I THINK IT was Columbus. It surely was not Flatonia because, as I recall (it’s been quite a spell), that’s where the good barbecue joint was located just off Interstate 10 about midway between Houston and San Antonio.
Flatonia, that is.*
No, it likely was Columbus where my second ex-wife and I decided to spend a night in a hotel, just a fun way to get out of Houston, deep into the sticks, so to speak. We used to head out on weekends now and then, near and far, to spend nights in hotels just for the heck of it, a change of scene.
It was a train that etched that night into my memory so firmly even though it’s been about 25 years now. That wife’s long gone, and so is Texas, out of my life, but not trains.
That night in Columbus, we chose a quaint little wooden, two-story inn that had been a train-stop hotel way back, a place for travelers who arrived by rail in Columbus to easily step from the train almost right into the hotel lobby. But passenger service to Columbus went the way of cavalry charges and vanished.
The hotel went out of business and stayed that way a long time. Then some folks, probably city slickers dreaming of running a small hotel in rural Texas, answered an advertisement one day and, presto, the hotel was reborn, just as quaint as ever, but on purpose this go-around.
Some time after that, we showed up and checked in. The hotel was all decked out in old-timey stuff, real cute, you know, and we liked it. That night we hit the sack around 10 or so, as usual.
The train arrived a couple of hours later. The tracks remained directly beside the hotel, and I mean directly. It was a freight train, and it did not continue through, which would not have been so bad. No, it parked right outside our second-story window. And it sat … and sat … and sat … with the motor running.
Didn’t get much sleep that night. On leaving the next day, I understood why we were the only hotel guests. Who would return after a night with your bedside lamp spitting distance from a rumbling locomotive?
I’m sure the new owners, possibly Yankees from New York trying to get away from it all, regretted their decision, likely losing their shirts, but all we lost was one decent night of sleep.
* * * *
Flash forward a quarter century. I live pretty close to a railroad track, and it’s a busier track than the one in Columbus, Texas, by far. But it’s not just outside our window. It’s like a block and a half away.
Our property extends from one street out front to another street out back, which is to say it’s a full block deep, and the house sits against the back street, not the front. Crossing that front street, you’ll see houses, and it’s directly behind those houses where the railroad runs.
We hear the trains, which pass at all hours of the night and day, real well. I don’t know how the people who live across the street, with the trains passing just behind them, put up with it.
The trains pass in a number of styles, depending on the mood of the engineer. The style matters more at 2 a.m. than at 4 p.m. Sometimes they pass quietly. Well, as quietly as a train can pass. Just the bump-bump-bump of the wheels, nothing more. Or it can be full-tilt boogy with horn blaring and bell clanging.
We did not notice the railroad when we bought the property, and we likely would have purchased elsewhere had we been aware. But guess what? After a couple of weeks back in 2003, we ceased to be rattled by the passing trains, even in the dead middle of the night.
Not only that. We like it now. From the upstairs terraza, we see the top portions of passing trains clearly, and it lends a sort of vagabond air to the neighborhood.
If you walk the 1.5 blocks from the Hacienda to the neighborhood plaza and look left you will see the scene in the photo above. The train tracks bisect our funky neighborhood, and we live on the right side of the tracks because where we live is, by definition, not the wrong side of the tracks.
* * * *
* The barbecue joint was directly next to a gas station. Once I used the john in that gas station and found it so unkempt and repulsive that I told the station manager than I’d seen nicer johns in Mexican whorehouses. She didn’t take kindly to my accurate comparison.
(Tomorrow: About milk. Stay tuned.)