From the Corn to the Coast

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Cina

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Mar 26, 2014
Messages
333
Hello! My long-awaited and much-anticipated trip report is here (right? Remember me? ...no? Oh well.)

I've been back for a few days, and just now gathering my wits and my energy to write a trip report of my lovely trip. I can't wait to tell you all about it. And I won't!

My best friend lives in Orange County, California. She told me it's a place called "Aliso Viejo", which I believe is Spanish for "Kinda near L.A." I haven't been out to visit her since my last train trip in 2010, so I decided that having completed my first year of teaching, and having moved to a small town, sounded like great reasons to drag myself all over the country and be surrounded by tall buildings and mountains and things. So I booked my trip. I would be gone for nine days total, six of which would be on the train and three of which would be with my friend. Most of my friends thought I was nuts, but they should've figured that out by now.

So anyway! On to the actual report of the trip. I anxiously obsessed over the track-a-train feature from my parents home in Lincoln (they were taking me to the station that night) and, well, that's about all I did until around 12:30, when I told my parents to just take me to the station, already. The train was running about 2 hours behind, but I didn't want my parents staying up until all hours of the night. I waited at the station and listened to the trucker next to me regale me with unwanted stories of his life growing up in Wisconsin, his career on the snowmobile racing circuit, and how he joined the "train mile high club" the last time he was on the Zephyr. Charming.

Thankfully, I also gleaned from his endless prattle that he was taking the 6 to Chicago and was overzealously early to the station. This was welcome news, as I was just imagining him sitting next to me in coach for the next two days.

Finally, the #5 squealed in to the station around 1:45, and I was overjoyed to find myself in a left-side window seat with no seatmate, just as I had wanted. I then went immediately to sleep stared excitedly out the window at the dark for two hours and drifted off around 4.

Right around the crack of 5:30, I decided that 1.5 hours of sleep was really all God intended humans to get, and I betook myself to the SSL with a fruit and yogurt parfait I had packed, and my tiny travel silverware.



Approximately 700 spoonfuls later, I was done with my breakfast and still the sun hadn't risen. So I sat back and read, gently serenaded by the snores of the lounge lizards, until Denver. Here I was joined by an older man who was an avid photographer. We talked art and photography (as an art teacher, we had a lot of common ground) while we climbed into the Rocky mountains. I took many pictures, and then went back and deleted about half. Pictures of mountains are never as wonderful as the real thing, and plus my phone was running out of space. Here's one rather nice one though:



The Colorado river was flooding in many places, but we still saw plenty of boaters and rafters out and about. I was disappointed that not a single one of them took the initiative to moon the train. This is what is becoming of today's youth. Thanks, Obama!

I headed back to my seat a couple of hours into the morning to break open my soft-sided cooler. Inside I had packed laughing cow cheese wedges, hummus, pita crackers, grapes, cauliflower, and other things to get me through until Sacramento (no dining car for me, thanks! Not while I'm in coach!) I ate and then napped for a while, glad that I hadn't acquired a seat partner in Denver.

After Grand Junction I was excited at the prospect of seeing Ruby Canyon in the daylight, since my last train had run too late to see it. I planted myself back in the SSL and was rewarded with red walls and orange afternoon light.



Around Green River my body reminded me that 3-ish hours of sleep was in fact NOT enough, and I turned in.

I awoke bright and early the next day again, not wanting to miss a moment if I didn't have to. Nevada whizzed by outside the window, and I sat and marveled at all that land completely bare of crops, just sitting around out there with no farmer to bother it.

Winnemucca came and went, as did Reno. I was enthralled by the Truckee river. I've never wanted to dip my feet in a body of water that badly in my life. It's the kind of river you only see on TV, on old '70s westerns, or in medication commercials with happy men up to their knees, fishing with their grandson while a narrator lists 45 side effects. "Consult your doctor if you get hives, shortness of breath, or x-ray vision..."



Arriving in quaint Truckee, we began to trundle our way up into the Sierras. I was delighted to find myself in the SSL beside a married couple, both of whom were anthropology professors who had traveled to many interesting places in their careers. We marveled at Donner Lake and listened to the man from the rail museum tell the history of the first transcontinental railroad.

As we crested the range, I went back to my seat for lunch and watched excitedly as we rolled toward Sacramento. I spotted my first palm tree and texted my friend about this momentous event. (Palm trees are such weird creatures. Like living artillery shells.)

