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DCA-ORD/CHI-MINEOLA/TYR-DCA JUL 2022
taking tracks to Tyler, Texas

    While the rule is trip reports are about flights, every rule has its exceptions. It’s an exception I’ve made before, because I also like trains. Not as much as I adore planes, of course, but I like ’em. That’s why I’ve made a rail exception before, and likely will again. But this report also comes with a couple flights and an airport that was entirely new to me: tiny TYR!

    Assuming you’ve already read the “Powering Through Pandemia” trip report, you know that I spent a wee portion of covid moving Mom from Florida to Texas. That’s important, as her new home was the impetus for this particular trip. For a few of her last years in Florida, I’d developed a Xmas tradition of taking Amtrak to Tampa for a Mom visit, after which I’d fly home. With my introvert leanings, I found the 22 hours or so cozied up in an Amtrak roomette rather blissful and energizing. 

MOM'S MOVE TO TEXAS

THREW A WRENCH

IN MY RAILING

    Mom’s move to Texas threw a wrench in my railing. Granted, Amtrak gets pretty close to her new home in Tyler. Mineola is barely an hour distant. But if you want to get there from D.C., that’s a day-long train to Chicago to connect to another day-long train to Texas. (By “day-long,” don’t think an 8-hour work day; think full 24-hour day.) 

 

    Having an Amtrak appetite, but not gluttonously so, I reckoned Chicago to Mineola would provide plenty of rail time to satisfy. Accordingly, the husband generously offered to take us both to Chicago the first weekend of July to celebrate my birthday. From there, he’d fly back to D.C. and I would grab Amtrak’s Texas Eagle to Mineola. After a few days in Texas, I’d fly back from the family’s local airport, TYR, a k a Tyler Pounds Regional Airport. Woot! New airport for me! 

    While this was a wonderful trip overall, I must note that the Superliner experience is not on par with the Viewliners. The former was my train to Texas, the latter my train between D.C. and Tampa.

 

    Granted, the Texas Eagle gets a dome car of, presumably, stupendous views between San Antonio and Los Angeles, along with a full-service dining car. My bit of the route included neither. With that in mind, let’s get going with this photo-driven report.  

DCA airport July 1 2022
DCA North Security Checkpoint July 1 2022
DCA North Security Checkpoint TV news crew July 1 2022

Being the start of the July 4 holiday weekend, with covid numbers relatively low, all predictions were for airports to be full of crowds and chaos. Our experience departing DCA was nothing of the sort. I felt downright sorry for the TV-news crews charged with memorializing the madness.  

TWO AIR VENTS ABOVE ME

POURING A FROSTY FORCE-FIELD

OF GUSHING AIR

ORD airport July 1 2022

That DCA-ORD flight goes by so quickly! Notably, O'Hare was a wee bit busier than Washington National.

Chicago Union Station Metroliner Lounge July 4 2022
Chicago Union Station July 4 2022

Come midday July 4, Chicago's Union Station was emptier than Friday at DCA. Arguably prettier, too! See those glass doors on the left? Next stop: Metropolitan Lounge.  

Chicago Union Station Metroliner Lounge July 4 2022
Chicago Union Station Metroliner Lounge July 4 2022

Having purchased a 'sleeper' ticket – a roomette – lounge access is included. I was excited about this, as the promo photos of the Chicago Metropolitan Lounge look very inviting. Also, Chicago's lounge is recently refurbished, which should've put it in a class well above D.C.'s lounge. So, speaking of class, let me offer grades: D for DC, C+ for Chicago. I was able to find a cup of coffee. Were I so inclined, I think I may have been able to grab a Cheetos Mac 'n Cheese Bold & Cheesy Cup. I was not so inclined. Sadly, shortly after settling into one of these contemporary wingback seats, the wall TVs turned to the news of the hour: another mass shooting in America. In this case, just down the street in Highland Park. 

Chicago Union Station July 4 2022
Chicago Union Station July 4 2022

All aboard! In the lounge, the announcement is made to board the Texas Eagle, and an Amtrak rep leads the 'sleeper' crowd down to the platform. Can't make the trek on foot? Just like the at the airport, tiny carts to the rescue! 

Chicago Union Station Amtrak Texas Eagle Superliner July 4 2022
Chicago Union Station Amtrak Texas Eagle Superliner July 4 2022

Looking back to the station, illustrating the length of the train. Next, the sleeping car, right behind the engine. The engine that toots its horn. Maybe even more so, considering the Amtrak-pickup truck derailment about a week prior.... 

