I had this schedule in my lap that said the Coastal Starlight arrived at 0908. The information I had from my reservation clearly had 0820 as the departure time. Meanwhile the overhead board didn’t have it on the list of near future trains. ,As it turns out, that board lists local trains and apparently not the thru trains. Luckily it took me only about a minute to pack up my computer, gather purse, backpack and food bag (more about this later) and head down the platform for what, of course, turned out to be the second to the last car.
I barely got myself situated
before we arrived at the Oakland/Jack London Square Station. The main conductor has a small iPhone size device in his hand which scans in the barcode on each ticket, then he directs people to the correct car. Data wise it is brilliant, but efficient? One person? It would obviously help if everyone had their ticket out and waiting, but then it hardly happens at airports, why would this be any better? Given the crowds I see outside my window, my hope for a seat to myself for the entire journey is probably not going to be realized.
Food bag – this seems like a good time for a mention. We stopped at the Safeway last night after dinner. I was so wiped I just stayed in the car while George went to pick me up some snacks for the journey. I asked him for a1-2 small Kleenexes, tangerines, two boxes of granola bars (natures valley being the top of my “sort of edible and cheap” list, two bottles of anything not containing either caffeine or calories and a bag of trail mix. What I got was five bottles of Sobe (assorted flavors), two bags of kleenex packs, a huge (kg)? bag of tangerines, about 10 high end bars, fruit snacks, trail mix….. oh, and we can’t forget the Ecuadorian Chocolate.
So what the heck – I should be fine through to Galveston and never have to darken the door of the dining car. Meanwhile, I have opened the first pack of tempos and the bottle of Fuji Apple Pear complete with Vit C and Ginseng. Certainly can’t make me feel any worse!
The distance between Oakland and San Jose was tracked by warehouses, junkyards and thousands of graffiti covered walls. Oh, yes and the fence topped with concertina wire, can’t forget that small bit of security now can we? I saw a few hundred garden gnomes huddled in a yard between birdbaths and nymph statuettes. Along some stretches, there was trash to rival what I found in Jamaica. Perhaps the local authorities could make a deal with the taggers? 10″ of wall to spray for every three 50gal black garbage bag full of picked up trash?
Parking lots full of RVs, boats, vans, all of which I hope represent long term storage by the layers of grime and general state of despair. Given that none were clean, I don’t fancy it is a used vehicle lot. Not one was new, which makes me suspect is it overflow from a nearby neighborhood with one of those nose in the air associations too good to allow anything parked on the street. In contrast, many of the RV parks which we passed by were clean, well organized and well tended with enough additions and awnings to leave me the suspicion that none have been moved in a very long time.
The canals/stream beds were mostly muddy and dry. But within thirty minutes of leaving the Oakland station the countryside markedly improved. No longer looking mostly like your typical third world working area. the trash and warehouses gradually gave way to golf courses, neatly and expensively built tracks of townhouse, McMansions and shiny office buildings interspersed with clean sided warehouses. Someone obviously has enough money to patrol for kids with spray cans. The cars are well maintained even though all are not new as the mom&pop corner stores have given way to small but well maintained strip malls.
Oh, and it is not a smoking stop. Announced several times to make sure that extra people don’t bail off and delay the schedule.
The station in San Jose is neat, clean, efficient and primarily an open platform accessorizing a huge parking lot. I suspect that CalTrain picks up/deposits significantly more passengers than does Amtrak. The other thing I noticed is that the list of WiFi networks in range of the station far exceeded that of of Emeryville (of course, if I had bothered to get a log in from the one board on which I sit I could have happily entertained myself while waiting for the train).
From San Jose the land flattened out and the agricultural aspect of California came to the fore. Mile upon mile of field, irrigation and growing plants. Oh, yes and the cows. Can’t forget the dairy producers. Even when the hills kicked in (or maybe it was just that the rail line shifted bait more inland, the overwhelming presence of agriculture continued.