We were running about 2 hours behind still, and got into Sacramento about 4. I was a little disappointed by this; I had wanted to see the railroad museum, but as it closed at 5 it seemed hardly worth it. Instead I hauled all my luggage to the Vagabond Inn hotel, where I showered, put my food in the fridge and ice packs in the freezer, and set out in search of food in Old Sacramento.

I told someone on the train about Old Sacramento, since they also had a layover there. They scoffed a bit and said something along the lines of, "Isn't that just kind of a touristy area?" I was undeterred. I like touristy areas (within reason).

Yeah. Old Sac was pretty touristy. There were about three candy shops too many. And two of those places where you can dress up like Miss Kitty and get an old timey picture taken. But the architecture was nice, and the river, and the old locomotives.



And I found a place that would sell me a giant slice of pizza and a big tall Pepsi, so Old Sacramento is good in my book.

After I had seen the sights and bought a bag of salt water taffy the size of an infant, I made my way back to my hotel room to bask in air conditioning and solitude. I had read mixed reviews of the Vagabond Inn but decided to book it anyway because of it's proximity to the train station. I personally had a great experience there. Yeah, when I checked in I had to wait about 20 minutes because they weren't done cleaning my room yet. But the room was clean and had recently been re-done to include a large flatscreen TV. My room was on the side of the building facing away from the freeway, which I think helped with noise (although being half deaf, night-time noise isn't ever a problem for me, so I'm not the best judge.)

Since I had to be up bright and early to catch the southbound Coast Starlight, I went to bed around 9:30.

(To be continued!)
 
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Bob Dylan

Conductor
Joined
May 31, 2009
Messages
20,014
Outstanding trip report and pics! I bet you're the kind of Coach rider that it would be a hoot to share a seat with! Look forward to the Rest of the Story as the late Paul Harvey used to say!
 

bobnjulie

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Jun 7, 2013
Messages
393
Eagerly awaiting the next installement... and yeah, I like touristy places as well... especially those with really cool trains!
 

SCbogey

Train Attendant
Joined
Feb 23, 2014
Messages
24
Enjoyed the travelogue and the photos. I just booked the reverse CZ this fall as part of my transcon and hope my travelogue will be half as interesting. Can't wait for your part 2 and my CZ trip.
 

JayPea

Conductor
Joined
Sep 9, 2006
Messages
3,826
Love your report so far! Gotta like someone who injects humor into their reports. One thing, though: doesn't that "bag of salt water taffy the size of an infant" negate all the healthy food you brought? :lol: And I know all about obsession with track-a-train (and status maps). I'm taking a Spokane-Seattle-Glacier Park-Spokane trip next week and half the fun is tracking the train's progress that you will be boarding.

Looking forward to future installments of your report!
 

Cina

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Mar 26, 2014
Messages
333
Ha, thanks guys! Sarah- I use the spoon to stir coffee now, it's perfect for that :)

Okay, second part coming up!
 

Cina

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Mar 26, 2014
Messages
333
My eyes shot open when my alarm went off at 5 am. I was to board the Coast Starlight at 6:35 and gosh darn it, I was going to make that train. Ever an overachiever, I showered, re-packed, and was out of my hotel room at 5:45.

Groggily pulling all of my luggage down the block and across the street to the Sacramento station, I was struck by how nice the station looks from the outside. I love it when old buildings are retained for their original purpose.



The inside wasn’t quite as nice, as it’s obvious they’re in the middle of a renovation. But I can already tell I’ll like the finished product, as long as they keep the great woodwork and the benches. The arrivals board showed that the starlight wasn’t due to get in until 7:30 now. No problem! What’s two hours on a wooden bench in a renovated train station at the crack of dawn? I had a thermos full of coffee. I was ready to tackle anything.

Letting my eyes slide around the station, I encountered a sight which made me check to make sure this wasn’t a dream or a Miyazaki movie.



This pigeon glibly sauntered between rows of benches, looking reproachfully at everyone and not one whit afraid. I asked him which train he was waiting for. He did not deign to respond.

Surprisingly, around 6:30, I heard a man talking loudly to an elderly security guard, asking about the Coast Starlight. The security guard said that the train had just arrived! What? The arrivals board still showed the Starlight arriving around 7:30. That’s what I get for not using Amtrak Status Maps.

So I trundled my things down to the appropriate track and was given a seat number by a very pleasant attendant. Yay, another window seat, and this time on the right side of the train! I knew from my herculean sense of direction that this was the side of the train I wanted to be on if I wanted to see the ocean.

