Texas, Texas, Texas. Oh how I had looked forward to suckling on the moist teat of Houston’s giant bosom. Well, I hadn’t actually, until I met Marybeth, a scantily clad woman riding an inflatable killer whale like it was Sea-biscuit. My anticipation for my visit to southern Texas increased however, when Marybeth offered me a ride and began pointing out large billboard signs that I should have read a long time ago, “Contrary to popular belief I don’t hate anyone who is gay” – God. And, “Always use protection” – Jesus 16:9. I’m not familiar with that part of the bible, but that guy is really starting to make sense now.
I met Marybeth the day before on a boat in Dallas, and our drunken ramblings had brought us to the I-45S. I was feeling a little delicate and sprawled myself out on the soft cushion of Marybeth’s rental and watched the American highway in its full glory. The continual advertising nightmare of XXX bars, religious ramblings and fast food madness. My attention was brought away from an enticing finger promising me pleasure and cheap beer, and back into the car as Marybeth began screaming at the dash every-time she went above eighty and a warning noise made a beep..beep. “You ever shot a gun?” She asked me.
Turning in my seat, I looked at her, “No I haven’t, can we do it here d’ya reckon? I mean, we’re in the south, you people love guns more than children, can we do it in Houston?”
“Sure, my Grandpa has a ranch, I’ll give him a call. Y’all have a lot of fun, he’s great I should really call my pop…” Honestly I phased out as she reached for her phone and began speed talking in her subtle southern brogue, doing nothing to sooth the pain of my fragile condition that was now becoming fully apparent. I smiled and stared back out of the window hoping to see some more smut, and wondering the reaction if it was intertwined with religious quotes.
I heard intermittent parts of Marybeth conversation to her Grandfather. She told him she was driving a rental, because she’d smashed her own car whilst talking on the phone, I looked at her. I noticed her cut hands. Noticed sporadic grazes on her arms and legs. My casual slouch became rigid, my bottom felt a little tight, and I looked out of the window until she had finished her call, hoping to see another influential billboard from Jesus that never came.
We arrived after dark, turning into some quiet streets in Houston Heights, driving away from the bright city lights of downtown Houston. Marybeth’s apartment had a cute warehouse feel. Hard stone floors and exposed brick walls were mirrored with soft furnishings and thick rugs. It may well be the fact that I have a distinctive accent and compliment it with a jovial wit, or simply because the deep blue moonlit sky made my arctic eyes shine like glaciers in an desolate sea, or maybe she’s just a dirty hussy who doesn’t care who she pounces on and licks, because out of nowhere that’s exactly what happened. I don’t usually have such a profound effect on females, even if they are of a different species but she couldn’t get enough of me. I resisted for the first twenty seconds or so, and then gave in to her constant forth-comings. Tired and although we’d only just met, Marybeth’s dog Topenga and I said goodnight and slept soundly as I dreamt of tomorrow.
“Hurricane Hermine, can go and fuck itself Topenga.” I said. My first day in America’s 4rd biggest city and a savage storm had thwarted my plans to do touristy stuff in the city. I read a note from Marybeth that gave me directions should I decide to venture out, but selfishly she hadn’t left me a canoe. I was stuck. I headed down to the laundry room, and waded my way through the puddles below and immediately felt the humidity engulf me as I opened the door.
The storm continued to ravage the city for the next few days, leaving me cooped up in the confines of Marybeth’s cute warehouse. Who am I kidding. Prison cell. Add that to the fact that my relationship with Topenga had taken a nose dive, with her opting to sleep elsewhere two nights in a row. Realising that a storm chase wasn’t a possibility and the cities transport was a no go. I decided to skip the delights of Houston and book a train east into Louisiana by the greatest of American routes: Rail.
I thanked Marybeth for her hospitality, and left Topenga a note as I couldn’t bear staring into those puppy dog eyes as I walked away. I arrived at the station around 5am and checked in with a cheery woman behind the counter. Ticket in hand, I queued as a huge train eased into the station. A guy and his wife began making friendly chat with me. Noticing my accent and seemingly feeling very proud of himself the guy said, “Sydney right?” That was quite the guess, he was going for specifics. I felt embarrassed as I told him no, immediately telling him I was from the UK before he began sprouting off any other Australian Cities he’d heard of.
