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In reviewing rules for rail travel, let’s start with safety

By Jason Offutt

Author’s note: This is the first of a series on my family holiday in San Antonio that’s been sitting in my notebook half a year, just waiting for a chance to strike.

The entire cast of a teen slasher movie stood behind my family in line at the McDonald’s in Mineola, Texas, on Dec. 27.
The pretty girl, the jock, the hapless nerd, and the jerk (the oversized sports jersey, cap on sideways, and pants with a crotch that drooped to his knees were a total giveaway). Waiting for my coffee and egg McMuffin I had fun figuring out in what order these slasher movie actors would die.
Mineola is a town of about 5,600 people 80 miles east of Dallas. It exists because of the railroad, the very railroad we would soon use to head toward the historic city of San Antonio via Amtrak.
Before I go any further, San Antonio may be one of the coolest cities I’ve ever visited, and thanks to my in-laws, we were there for the Christmas vacation. But we’ll get to San Antonio later. We’re still in Mineola.
Mineola spent most of its early years playing video games and smoking cigarettes in its parents’ basement. No, wait. That’s the slasher movie cast that followed me with their food and sat in an uncomfortably close booth.
Mineola actually spent most of its early years as a transportation center sending the great pine trees of East Texas by rail to places that really wanted to build stuff. Today, Mineola is a bed and breakfast destination for this corner of the Lone Star State, and home to the Yes Buffet: Grill and Sushi. Sushi? In East Texas? I didn’t eat there because it was 7:30 a.m. and I was in McDonald’s waiting for one of the teen slasher cast to walk off by himself. That’s how the first one in a horror movie always gets it.
By 8 a.m. we sat on the hard wooden benches (is there ever a soft wooden bench?) in the neat, clean Mineola train station, and started getting into the spirit of rail travel. The closest I’d been to riding on a train had been at the zoo. The train engineered by a guy wearing a hat.
Polished wood covered the station floor, and displays of local railroad memorabilia hung from the walls. What a nice building. Newspapers, magazines and paperback novels sat arranged on tables for people who found themselves waiting longer for a train than women in labor wait for a very stubborn baby.
For non-parents, that’s a long time.
Our vacation crew, made up of my wife’s parents, her brothers, their spouses, and four children, wandered every step in the train station, the parking lot, and the actual railroad tracks until we realized walking on the tracks was pretty stupid. Actually, I was the only person to walk on the tracks, setting a fine example for the children.
Yeah, just me.
The train arrived on time and we boarded. Our adventure just beginning.
Next week: Life on a train.

Jason Offutt’s column has been in continuous publication since 1998 appearing in newspapers and magazines across the United States. Follow Jason on Twitter @TheJasonOffutt.

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