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Discussion in 'Travelogues / Trip Reports' started by MARC Rider, Nov 23, 2019.
Thanks to both of you for the trip, I enjoyed it.
Really nice travel report, Bill! Thanks for posting all that. I knew some of you guys would eventually post your reports, but that of course we all are busy and work at our own individual paces, which don't always allow for that to be posted right away.
Also it was nice to read your report on what you've posted so far, MARC. Too bad to hear about that health scare, but at least you were okay after getting a prescription and that checkup.
Great reports. It was wonderful to meet you both!
Great reports. MARC Rider, any more to come?
Wednesday, October 30
I woke up and discovered that it was cold, wet, and nasty out, so I didn't bother to walk down to see Lake Michigan, like I usually do when I stay at this hotel. I didn't wander the neighborhood looking for breakfast, there was a donut and coffee shop right next door to the hotel, so that's where I went and had a bagel with cream cheese, a donut and a cup of coffee. I sat by the window, and as I glanced out, I saw a car stopped for a red light with snow on the roof. Slushy wet snow, but, still, snow in October, even for Chicago is a bit unusual.
I collected my bags, checked out, and then had to face a 10 minute walk in pouring cold rain to the L station. But when I walked out the door, the countdown clock at the bus stop said the bus was going to arrive in 2 minutes! So I took the bus, thank God.
There was a small covered waiting area on the platform at the Diversey station, and soon enough a Brown Line train showed up. A typical ride down to the Loop, then out of the station, down the elevator, and I am on Jackson St. dragging a roller bag in cold pouring rain heading west against the flow of morning rush hour pedestrians heading the other way. As I crossed the Chicago River, I saw one of the architecture tour boats beneath me heading upstream (or maybe t's downstream, as they reversed the flow of the river to flush the runoff away from Lake Michigan and down the Mississippi.) I couldn't believe that anybody would want to take a boat tour in this weather, but I actually saw people sitting in the rain on the totally open upper deck, the better to see the famous Chicago skyscrapers. I've done this boat tour, but it was a nice warm sunny in June. I'm not sure I would recommend it for inclement weather. As for me, I hurried across the bridge and into the dry warmth of Union Station.
I made my way the the Metropolitan Lounge and gained entrance using my AGR Select Plus card instead of my sleeper ticket. The staff gave me no problems with this and waved me in. Once inside, I looked around and found Penny, Bill and Jis. We chatted a bit, and then spent the rest of the morning waiting for the Texas Eagle to depart. Neroden came by a bit later, and it turned out that his roomette was in the same car as mine. Because of the nasty weather, I had no desire to wander around the neighborhood looking for a lunch spot, rather I went upstairs to the food court and purchased a Chicago style hot dog from Gold Coast Dogs.
Apparently, the staff at the Met Lounge have a problem with anxious passengers congregating in the area in front of the lounge as they wait for announcement of the departure. They were announcing the departure of a Wolverine service train right before Texas Eagle, and them over the PA kept admonishing us Texas Eagle passengers to chill out and not loiter in the assembly area. Then as our departure grew imminent, there was silence. The LD trains are usually ready to board a half hour before the departure, we didn't board until 1:30 for a 1:45 departure. They lined us up in the lounge, and then we walked out to the platform. Can't really call it a "kindergarten walk," as the line broke up as we passed our way through the crowds.
I found my car, which was the transdorm, right behind the locomotive, as there was no baggage car. Being on the upper level was a bit of a pain, as I had to haul my bag up the stairs. I settled in and we were off, pretty much on schedule, despite the late boarding.
Off we went heading south in similar direction to the ride east, until we crossed the Chicago River and then headed along the south bank heading southwestward toward Joliet.
One of the new Chargers for the Midwest corridors in the yard.
We had to wait for this long tanker train.
The old Joliet Union Station, where we waited during the Gathering in 2013. No longer an Amtrak facility, the new station is on the other side of the train.
Illinois is very flat.
The tracks paralleled historic Route 66 through much of Illinois.
We're across the river from St.Louis, and pretty close to schedule -- for now, at least.
We all went for dinner at about 5:30. Full service, but no tablecloths, for what that's worth. I had the "surf and turf" (steak and crabcake.) The steak was nicely cooked, the crabcake was OK. Lot's of nice lump crabmeat, but it seemed a bit underseasoned to my Chesapeake Bay region taste. Could have used a bit more Old Bay seasoning, or else, it's just the the Bell's Palsy was messing with my tastebuds. (You'll be happy to know that mt tastebuds are almost 100% back to normal. Still some weakness in my left cheek, but at least it's going away.) Had the yummy cheesecake for dessert.