Amtrak Superliner Texas Eagle roomette July 4 2022
Amtrak Superliner roomette Texas Eagle July 4 2022
Amtrak Superliner roomette July 4 2022, and a "protect trans youth" T-shirt "Will O'Bryan"
Amtrak Superliner roomette Texas Eagle July 4 2022
Amtrak Superliner roomette July 4 2022

Let's take a look at the Superliner roomette! Upstairs, left side of the train. Comfortable chairs, good pillows, and molded plastic and steel for days. The 'control panel' offers a glimpse of a bygone era. The box of tissue on the little steps to the upper (when it's down) were a nice touch. Also note the little trash can under the lower step. And then there's me – in my "Protect Trans Youth" T-shirt by MoveOn. Grab your own!

Amtrak Superliner sleeper lower Texas Eagle July 4 2022

Stepping onboard the sleeper, this is the view that greets you. On this lower level, you'll find a baggage-storage area, a "family bedroom," a couple roomettes, lavatories, and the shower. 

Amtrak Superliner Texas Eagle stairs July 4 2022

More importantly, assuming you're heading upstairs, these are those stairs. They have turns. They are tight. And they may well challenge notions you had about what sizes of luggage you can haul up to your roomette. My carry-on-sized roller bag made it up, but not without a little huffing and puffing. 

Amtrak Superliner Texas Eagle coffee July 4 2022
Amtrak Superliner sleeper Texas Eagle July 4 2022
Amtrak Superliner sleeper Texas Eagle July 4 2022

The exotic sights of the second floor! First, there's the little coffee station for tanking-up in the morning. There's also a long, skinny hallway of roomettes. And the trash and linen receptacles! If the latter was an invitation to deposit my bedding in the morning, it escaped me. 

Amtrak Superliner Texas Eagle lavatory July 4 2022
Amtrak Superliner Texas Eagle lavatory July 4 2022
Amtrak Superliner Texas Eagle lavatory July 4 2022

Surely, what you really want to see is the upstairs lavatory. It's old and worn, but holding up in a way that possibly only industrial-grade fixtures can. And a Glade air freshener is always in good taste. While the seat covers may appear to have been placed somewhat haphazardly, it was a relatively clean lav. I've certainly seen worse on a planes. 

Amtrak Superliner Texas Eagle shower July 4 2022
Amtrak Superliner Texas Eagle shower July 4 2022
Amtrak Superliner Texas Eagle shower July 4 2022

Let's close out the tour of the Superliner sleeper by heading back downstairs for a shower! Not exactly Emirates' first-class A380 shower, but it gets the job done. Plenty of sanitized towels and washcloths. I did not shower on this particular Amtrak trip, but I have once before, years ago on the Superliner from D.C. to Chicago. It was just fine. But watch out for the curtain hook on floor of the shower! And whether on Amtrak or Emirates, I'd recommend shower sandals. 

Potash picnic on Amtrak Superliner Texas Eagle roomette July 4 2022

If you enjoyed my previous Amtrak report, you know I really enjoy train picnics. Germans must have one long word for this – either the enjoyment of, the train picnic itself, or both. I didn't get carried away this time as dinner was included in the fare, unlike past D.C. to Tampa trips when Amtrak was trying a meal-free strategy to lower costs. And the amazing Potash market in Chicago was perfect for outfitting this trip! Elie Mystal's Allow Me to Retort also made for an enlightening travel companion. 

Chicago Union Station July 4 2022
Amtrak Chicago Union Station July 4 2022
Amtrak Midwest Chicago Union Station July 4 2022
Amtrak Northeast Regional Chicago Union Station July 4 2022
Amtrak Superliner lounge car Chicago Union Station July 4 2022

Toot! Toot! And we're on our way. Slowly pulling out through the Union Station train yards. How the heck did that Northeast Regional stock end up in Chicago? 

What's the best part of the trip? The views. And shortly after departing Chicago, the view was of tornado weather. Being the Midwest in summer, I was curious what might happen in case of a tornado warning. Lucky me, I found out! The train came to a stop till the hazardous weather passed. It was a wondrous treat to watch the storm roll through from the comfort of my roomette. The views are why we're here! 