I had a seatmate from Sacramento to Salinas, a girl a few years younger than myself. We pleasantly greeted each other, and then basically ignored one another for the rest of the trip. I was surprised to find myself on a big bridge near Martinez, which as far as I can ascertain was going over the edge of San Pablo Bay? I wasn’t quite sure. It was a little shocking and exciting. Going over this bridge, we then followed the bay closely. I took this nifty picture of a bridge. We don’t have things like this in Nebraska, but others may find it pretty commonplace.



Rocketing past Martinez, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what sort of things were growing in those fields. That sort of thing fascinates me. Corn, beans, wheat, these are things I understand. Garlic and avocados and lettuce are foreign to me.

That was interesting for about 30 minutes, after which I delved into my book and watched Brave on my kindle (for, like, the fifteenth time). To cut a bit of the boredom, I decided to splurge and have lunch from the snack bar. I went down and a rather handsome younger man asked me what I would like to have. I was momentarily disoriented by the fact that the menu posters all say “Lunch Specialtities” on them. In my bemused distraction I asked him,

“How much is a can of pop?”

His response was, “Ridiculously overpriced.”

I have a feeling that’s not in the OBS manual, but I liked his honesty. I ended up ordering a can of Pepsi and a cheeseburger.

Upon getting back to my seat, I realized that my hamburger was some sort of anomaly. You know how sometimes you try to microwave bread, and it turns into a rock? That was the reality of my bun. I soldiered through this complication until I reached the middle of my hamburger, which was still cold. Lunchtime over. It was simultaneously under- and over-cooked. So there’s $6.50 I’ll never get back. My Pepsi was delicious, though. Having worked for Pepsi and having grown up with a father that worked for Pepsi, I’m aware of how much of a profit Pepsi turns for every can sold at “normal” market prices, so Amtrak prices hurt deep down in my soul. (Also, I’m a penny-pinching hag.)

Food woes aside, my prospect brightened at the first view of the ocean. This marked my second time seeing the ocean. It was very foggy, but that didn’t stop me from staring at it. Sometime around Santa Maria, we suddenly drove out of the fog and into the glorious sunlight. I loved the way the water instantly changed color from gray to blue.



I stared at the ocean for another hour or so, and napped a little as we sped toward our destination. We finally de-trained at 9:00 pm at LAUS, more or less on time (which, by the way, should be the new Amtrak motto) and I..what’s the word they say on the east coast?...”schlepped” my bags up to the waiting room. Everyone told me LAUS was gorgeous, and they were absolutely right. What a great piece of history that is. I love the giant chairs.

I hadn’t eaten much besides my hot/cold burger, so naturally I went and bought a giant bag of pretzel bites and a strawberry lemonade while I waited for the Pacific Surfliner to roll in. It came in a little early, and I got a nice seat for the hour’s trip to the Irvine station.

Right when I sat down, I heard, a few rows ahead, a teen girl talking on her phone. She was talking loudly and angrily to someone on the phone about some other, third person. Using lots of swear words, she described what she would do to this person the next time she saw them in person, and continued to talk loudly and explicitly until the conductor and car attendant came through the car to scan tickets. They told her to get off the phone or she’d be taken off the train. She argued a little bit but complied. They left the car and five minutes later she was back on her phone. She stopped when she saw the attendant coming back to our car, but the smart attendant asked the man behind her (in a whisper) if she’d been talking on her phone. He replied in the affirmative, and she proceeded to tell the girl to take her stuff and prepare to get off at the next station. The girl tried begging, crying, and then more swearing and threats of suing Amtrak, during which time we arrived at the next station (I’m not sure which station it was…Fullerton, possibly?) The conductor made an announcement over the PA that there would be a brief delay while we waited for the police to come pick up an unruly passenger. This frightened her enough that she got off without any further comment. We applauded.

A short while later, I arrived to the Irvine station where my great friends hauled me off to a local Denny’s for actual food! Hooray!

(To be continued – next time, California and the way back!)
 

bobnjulie

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Jun 7, 2013
Messages
393
You were probably seeing lots and lots of lettuce since Salinas is known as the salad bowl of America! Also, Gilroy is famous for garlic....

Great continuation and hurrah for the conductor for not even putting up with the phone girl! Hope you enjoy your visit!
 

