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!
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.
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
That DCA-ORD flight goes by so quickly! Notably, O'Hare was a wee bit busier than Washington National.
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.
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.
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!
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....
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Closing in on St. Louis, the views changed to urban Midwestern, complemented by rustic scenes of the Mississippi River.
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.
As long as we're celebrating sunsets, here are a couple more pics! The Purina HQ is merely a bonus.
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.
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!
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.
First impressions of TYR: It's a peaceful place. Even on a Friday morning in summertime.
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.
Pulling away from Gate 4, treated to a view of lonely Gate 1. And check out the Historic Aviation Memorial Museum!
In no time at all – seriously, like 30 minutes in the air – DFW comes into view!
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.
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!
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.
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!)
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!
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.