Upon arrival in St. Louis, more or less on time, I was sitting with Neroden in the SSL. We sat for a while, and for some reason, they didn't discharge the St. Louis passengers. Neroden was listening to his scanner and informed me that we were going to be rerouted because the regular route through the Ozarks was impassable. Thus we were going to have to wye the train, and the crews were have a disagreement about who was responsible, the outgoing Chicago crew or in incoming St. Louis crew. Also, I think they needed to get a pilot to guide the train through the parts of the wye for which the Amtrak crew was not qualified. They also has to drop a coach off the end of the train, if I remember correctly.
Anyway, after sitting around for the good part of an hour, we backed out of the station and on to a northbound cross track. Neroden was busy consulting his railroad atlas to see exactly what routes we were taking. We then went south for a mile or so, then backed into the station, now facing back towards Illinois. After all of this, the finally discharged the St. Louis passengers. I'm not sure why they made the St. Louis passengers sit in the train for almost an hour while they did the reverse move, when they could have let them arrive at their destination almost on time. I wonder how this would count towards the OTP statistics for this train.
They still had to change crew and wait for the pilot to take them on the alternate route on the east bank of the Mississippi, so we got to get off and get a little fresh air and look at the station, such as it is.
Finally, more than 2 hours late, we started off back the way we came, at least for the crossing of the Merchant's Bridge. Then we veered off to the right and headed south to recross the mighty Miss back into Missouri at Thebes, Illinois and rejoin the regular route in Poplar Bluff. I saw little of this, because I soon went to bed. I slept fine, the lack of a baggage car didn't seem to make the engine horns any louder than usual.
- To be continued
There's an old joke about opening a fortune cookie and getting a fortune that reads, "Help! I'm a prisoner in a Chinese fortune cookie factory!"
Well, here is a picture from the Texas Eagle of a real-life Chinese fortune cookie factory in Chicago. Don't know if anybody is being held prisoner there.
Chinatown in Chicago isnt very Big, but there are some authentic businesses and actual Chinese- American people who live and work there.
Fortune Cookies used to come from Factories in San Francisco, but I'd wager that they've been priced out of the Market due to Real Estate Prices in the Bay Area.
Thursday, October 31
I was awakened at about 6:30 AM, it was still dark, and the train had stopped. I went down to check, and we were sitting in Little Rock, still a good bit behind schedule. I took advantage of our sitting still to take a shower. The shower in the transdorm is a bit different from the regular Superliner sleepers, as it's on the upper level, and it's combined with the restroom. I dressed and headed for breakfast in the dining car.
After breakfast, I "enjoyed" the scenery of Southwestern Arkansas. I'd never been in Arkansas before, but it pretty much looked like the woods and swamps of South Carolina as seen on the Silver Service or Palmettccasionally I'd see some dilapidated housing by the tracks that was pretty much in line with stereotypes about Arkansas or the Ozarks. On the other hand, there were also some perfectly well maintained homesteads, too.
Eventually, we arrived in Texarkana, the train station too big for one state. The train station looks like it's seen better days. The state line between Texas and Arkansas runs through the middle of the platform, but it doesn't seem to be marked. Immediately after leaving the station, passing into Texas, there's some sort of prison camp right by the tracks, complete with barbed wire and guard towers. Welcome to Texas, y'all, but behave yourselves, or you might end up here!
We continued into Texas, running more than 3 hours late. Pretty flat country alternating between wooded lands and pastures. Marshall had a triangle junction and a station building that required an underground passage to reach it from the street.
We moved on, running reasonably quickly, but not really making up any time. Because we didn't arrive at the scheduled 11:40 AM, we were treated to lunch in the dining car. I had the Amburger, as they were out of the chiaquiles and nothing else appealed to me.
Finally, we arrived at Dallas. It was about 3 PM. We might have been late, but at least it was still light out.
It was sunny, but remarkably chilly for being this far south. I went into the waiting room to fiddle with my phone to download the DART app and purchase a half-day senior pass. Then I went back out, found the light rail train, and rode the two stops to the Akard station. From there it was a quick walk to my hotel.
