February 15, 2012 Edition

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Part II: Train trip to Austin

Jeffrey Dean Taylor
Guest Writer

(Editor's note: This is the second part of a travel narrative written by Jeff Taylor of Walnut Ridge as he traveled from Walnut Ridge to Austin, Texas, on Amtrak. He left Walnut Ridge around 12:37 a.m. on Feb. 3, and part one ended as he was eventually lulled to sleep as the train headed south toward Texarkana.)

I woke up as we had been stopped awhile in Marshall, Texas. The conductor came over the intercom and alerted us that debris was on the track. We were lucky as a slow freight train had spotted it in time. Of course my mind went back to the time of bandits and train robberies of the Old West.

At least now it's daylight, and we can see the countryside. Some places were dilapidated, while other communities had restored many of their old buildings to their original splendor. Texas, I see has been good about that, reinventing those old feed and hardware-type stores into functional businesses, yet maintaining the historic appeal.

The sun was now shining brightly, and cattle grazed on the green grass. Again, I was reminded how much more rested I was from not driving. With current gas prices reaching well above $3 a gallon, it became apparent that taking the train was a great decision. Did I note the ticket price to Austin was a mere $93?

We'll be in Dallas in a few minutes now with a stopover long enough to get off the train and stretch my legs. I found myself people watching and taking mental notes of do's and don'ts for a future train excursion. The earplugs I'd grabbed at the last minute came in handy for keeping the noise down and getting sleep. Bringing more water and snacks, which are allowed on the train, would have been nice. Sitting in the middle part of the car turned out to be helpful, as the passageways between cars could be busy and distracting.

The dining cars provided sideways views, facing the windows, along the way, and a chance to meet some of my fellow travelers, who ranged in age from infants to 90s. As the skyscrapers of Dallas came upon us, we slowed to a crawl. During the 30-minute stop, we got supplies and more passengers, and we also lost quite a few here... including the woman from Walnut Ridge, who I hope had a nice visit ... Fort Worth would be the next stop down the line, and I'm told the stop would be 50 minutes, at which point they wanted me to move up one car. I decided to hit the cafe and sit in the dining car for a while and check the scenery.

I dosed off again and woke up coming into Temple, Texas. The next town would be my namesake, Taylor, Texas. Blink. Blink. That was short and sweet from my vantage point. It was another rural farm setting much like Walnut Ridge. I think I forgot to mention that my significant other, Peggy, and I had been texting off and on the whole trip, although I'm not very good at it. My phone battery was also dying.

As I returned from the restroom, I noticed a young fellow reading "Catcher in the Rye," which I remember reading at ASU. The author, J.D. Salinger, as I recall, and I have the same first initials. He rambled all over the place, much like me ... and this train.

The lovely wide-open sunset outside my window brought a smile to my face as we got closer to my destination with each passing minute. I then decided to move my luggage closer to the door so it would be easier to exit. Next, I saw Austin's city lights off in the distance. Here, I come, Honey. We were both hungry, as we'd planned a nice dinner together somewhere. Hello, Darlin'!

We were only 10 minutes late after trekking 700 miles.

*********

I want to encourage everyone to give train travel a chance. There's not a better time than now to call, or get online and contact Amtrak to plan a trip in the near future. Grab a friend, set off on an adventure, visit someone or have someone visit you. You'll be glad you rode it!

I think I'll write a Train Song. All aboard ...

P.S. Peggy says "Hi"

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