My first train ride was on the Southern Pacific Railroad. I had just turned five years old when my mother and I rode from Berkeley, California, to Navasota, Texas. My grandparents had lived there since 1940, when Gramps reluctantly left Elgin to become the principal of a much larger school.
When Mom and I arrived at the station in Berkeley, I noticed that the porters were colored, just like me. I was not surprised. One of my grandmother’s brothers and several of my parents’ friends were porters. I enjoyed watching a large group of them working together. They were strong, full of energy, very good-looking, and had huge smiles. They all wore snazzy dark blue uniforms embellished with gold braid and shiny brass buttons, and blue caps with SPR on the front. But each man used his hat—tilting it to one side or low on his brow or way on the back of his head—to make himself one of a kind. The caps never fell off, not even when the porters hurried around swinging luggage and hoisting boxes like they were dancing, the big showoffs.
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