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Dallas Trip - October, 2006

By Daniel Chazin,

    I’m a member of a national committee of the Boy Scouts of America which holds meetings three times a year, at various locations throughout the country.  This gives me the opportunity to travel to these locations, and I try to go at least one way by train, if possible.

    Every year, at least one of the three meetings is held in Dallas, Texas.  We had our February 2006 meeting there, and I flew out to that meeting and returned by train.  Our October 2006 meeting is also being held there, and I decided to do the same thing.  

    I did not make my reservations until about two weeks before the date of the meeting, scheduled for Monday, October 16th.  Ordinarily, I would fly out on Sunday and stay overnight in Dallas so I can be there on time for a morning meeting.  But this time, I couldn’t leave until late Sunday evening, and the meeting was scheduled for 1:00 p.m. on Monday afternoon.  So I decided to fly out on Monday morning.

    I checked on and found that one-way, non-stop flights from New York City to Dallas cost at least $500.  But if I was willing to travel on a flight that made one stop on the way, the flight would cost me only $126!  There were two airlines that offered this price on flights from LaGuardia to Dallas-Fort Worth – AirTran and ATA.  The difference, though, was that AirTran required a change of planes in Atlanta, while ATA had a direct flight via Chicago.  It is certainly more convenient to take a direct flight, so I opted for ATA.  Both flights departed at 6:00 a.m. (later flights would not arrive in time for me to make my 1:00 p.m. meeting).

    Now, I had to figure out how to get from Teaneck to LaGuardia Airport in time to catch my 6:00 a.m. flight.  I generally dislike taking cabs or car services to the airport, so I decided to use public transportation instead.    

    Although the subways and buses in New York City run all night, the frequency of service during late night hours is rather limited.  Moreover, scheduled bus service from Teaneck to New York ends around midnight.  After looking at several bus schedules online, I decided to take the last #175 bus into New York.  I left my home at 11:35 p.m. and walked over to Cedar Lane, where the bus arrived at 11:47 p.m.

    We arrived at the George Washington Bridge Bus Station at 12:03 a.m., and I walked down to the subway platform.  As I reached the platform, about 12:10 a.m., a southbound A Train pulled into the station.  The trip down to 42nd Street took half an hour since, at this late hour, the A Train makes all stops (normally, it operates as an express, and makes no stops between 125th Street and 59th Street).  At 42nd Street, I walked over to the northbound platform to transfer to the E Train to Queens.  Here, I had to wait for about 20 minutes until an E Train finally arrived at 1:00 a.m.  Again, during late night hours, the E Train operates as a local in Queens, and we arrived at the Roosevelt Avenue-Jackson Heights station at 1:18 a.m.  Following the signs, I went upstairs to connect to the Q33 bus that goes to LaGuardia Airport.

    Much to my surprise, as I walked out the door to the sidewalk where the bus boards, a Q33 bus pulled in!  Despite the very late hour, I had made perfect connections for two of my three transfers!  The bus pulled out at 1:24 a.m., and we arrived at the main terminal at LaGuardia Airport at 1:47 a.m.  The trip to LaGuardia from my home in Teaneck – which would have taken only about 25 minutes by car – ending up taking about two hours and 10 minutes, but I had actually anticipated that it might take much longer.  In any event, I had arrived in plenty of time to make my 6:00 a.m. flight.

    I walked upstairs to the ATA check-in counter and found that it would not reopen until 4:15 a.m.  There was no place to sit on the upper level of the terminal, so I went back downstairs, where I found some seats near the baggage claim area.  

    I remained awake during the next two hours, doing some work on my computer.  The airport seemed completely dead, with hardly anyone walking by.

    Finally, at 3:45 a.m., security personnel and other airport employees started to walk by.  At 4:00 a.m., music started playing on the loudspeaker, and I decided that it was time to go upstairs and check in for my flight.  There was no one at the ATA counter yet, but the computer check-in monitors were now working (they were not operational when I first stopped by about 2:00 a.m.).  I used the computer to check in, and changed my seat from a middle seat towards the front of the plane to an aisle seat at the rear.  I was carrying my small backpack and an airline suitcase, so I decided to take them both on the plane and not check any luggage.

    Having obtained my boarding pass from the machine, I proceeded to Gate B to go through security.  However, I discovered that the security checkpoint is closed until 4:30 a.m.  I waited on line for about 20 minutes (I was fourth in line), and when the checkpoint finally opened, I went right through and was at Gate B4 by 4:35 a.m.

