You must take the “A” train
To go to Sugar Hill way up in Harlem.
If you miss the “A” train
You`ll find you missed the quickest way to Harlem.
Hurry, get on, now it`s coming.
Listen to those rails a-thrumming.
All aboard, get on the “A” train.
Soon you will be on Sugar Hill in Harlem. – BILLY STRAYHORN
Every time I venture out of my southeast Denver neighborhood and head downtown, I am astounded at just how grown up the city has gotten since I worked there. It seems something new appears each time I get off the light rail train and head towards Union Station. There are strange hotels with names that have accents over the vowels. There are gastropubs (gastropubs?). There’s Whole Sol, not to be confused with its next door neighbor Whole Foods. There’s even a Target on the 16th Street Mall, for heaven’s sake. A TARGET! When I worked downtown, I was lucky to find a Rite Aid, and then had to push my way through the street musicians and homeless asking if I could spare a dollar.
But I had a good reason to be going downtown last week. My friend Megan and I were going on an adventure. We were going to take the A Train — not to Harlem but to Denver International Airport. And not because we were flying anywhere; instead, we just wanted to see what all the A-Train fuss was about…..
The A Train, or as it’s really known, the University of Colorado A Line, moves people from Union Station in downtown Denver to the airport and back again. The A Line has had so many problems getting itself to work right that I think the University of Colorado would like to hand its moniker off to its in-state rival CSU. Bill and I had taken the train from DIA to Union Station shortly after it opened, and were one of the few lucky ones whose train didn’t break down, causing significant delays. Woe betide anyone rushing to catch a train in that situation.
Megan, however, had not yet ridden the train, which has been opened for several years already. Want to go on an adventure? she asked me recently, and I agreed.
We met in the beautiful lobby of Union Station. As I waited for her arrival, I recalled the last time I had been in that lobby. It was the day Bill and I left on the California Zephyr for San Francisco. I remember that day well. I was living on oxy and cigarettes. Oh, not really. I had taken one Percocet because I had wrenched my back the night before and could barely walk and needed to withstand 15 hours or more on a train. As for cigarettes, I’ve never smoked one in my life. I just thought that made me sound more interesting and seasoned.
Anyhoo, the lobby is something special, and it was fun to see the travelers mingle with the downtown business people rushing to get their cuppa for a mid-morning pickup. I am waiting by the flower shop I texted her. I will be wearing the Groucho Marx nose and glasses, she responded.
Our plan was to take the train to DIA, and have a fancy-dancy lunch at the fancy-dancy restaurant in the fancy-dancy Westin Hotel that is attached to the airport. As for Megan and me, we are neither fancy nor dancy.
The train takes about 35-40 minutes to make its way from Union Station to the airport. It stops directly in front of the hotel. We disembarked and tried to look suave and debonair as we searched for the restaurant. It is called the Grill & Vine. The ampersand is no accident. It’s like the accent marks over the vowels.
We sat down at approximately 11:50, and finally left at 2:15. Our intention was not necessarily to have a leisurely lunch. The service was just incredibly slow. And we were hungry.
Let’s have burgers, we both agreed when we sat down. Never mind that a burger was 20 bucks. We were on an adventure. But as we sat there awaiting the arrival of our server (a situation we became accustomed to as the lunch progressed), we saw another server walk by with a couple of salads. They looked good, we both agreed.
So when the server finally arrived to take our order, we found ourselves asking for a Caesar salad and a Cobb salad. Little did we know that we wouldn’t see him again for quite some time. I’m pretty sure the chef actually DID take the A Train to Harlem to get the ingredients for our salad. It was close to an hour before our glistening lettuce salads were placed before us…..
As we waited, we dreamed about where we would go if we were actually grabbing a lunch just before boarding a plane to someplace exciting. London, we finally decided. And then to the south of France where Megan could start hunting for property for her next home. It was a dream, after all.
When the salads arrived, we hungrily began eating. We both ate in silence. At last, Megan said, “They’re kind of ordinary, aren’t they? Let’s have dessert.”
So we did. Coconut cake for her; chocolate espresso cake for me…..
We split the bill, as we often do, and put down our respective credit cards. However, for some reason, our server’s version of “splitting a bill” was to charge one of the parties about 10 bucks more. Megan was the lucky winner of the larger bill. To his credit, the server expressed surprise when she pointed out the error, and — as my grandmother would have said — made it right.
As we left the hotel to once again catch the A Train, we turned to one another and said, “We should have had the burger.”
Nevertheless, we enjoyed our adventure very much. Life is short, and time spent with good friends on a train to anywhere is a prize.