On July 12th I saw my first riverboat. I’m not talking about a dinner/dance cruise boat, or a yacht, but a Twainian escape from my 2012 landlubber self. I was a kid again, my own female version of Huck Finn.
I knew riverboats existed. I’ve been to St. Louis and I’ve lived on and near many rivers, but somehow I’ve managed to never see one. The closest I came, if you can call it close, is a casino boat that stayed docked. Nothing had prepared me for this.
I was rounding the corner to Madison Coffee & Tea to blog while having my morning iced chai latte and cranberry muffin, when I almost slammed into Carey, who works there. She was craning her neck looking down toward the river. I could see it looming over the riverbank from Main Street. The blog, I knew, could wait. I HAD to get photos.
My brother read my mind and texted back the very quote that was I was singing:
Of course, Madison’s good side is seen as easily on shore as off, but you can’t help going through your list of riverboat songs and books when you see your first one.
The rest of the day was spent writing an essay weaving our time living in different places along the Ohio River: where it formed, in our Pittsburgh area home; living under the mothman legacy in Point Pleasant, West Virginia; watching the locks in Evansville, Indiana; and falling in love with a town called Madison. There are threads of CCR and Twain, and I hope I can share it with you if I’m fortunate enough to have it published.
The Mississippi Queen and the Delta Queen previously came through Madison, but the Miss. has been dismantled, and the Delta was decommissioned due to a shameful regulation about boats with wooden structures, meant to make ocean voyages safer, but not really essential to inland waterways.
I returned to the cafe with photos for Carey and put out a reader challenge on Facebook for anyone in the upriver ports to take a photo. I received some wonderful photos from Amy Cornelius Dembosky of Pittsburgh.
After I posted the photo request on Facebook, I picked up lunch at The Attic and returned to the river to wait for the departure.
Nobody had forewarned me that riverboats play music, and I almost cried when the calliope started.
Cliff Stookey, a man I met on the overlook, told me to listen for the boat to switch to the Mickey Mouse tune as it passed under the Madison-Milton Bridge. The boat pilot, he explained, has a friend who lives near the bridge, and he plays it for his friend every time.
Mickey Mouse was kind of appropriate, since the calliope already had me feeling like one of the children who ran, arguing, onto the overlook to look at the boat: “It’s the Titanic!” / “It’s not the Titanic!” / “It’s the Titanic!” / “The Titanic sunk in 1996.” / [pause, running to look down over the other side of the overlook] / “Look, it’s a sunken pirate ship!”
I could relate. I was playing my own game of imagination, about figuring out how to hitch a ride on that riverboat queen. I really was a kid again, if only for the length of the calliope’s concert.I hope these videos can give you a little of that feeling, too.