The Magnolia Hotel was originally the Magnolia Oil building, and when it was built in the 1920s it was the tallest building around, which isn't true today. The building sports a large red winged horse (Pegasus), which might seem familiar. That's because the Magnolia Oil Company eventually became the Mobil Oil company.
They really did a nice conversion of the office building to a hotel. I booked what they called a "parlor suite" for a very reasonable price. The corner room must have been some big shot's office, with the receptionist's area containing the couch and TV. The room was huge with the original wood paneling. Pretty cool and not much more expensive than the regular rooms.
After checking in, I left the hotel looking for a dry cleaner who did wash-and fold at a cheaper rate than the hotel valet. I was going to need laundry done soon. (I was unsuccessful in finding a place that had a same day delivery, and so had to use the hotel valet service at a sky-high price.) Then I wandered over to ride the McKinney Ave, Trolley.
This was an old Dallas streetcar that was turned into a chicken coop or something until recovered by the group who runs the trolley and restored to "original" operating condition. (well, they added air conditioning, which wasn't original and wasn't needed the day I rode. The ride took us through the Uptown district, which is classic traditional New Urbanism and we ended at a turntable in a new development called Cityplace. The streetcar gets turned around on a motorized turntable.
You can see the non-authentic air conditioning units on top of the streetcar.
The ride was slow, and they run on a 20 minute headway, so I decided to return downtown via the DART light rail, which has a station here. The station happens to be the only subway station in Texas.
A quick ride back to the hotel, and it was time to go to dinner. I had planned to be sure I could sample the 4 basic Texas food groups on this trip -- Mexican, Barbecue, chili, anc chicken-fried steak. Thursday night was Mexican. And not just any Mexican. My internet research uncovered that I could get the south Texas delicacy of cabrito (grilled baby goat) at the El Ranchito restaurant. This was located a bit south of the Bishop Arts District, and required changing buses in the dark in an unfamiliar part of the city. Thus, I decided to Uber. Apparently I hit the jackpot, because I was getting half-price deals on Uber during the whole trip.
The El Ranchito was a great piece of Mexican-American kitsch, and it appeared that it was popular with the local Mexican-American community. I was a little surprised to see a police officer waiting tables, but then I noticed the the other waitstaff were dressed strangely in other ways. Upon closer looking, I realized it wasn't a real Dallas PD uniform, and I also realized in was Halloween. The food was good, but what was really unique was that the place had a mariachi band, and the patrons weren't being shy about requesting songs. At $20 a shot, I think that band did pretty well that night, and I got some real entertainment. So phase 1 of the Taste of Texas tour was checked off.
My Uber ride back to the hotel was from the neighborhood, and pointed out the Texas Theater on the same street as the restaurant. This is where Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested after he shot President Kennedy in 1963. If I had more time (and if there was daylight), he would have driven me around the corner and shown me Oswald's apartment. More recently, the neighborhood became the Latino barrio, and now it's slowly gentrifying, as it's right next to the Bishop Arts District.
Soon, I was back at the hotel and snug in my fancy king-sized bed sleeping away and ready for the actual Gathering the next day.
- To be continued.
I am really enjoying your trip report!
Friday, November 1
Finally, the Gathering! Up fairly early in the morning to catch the crowd for the pre-gathering ride to Las Colinas. The yuppie coffee and bagel place at the hotel had a line a mile long, so I wandered down the street and found another yuppie food emporium and got a good, if overpriced, breakfast: bagel and cream cheese, fruit platter and coffee. Then I walked up to the Akard DART stop, being sure to activate my Senior Regional Day pass. ($3.00 unlimited riding. Such a deal!) A one stop ride to the West End Station, and there was (more or less) everybody.
At the scheduled time, we went off on the Orange Line. The DART light rail system is pretty impressive. It reaches pretty far into the suburbs, and runs and pretty high speed with good distances between stops. The platforms are high enough that there's level boarding for people with wheelchairs (and rollerbags) in at least part of each car. It seems decently patronized, but there's still a lot of room to grow capacity. It's certainly a good framework if the people running the Dallas Metro area ever get serious about developing compact walkable neighborhoods/town centers some time in the future. At present, though, the Dallas//Ft. Worth "Metroplex" is really heavily auto oriented with world class freeways and Texas-style flyovers at the interchanges. (Everything really is bigger in Texas! )
Las Colinas, is a big mixed-used development that has been building out since the 1970s through several periods of boom and bust. It's basically the northeast quadrant of the city of Irving, which is basically what borders on the eats and south of DFW Airport and fills half the space between Dallas and Ft. Worth. We stopped at what's called the "Urban Center," which seems to be a development of apartment houses and office buildings (with a few restaurants) built around a manmade lake. This is connected by a people mover called the "Las Colinas Automated Personal Transit system," called by one in our group a "horizontal elevator." It also wasn't automated, the single car pod (which was big enough to fit our whole group) was driven by a human. I'm not sure what their ridership numbers are, but it appeared to me that our group may have spiked their statistics for 2019. This service is free, and I'm not sure who's financing it, though I suspect it's all the tenants in the office buildings and apartments. Am I cynical? Nah..