    I now found a seat next to an electric outlet so I could continue working on my computer while getting it recharged.  About 5:15 a.m., I walked down to a Hudson News newsstand in the hope of purchasing a New York Times (they didn’t have any) when I heard someone call my name.  It was Doron, with whom I had done some hiking about 15 to 20 years ago.  Doron was a classmate of my friends Josh and Jonathan, who became Eagle Scouts, and we went on several backpacking trips together in the Catskills and Taconics.  I hadn’t talked to him in over 15 years, but he somehow recognized me!  Doron had been living in Phoenix, but was getting divorced and moving to New York City.  We exchanged contact information and promised to stay in touch.

    The first pre-boarding call was made at 5:20 a.m. and was quickly followed by a boarding call for rows 25 to 30.  Since I was in row 30 (which was the last row on the plane), I got on line and boarded the plane.  The plane ended up being nearly full, although the middle seat in my row was unoccupied.

    We pulled away from the gate about 6:00 a.m. and took off at 6:07 a.m.  The flight was somewhat turbulent at times, but overall reasonably pleasant.  Unfortunately, the person ahead of me had his seat in the reclining position for most of the time, and since the seats in the last row do not recline, I was left with insufficient room to use my computer for most of the flight.  I tried to fall asleep, but I don’t think that I succeeded in sleeping very much.

    When we landed in Chicago at 7:10 a.m. (Central Time), we were informed that the same plane would continue to Dallas-Fort Worth, but that we were welcome to get off the plane and reboard with the passengers getting on in Chicago.  I chose to do so, leaving my larger carry-on on the plane.  By 7:40 a.m., the boarding call for our flight was made, so I reboarded.  As soon as I got back into my seat, I called my cousin Debbie to inform her that I was now in Chicago, and that I would be passing through again on Wednesday afternoon on the train.  I mentioned that, if my train from Dallas was on time, I would have a six-hour layover in Chicago, permitting me to come to her home for dinner, but she informed me that she had other plans for the evening.  

    We pulled away from the terminal at our scheduled departure time of 8:10 a.m., and we were airborne at 8:20 a.m.  There was also some turbulence on this leg of the flight, but overall, it was reasonably pleasant, with the middle seat again remaining vacant.  

    We landed    at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport at 10:32 a.m. and arrived at the gate at 10:40 a.m., 12 minutes late.  It took another ten minutes for everyone to get off the plane (I was among the last to deplane, as I was in the last row).  I made my way down to the Ground Transportation level and waited about 20 minutes for a van to take me to DFW Marriott Hotel, where our meeting would be held.  Our meeting started at 1:00 p.m. and ended about 4:40 p.m.   
    Dallas is a very spread-out city, and the commuter rail and light-rail lines serve only the eastern and southern portions of this metropolis.  Although there is an expansive network of buses that permit you to go just about anywhere by public transportation, navigating by public transportation is slow and cumbersome, once you are dependent on the buses.  Whenever I go to Dallas, I generally rent a car, and I decided to do the same this time.

    The problem is, though, that I usually arrive on a Sunday, when weekend rental rates are in effect.  These rates are generally less than half of the regular rental rates, and once you rent the car on a weekend day, the lower weekend rate remains in effect even during the week.  But if you first rent the car on a Monday morning, you have to pay the higher weekday rate.  Checking on the Internet, I found that I could expect to pay about $75 a day to rent a car (including all taxes and fees.)  

    It would have been more convenient for me to rent a car as soon as I arrived at the DFW Airport.  But I wanted to keep the car beyond 11:00 a.m. on Tuesday (my train would not be leaving until 4:30 p.m.), and if I rented the car as soon as I arrived in Dallas, I would have to pay for two days’ rental.  And for the first five hours or so of the rental, all I would be doing is driving the short distance from the airport to the nearby  Marriott hotel and then attending a meeting there.

    So I decided to forego renting the car until after the meeting.  I now boarded a shuttle for the short ride back to the airport.  I got off at one of the terminals and almost immediately boarded a shuttle bus to the rental car center.  Contrary to my usual practice, I had not made a reservation for a car, so I walked around to a few rental counters, finally deciding to rent the car from Budget at a total cost of about $75.  I had decided to return the car to Love Field, which is much closer to downtown Dallas than the DFW Airport, and Budget assured me that I could do this without penalty.