Amtrak Texas Eagle July 2022 flexible dining dinner
Amtrak Texas Eagle July 2022 flexible dining dinner chicken a ls rosa
Amtrak Texas Eagle July 2022 flexible dining dinner
Amtrak Texas Eagle July 2022 flexible dining dinner
Amtrak Texas Eagle July 2022 flexible dining dinner

Dinner is served! A dining-car porter checked in earlier to ask when I'd like to be seated in the dining car. After confirming that this stretch of the Texas Eagle was still serving pre-packed meals only – a k a "Flexible Dining" – I opted to stay in. The Chicken Ala Rosa was so sad and dry that the chicken dissolved into a sort of bland dust in my mouth. The brownie was the highlight. Actually, the view was highlight! Bless my Potash picnic. 

Amtrak Texas Eagle views July 4 2022
Amtrak Texas Eagle views July 4 2022
Amtrak Texas Eagle views July 4 2022
Amtrak Texas Eagle views July 4 2022
Amtrak Texas Eagle views July 4 2022

Possibly the most curious views offered by my Midwestern stretch of the Texas Eagle were the back yards. Wanna see America? You really couldn't get much closer than this without being personally invited. Trampolines! Pools! Gardens! I'm sorry I wasn't fast enough to grab a pic of the four young adults carousing in an inflatable kiddie pool. 

Amtrak Texas Eagle views July 4 2022 cemetery
Amtrak Texas Eagle views July 4 2022 cemetery

You'll be able to spot some giant cemeteries from the sky, but these intimate views are reserved for those with their feet (wheels?) on the ground. 

Amtrak Texas Eagle views July 4 2022 St Louis Mississippi
Amtrak Texas Eagle views July 4 2022 St Louis Mississippi
Amtrak Texas Eagle views July 4 2022 St Louis Mississippi
Amtrak Texas Eagle views July 4 2022 St Louis Mississippi

Closing in on St. Louis, the views changed to urban Midwestern, complemented by rustic scenes of the Mississippi River. 

Amtrak Texas Eagle July 4 2022 St Louis
Amtrak Texas Eagle July 4 2022 St Louis
Amtrak Texas Eagle July 4 2022 St Louis sunset

The St. Louis stop allowed for enough time to step outside and celebrate a glorious summer sunset. The photos also again illustrate how close the beds on this train are to the engine and its annoying-yet-necessary horn. 

Amtrak Texas Eagle July 4 2022 St Louis Purina sunset
Amtrak Texas Eagle July 4 2022 St Louis Purina sunset

As long as we're celebrating sunsets, here are a couple more pics! The Purina HQ is merely a bonus. 

Amtrak Superliner roomette July 4 2022
Amtrak Superliner roomette July 4 2022
Amtrak Superliner roomette July 4 2022 blanket
Amtrak Superliner roomette July 4 2022
Amtrak Superliner roomette July 4 2022

Not so long after the summer sun sets, it's time for bed. At least, time to pull down and make the bed and watch "Flee" on the iPad. Should you need assistance making up your bed, the Amtrak porters are always eager to help. If you do it yourself, don't slack on those safety straps! You'll absolutely need those babies hooked in. Also pictured: My dad bod illustrating roomette width with the bed down, the adorably fleecy new Amtrak blankets, and my hand against the ceiling as an indication of clearance. 

Amtrak Superliner roomette July 5 2022
Amtrak Superliner Big Sandy July 5 2022
Amtrak Superliner roomette July 5 2022 gratuity
Amtrak Superliner roomette July 5 2022 coffee
Amtrak Superliner sleeper exit vestibule July 5 2022

Come morning, the Texas scenery offered up some rustic Americana, enjoyed with my apple and Amtrak coffee. My fare possibly included breakfast before my roughly 9am debarkation. Maybe not. Glad I had the apple! Also pictured is the gratuity, because you really should leave one for the attendant; and the exit vestibule, where I stood waiting for about 20 minutes till we arrived in Mineola. If you're one of the brief stops, you've got to be ready to move quickly! 

Amtrak Superliner Mineola July 5 2022
Amtrak station Mineola Texas July 5 2022
Amtrak station Mineola Texas July 5 2022 toy train

Welcome to Mineola! In no time, I was out the door with Mom and Brother. But not before getting a pic of the quaint toy-train set behind glass. 

