February 08, 2012 Edition

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Rider shares experience
on 21 Texas Eagle

Jeffrey Dean Taylor
Guest Writer

Whistle stop Walnut Ridge, AR., 12:37 a.m. A light rain was coming down on that fourth of February. Unfortunately, the gutter was leakin' right where you exit the train depot door to the platform and splashed water on my bags and things. Somebody needs to fix that, I thought.

I thanked my friends for dropping me off in the middle of such a cold and dreary night. I would have done the same for them.

Amtrak was right on time, and the passenger train sounded its presence and slowed to a steady stop. I could see that about four or five folks had gotten off and 10 or 12 of us boarded, including one woman who we recognized at the station to be a few years younger than me. She said she was going to visit grandbabies in Dallas. As for me, I was headed on to Austin to help my significant other move.

Most everyone was sleeping at that hour. The aisles were narrow and the swaying motion caused a little unsteadiness at first. Whether by boat, airplane or bus, it's all a similar sort of sensation. At this point, I was just trying to find my way to an empty seat, which ended up being two coach cars back from where I boarded.

I was just hoping not to wake the other passengers with my body parts or by smacking them with my luggage, which included my guitar case, briefcase, suitcase, CPAP case, small overnight case with meds, etc ... whew. Note to self: travel lighter next time.

The porter for me was a nice young woman in her 20s. I did my best to follow her directions and to be as little trouble as possible. Because of the short notice of my trip, I had to purchase my ticket after boarding. I patiently waited my turn.

*********

I hadn't ridden a train since the third grade when our class was bused to Newport and rode a train back to town. Speaking of Newport, there it was.

After settling in, I plugged in my laptop and started typing away. I began to relax as the crossing lights, muffled whistle blows and occasional clangs, jerks, snores and yawns all became just part of the ride. This beats the stress of driving, I thought. Another porter person, a man this time, came through the car (funny that it's called a car) checking handwritten destination tags above the seats of snoozing travelers. Wouldn't want to let them miss their stop.

Wow! Before I knew it, we were in Little Rock already and could see our State Capitol all lighted up and shining bright. Like most of the railroad stations and depots it looked to have been around a while.

While stopped, we took on more new people, including a family of four sitting near me. Several other northbound trains passed us while we were stopped. Soon we were rambling out of town and a little further down the line.

I should have brought along some snacks but only had bottled water with me. They do have a dinning car, but it closes from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. The rain picked up a bit, and we picked up speed as we headed toward Texarkana.

As things quieted down, I thought it would be a good time for some shut-eye, but then I heard some new sounds, a train moving in the opposite direction and coming really close. After the lights flashed by, I turned off the computer, said a few much-needed prayers and rested. I really felt the lull by then as the lonesome whistle blew through the night. Goodnight all.

To be continued.

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