Tahlequah Daily Press

Columns

February 3, 2014

Train travel is great, if you know how to do it

TAHLEQUAH — Amtrak should put me on the payroll, because I’m one of the company’s best ambassadors.

For years, I’ve been extolling the virtues of trains. My husband’s an even bigger fan than I am. Train travel is less expensive and more comfortable than flying, and the food is better. Come to think of it, you don’t even get food anymore on most airlines, unless you fly overseas. Unless you count half a handful of peanut and a thimble of ginger ale as “food.”

We like to “take the train” a couple of times a year, if possible. Sometimes we manage to combine business with pleasure. Either way, it’s the most relaxing means of transportation available. Of course, one might argue that driving is  relaxing, but that only applies if you’re not the actual driver. If you’re behind the wheel, you can’t surf the internet, text your sister, or have a cocktail – not unless you want to wind up wearing an orange jumpsuit and hoping Donn Baker will take your case, or wrapped around a utility pole with no hope of anything.

I know many folks who have taken the Heartland Flyer from Oklahoma City to Fort Worth, and back again. Some have ventured even farther, boarding the Texas Eagle and continuing to San Antonio for a weekend on the Riverwalk. From there, you can continue to California, or you can head east as far as New Orleans. That route used to go all the way to Florida, and we were some of the last folks to take it before Katrina wiped out the tracks somewhere past New Orleans. The line hasn’t been open since. From Fort Worth, you can also elect to go north to Chicago on the Texas Eagle – and from Chicago, you can get to just about anywhere in the country by train. Chicago is Amtrak’s hub, and this is one of the many reasons we enjoy that city so much.

The Heartland Flyer is more  or less a “commuter” train, so you can’t get private “accommodations” – what they used to call a “berth.” It takes off from OKC at 8:25 every morning for Fort Worth and arriving there at around 12:30. Then it turns around – not literally; there’s an engine on each end of the train – and comes back to OKC at 5:25 p.m., arriving in OKC at around 9:30. It’s a very reliable route these days, almost always on time, and it’s so popular that they’ve gone from two cars to four per day. There’s a snack bar that sells beer, spirits, wine, soda pop and snacks for quite reasonable prices.

Many Okie beer aficionados are pleased to learn the domestic beer is from Texas, rather than the 3.2 swill sold in this state.

I’d like to see many Tahlequah residents try the Heartland Flyer, and let me know what they think. Since we’re old hands at it, I’ll let you in on a few secrets, so you’ll be a leg up on any other novice trainers in your car.

First of all, accept the fact that the conductors can be stern, and they mean business. Typically when we are on the Flyer, we have a rail-thin black man whose last name is apparently Mayo, and a short, portly, bearded white guy whose name escapes me at the moment.  The white guy is the one who usually calls out the stops, and his voice is the one eagerly awaited by the smokers on board. The smoke stop is at Ardmore, so you can imagine the Jonesing that’s going on leading up to that point.

Both Mayo and his colleague have been known to toss folks off the train, in the same way unruly kids used to get booted from school buses. Once, on the return trip, some gal got so tanked on those itty-bitty booze bottles that she was being obnoxious to other passengers – mean to some and overly-friendly to others, especially the Sooner lineman who happened to be returning from his parents’ house in Arlington. She was summarily warned, and when she didn’t comply, she was put off at the next stop. The cops were waiting for her; no doubt she got to model one of those orange jumpsuits.

Don’t think you can walk around in your normal fashion on the train. You might be strolling casually to the toilet when all of a sudden, there’s a rough patch in the track. If you don’t have your “sea legs” on, you may take a plunge into a nearby passenger. In Oklahoma or Texas either one, this sudden intrusion could get you beat up, even if you quickly apologize.

The best course of action is to slowly make your way down the aisle, with all the pomp and circumstance you can muster, and hold on to the backs of the seats as you pass them by.

About the worst part about train travel is that sooner or later, whether you want to or not, and despite your best efforts to avoid it, you WILL have to go to the toilet.  And while these toilet stalls are roomier than those on trains, they’re not quite as appealing. Especially on long-distance trains like the Texas Eagle, there are many hours between honey wagons, and many passengers who need to relieve themselves – and many of those folks will have poor hygiene, filthy habits, or uncontrollable diarrhea. Grin and bear it, and wash your hands often – and if you see someone coming out of a toilet room with a look of horror on his or her face, move on to the next stall. Take my word for it.

We’ll talk more about train travel later. I’ve room out of room today.

Kim Poindexter is managing editor of the Tahlequah Daily Press.

kpoindexter@tahlequahdailypress.com

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