Here's one of the APT pods. No, there aren't station platforms, those guys are track inspectors or something.
So back to downtown Dallas to eat lunch and meet the rest of the group. But I had to make a stop on the Orange Line first.
It's not everybody who can get a train station named for him!
Got on the next train going back downtown, on on to Union Station.
Pretty impressive building, but the fancy Great Hall is a private catering venue, and the Amtrak waiting room is a bunker on the first floor with very uncomfortable seats.
Lunch was at Cindi's NY Deli around the corner. Having sampled the real thing, I would say that this place is pretty authentic, except that most NY delis don't have migas on the breakfast menu. I ended up having breakfast Saturday and Sunday here, too.
After lunch, back on DART up to Trinity Mills, where we interchange to the A-train to Denton. The Green Line followed the same route we took in the morning up to Bachman Station, where it split from the Orange line. At Trinity Mills, a quick cross-platform transfer to the A train, and then we were off to Denton.
This was my first experience riding the Stadler FLIRT trainset. It was pretty much like a diesel-powered light rail. I was pretty impressed with it, being quiet and comfortable. I'm not sure what the ridership pattern is like. Is it to get people from Denton to Dallas? Then why the transfer at Trinity Mills? They could run through diesel trains on the DART tracks, at least during the rush hours. Is there really enough demand for rail service to downtown Denton to justify a train line? Whatever, I was pretty impressed with the train itself and the concept of the lightweight (and presumably relatively inexpensive) DMU trainset as a way to get a commuter rail project started on the cheap.
The A-train at Trinity Mills
The A Train in Denton.
Back on the A-Train, back to Trinity Mills, and then back on DART into Dallas. I bailed on the ride out the other end of the Green Line and got off to go into the Deep Ellum entertainment district to sample my second of the 4 Major Texas Food groups -- barbecue. The place is called the Pecan Lodge, and it makes the lists of the better barbecue places in Dallas.
Mmm-mmm, the 3-meat combo plate with fried okra.
After that, back to DART and a quick ride back to Akard and my hotel for the evening.
--To be continued
Saturday, November 2
When I got to Akard early in the morning, I must have just missed the DART train to Union Station. The next one was in 20 minutes. Google Maps said it would take 15 minutes to walk to Cindi's, which is what I did, passing Dallas' memorial to President Kennedy.
Enjoyed my migas at Cindi's, then went over to the station, and the Trinity Railway Express train to Ft. Worth was ready to board.
Comfortable seats, all with a table, plus power outlets.
Approaching the T&P station in Ft. Worth. We didn't get to see much of Ft. Worth, jumped right off and into the TexRail FLIRT trainset, which soon left. heading back the way we came and then veering northeast from the city.
Bye Bye Forth Worth!
Some shortline freight power on view along the way.
The TexRail FLIRT interiors are comfy, and, for now, shiny new and spic and span.
We soon rolled into our lunch stop of Grapevine, and saw that the vintage railway had a nice collection of, well, vintage railway equipment.
November 2, continued
Downtown Grapevine is a reasonably well-preserved old-fashioned downtown that has been yuppified with shops and stuff. Looks like a nice place to come on a sunny weekend day and walk around. And with TexRail, you con't even have to drive there.
This is a "calaboose" i.e., the jail. Well, not anymore, but one can see that taking care of wrongdoers was a priority for the early settlers.
After a nice bowl of authentic Texas chili (mm-mm that jalpeno was good!), it's time to got back to the station, where you can either ride home on TexRail, or take a nice excursion on some very well preserved vintage cars of the Grapevine Vintage Railway.
November 2, continued
We got back on TexRail, and soon we were approaching Dallas-Fort. Worth International Airport, also known as DFW.
