Google+ Badge

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

By Train from San Marcos, Texas, to Detroit

When I was making travel arrangements with the organizers of the ConClave science fiction convention in Detroit, for which I was a Guest of Honor for 2016, they asked me if I preferred to fly or take the train. I had actually been looking at the viability of making a train trip for more than a year at that point and the choice was therefore an obvious one for me. Suffice it to say that I have enjoyed it very much and may have found a new favorite mode of travel.

Most of my trip was on Amtrak’s Texas Eagle line, which runs from San Antonio to Chicago, where I had a layover and needed to transfer to another train for the final six hours into Detroit. I initially assumed I would want to travel from San Antonio, but then realized that I lived a little bit closer to San Marcos, which was easier to get to and 50 miles or so further up the line.

Kept a log of my journey for anyone who might be interested!

* Arrived at the train station in San Marcos at 8 a.m. for a train scheduled to depart at 8:32. It arrived more than half an hour late, however, a little after 9. Did not realize my fare was 1st-class and was surprised when the conductor called my name and then had the steward for the sleeper car show me to my Roomette, Room #20 on the upper level and starboard/eastern-facing/non-station-facing side of car 2232. Train pulled out of the station at 9:09.

* Steward asked me if I wanted a cup of coffee and then directed me to the dining car for the final call for breakfast. One of the pleasant surprises of this trip was learning that food was included in my fare, which is a pretty big deal. Had scrambled eggs, grits, chicken sausage, a croissant, some cranberry juice, and my coffee (but should have skipped the sausage and stuck with my commitment to eating meat just once a day and then for lunch or dinner). Amtrak adheres to “community seating” in its dining cars, having unaffiliated people share tables to make the most of its space, and I ate with a nice lady from Oklahoma City named Felicia was had been visiting her daughter and grandson in San Antonio and had also boarded in San Marcos. Train pulling into Austin, about 40 minutes after San Marcos, as I finished up.

* Train stays in some stations longer than others and I had enough time in Austin to get out, stretch my legs, and take a few pictures before it pulled out about 10:09. Back in my cabin I propped up a pillow, found the most comfortable position I could, and closed my eyes. Sometime later, as I was dozing, I heard the conductor announce we were coming into Taylor, Texas, and that we would not be there long: “If you’re not planning on staying in Taylor, stay on the train.”

* Woke up about 1:30 to the announcement of final call for lunch in the dining car and got up and headed straight over to it. Was seated with a glum trio, father, grandmother, and grandson if I had to guess; older two declined to my eye contact or acknowledge my presence but the teenage boy did. Had a beautiful spinach salad that included cherry tomatoes, red onions, and cucumbers, with a balsamic vinaigrette, and some ice tea; declined grilled chicken with it because I was not that hungry and knew I would not want to spoil my appetite for a nice dinner.

* Pulled into Fort Worth shortly after I got back to my room from lunch. Got out to enjoy a few minutes of sunshine and take some pictures. Saw my breakfast companion was getting off to transfer and wished her well on the rest of her trip.

* Wrote, took pictures, and shot video between Fort Worth and Dallas. Wanted to get out at Dallas, where we were stopped for about 15 minutes, but no one was getting out of my car and the doors to it were not open, so I decided not to mess with it. Pulled out of Dallas a few minutes before 4 p.m.

* Lucias, the dining car chief, came by my room about 4:25 p.m. to take dinner reservations, offering 5:45, 6:30, and 7:15 as options, and for any number of reasons I took the latest one. Went down to the café car afterward to buy a cup of coffee (had pushed the call button for my steward to see if she had any left but she never came).

* Pulled into sleepy-looking little Mineola, Texas, about 5:30 p.m. and once doors on my car were not opened, so I just took a few pictures from inside. Pulled out at 5:40 and, as we picked up speed, the dining car steward announced that people with 5:45 reservations should head to dinner. Not hungry at all and glad I won’t be eating for another hour-and-a-half! Continued heading east as sunset neared through the Piney Woods region of Texas, marked by many streams and marshes. Have found this leg of the journey from Dallas to Texarkana to be a little dreary while driving, generally along I-30, but perfectly pleasant by train!

* Pulled into Longview, Texas, at 6:29 p.m. Conductor announced this was where people could get connecting buses to Shreveport, Lousiana. Was immersed in writing at this point and did not bother to see if I could get off and just took a couple of pictures from the window of my room. At 6:35 Lucius announced that people with 6:30 dinner reservations should go to the dining car. Pulled out at 6:36.

* Went to dinner at 7:15 and had a surprisingly good medium-rare steak! Enjoyed a baked potato, some vegetables, and a half bottle of cabernet sauvignon with it and then had date pudding cake and coffee for dessert.

* Worked for awhile in my room and planned to do so until 11 p.m. the latest at which I could call for turn-down service, but by 10 was exhausted and not getting anything done and so called for the steward and went to take a shower. Turned in a little after 11 and slept off-and-on throughout the night, periodically waiting up because of some noise or movement or when we pulled into a station; woke up at one point, probably around midnight, and saw we were in Little Rock, Arkansas.

* Woke up around 7 a.m., while we were stopped in St. Louis, Missouri, and decided to grab some breakfast in the dining car (pancakes, which were just OK, with some bacon, milk, and coffee). Went back to my room and spent the rest of my time on the train working, dozing, and watching the scenery as we passed through Missouri and then Illinois.

* Got into Chicago Union Station on time, right around 1:52 p.m.! Had been travelling with just a sales receipt and not actually tickets, and so had some printed for the rest of my trip first thing. Then went to Amtrak’s new Metropolitan Lounge to get something to drink, avail myself of the first Internet connection I have had in almost two full days, and wait for my departure time. Was also pleased during check in at the lounge to be offered an earlier train out of Chicago and be rescheduled for it!