The guy told me he was a former marine. Dressed like someone from A-ha’s Take me on video, he continued talking far too loudly for the hour with a self confidence that evidence didn’t warrant. Thankfully a sharp whistle was blown and we were instructed to board.
The train was spacious, this was Texas, let us not forget. Large seats reclined like aeroplane business class and the trickle of people who joined from Houston made their impressions vocal much to the annoyance of the sleeping majority. I found a set of seats and got comfortable. The train pulled forward and I allowed my body to roll with the subtle chug and closed my eyes.
Still dark, I awoke to hear a small Asian man arguing with one of the staff about a missed stop. Much to my annoyance, my ears focused on the altercation and quickly made sense that he had meant to get off at Houston, but no-one had woken him. The conversation continued as they walked further away down the aisle and I closed my eyes, and wondered briefly how far the next stop was for him.
The train slowed. I opened my eyes and saw the beginnings of a bright and clear morning. The train continued to slow and finally came to a stop. A loud mechanical hiss, a crunch, and jerk backward. The train began moving in reverse.
Forty five minutes after leaving Houston I was back, I was beginning to feel like I was in the Truman show, and Laura Linney was going to start advertising household products for me. As staff began to walk through the train, the rants and raves of passengers became louder, everyone wanting to have their say about the reasons why we had to return to Houston. I kept it to myself, but wished I could have been in the train driver’s cabin when he radioed and said, “Houston, we have a problem.”
Wide awake, I walked through the aisle’s until I found the dinning cart. I was placed opposite a couple in their 60’s. The Morris’ from Arizona. They were a pleasant couple. Retired and heading to Florida so Philip could cycle back. He handed me a business type card with his info and ways for me to keep tabs on his progress. Soon finished, the couple left and I finished my breakfast alone and stared outside the large windows enjoying the picturesque views of small towns and endless land of south east Texas.
The breakfast cart soon emptied and the ladies cleared the tables ready for the lunch service. I stayed where I was let the sun hit my face and continued to stare out the window intermittently as I glanced back and forth from my book. Enjoying a lovely chapter in which Robert Langdon was doing something clever in Washington, I heard a deafening high pitched shreek from below me. Then, before I’d even had time to consider anything, shouts and screams from behind me began. “Oh fuck!”
“We’re gonna hit it” Were we on the Titanic?
We did hit it! Immediately I flew forwards, Robert Langdon flying from the grasp of my fingers, my drink smashing into Philip Morris’ empty seat opposite. An almighty crash, and the continuing screech of breaks below me pierced the ear drums. The train slowed to another stop. In an almost perfect position I looked out of the windows to my left and right and saw two smouldering parts of an 18 wheeler. The left was two thirds of crumpled metal and crushed tires of the trucks load bed. To my right the remainder plus the cab.
Stopped almost dead in line with the level crossing, people were out of their cars, on cell phones frantically dialling 911, or more than likely recording and uploading to YouTube. A overhead announcement told us to go back to our seats. I sat where I was. This was amazing. Even Robert Langdon would be interested in this little puzzle.
Within minutes Crowley Police arrived. Moments after that several unmarked black cars arrived and important men jumped out and began speaking to the sweaty parish police.
Crowley hadn’t been somewhere I’d planned on stopping in America, even though it happens to be famous for having an international rice festival. Ordered to stay inside the train we waited. The scene outside became like a circus, although unfortunately we were the entertainment. Local news and TV crews began setting up cameras. An overweight S.W.A.T team arrived and began perimeter checks of the train, this was as it turned out the eve of September 11th, so security was at its highest.
Ambulances began to arrive and paramedics began walking through the train. To my surprise, 14 people were taken off of the train and placed on stretchers, most of which no doubt considering a whiplash suit. Marine boy and his wife were outside doing noble things, with noble men, but in reality an excuse to be outside and have a crafty cigarette. More men in uniforms seemed to be inside the train than out, as police and fire marshals were a constant in the aisles trudging back and forth, some with sniffer dogs which I thought was strange. Until, yelling and barking came from inside a restroom cubicle and a small drug stash was found which paved the way to further delays.
Finally, after 7 hours, our train began moving. We trudged slowly on towards Baton Rouge where we were told we would have to transfer to a bus for the remainder of our journey to New Orleans. Too tired to care, but holding on to the promise of Cajun country, I slouched in my seat and decided that in the future should I see any small Asian people asleep whilst on public transport I shall wake them just in case.