    My next priority was to find a place to stay for the night.  My meeting was over, and I had no other reason to remain in the outlying area to the northwest, near the airport.  So I drove east on I-635 until I noticed a sign for a Motel 6.  This motel offered rooms for $37.99 a night (with tax, about $43), so I decided to stay there.  It was located adjacent to the busy and noisy I-635, but my room was on the other side of the building.  I found that it offered a clean and attractive room, which is all that I wanted.  There was no wireless Internet, but local calls were free, so I was able to get on the Internet via a dial-up connection (interestingly, this was the first time that I’ve done this with my new computer, outside of Teaneck, since I acquired the computer last March).

    After getting settled and checking my e-mail messages, I decided to go out for dinner to a restaurant in Richardson.  When I finished dinner, about 9:00 p.m., I was somehow still wide awake, so I decided to take a ride on the DART light-rail system.  I drove down to the Arapaho Center station and boarded the first train that arrived, which happened to be a southbound train.  I rode as far as the underground Cityplace station, then took the next train back north to Arapaho.  It was, of course, dark out, and I had covered this route previously, but it’s always nice to ride this delightful light-rail line again.  I now drove back to my Motel 6, checked my e-mail messages, and went to sleep.    

    I woke up about 6:30 a.m. on Tuesday morning, got dressed and checked my e-mail.  I had planned to ride the Trinity Railway Express line between Dallas and Fort Worth this morning, so I looked at the schedule and found that there was a westbound train leaving the South Irving station at 8:55 a.m.  I decided that I would take that train to Fort Worth, where it would arrive at 9:39 a.m.  I would then have about an hour before the next eastbound train would depart at 10:42 a.m.

    I went down to my car, which I had parked under a tree the previous night.  Much to my surprise, my car had been decorated by the birds!  Their droppings were all over the car!  I can’t recall ever seeing a car so badly defaced by birds.  True, it was a rental car, and I was quite sure that no one would really care how dirty the car looked when I returned it.  But it was embarrassing even to drive around with a car that looked so awful!

    I walked into the office and asked for some paper towels.  The clerk didn’t have any, but he gave me a roll of toilet paper, with which I attempted to remove as much of the bird droppings as I could.  I didn’t do a very good job, but also didn’t want to waste too much time in this effort.

    By this time, it was around 8:30 a.m.  I didn’t have all that far to go to get to the South Irving station, and since I would be traveling on freeways for most of the distance, I thought that I would still make my 8:55 a.m. train.  But I encountered some traffic and also made a wrong turn.  As a result, I didn’t reach the South Irving station until about 9:02 a.m.

    I had missed my 8:55 a.m. train to Fort Worth.  But all was not lost.  Looking at the timetable, I noticed that there was an eastbound 9:07 a.m. train to Dallas.  It took a few minutes to walk over to the station platform and purchase my ticket (a Premium Day Pass for $4.50), and by that time, the train had almost pulled into the station.

    TRE Train #2916 arrived on time.  It was pushed by engine #570 and included coaches 1056 and 1058 and cab car 1004.  I found an unoccupied group of seats facing a table on the upper level in car 1058 and settled in.  When not crowded (and this train, while not empty, was certainly not crowded), TRE trains offer what I consider a luxurious experience for a commuter train – you can sit on the upper level of a car, with your own table, and watch the scenery go by!  

    As we approached the Medical/Market Center station, I noticed a set of Budd cars on the opposite track.  These cars were the consist of westbound Train #2713, which terminates at Centreport/DFW Airport.  Although they have been significantly rebuilt, these cars still operate under their own power, and it is really a thrill to see these 50-year-old cars still operating in regular service on a commuter railroad.  Then, as we approached downtown Dallas, we passed the new Victory station.  This station is designed to serve the adjacent American Airlines Center, and trains stop here only when special events are scheduled.  What is particularly interesting about this station is that it is served not only by the Trinity Railway Express, but also by the DART light-rail system, for which an extension of its line – used only for these special events – was recently constructed.

    When we arrived at Dallas Union Station on time at 9:25 a.m., I detrained and walked into the station to obtain my ticket for this afternoon’s Texas Eagle.  I had used my Amtrak Guest Reward Points to obtain the ticket, and it did not involve any cash outlay on my part, but when the agent printed out the ticket, it was accompanied with a printout, which indicated that the value of the ticket was $764.00.  That, indeed, is what I had found that the trip would have cost when I called Amtrak Guest Rewards to trade in my points for the ticket, but I was surprised that Amtrak’s computer system had recorded this as the value of the ticket and even printed it out when I obtained the ticket from the agent.  The agent told me that, so far, the train appeared to be on time.

