Around the State

Jordan’s Pick

Victorian Christmas Train Ride


THERE YOU ARE, ALL BUNDLED UP, climbing aboard the Victorian Christmas Train Ride in East Texas with your loved ones. The antique locomotive picks up steam as you sip hot cider and warble, uninhibitedly, your favorite carols. With the verdant foliage of the Piney Woods sliding by, you lapse into a contemplative coma, thinking about all the scenes in your life that you can’t TiVo.

If you get weepy just thinking about this idyllic picture, then you’ll need some more tissues, because the train ride could soon be but a bygone memory. The Texas State Railroad is in danger of becoming a static display, and whether or not it continues its thirty-year run as a tourist attraction beyond December 31 hinges on money, politics, and time.

It’s no secret that the state parks system is running on lean means these days. So it’s not hard to see why the 110-year-old railroad is on the chopping block: With annual losses of more than $1 million, it’s a financial albatross. But neither Texas Parks and Wildlife, which runs the railroad, nor the train’s supporters across the region want to see its demise. If the railroad is going to be saved, the state will have to grant it a last-minute reprieve in the form of some emergency money.

And what happens if it doesn’t get this stay of execution? First, the bad news. If the Legislative Budget Board doesn’t approve the $650,000 allocation that TPWD officials have asked for, then the railroad’s trains will be parked indefinitely come January 1. Yes, there’s talk of private investors taking over if this happens, but cranking things back
up isn’t going to be like flipping a switch.
For starters, there are a few right-of-way contracts—try more than a hundred—along the 25-mile route between Rusk and Palestine that will have to be renegotiated. As will the agreements with Abilene and San Angelo, the original owners of the railroad’s two steam engines, which mandate the locomotives’ return if operations cease.

The best-case scenario is this: The railroad gets the emergency funds, ensuring it’ll run through next September. When the members of the Legislature reconvene this January, they’ll decide the state should keep operating the railroad, as it has since 1976, and they’ll find the $11.8 million needed to keep it going (repairs included) through 2009. (Just imagine if all the sporting goods tax revenue went to the parks for a change.) The train continues its weekend runs and seasonal themed trips. Everybody wins.

There’s a good chance the Legislature
will give the state parks their full funding
in the next session—it’d be embarrassing for Governor Perry to let the Texas State Railroad just slip away like that—but without
that crucial $650,000 up front, the railroad will still come to a halt before that. (Besides, who knows what that Lege of ours will do
anyway.) So for now, we’re left to wait—and
to hustle if we still want to catch the train.
After all, this month’s two-hour holiday ride will be the most festive yet. If you’re not too distracted by the strolling carolers in Victorian costume, you might catch Santa as he visits from car to car and ask him to add one more thing to your Christmas list. Dec 2, 9, & 16. Depot located on U.S. 84, 2.5 miles east of
Palestine; 800-659-3484;

Jordan Breal

Pas de Adieu


If only ballerinas were as evergreen as The Nutcracker itself, we would never have to imagine the Christmas classic without the Houston Ballet’s dazzling Lauren Anderson. But that’s a reality we’ll soon face when the 41-year-old
retires at the end of this month after eight more performances as the Sugar Plum Fairy (a part she’s danced since 1983) and a one-night-only reprisal of her role as Cleopatra in the Jubilee of Dance. That she’s been with the Houston Ballet since her days as a pupil (she became the company’s first black principal in 1990) makes Anderson’s farewell performances all the more poignant.

The Sugar Plum Fairy is your signature role. How have you made it your own? No one who really knows me would believe this, but there’s a lot of Sugar Plum Fairy inside me. I just want everyone to be happy, and if I could solve all the problems in the world, I would. And that’s how the Sugar Plum Fairy is—nice and happy and positive. That sounds so pie-in-the-sky idealistic, but that’s how she is.

What is she like on a technical level? Oh, she’s not easy. If any little thing is wrong, you feel like it’s just an awful show. She’s so pure, and there’s nothing really fussy about her. You can’t act your way out of that.

What’s the story behind your nickname, the Chocolate Sugar Plum? One time after a show, I walked backstage, and there was a little girl in her mom’s arms who pointed at me and—you know how kids are so honest—said, “Mommy, Mommy, the Sugar Plum Fairy’s chocolate.” Her mom was so embarrassed, but I thought, “That’s wonderful. This child thinks I’m a piece of candy.”

You’ll also be performing a scene from Cleopatra in the Jubilee of Dance this month. It’s a complete opposite from the Sugar Plum Fairy, but it’s my favorite role. I’ll be dancing a passionate pas de deux that takes place when Mark Antony comes to accuse the queen of killing Caesar, his mentor. The challenge with Cleopatra is that she was a real person.

So after 24 years of dancing and being on your feet, are you feeling it physically? Honey, it hurts. But it hurt at 20. My feet have been janky since day one. I’ve never worn a pair of open-toed shoes. Hopefully my corns will go away so I can, but I doubt it.

Are you ready for your last performance? I don’t want to think about it. I hope that I can just hold back the real tears so I don’t look ugly. What’s been so wonderful about my career is

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