Bob Dylan

Conductor
Joined
May 31, 2009
Messages
20,014
Entertaining and enjoyable and great pics!I like Diet Coke myself, hopefully Amtrak can have both someday so we have a choice but the LSA was right about ridiculously overpriced! For future reference for about the same price you could have had lunch in the diner and had a choice between an Angus Amburger, a Veggie Blackbesn Burger ( delicious) with chips and coffee.water. Tea or milk! ( coach passengers have to pay for Pepsi and desert,its included for sleeper pax)!

Hope you're enjoying SoCal and look forward to the next episode of As the Steel Wheels Turn!
 
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Cma

Train Attendant
Joined
Oct 29, 2013
Messages
42
Thanks for the entertaining trip report. Brings back happy memories of CZ trips gone by.
 

Railroad Bill

Global Moderator
Staff member
Moderator
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Jun 28, 2007
Messages
3,537
Enjoying your trip reports. Sounds like you are having a good time (except for that cold burger. :p ). Glad the conductor threw the person off the train. Too many of these people get riled up and then cause serious problems later on.

Have a good time in Irvine.
 

Cina

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Mar 26, 2014
Messages
333
(Sorry for the brief delay, I was trucking teenagers all over the countryside yesterday!)

In California, I spent three blissful days eating delicious food, going to the beach, and spending hours by the pool drawing (having art friends is awesome). I find SoCal kind of exhausting. Everything is so cloyingly perfect. Every shopping center looks the same, with it’s clay tile roof and pale stucco walls and it’s Vons or Fresh & Easy. Every house the same. I had the song “Little Boxes” running through my mind the whole weekend. One thing SoCal has that we don’t in my small town is cultural diversity, though, and with cultural diversity comes delicious food.



Sometimes I think I went to California just for the ramen.

Anyway, enough about the non-train parts of the trip. On Monday morning my excellent friends dropped me off at the Irvine station, where I awaited my northbound Pacific Surfliner. I sat in the chilly morning trying to drill into my head that things are cooler by the ocean, dang it, pack accordingly next time!

The Monday-morning Surfliner is a different animal than the Thursday-at-10pm Surfliner. This train was packed with fellow long-distance travelers as well as commuters. I crammed into an aisle seat and stared at the seat in front of me for an hour until we arrived at LAUS.

LAUS is also a different animal on a Monday morning, namely more bright and full. The Starbucks is suddenly more alluring than the Wetzl’s Pretzels. I don’t love Starbucks but it’s better than nothing, so I dragged all my luggage through the line for a latte.

I didn’t realize that procedures for boarding the northbound Coast Starlight would be different than all of the other trains I’d boarded in the last week. Thankfully I heard some other people talking about standing in line to get their seat number, so I got in line just in time to get an aisle seat. I was a little bummed, but I’ve already seen the sights on this stretch, so I made my peace with this.

Heading up to the track, I was excited to see antique Zephyr cars roll past me as the train backed in. I tried to take some pictures in my frenzy, but I was too close and surrounded by too many people.



(Thanks for the info from people when I posted about these cars during my trip; I looked up the site by this company and, had I known ahead of time, I could have booked LAUS-Emeryville ON these cars for $250! Regret.)

Onboard the CS, I was delighted to make the acquaintance of my seatmate, a woman from London who had quit her job to travel the world. She was visiting friends in Texas and they lived near the tracks. She saw the Amtrak trains go past and knew she had to get on one, so she booked the Coast Starlight for one leg of her trip up the coast. She had been to many interesting places and we shared an affinity for British television, so we got along great. We sat together until she got off in Martinez.

The train was running about an hour behind, so I called the hotel to tell them I’d be late getting in. They were very friendly. I ended up getting in around 1 am and practically fell into my bed.

Thankfully, the Zephyr wasn’t set to leave Sacramento until 11 or so, so I could sleep in a little. I still got to the station in plenty of time to find the “sleeper” part of the platform and take some pictures of the old Southern Pacific buildings.



I was so excited for this leg of the trip! I’d booked a roomette, and was excited to end the trip in “first class”.

The train roared in, and we were in the last car. Our SCA turned out to be an awesome man named Darrell. He was an older black man who reminded me a lot of Steve Harvey. I was so excited about my roomette, to finally have a trip where I could REALLY stretch out, that I sent this picture to my friend.



(sorry about the quality, phone picture!)