    I then walked back out to the Trinity Railway Express platform, where I reboarded my train.  It would be departing as Train #2915 at 10:00 a.m.  I wanted to get back before noon for lunch, and if I were to take this train all the way to Fort Worth, I would have missed the next eastbound train.  So I decided to go only as far as Richland Hills, the last stop before downtown Fort Worth, and transfer there to the eastbound train.

    Before we departed Dallas Union Station, a man who appeared to be homeless came over to me with a ticket and inquired whether the ticket was valid.  It was a Premium Day Pass valid for today, so I advised him that it appeared to be a valid ticket.  It seems that he found the ticket discarded somewhere and wanted to use it to ride for free!

    We departed Dallas on time at 10:00 a.m. and arrived at Richland Hills at 10:46 a.m.  Again, I was able to ride in a spacious group of seats facing a table.  My eastbound Train #2922 pulled into the Richland Hills station at 10:59 a.m.  It was pushed by engine #567 and included coach 1050 and cab car 1003.  Once again, I sat at a table for our trip to South Irving, where we arrived on time at 11:28 a.m.

    I walked over to my car and drove to a restaurant for lunch.  Afterwards, I stopped at a supermarket to purchase some food for the trip.  I then filled my rental car up with gas at a nearby gas station and returned the car to the Budget agency adjacent to Love Field.  I specifically mentioned to the attendant that they need to give the car a thorough cleaning, but he didn’t seem the least bit upset that the car was being returned in this condition.  Next, I then took a Budget shuttle over to the airport.  I was the only passenger in the shuttle, and when I told the driver that I was going to take a bus to downtown Dallas, he let me off right in front of the bus stop.  It was about 2:40 p.m., and a bus was waiting there, although it was not scheduled to depart until 2:56 p.m.  Soon, the bus driver returned, and I, together with a number of waiting passengers, boarded the bus.  More passengers boarded along the way – some with bags or boxes of groceries – and by the time we approached downtown Dallas, the bus was quite full.

    In the meantime, I was attempting to participate by phone in an Administrative Committee meeting of the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, where I serve as Secretary.  Another cell phone with a speaker was hooked up at the Trail Conference office in Mahwah, New Jersey, and I could thereby hear the deliberations and participate in them.  At least that was the plan.  I was on the phone for one and one-half hours – the duration of the meeting – but for much of the time, I had to struggle to hear the deliberations over the noise in the bus.  Even in a quiet room, it was difficult to hear the conversations, and compounded with the noise from passengers on the bus, it was nearly impossible to understand anything.  So my attempt to participate in the meeting was largely an exercise in futility, although I was able to understand a few things and did occasionally make a comment to those present at the meeting.  

    About 3:25 p.m., I noticed that we had arrived at the intersection of St. Paul and Bryan Streets in downtown Dallas.  The St. Paul DART light-rail station was immediately adjacent, so I decided to get off the bus and take the light rail, which would bring me directly to Union Station (the nearest the bus gets to the station is several blocks away).  I had to wait about ten minutes for a train to arrive, and I finally reached Union Station at 3:45 p.m.

    I walked inside and inquired of the agent whether the train would be on time.  She replied that the train had arrived in Fort Worth about half an hour late, and would therefore be arriving in Dallas sometime between 4:30 and 5:00 p.m. (scheduled arrival time is 4:20 p.m.).  So I sat down on one of the benches to await the train’s arrival.  Hard as it may be to imagine, I continued to listen to the deliberations of the meeting all this time!  At least, once I got to the station, it was pretty quiet inside, and I could hear at least some of the proceedings.

    When the meeting was over at 4:20 p.m., I put down the phone, gathered up my belongings, and walked outside to the platform.  On Track 3, used by the Trinity Railway Express, were two trains – one was boarding passengers for the 4:33 p.m. departure to Fort Worth, and the other train was behind it, awaiting a later departure.  I walked over to the platform between Tracks 4 and 5 (the two Amtrak tracks) to await the arrival of my train.  There were a few other passengers waiting there.  The TRE train departed on time at 4:33 p.m., and soon another train, made up of Budd cars, pulled into the station.  That would be used for the 4:53 p.m. departure to the Centreport/DFW Airport station.

    My train was about to arrive, and this story will be continued in the next installment.

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