Sitting in Union Station, in awe and digesting my DC experience, I drifted off and missed my train to NC. I rebooked on a later train, but the only seating available would be in a sleeper car. I interpreted sleeper car as a kind of luxury. Maybe I’d have that first class experience I wrote about where people would look at me like, “what’s he doing here?.” In actually it felt like riding in an airplane bathroom with a window out to the classic southern landscape. This is the black joy tour, but I was having a hard time accepting that this was my fate at the moment. Then I recall, there is always something available for me in this moment. How do I open to it and celebrate what is?
When I got out of my head and self concern long enough, I could hear the joy coming from the sleeper car’s attendant, Rodney. I’d come to find out that this was the sound of 23 years of doing this job. Alchemizing passengers concerns and injecting ease into their experience. I wondered if he’d heard of the the Pullman Porters ( https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/pullman-porters, ) the history of which I’d only just discovered through the Museum of African American History and Culture in DC. George Pullman sought to hire former slaves because of their ability to be invisible and be the “perfect servant.” Though his intentions were problimatic and purely interested in the comfort of the white customers, he ended up being the largest employer of black men in the country at the time.
Some would let the stigma of this history be a reason to now not partake in this line of work. Much like how black folks for a long time had moved away from farming and connecting with the land due to its stigma and association with slavery. Rodney instead had so much pride and dignity infused into his work. He made sure he was seen, heard and would not be forgotten. You would remember your experience with him and his passion for service, not being a servant. Some would argue he should aspire for more. To reach the elite “dominant” status of his customers. But Rodney knows his value, he exemplified true power harnessed and transmitted as joy, kindness and love. He doesn’t need validation from the outside. He’s living the life he enjoys, and you can feel it in the love he spreads.
He tells me stories of thinking he would give it all up when the pandemic hit and there were only fifteen people on the whole train. Now the trains are sold out. He tells me stories of his multi-disciplinarian wife and brilliant kids who are all doing fantastic work. He tells me about his cruises to the Caribbean and an upcoming one to Alaska. How he gets to go to NY every week and feel the energy there. Rodney recognized his gift and brings it in a way you can’t help but to feel and back him. Thank you Rodney.