Amtrak Stories: On the Train from Houston to El Paso
I sit at the train station in Houston, willin’ the train to arrive. I can’t hide the excitement on my face. I slowly carry my luggage outside and place it on a bench. I reach for my camera and tripod, eager to video each moment. An elderly couple quickly approaches me with questionable looks and smiles. The lady is the first to speak. “We just want you to know we didn’t mean to stare. We were admirin’ your camera equipment. You take those pictures, girl,” she finishes.
Moments later the train quickly approaches. I hang behind watching as Texans eagerly scurry to get in line. I memorize the excited glances on the children’s faces as parents hush them along.
I settle on the train and the time for dinner quickly approaches. I follow a family of four as they rush to the dining car eager to be the first with a reservation. Companionship is nice I tell myself as I marvel at the dinner guests. Pete is eager to tell me of his travels. At 90 he sure has many, I mentally note. I pause and utter, “Sir… I hope I am as healthy and sharp as you at your age. I can’t believe you still backpack.” Gary and his wife smile. They want to know all about my Texas travels and my time on the train. My camera catches Gary’s eye. He wants to know if he can snap a few pictures with it. “I’m a professor of photography,” he utters. I chuckle… for a professor the pictures sure are blurry.
Daddy always did say I never met a stranger. It’s been nearly 12 hours across Texas and I need a new friend. She sits to the left of me. I ask her where she’d been and where she was headed. She talks fondly of her twin she’d been living with for the last few months. Then her voice grows shaky and quiet. “I’m headed home for good. Back to my husband,” she begins to cry. I know what that means. Before I could even bow my head and join her grief over her twin, the man next to us looks over and begins to speak. He yammers on about his impulsive nature and failed attempts in life. I smile. In that moment all I see is a man. A man helpin’ another in their weakest point in life.
The conductor quickly comes over the speaker, we’re almost to El Paso. I bid my farewells, promisin’ to be careful, and rush to ready my luggage. For years now the train had always intrigued me. The chance to encounter so many unfamiliar people and places. I’d always aimed to tell the stories of Texas.
I’d been slightly nervous workin’ the logistics out, but, it’d been easier than I’d imagined. The 15% student discount doesn’t hurt. I’d even thought of bringin’ my bike since Amtrak makes it possible. Me, lugging around a bike. I took a quick glance around, so many more places to see. I had time. I wondered. I’d cross all 500 destinations in time.
A smile slid upon my face as the El Paso sign crept into view. It’d be my first time in this section of Texas and my whole self was ready to experience the culture and people. I chuckled thinkin’ how much fun I’d had.
I stood ready to un-board the train, thankful. Thankful for the conversations I’d had over the two days. In that moment I was reminded: “If you are quiet enough the stories will write themselves.”
About the Author: Aleshea Carriere is the author of Glitz & Grits, a blog about the people, places, stories and things that make up the South.