    That wraps the Amtrak portion of this trip report. Sad to say, I don't plan on making this trip again. The Viewliner experience was simply so much nicer, particularly with regard to the upper bunk. The Texas Eagle likely offers breathtaking vistas between San Antonio and Los Angeles that could make the upper sarcophagus worthwhile. Certainly, I don't regret taking this trip once. Aside from brief visits to Illinois and Indiana, this trip gave me a peek at the alien Midwest. That's a train-trip treat that a plane can't match. But as the equipment exists today, the Viewliner roomette trumps the Superliner.  

    Still, Amtrak delivered me on time and no worse for wear. From Mineola, it was a quick trip to Tyler, where my family has laid down roots. This part of the world is even more alien to me than the Midwest. I'd been to Tyler only once prior, delivering Ma to her new home, closer to family. While nearly everything in Tyler remains new to me, I was particularly excited to fly out of Tyler Pounds Regional Airport. My generous and hospitable brother was happy to drive me to DFW at the end of my first visit. He gladly would've again, I'm certain, but I really wanted to give TYR a try. One scheduled airline, flying to one destination, four gates.... It's downright precious. How could I not want to give it a spin? As an added bonus, my DFW connection meant arriving at that airport's newer Terminal E Satellite.

 

    With this transition in mind, let's return to the pics.  

Tyler Pounds Regional Airport TYR July 2022
Tyler Pounds Regional Airport TYR American Airlines July 2022

First impressions of TYR: It's a peaceful place. Even on a Friday morning in summertime.

Tyler Pounds Regional Airport TYR American Airlines July 2022
Tyler Pounds Regional Airport TYR American Eagle Airlines July 2022
Tyler Pounds Regional Airport TYR American Airlines July 2022

I was genuinely surprised that TYR offers jetways. I've been in far larger airports that employed stairs up to the planes. As glamorous as I may look on airplane stairs, a climate-controlled jetway is not too shabby. If you fly out of TYR, you'll be heading to DFW. On American Eagle. On an itty-bitty regional jet. I believe mine was an ERJ-140

TYR 8.jpeg
TYR 9.jpeg
TYR 10.jpeg

Pulling away from Gate 4, treated to a view of lonely Gate 1. And check out the Historic Aviation Memorial Museum!

DFW 1.jpeg

In no time at all – seriously, like 30 minutes in the air – DFW comes into view! 

DFW E sat 1.jpeg
DFW E Sat 2.jpeg

Then, on the ground, the E Satellite comes ever closer. Having clocked countless steps at DFW over the years since US Airways morphed in American, it's not a new airport for me. This satellite terminal, on the other hand, was as new to me as TYR.

DFW E Satellite Whataburger July 2022
DFW E Satellite AV8 July 2022
DFW E Satellite Dickey's July 2022
DFW E Satellite AV8 July 2022

As 'lesser' red-haired stepchild terminals go, the E satellite was pretty nice. It certainly has you covered if you're peckish. Whataburger, Dickey's, AV8.... And more. Choices abound! Except for fashion: palm-patterned tops only! 

DFW Terminal E July 2022
DFW Terminal E July 2022
DFW Terminal E July 2022
DFW Terminal E July 2022
DFW Terminal E July 2022
DFW Terminal E Skylink July 2022
DFW Terminal C American Airlines July 2022

It's time for another land-based journey. From the E satellite, it's down and under, up and around! Love that little Skylink train, even without a roomette. A novel experience was the Fort Worth Magazine store by my gate, providing a 21st Century cashless, interaction-less transaction. 

DFW American Airlines Terminal C A321 July 2022
DFW American Airlines A321 Elie Mystal Allow Me To Retort July 2022

After rolling down to Texas, taking a flight of roughly three hours from DFW to DCA is a jarring, yet convenient, change of pace. I'm flying first because, one, it's my birthday trip; two, once you make it a TYR departure, the price differential is not substantial. Those little airports can be expensive! From the seatback pocket, you can see that my traveling companions today are Coke Zero and, again, Elie Mystal. (Who's as delightful a read in the air as he is on the ground!)

American Airlines DFW DCA meal catering July 2022
American Airlines DFW DCA meal catering chicken salad July 2022
American Airlines DFW DCA meal catering hummus July 2022

Lunch was perfect for summer. While the chicken salad was refreshing, the real standout was the hummus. Pumpkin seed? Spinach? While green, the prominent flavor was still chickpeas, and it was delicious! 

American Airlines DFW DCA Lincoln Memorial Washington Monument July 2022

Finally, one of the many wonderful things about living in the D of C: aerial homecoming views! If you were thinking 'taxation without representation' or general political disenfranchisement, you would be wrong. 

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