sandwich, spilling pieces of lettuce and tomato on his once clean uniform. The engineer’s name was Hubert Bleak, and I had gotten to know him by traveling with my father. I was mildly frightened of him the first time I met him, but throughout the years I learned that he was just as kind as my father. Because of his weight, Bleak was not fit enough to fight in the war. As funny as that sounded, I was relieved that someone I knew was staying in the Golden Eagle Express crew. As we conversed about my new job and the various people replacing members of the crew, a familiar chugging and screeching of brakes broke the silence. Steam began to waft around the platform, and I knew--the Golden Eagle Express had arrived.
I was beginning to like Mildred less and less. As soon as I finished inspecting the couplings, she practically shoved me up the steps, telling me to stay by the brakes no matter what happened, “or else.” I was soon followed by the other brakeman, Lloyd Woods, who shot a glare in Mildred’s direction.
“What is Ackerman thinking, hiring that lowly, good-for-nothing--” seethed Woods.
“Shh!” I hissed, grabbing his arm. “She’ll hear you, and then she’ll be really miffed!” Woods gave me an angry look, but then waited for further instructions.
Once we got the train chugging down the railroad tracks, I was confident that the ride would go well. Woods and I worked the brakes with not much struggle. Our second stop was in Leeds, a city that I had visited many times as a child. When we arrived at the station, I didn’t see the need to stay near the brakes while the passengers exited the train, but Mildred’s “or else” kept my feet planted. I had an awfully hard time keeping Woods from breaking Mildred’s rule. After trying multiple times to get past me and into the passenger car, he gave up and decided to stay by the brakes for the rest of the run.
I knew the railways in England very well from years of riding them with my father. But today, the Golden Eagle Express was taking a route from Leeds to Blackpool that I had never ridden. Before we departed from Leeds, I was excited to ride a new railway. It would be no different from one of the adventures I’d had with my father. I didn’t suspect anything out of the ordinary to happen, but I should have thought ahead more. The railroad track was bumpy and winding, turning my face a sickly green. I tried to ignore the nausea that bubbled in my stomach, and paid as best attention to the brakes as I could. For my sake and the sake of the passengers, I slowed the train whenever a turn or a drop came close, but it didn’t help much. Halfway through the ride, I couldn’t stand the pain in my stomach any longer. “Watch the brakes!” I yelled to Woods. “I don’t feel well…” I stumbled clumsily into the passenger car, certain that I was about to vomit. All of the passengers gasped in unison. I was already leaning over the aisle, ready to be sick in front of everyone, when I realized they weren’t looking at me. They were all clutching at the backs of the seats or each other, with horrified expressions on their faces. What was this all about? Then, I noticed it--the speed of the train was increasing drastically. Looking out one of the passenger windows, I could see that the railroad track was sharply slanted downward, which explained why the Golden Eagle Express was now lunging at an uncontrollable speed. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Woods.
“That blasted twit!” I screamed. “He’s left his post!”
“Do something, Thompson!” Mildred bellowed, stomping her foot. Clenching my teeth and swallowing back the bile that was rising in my throat, I panicked internally, wondering what I should do. If the train wasn’t put under control soon, a disaster could happen.
Wait a minute, I thought, shaking my head until I ceased to panic. I’m the brakemen! I’m the one who’s supposed to be keeping the train under control! With that thought, I sprinted toward the brakes, with nothing on my mind but stopping the train. Passengers and crew members screamed, but I blocked the noise out. My hand was centimeters away, and then centimeters became a millimeter, and… I yanked the handle of the brake as hard as possible, causing the train to come to an abrupt stop. The brakes screeched loudly, and passengers hurled forward in their seats due to the suddenness of the stop. Woods, Mildred, and the porter fell over, yelling in surprise. After all of the shock and panic disappeared from the room, everyone stared at me. I was still standing, gripping the brake with one hand, looking as stunned as everyone else. Shocked looks slowly changed to beams as they realized that I was the one who pulled the brake. Everyone in the passenger car, erupted into cheers. Mildred approached me, a true smile on her face. Was this actually happening? Judging by the type of person I had thought Mildred to be, smiling was the last thing I expected her to do. She shook my free hand without pulling away at the last minute, and stepped back, still wearing a gleeful expression.
