6:15 To Lake Charles.

LC 081809 001 On August 18-19 of this week, my wife and I, accompanied by my wife’s sister and her husband, took a little nostalgia trip on the train for an overnighter to the L’Auberge Hotel and Casino in Lake Charles. It wasn’t nostalgic from the standpoint of some unrequited need to visit our money in the casino. None of us are really gamblers. We simply wanted to recharge the memory cells on what it feels like to travel by rail. It had been near forever for all of us. For me, the year was 1955.

In short, we booked our way on Amtrak and then pre-arranged for a rental car to be ready for us at the station in Lake Charles.

LC 081809 002 The economics of this little trip were within reason to many household budgets. With my brother-in-law and I both qualifying (by a long shot) for the “62 and over” senior discount, our round-trip train tickets averaged about $35.00 each. The Budget Rental Car tab in Lake Charles ran about $53.00 (including all the taxes) for a 24-hours-from-pick-up daily cycle; and our very luxurious rooms at L’Auberge were $109.00 each. Lunch at the rather expansive L’Auberge buffet was $13.00 a person and another restaurant there called “The Cafe” did breakfast for about the same price as the buffet. – The cost of walking ino the casino will have your bottom, if you don’t enter there with a bottom limit on how much you’re willing to lose. They don’t build these monuments to the illusion of easy money upon the foundational thought of very many people named John Q. Public going home rich.

Leaving Houston by rail takes you down tracks that are a real reminder of the jungle that is our town, and I’m not just talking about trees or social problems alone and separately. I’m talking about both together. It didn’t take that long to find the graffiti or the swaddling mass of trees and brush that surround the tracks in so many places on the route out of town.

At one point, we suddenly burst forth from the trees and were then riding across the surface of Lake Houston. That was little different too from the everything-looks-the-same-waltz down the never-ending sameness of an I-10 automobile drive. It also was nice to have the time away from driving on a summer day that was tailor-made for cloud-watching.

LC 081809 004 b I forgot to mention that the 6:15 AM train to Lake Charles didn’t actually leave until 7:15 AM. It was late getting there due to some back-up along the lines from freighters near San Antonio. That was OK with us. We came prepared to leave our 21st century clocks and mindsets at home as we boarded the train for this ride into yesterday.

The seats were quite comfortable. They come with adjustments for leg and foot support, along with back support and reclining potential. Amtrak serves food and snacks in their dining car and lounge, but they also don’t mind you bringing yur own food and drinks with you. We brought egg salad sandwiches and bought Pepsis and coffee in the lounge. We also spent time in the observation car, a place with mostly glass ceilings and wide comfortable chairs for looking out the windows.

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This train route began in Los Angeles on its way to the terminal in downtown New Orleans. It ued to run all the way to Miami, but Hurricane Katrina changed that plan in 2005 by damaging the tracks east of New Orleans. I have no idea if the old full service line to Florida will ever be resumed.

LC 081809 006 We met a couple sitting near us that had been in the coach since LA on their way to New Orleans. Other than the fact that each were unable to hold their heads erect, they, otherwise, seemed to be OK. Sleeping berths are available, but at a much higher rate.

LC 081809 009 Even on the short three hour ride from Houston to Lake Charles, it was my take that people on trains are much friendlier toward each other than they are on planes. Maybe a lot of factors kick in here to make that so beyond the trains themselves, but all these other varaiables hinge on the common ground that no one I met three days ago brought a sense of urgency with them on the train ride. We just got on the old iron horse prepared, for the most part, to just accept whatever happened to the train’s ETA at various points along the way. Any traveler with a close-call meeting schedule in another city wasn’t on our train the other day. They were at the airport.

LC 081809 010 The train is pretty comfortable. With air conditioning and quiet engines, we’re not talking any longer about those long, hot rides of soot-belching noise and dust that we see in the old western movies. Once you adjust to the gentle back and forth sway along the tracks, most of you will be either gently reading or falling asleep over much of the long distances you plan to cover.

LC 081809 008 Our train made only one six-minute stop in Beaumont on the way over to Lake Charles.

The weather was so typical of those long summer days when rain is possible on an every afternoon basis. We haven’t had that kind of weather in Houston this year due to the demonic high that sits in residence over our city, but they have been a little luckier than us in the near areas just east of us in Louisiana. It’s still hot there, but the promise of rain in the afternoon just places a whole diffferent outlook on the rest of the day.

LC 081809 011 The little station in Lake Charles was about the size of two brick-walled telephone booths, place side-by-side, but there were benches outside for those of us  waiting on rides. Because of our late departure from Houston, we had to wait about fifteen more minutes for our rental car.

You don’t really need a rental car in Lake Charles, if you’re just going straight to the hotel and back. For the price of a return trip, however, it’s about as cheap to rent a car. Then you have the flexibility to go anywhere you want.

LC 081809 012 L’auberge was great, relative to its accomodations. This place has all the amenities of a family oriented destination site, along with the casino and a lot of shops built ino the facility.  They also offer a magnificent swimming pool facility and there’s an 18-hole golf course thrown in for guest use as well. There were also several other eateries in the building that we didn’t have time to try, including a steak house owned by Jack Daniels.

LC 081809 013 Just one word of advice to fellow Texans. They do not have good Mexican food in Lake Charles, no matter what the locals may try to tell you. We ate at a place on Churchill Street called Cancun that had been recomended. Two days later, I’m still recovering from the grease.

LC 081809 014 I think L’Auberge has a meaning that translates into “bear.” Otherwise, I could find no other reason for the statue of a bear that they have posted outside the front door. At any rate, this was one of those stories that’s more about the journey than the destination. Travelling by train was relaxing and a lot of fun.You may also want to think about taking a train sometime. I think you may enjoy it more than you imagine. Heck! Houstonians don’t really have to stop in Lake Charles. This train goes to New Orleans too.

Enjoy your own journey. Enjoy your own road. Let someone else do the driving, while you shed the load. That’s what a vacation is supposed to be about.

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