I was certain I’d never want to visit the state for fun — until I found out about the Museum of the American Railroad.
When it comes to our preferences, we can be pretty extremist. We like what we like, we loathe what we loathe and that’s that. The older I get, though, the more of a flip-flopper I’m becoming.
As a kid, I sternly rejected an invitation by friends in San Francisco who wanted to introduce me to this Mexican food called tacos. It would be almost a decade before I relented.
That was many years — and many tacos — ago.
I was just as absolutist about music. On my transistor radio (ask your grandfather what a transistor was), it was R&B, rock ‘n roll and jazz. In that order. Period.
Classical? Not really. Folk? Not so much.
Country? Oh, HELL no!
Then I heard the guitar of Andres Segovia. The protests inspired by the Vietnam war introduced me to folk music. And I eventually learned that some of my favorite R&B songs by artists like Ray Charles drew their inspiration from country tunes, and vice versa.
That’s when I realized that if you listen to any musical form long enough, you’ll hear something you like.
PLACES YOU LOVE — OR NOT
What’s this got to do with travel? Simply this: Absolutes apply just as much to places.
There are places we fall in love with. I mean that helpless, hopeless, head-over-heels variety of love. And if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you already know some of mine. San Francisco, London, Paris, Vancouver, Amsterdam.
It works the same way in reverse. There are places where we would sooner spend a night curled up in a cactus Snuggie before we’d spend a day of vacation there.
At the top of my list: Texas.
Too big. Too flat. Too hot and too dry — unless, of course, it’s too humid.
Above all, too Texan.
Texas is where I annually lost my mind as a kid during my family’s summer drives across the state — and back.
How bored was I? When you start memorizing AAA road maps while lying on an ice chest behind the front seat of a 1958 Buick, you have reached the ultimate in desperate circumstances.
Unlike the Beatles song, Texas to me was a long road that didn’t wind.
TARBALLS AND BROKEN BONES
Texas is where my cousins in Houston taught me to look forward to summer downpours — so we could go play in the flooded streets.
Texas is where I played in the surf at Galveston, and came out with shorts stained by tarballs from offshore oil wells.
Texas is where a wasp crawled up my shirt sleeve and stung me in the armpit, where I broke my thumb in a car crash — and I wasn’t even driving.
For a long time, I wondered why California got earthquakes and Texas got barbecue, when it clearly should’ve been the other way around.
After the crash, I was about ready to rename Texas the Leave Me Alone Star State. And I fully expected it to stay that way for the rest of my life.
In hindsight, I should’ve known better.
It started with an item that turned up on my Facebook from TrainWeb. An announcement:
“Museum of the American Railroad ready to break ground and move to Frisco.”
I thought I’d died and gone to Heaven. One of my favorite things in the world — trains — was coing to one of my favorite places in the world — San Francisco — in the form of a major museum?
FRISCO, NOT “FRISCO”
Mentally, I was already making air reservations to SFO, planning my BART ride into The City and trying to decide whether I wanted to stay in a hotel on Nob Hill, in the South of Market or in Fisherman’s Wharf.
I was so happy, I was even willing to overlook TrainWeb’s reference to San Francisco as “Frisco,” which for more than a few San Franciscans, marks you as a tourist and a legitimate target for disdain.
Then I clicked on the link and read the Dallas Morning News story. the museum was indeed moving to Frisco.
Frisco, TX. A suburb of Dallas.
A moment earlier, I’d been dying with excitement. Now, I was just dying. The crash of my disappointment probably tripped seismographs in a dozen western states.
Grudgingly, I checked out the museum’s Web site.
Wow, these guys are serious! Steam locomotives, electric and diesel-electric locomotives of the old streamlined types that my generation grew up seeing.
Cabooses. Every kid I went to school with — the boys, anyway — at some point in their adolescence fantasized about riding in one of these.
Pullman sleeper cars of the type one of my great-uncles worked on from the age of 15 as a Pullman porter out of New Orleans.
(That part of American railroad history resides in Chicago at the A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum. If you’re interested in the history of the Civil Rights movement as well as American railroading, you owe it to yourself to check it out).
It all harkens back to the days when trains were not only the best way, but the only way to move around the country efficiently and in any degree of comfort.
If nothing else, it’ll give you an idea of just how goos our rail system used to be — before freeways, airlines, Congress and Amtrak, among others, nearly killed it.
Even better, the new museum is being built in the style of one of America’s grand old railroad stations, the North Station in Boston.
Oh yeah, I can get into this.
So here I sit, facing the harsh realization that I may have to rethink my perpetual dismissal of Texas. People who like trains this much much can’t be all bad.
You think they have decent barbecue in Frisco?