Texan Pligrimage

I am a Canadian from the Maritimes, staying for the fall in Waco, Texas, with my fiance, while I apply to grad school at Baylor University. Here you will find an account of my stay in a strange new land.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Day 10

I arrived in Waco ten days ago today, so I suppose I'm beginning this journal a bit too late to give you authentic first impressions of Texas. Nevertheless, I continue to be amazed, amused and terrified daily, so I don't think the project will be entirely futile. I think I'll start at the beginning, then skip to the present, and work my way through the middle in future entries. I hope it will provide an optimal balance of interest and freshness.

The Physical Journey

After a rejeuvenating stay with my grandparents in Portland, Maine, my journey began with a bus ride to Boston to catch the train. Thanks to my Opa's help, I boarded the bus with minimum awkwardness, despite my numerous unweildy bags. The fact that these bags would be an issue became evident when I arrived at the Boston bus station and had to walk next door to the train station. I huffed and puffed my way over (over the course of the trip, I developed baggage-carrying callouses--no joke), and in my concentration, nearly ran into an obliging porter. He heaved the bags onto his cart, and led me to the baggage check. An example, of which I encountered many on my trip, of the old-fashioned gentility of train travel. Unfortunately, my baggage woes were not yet at an end. My largest bag being over the weight limit, I was forced to unload some of its contents into a cardboard box, increasing my total number of bags to a whopping five. My mountain of luggage at this point grew from just-barely-manageable-on-a-single-trip to utterly-beyond-the-capacities-of-a-single-person. But it was checked to Dallas, so I tried, with some success, to put it out of my mind.

Unloaded of all but a single (still heavy) bag, I hopped aboard my Amtrak train. Our route, on the Lakeshore Limited, chugged across Massachusetts, on through New York, to Albany, where we had an hour-long stop. Then, the overnight to Chicago. Across the rust belt of America, as Dad wryly observed. The loveliest bit of scenery I saw the whole trip was in the hour before our arrival in Albany. During this time, we followed the course of the Mohawk river (I found out its name later from some fellow-travelers from Syracuse). Shallow and almost stagnant, the Mohawk is bordered in some places by tall, steep hills and in some by rocky overhangs. I saw a bird perched on a rock midstream, who looked like a hunch-backed gentleman in a tailcoat. I ate supper in the dining car that evening, shortly after departure from Albany, and attempted to enter fully into the spirit of the South by ordering a chicken fried steak. For any who have not experienced this delcacy, it is a pounded-flat chicken breast, coated in batter and fried, smothered in a creamy, bacon-bit-infused, cheesy sauce. Actually, at this particular sitting, I had two, and I cleaned my plate. A bit of train travelling advice: even if you travel coach, eat in the dining car occasionally. It is not much more expensive than a full meal from the snack bar (at least on Amtrak), and is a far more civilized experience. I got to sit with two elderly ladies from Oklahoma who had just taken a vacation to Eastern Canada!

I spent most of the next day in Chicago, waiting to catch the Texas Eagle direct to Dallas. In that interval, I met up with my uncle Hugh at the Chicago Art Institute for a whirlwind tour and a lovely lunch. Before I met up with him, I wandered my way through the mesoamerican collection. In a display case devoted to the Moche culture of Peru (100 BC to 500 AD), I was first captivated by a couple of breathtaking sculptures: busts of chieftains. Life sized, the busts were stylized in their regularity, but preserved distinct characteristics and intensity of expression which bespoke individual personalities. The material was a smooth, lustrous red brown clay, accented with paint apparently unfaded by their age. In the same case, there was also a ceremonial pot titled Assault of the Bean-Warriors, on which were painted dozens of little beans with hooked noses, overhanging brows and proud headdresses, rushing at each other as fast as their spindly legs would allow, each armed with mace, spear and shield held aloft by arms as vigourous as they were delicate (Sadly, the Bean Warriors didn't make the website). I laughed out loud, to the surprise of some of the more serious Patrons of the Arts nearby. A people's grand achievements have the power to leave me in awe, but I am often touched even closer to home when a millenia-old joke still has the power to make me belly-laugh.

I climbed aboard the Texas Eagle. This time the journey began in Chicago, crossed Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and then Texas. After I hopped off in Dallas, it was scheduled to continue South, then veer West and keep on going until it hit the Pacific. This train had an observation car, but I think I slept through most of the good scenery. I did see the "gateway to the West" in St. Louis, but I ignorantly thought it was a single Golden Arch. The landscape in Eastern Texas, you may be interested to know, is not a desert, nor have I yet seen a single tumbleweed. It is more kind of dusty, sparse forest and grassland. Thus I arrived in Dallas.

Now comes my greatest achievement of the whole trip. We pulled into Dallas at 12:35. I hopped off the train, claimed my numerous bags and boxes, hailed a cab, got the cabbie to help me load up said bags, beat it to the bus station, got the cabbie to help me unload the bags, bought a ticket, got a bus station attendant to help me with the bags, and boarded the 12:55 to Waco. I was the last one on the bus, and I had to get a couple of fellow-passengers to help me with my ridiculous bags again, but I got them stowed, sat back, and arrived in Waco two hours later, about 56 hours after my departure from Portland.

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