In the middle of the agricultural ares sits Salinas. There are low fairly barren hills on both sides and a dual carriage way that parallels the train track. Traveling in almost a straight line down the valley leaves me time to watch fields pass, start on the scalloped border for the scarf I am finishing. Hopefully finishing. At the rate this progresses I might have it finished before Miriam graduates in 2015. Can you say slow and picky? I have also decided that lunch will be my meal in the dining car so signed up for a 1315 slot figuring that to be a good break (and a chance to drink more fluids).
After the distraction of a mediocre lunch made better by three interesting dining companions in their early 80s taking the train home from visiting family over the Easter Holiday I got back to my seat in time to see the landscape charge to arching hills with scattered deciduous trees and bushes twisted from their long battle with prevailing winds. Some of the slopes were bare, carpeted only with a thin grass covering split on the sides where water over the decades had forced consistent channels.
The tunnels always seem to show up right at the most inconvenient time for either knitting or tiping.
At San Luis Obisbo I didn’t understand about all the announcements until the very end. The north and south bound trains come through fairly closely. More than one passenger apparently has happily gotten on the south bound train to be horrified when he/she finds themselves traveling south. What apparently makes it even more exciting is that by the time the problem is identified, it is too late to fix it. The Northbound train has already come and gone leaving the confused person with few options other than travel on the following day. It sounds like it would be a really good idea to check the train number on your ticket, especially since they are not checked/collected till after
the train has started to roll. As we pull out of the station, the northbound train is pulling in.
After traveling past more nondescript hills, I glanced out the right hand train windows expecting to see more of the same. Instead fog shrouded ocean stretched only occasionally disappearing behind the embankment.
It is always tough, trying to decide on which side of the train you really want to sit, especially since most of the time there isn’t much choice on Amtrak as the conductor assigns seats when you board. But the left has been interesting to this point, but the right has the Pacific ocean crashing cold and grey against stone and rocky beach.
1700. It is five pm and the first announcement for the evening meal in the dining car has been made. Since the train is full, apparently there are more people interested in a sit down dinner than there are reservations available. A waiting list has ensued I guess it might make sense given the 2100 scheduled arrival into LA (so far we are exactly on time) since dinner must be over and done and the kitchen cleaned prior to arrival. The train crew is from LA; obviously they are interested in getting off work having been on duty/train for four days now. Apparently it is a four days on (two up, two back) and and six off schedule. That translates to 12 days on/18 off which, given the length of the trip and the extended hours calculates out to more than full time.
Anyway – since I had lunch, I have no interest in dinner. Granola bars, fruit and a chocolate chaser should fit the bill just fine.
1800 and the landscape next to my window underwent a sharp change. Gone is the agriculture, the hills and fields. Instead first a military base appears (row upon row of military vehicles with painted numbers are a dead give away) which is rapidly followed by the appearance of high class houses with expensive trimmings, pools and gardens. The highway is back filled with shiny, late model cars and trucks all with single occupant intent on reaching their destination with the least amount of effort or cooperation. The mountain spines are now rising higher in the near distance with craggy faces and tree lined slopes undisturbed by buildings on the higher elevations. The narrow strip of land between the tracks and the sea is occupied by one to two streets of elegran and stylish houses. I doubt that the presence of the train detracts at all from their value from what I can see of the various homes, compounds and estates.
Santa Barbara according to the trip guide.
Along with the beautiful, it is obvious we are approaching more population. There is no longer clouds or fog along the mountain sides. The dusty looking layer hanging down could be pollution or fire smoke but it looks neither healthy or friendly. From the from the number of darker clouds drifting away from the mass, I am almost hoping it is fire somewhere as I would hate to believe that it is the result of careless and deliberate stupidity (pollution).
1900 and we are right on time, rolling into Oxnard California. The sun has recently set and light outside is starting to dim. This is obviously going to be the end of We have passed juice packing plants, self-storage businesses and the Ventura Country Rescue Mission Bargain Center which seems to be a good size and also a dumping ground for a number of items which seem to be long past the desirable even as a free item (old couches, broken chairs and CRT monitors piled in boxes easily seen from my windows. As we pulled out it was back to people on the left and fields covered with white plastic on the right with row packed next to row of half-circle shaped long tent like structures sheltering whatever is growing beneath.
2100 Arrival into LAX. Chaos in Union Station. After standing in a long line for check, I got my seat assignment for the Sunset Limited