Stateside: Fort Worth to Oklahoma City
Fort Worth to Oklahoma City
[Part 5 of an account of my summer vacation.]
The once-a-day Heartland Flyer trip between Fort Worth and Oklahoma City is one of the few Amtrak routes that make money instead of losing it Service is financed through funds made available by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, and the train leaves Oklahoma City at 9 in the morning, getting in to Fort Worth at 1:40 in the afternoon, leaving for the return trip at 6 pm.
I caught the train on a Sunday evening and discovered that if I'd gone on it the night before I would have been treated to a murder mystery called "A Deadly Train of Thought" put on by some interstate thespians, one of whom had written it as well. He's an associate producer for a morning news programme on an Oklahoma City TV channel, and some other cast members were journalists.
Morose at having missed some local entertainment, I comforted myself with the irresistibly titled "Pastry Product of the Year" that I'd bought from the vending machine in Fort Worth station: Mrs Freshley's Jumbo Honey Bun. I fat right in, you might say, as the prime topic in the seats around me was food.
The elderly lady behind me said she was going to make some beets and cornbread or fried potatoes when she got home (at 11 o'clock at night), and the friendly Mexican couple opposite kept sharing their food and proud tales of their 22-year-old daughter who had just finished a degree and is about to go off to Africa to be a missionary.
At Ardmore OK the guard announced "We're stopping for two - t-w-o - minutes and it's your only chance to have a smoke, so inhale deeply and don't talk." There were oil horses out in the fields earlier, and just out of Ardmore I spied a gas flare and an oil derrick away in the distance.
Everyone on the train seemed to have cellphones which - blissfully - kept cutting out. "I'm in the mountains and I can't hear you," shouted the grandchild of the woman behind me into her cellphone. I looked for mountains but couldn't see any. Just some gentle rolling countryside, quite heavily forested. That's how flat this part of the country is!
If the constant chatter of cellphone users wasn't enough, there are more than 200 rail crossings between Fort Worth and Oklahoma City. Rail tracks have a trip wire about 1400 feet from each of those crossings that set off the bells, lights, and gates. It also alerts the engine driver to one of his chores. I'll let you do the arithmetic, but I reckon you could cook about a gross-and-a-half of perfect soft-boiled eggs, one after the other, on that trip using the train whistle as an egg-timer!
When we arrived in OKC I soon discovered why so many seemingly poor people on the train had cellphones. Payphones were very few and far between, and when I finally found one to call a cab to get to my hotel, I was accosted by a down-on-their luck couple begging for money. If I hadn't looked so down on my luck myself - having just traipsed 14 blocks on a hot humid Oklahoma night, batting off insects as big as my fist while I kept to whatever lighted footpath I could find - I think they would have robbed me.
More next week... but if you want to read more about Amtrak and which of its routes are profitable, you can't do better than the excellent feature the Christian Science Monitor did in May 2002, at http://search.csmonitor.com/specials/amtrak/index.html.