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« Texan Odyssey Part II | Main | Wasting Time »

w November 24, 2003

Texan Odyssey Part III

We're finally in New Mexico, and it is astonishing how different it looks from Arizona and California. Somehow, it's flatter, more gentle, and golden. Everything the sun hits sort of faintly shimmers, and it just feels very peaceful. The hills look not unlike the cone of flour you would get pouring it into a bowl...softly rounded tops, slightly sloping sides. And the best part? Funky little Dr Seuss trees and/or cacti. I really wanted to see some Whos or Thing One and Thing Two running around.

Ate dinner with a lovely couple from Virginia who were on their way to New Orleans...now, there's an odyssey. Remember, we're going eastbound from California...you think about that geography. I had bought a half bottle of reasonably tasty merlot, and Bean only allowed me to drink half a glass; the hilarious grandmother sitting with me suggested taking it with me...I had bought it, and if I didn't take it, they were going to purloin it. I took it. And I'm not ashamed to say I sat in the dark in our berth with Bean asleep, swigging directly from the bottle, watching the desert go by. I gave in to sleepiness and the wine at 9 o'clock and went to sleep myself, so we both ended up feeling a lot better in the morning.

Yay! In Texas. But there is a lot of Texas to go through...let's start with El Paso. One always forgets that it is a fairly big city, and I certainly forgot that it is also right on the border of Mexico. While I rationally know there is such an animal as the Border Patrol, it was still a little disquieting to see multiple trucks policing the area. I didn't see any pickups, for which I was thankful, but it really did feel like an interactive "COPS" episode.
Made it into San Antonio only two hours late (that's pretty good for Amtrak, trust me), and our cars were hitched to the northbound Texas Eagle. Onward to Dallas, yeehaw. Yet again, totally different landscape...the route from San Antonio to Dallas is through the Hill Country, and it is just so bucolic. Trees! Cows! Grass! Farms!
The one thing that isn't so bucolic is the proliferation of completely dilapidated little towns strung along the rail line. You have to wonder if the sad, broken-looking storefronts are just remnants of an older downtown that had relied on the railroad, and there was something more prosperous up the road, but more often than not, it just didn't seem likely. On the other hand, they all have well-kept water towers with the local high school mascot slathered on brightly.

Got to Dallas about 6:30 (still two hours late), wrestled everything off the train, and eventually wrestled everything onto the light rail that would take me north to Plano. I was actually going to McKinney, my mother's "family seat", but Plano is next door, and we would be picked up by some of my very favorite relatives in the world, Mom's cousins who quickly became Mamie and Pappaw to Bean, and who embody every GOOD Southern stereotype in the book. I won't go into my actual time in Texas, let's just say it was restful, fun, filled with barbecue and Dr Pepper, and I found the house I intend to buy and fix up sooner or later. Go to www.ebby.com and look for "401 West Louisiana Street" in McKinney, Texas. Trust me, it's worth it.

The return trip was easy enough, I felt like I was a little more savvy about rail travel, and we also had a car attendant who gave a crap about his job, so that helped. We got into Los Angeles with an hour and a half to spare before our connecting train north, I was feeling great...and then I found out it would not be a train, but a bus. This girl is not taking a 12 hour bus ride with a tired toddler and two diapers left. Nooooooo way. I hightailed it back to the Burbank airport with a totally insane cabbie, easily got a flight to Oakland, and was home in time for lunch. In retrospect, I should have just forgone the San Jose-LA train from the beginning, but no matter. I learned a good lesson about the efficacy of air travel, ha.

So, final thoughts on our Railroad Adventure? I would do it again, absolutely. However, a second pair of hands and a somewhat older Bean would help. No connections, absolutely. Highlights: Dogies (that's calves to you tenderfeet) running and playing, a tumbleweed actually tumbling, a faux stagecoach and horses set up on a hill outside of Alpine, looking real enough to make you look twice, meeting some veeeeery interesting and colorful people, seeing the sun come up over the desert, everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, waving at the train as it passed. I almost started to cry when that would happen, because it just said so much about the ability of us jaded humans to still find mundane things exciting...there's a little four-year-old in us all.

It was, even in the face of all the travails, a magically romantic adventure, and I'm heartily glad I did it. All aboard, y'all.

by at November 24, 2003 10:55 AM | TrackBack Comments

Here's where I plug the scenic trip on the Capitol Corridor to Sacramento (and a visit to our place!)

Plus, the trip is too short for a turkey and twist-tie sandwich.


Posted by: jim on November 25, 2003 4:18 PM

Hetty, it's your Canadian content that makes you feel romantic and nostalgic for railtravel.
Now how about a cross-Canada tour on VIA. Just to compare, of course, with the added bonus of visiting us all from Sea to Sea.
Thanks for truly the best-written, more entertaining blog on the net. (Of course, yours is the only one I read - but for that reason!!!)

Posted by: Mary on November 27, 2003 8:48 AM
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