I grew up in Mobile, down the Gulf Coast from New Orleans. My parents took my sister and I there at least once a year to watch the horse races, wander through the French Quarter (eyes focused down as we crossed Bourbon Street), and eat those amazing beignets at Café Du Monde.
I was reminiscing about those days with some girlfriends when we hit upon the idea of a getaway weekend there. While it’s no great distance from Houston, none of us were excited about driving or flying, and someone suggested we take the train. For me, a train trip conjures up some marvelous romantic movie set on the Orient Express. From the get go, I was all about it! We circled the troops, picked a date, bought tickets, booked a hotel, and we were good to go!
The first clue I had that this experience might not be movie-worthy was the train station. I had in mind either Grand Central or at the very least, a restored historic edifice. Go back in your mind to the Greyhound bus station of your youth and you’ll have a better picture.
We arrived at the station early, clearly excited to start our new adventure. When the time passed for our train’s arrival, the clerk announced there would be a delay of about two hours. Our enthusiasm began to wane a bit. In an effort to buoy my crowd, I resorted to lifting their spirits as best I could, with what else? Chocolate. You can never go wrong, at least with women, if you have a handy supply of quality chocolate. In a pinch, I have seen even mediocre chocolate work.
Eventually, the train did arrive and we boarded, enthusiasm renewed. Some of you have probably ridden the wonderful high-speed trains that crisscross Europe and other foreign countries. Wipe that image from your mind. Slow it down. Now imagine that every 20 miles or so your train slows down, comes to a dead stop at a railroad crossing and finally, chugs off again. I live maybe 6 miles or so from where the train tracks cross Lake Houston. Had I been able to plot the course and schedule of our train, I could have boarded at that crossing a full four hours later than our scheduled departure from downtown Houston.
The stop, wait, start again became the norm for this trip. Periodically, I would stare out the window watching for city signs to announce our progress, but it appeared we might never get out of Texas. Who knew it took 10 hours to get to New Orleans, other than those riding in covered wagons?
I am proud to say that my little band of travelers did the best we could to keep hope alive that we would reach New Orleans before time to check out of our hotel on Sunday. At the last check of my watch, it was 11 p.m. and we could finally see the lights of New Orleans. A huge sigh passed through our group. That was until it was announced that there were five trains ahead of us that had priority. Waving goodbye to New Orleans, our train backed up and waited another hour.
You probably won’t be surprised to learn that we canceled our return tickets and caught a flight home on Sunday. Some things you’ve just got to try, and for some, once is really enough.