A short walk around a corner from the TexRail terminal, and we were at the DART light rail terminal, with trains ready to take us back to Dallas.
A long ride on the Orange line, past Las Colinas and Love Field, and we were back downtown, where we changed to the Blue Line for another long ride through the Dallas Subway, out the northern and northeastern suburbs to a new Transit-oriented development optimistically called "Downtown Rowlett."
After making use of the restrooms in the public library and checking out the adjacent cafe, we were ready to ride back towards the city.
The Mockingbird Station, not quite a subway, but with a very heavy-rail vibe, including genuine Washington Metro-style non-functioning escalators. (Fortunately, the elevators were working.)
What is this? "Vegan?" "Texas?" This does not compute! This was a very nice Irish pub, complete with people playing traditional Irish music. We had a very nice gathering dinner here. I had the Shepherd's pie with an Irish hard cider. No vegan for me!
A quick ride on DART back to Akard Station, and then over to my hotel for a nice sleep before the final day of the Gathering.
- to be continued
Sunday, November 3
My last day in Dallas!
A view out my hotel window showing the incredibly varied landscape of North Texas, along with some characteristic Texas freeway design.
After a nice meal at Cindi's (fruit cup, the Senior citizen pancake special, coffee), I was over at Union Station where the agent stored my bags for free, because I was riding sleeper on the Texas Eagle, scheduled to depart that afternoon.
Next, a ride on the modern Dallas Streetcar.
Nice ride across the Trinity River to the Bishop Arts District and back.
Next, a ride on the DART Blue line to the southwest side of town, in places following an abandoned (and now revived) interurban trolley ROW.
Crossing the Trinity River floodplain. See the tower with the golf ball on top?
Here it is, the Reunion Tower, right next to the station.
DART train at Union Station.
Penny, Bill, and I then decided to check out the CityPlace subway station and McKinney Av. Trolley, as well as find some lunch.
Cool inclined elevator to get out of the CityPlace station.
This guy started out life as a PCC car somewhere in the US and was later sent to Belgium, where it got this Continental makeover.
We got off on McKinney Ave. and found a sports bar type place for lunch where I was able to find my final Texas food group, chicken-fried steak.
Sunday, November 3 -- continued
Then back to the trolley to ride this antique Birney car back to downtown, transferring back to DART for the ride to Union Station.
When we checked in with the Amtrak agent, we found that 22/422 was running several hours late, mainly because of a delayed Sunset Limited, which provides the 422 sleeper and coach. But no problem, we were told, we'd get dinner when they came in. Famous last words.
With a few more hours to kill, I decided to check out the 6th Floor Museum and Dealy Plaza.
The infamous Texas School Book Depository, where Lee Harvey Oswald fired the gun that killed President Kennedy in 1963. The President was riding on the road immediately to the right when he was hit. The museum on the 6th floor has a interesting exhibits about President Kennedy, the historical era, and details of the crime itself.
The museum's reconstruction of the sniper nest Oswald constructed to support his rifle for better aim.
The view from the next window over, approximately what the assassin saw. It's a bit chilling, actually.
After that sobering bit of history, it was back to the station to wait for the train.
"Big Red" (not the Texas soda pop), a former courthouse now housing a historical museum.
The lower-level bunker-like waiting area of Dallas Union Station. Note the high-tech ergonomic benches, specially designed for comfort while you wait for a train that's 7 hours late.
Sunday, November 3 (continued)
Those of us with train-tracker apps gnashed out teeth with frustration as we tracked 22/422 slowly creeping north. Finally, it was in F. Worth. But it took forever to get to Dallas, and it was using the old route, not the TRE tracks that it usually does. Thus, when it finally showed up, we were in for a bit of a surprise.
Wrong track! The platform's on this side!
Holy cow, they're so late they're going to skip this stop!
After it passed by, at least the Reunion Tower looks cool in the dark.
Well, you know, nobody rides the train any more, anyway, so what does it matter if they don't stop?
But, no, they were just pulling up so they could back in and get us.
Finally, on board! Naturally, the dining car was long shut down. We should have figured and called Uber Eats to have us deliver dinner at the station or something. They gave us each a snack pack, with I guess helped the blood sugar a bit, fortunately I still had my fancy cheese, some beef jerky and appropriate liquid refreshment.
I soon had the bed laid out, and then it was off to sleep as the (very late) Texas Eagle thundered north.
Thanks, it's a nice read!
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