When my dear mother – who ceremoniously gave birth to me over three decades ago – asked me several months ago about being part of a murder mystery aboard a train, my first response was, “I promise to pay back the money I borrowed for college, just don’t do anything rash as I’m sure we can all handle this like mature adults!” Once I was completely devoid of pleading tears, mother Outlaw proceeded to explain this was one of those dinner train rides with a show, and in this case the show was a murder mystery play.
After composing myself and wiping the mucus from my nose, I happily replied that it sounded like a great idea and that it’s something that I’ve always wanted to do. Once she left the room, I started compiling a list of everything I would need for the event, including my hockey stick and a bullet-proof Kevlar vest.
Jokes aside, I really did want to check out one of these live mystery productions, and seeing as how lately my Saturday nights have consisted of me sitting in front of my computer chatting with other web-goers on the 1001 reasons why making a Ghostbusters 3 without Bill Murray is a terrible idea, I figured it was time for a change of scenery. It was also a family event that was intended as a gift for my grandma’s birthday, so our crime solving team consisted of her, my parents and my aunt. With that type of brain power working together it could mean only one thing, we were all in serious trouble.
The dinner show was put on by a company called Fillmore & Western Railway, which is appropriately located in the rural farmlands of Fillmore, CA. The entire experience includes dinner, dessert, a murder mystery play and is all done upon a moving train ride through the Ventura Country area over the course of 3 hours. Yes, I said 3 hours. Upon arriving at the railroad station, we were all greeted to an incredibly impressive array of classic trains, beautiful holiday lighting décor, and festive music flowing through the air.
The entire scene was dare I say, almost magical. For the first time all season, it actually felt like the holidays. There’s nothing like a short 60 mile trip outside the heart of Los Angeles to really put things in perspective. I don’t often gush about unmanly things like this, but the whole setup really was down-right inviting. Unfortunately, that’s pretty much where the evening peaked… outside of the cheesecake that is. I need to remember to tell you about the cheesecake.
As we entered our train car, it was almost as if we were transported back to the 1950’s. The décor had a similar look of the time and since it was the holidays, appropriate decorations were made to provide some Christmas cheer. Why there was no Jewish or Kwanza cheer, I’m not sure, but I made sure to note it on my suggestion card. Sadly though, it also seemed as the pre-served salad entrees had also been sitting there since 1950. I won’t get into specifics, but to my knowledge, there are no salads on the market that display any type of brown coloring.
Far be it from me to waste food though, and due to the fact I hadn’t eaten all day, I was ready to throw some salt and pepper on the holiday tinsel and hope my body would figure out a way to digest it (as it does with most anything I throw into it). Moving on. The actual murder mystery part of the evening started not long after the eating began. Slowly but surely the “players” for the evening were introduced and thus the fun began… well, it was where the fun was supposed to begin.
The first issue I had with the performance part of the evening actually had nothing to do with the performers at all, but more to do with the confines of performing in an elongated train car. The problem arises from the fact that when a cast member is 60 feet down at one side of the car, the other people half a football field on the other side of the car can’t hear word one of what’s going on.
The performers do try to perform most of the important parts of the act around the middle of the car, but should anything important happen a few feet north or south of center, some people are screwed. And forget about it completely if their backs are turned. I kid you not, there were several occasions I almost plucked the earing aides from Grandma’s ear just to figure out what the hell they were saying. If anything, these guys needed mics and they needed to be broadcast through the speaker system, which the car was indeed equipped with.
There was one performer that didn’t need a mic however because she compensated for the lack of microphone by yelling most of her lines. The yelling wasn’t what gave me a six Aleve headache however, it was the shrill bimbotic Betty Boop voice that she performed it in that had me stuffing the extra bread at our table into my ear canals. To her credit though, she supplied some of the more genuinely humorous parts of the show, and more importantly she was cute. Here’s to male DNA, the cause of and solution to, all of life’s problems.
At around the midway point of the trip, I was willing to jump off the slow moving train to explore my hitchhiking options back to the car. Luckily, the main course of prime rib was just being served and my stomach prevented me from choosing the pre-determined escape route. The steak was alright, but nothing to write home about. It was better than the salad, but as I mentioned above, that wasn’t a large feat to accomplish.
The saving grace of the food spread, as I promised to divulge more on, was the dessert. With about 30 minutes to go in the ride, a large piece of cheesecake was served to each attendee. It was simple and basic, but oh man was it good. Although looking back at it, it might have had more to do with the rest of the offerings not necessarily being of Emeril like quality.
Keeping on the subject of the final 30 minutes, as the mystery train ride was coming to an end, something odd occurred to me as I devoured the last of my cheesecake; there was no mystery yet! After 150 minutes of jabbering and mostly failed attempts at humor, no one had been killed yet and interestingly enough, no plot had been developed yet either.
Not long after I solved the mystery of the fact there was no mystery, than someone finally keeled over after taking a poisonous sip of alcohol. (Secretly I had hoped the same fate awaited me about 45 minutes in.) Almost immediately after the seemingly random death, all of the patrons are asked to guess which individual, or group of individuals, were responsible for the murder. From the few things I managed to put together from the 13% of audio I heard, there were some obvious choices and some that didn’t make sense, and there were a few you could totally rule out.
I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised they chose someone that I had no clue was even in the performance! The alleged murdered was literally in our car for 30 seconds, no motive was even suggested for him during the 3 hour tour, and the reasoning gave afterwards was the stuff of plot-less over-budget Hollywood blockbusters. They could have picked the guy refilling my water glass and it would have made more sense.
At the end of the evening, my family and I collected ourselves from the extended train trip and commenced sharing our thoughts on the experience. Looking back at it now, making fun of and discussing how we could have made every element of the show better may have been the actual highlight of the evening, because we did it together. We were a family united in the face of poorly executed entertainment. Even with its downfalls though, the murder mystery train wasn’t utteryly horrible. In general it was a fun production and something different that you don’t get to do every day… thank god.
Overall, it was an entertaining night out that makes you appreciate what truly matters in life; friends, family, and great cheesecake.