“You did well,” she said. Then, her facial expression transformed into a glower as she turned to Woods. “You! You bloody fool!”
After the war…
It’s a cool summer evening in Paris. Stepping onto the balcony, I stare up at the dusk sky, and think about what brought me here and know that today will bring good memories. During the Great War, I worked on the railroad each day on the Golden Eagle Express. Every day, I was awaiting my father’s return, unaware that it would never come. My father, Russell Thompson, who guided me to adventure and helped me whenever I needed it was killed in the war. The day he died, my mother unfolded the telegram before Thelma and I and began to read it, her face scrunching into a tearful expression. Our whole family wept for weeks after. My dear father! Oh, how I couldn’t stand losing him forever! However, Ackerman was one of the lucky soldiers, and returned to London after the war. He was sad that my father didn’t make it, but he was happy to upgrade me to conductor after all my years of training, but then, something extraordinary happened.
I received a letter, sent all the way from Paris, France. Now, who in Paris would be writing to me? I wondered as I tore open the envelope and pulled the letter out. The man writing to me was named Pierre Banat. Apparently, he was a good mate of Ackerman’s. Before the war, Banat visited King’s Cross Station to witness the beauty of the trains. There, Ackerman spoke to him and the two of them became the very best of friends. Whenever they were apart, they wrote letters back and forth to one another. In one of these letters, Ackerman mentioned my skill. Banat was the superintendent of a luxury train called the Gold Parisian, that ran mostly from Paris to Constantinople. When Banat was told the story of how I saved the passengers on my first day as a brakeman, he had to have me working as conductor on the Gold Parisian and offered me the job. A week ago, I had packed up my things, taken the boat to Paris, and settled into the cozy apartment I’d bought for myself. I’m now on my way to Gare de l’Est Station for my first day as a conductor. My new uniform is well-fitting. In my mirror, I stare at the reflection of the gleaming name plate I wear on my lapel: Cherise Thompson: Conductor. I leave my apartment and head for the station.
When I arrive on the platform in Gare de l’Est Station, Banat is eagerly awaiting my arrival, tapping his foot and looking about. This is the moment I’d been waiting for my whole life, to work as a conductor like my father. I thought that working on any train would be exciting, but a luxury train is a whole different story.
Banat greets me with a handshake and some simple instructions, and trusts me to know what to do. I turn to the Gold Parisian, and stare at its gleaming black surface. The lettering on the side of the train was scrolled: The Gold Parisian. I can only imagine what it looks like on the inside. After I make sure that the engineer, the porter, the brakemen, and other members of my new crew are doing their duties, I move to inspect the train to make sure that it’s ready for departure.
Imagine the most beautiful mansion that exists. This is how I would best describe the interior of the Gold Parisian. From the glamour of the dining car to the comfort of the sleeping coach, it was absolutely perfect. I walk through the whole train, taking everything in through widened eyes. The seats in the passenger car are extremely comfortable. There are glowing lamps, velvety cushions, and lace curtains. The bedrooms in the sleeping coach have polished wooden walls, and the beds look warm and inviting. The tables in the dining car are neatly set, with crisp cloth napkins folded under the forks. Menus sit on top of the plates. I read the dishes listed on them: crepes with ham, egg, and cheese for breakfast, hot carrot soup with thyme for lunch, and a seasoned duck confit for dinner. My mouth begins to water. Bleak would love this, I think, chuckling at the thought of the engineer’s humongous appetite. My goodness, they really do mean “luxury” when they say “luxury train!” After I check every single car there is--inside and out--Banat asks if there’s anything that needs fixing. “It’s perfect,” I breathe, and Banat grins.
I pull my pocket watch out of the pocket of my uniform. It was the one my father gave to me when he left for the war. He would be so proud of me right now, if he were alive. I must have taken a long time inspecting the Gold Parisian, because it was now nearly boarding time. Passengers were crowding the platform, all thrilled to have the privilege of riding such a beautiful vehicle. Five minutes pass by, and then, it’s time for my great triumph--to say what I’ve been waiting to say my whole life. Standing by the doors of the Gold Parisian, I raise my hand above my head. The passengers realize that I’m about to make an announcement, so they stop in mid conversation and look at me. I can’t believe what I’m about to do. Then, in a voice that reminds me of my father’s--loud, powerful, and clear-- I yell,