Saturday, January 04, 2014

Come Ride With Me...Part 2

Continuing my holiday travelogue, now it's time to board the Coast Starlight which runs from Seattle to Los Angeles. But I'm not going that far - I'll be changing to the San Joaquin line early the next morning. But for now, I'm back in coach with an interesting seatmate from Vancouver, BC, heading into new territory. While I've traveled along the interstate to California many times, I've not taken the train down this route. Too bad it will be pitch dark in a few hours. My fellow adventurer and I feel lucky to have the first seats by the stairs as there is even more legroom and we don't need to hoist our bags into the overhead storage. I'm about to spend night two sleeping in coach - it didn't seem worth the money for a roomette since I will be transferring at six in the morning. I shouldn't have been so cheap. But in the meantime, my seatmate and I find we have lots in common, and the conversation makes the time fly by. He opts for dinner in the dining car, a new experience for him which he gives a thumbs up, pleased with the vegetarian option, and I grab lighter fare from the club car, also good. I have such a hard time keeping my eyes open on the train, and though I read for awhile, I soon gave up and drifted off for the night.

The train was a bit early getting into Sacramento where I'd be getting off. Well, of course, since I am not a morning person. A group of us got booted off at 5:45 a.m. to make the long trek in the dark from track 5 to the station proper. This reminded me of some of the treks I've taken from one airport concourse to another as we descended into tunnels under the tracks and emerged a  long ways later near the station, and I wished my duffel bag, small as it was, had wheels. And it was cold, as cold as Idaho when I left - glad I had not packed my gloves away. I had a shorter layover here, thankfully, because the station is in the throws of renovation, revealing nothing of what beauty or charm it might have. A low false ceiling and lots of scaffolding plus pigeons that wandered off the street in the hopes of being fed made me glad I wouldn't be there long. The Wikipedia entry has it so right: "...the station interior is full of scaffolding to facilitate the work being undertaken, causing the passenger waiting space to be visibly claustrophobic." And here I thought it was just me.

Through some scheduling quirk, the next leg of my trip was by bus. Yes, I know, but it was a nice bus and only an hour to the station at Stockton where we would at last board the San Joaquin line to Bakersfield. It was light now and I was reminded of what I never liked about the landscape in this part of California. Just too dry and brown and lacking in substantial vegetation for me, no offense. The station in Stockton seemed off the beaten path and felt a little dodgy as well as tired around the edges. I was glad there were so many others waiting with me and that it was not the middle of the night. I was reminded that not all station stops are equal.

At this point, I realized I hadn't had my shoes off in over 24 hours and one of them was rubbing a toe. I took the opportunity to give it some air - like my holiday socks?

I'd noticed them sometime during the night when I'd momentarily come awake, but now I looked up and there it was, framed in a window - a palm tree. For no good reason, I hate palm trees, at least in California.

And yes, now I'm in the land of palm trees, waiting for another slightly late train.

While waiting, this fellow's attire caught my attention. No one dressed even remotely like him and he didn't seem the least bit self conscious. I really did wonder what his story was.

Last leg of the trip was essentially in a commuter train - not unpleasant but not the same kind of seating as coach on the regular lines - and very long, about 4 hours through a very boring stretch of California made bleaker by the terrible air quality. Its saving grace was wi-fi access and it got me to my destination with little fanfare. I'd been peeling layers for awhile now as the temps began to climb and stepped off the train to temps in the 60's. I was whisked away to my nephew's home where a tree in the front yard sported the colors of autumn, some of its leaves scattered across the green lawn - ah yes, California Christmas! I was given my grand-niece's room to bunk in and the pleasant surprise of being able to sleep under the wedding quilt I made for my nephew and his wife. And I indeed slept well after my arduous* journey!

*In retrospect, I realized that part of what made this particular trip seem "not for the faint of heart" was all the transfers from one train to another. For those of you thinking it would have been easier to fly, well maybe, but I remember all too well long flights with one or more transfers (no direct flight for me to Bakersfield), long treks from plane to gates, long drives or shuttles to and from airports (1-1/2 hours to the nearest airport to me), and red-eye flights (only two flights to Bakersfield a day for me - very early morning or late afternoon). For me, train travel is logistically easier (the station is 10 minutes away), I am treated like a valued customer not a commodity and given lots of help along the way, and Amtrak rarely strands a rider if trains are running late - more about that when I share the return trip adventure. And food! You always have access to food & drink and can move around freely about the train and step off to stretch your legs and get fresh air at some of the longer stops along the way. I do sometimes think I'm an anomoly loving this less stressful form of travel so am always surprised at how many people are getting on and off at my little town. And I was gratified to hear all along the way that every train I was on was a sold out. End of commercial...;-)


The Inside Stori said...

OMG....I could NEVER do this..... You def. are brave!

Lucia Sasaki said...

Hi Sheila, thanks for this second installment of your adventure!
You are a great advertiser and defensor of AMTRAK!!
Here in Brazil, unfortunately we have only some touristical lines for us, passengers, a shame, really.
How good to see your gift being used.
Very beautiful your quilt.
Congratulations and thanks for sharing your adventure.

The Idaho Beauty said...

Lucia, I think that is true of many places. So many of the passenger lines in this country were discontinued long ago, but there is hope some of them will be re-instated. There are too many places with no train access. As a matter of fact, my train station is the only one in my state. You can still get a lot of places by bus but it simply is not the same.