I’m glad I chose to upgrade to roomette for the LAST leg of the trip instead of the FIRST, because I don’t think I’ll ever travel coach again for a long distance trip after this. This was the best thing ever. I could live in a roomette (well, okay, I could live in a roomette if the train had WiFi).

Darrell really was a terrific SCA. He came around and gave us his little schpiel where he explained what everything did. He called the “call” button the “Darrell button” for the entire trip, and made announcements such as “I’m going to lunch, so for the next 30 minutes the Darrell button will not work!”

He also kept the coffee and water bottles and juice available at all times, had an ice chest with scoop available for anyone who wanted to use it. He had Lysol wipes in the upstairs bathroom and a laundry bag in the downstairs shower for towels. He had thought of everything. He even came around after we had gotten settled and put our names on the waiting list for lunch for us. I need to call Amtrak and talk about how great he is.

Lunch was delicious. I had the crab cake sandwich and was very impressed. Given I’ve never eaten a crab cake before so I’m not a crab cake snob; I thought it was tasty. I lunched with couple of men from the San Francisco area who both turned out to be in education. One was a retired elementary PE teacher, the other was a man about my age who worked as a PT for sped kids in multiple area schools. We had a great conversation about the nature of schools and how our roles varied.

While we were at lunch, we stopped in Colfax for about an hour with engine trouble. The A/C and lights went on and off several times. Finally we pulled out as I headed back to my roomette. Our car didn’t have electricity, which I figured was a known problem, until Darrell sent word ahead that “Car 632 doesn’t have power.” We stopped for another hour or so, and the engineer announced they were trying to fix the engine problems and possibly sending for a UP engine. Eventually, however, the engine roared back to life, and the announcement was made that our brave and dashing engineers had fixed the problem (hopefully)!

For dinner I had the salmon and was extremely impressed. It was perfectly cooked, the garlic mashed potatoes were a great compliment to it, and I didn’t try the green beans because I am staunchly anti-vegetable.

Conversation was great for every meal I had in the dining car. I explained what it’s like to teach K-12 at every meal, and also tried to explain at every meal where, exactly, my small town was in relation to places they had heard of (“What’s the nearest big city?” “Well, the nearest town with a Walmart is…”)

Darrell came around to convert my roomette for sleepy-time around 9:30, and I settled down to watch some more Call the Midwife on my Kindle before hitting the hay. (Any other Call the Midwife fans here? I had to go get tissues from the bathroom more than once.)

(Continued next post!)
 
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Cina

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Mar 26, 2014
Messages
333
Sleeping in a roomette was great. I awoke around 7 and made my way down for breakfast. I’ve heard many people here say breakfast was Amtrak’s best meal, but I have to say for me it was the low point of the dining experience. Maybe it’s because I ordered the omelette instead of the pancakes. I saw that the omelette came with a croissant, and I do love me some croissant. My omelette wasn’t cooked all the way through, and the croissant was a little hard. Eh. The company was good and the service was excellent, so I wasn’t too broken up about it!

I thought the scenery wouldn’t be as interesting to me on the return trip, but I was wrong. The Utah desert makes me feel as if I’m in a Zane Grey novel. I half expected Lassiter himself to ride his horse over the ridge, pursued by angry Mormons.



Going through the Rockies, we chased a few rainstorms. I decided to try a new time lapse app on my iPhone. The quality isn’t the best (although it boasts being “hd”) but I do like the effect overall. It can be viewed here.

Lunch and dinner were great (shout out to the chocolate bundt cake!) and I ordered a little baby bottle of wine to take back to my roomette for the evening. This was a fantastic decision. I sent a picture of myself, sipping wine, backed by the Rocky mountains to everyone who told me train travel sounded awful.

When we reached Denver, the announcement was made that we would be stopped briefly so that another car could be added to the train. That sounded exciting! I went to the back of the train to take a look, and got yelled at. I’m like the James Dean of trains.



Around 9, Darrell came around to ask if I wanted my bed put down. “Young lady, you’ve got to be up early so I can kick you off the train.” Too true. I assented and then stayed up late watching more Call the Midwife (see what I mean? Rebel.) I set my alarm for 4, since we were running behind. At 4 my alarm sounded, I checked to see where we were, and decided to sleep some more. Around 5 I got up and started packing up all my things, with Darrell stopping by to tell me we expected to be in around 6 (that's around 2.5 hours behind).

The train did indeed get in to Lincoln around 6:15, and I was only a little sad to disembark. My great adventure was over; I had seen mountains, deserts, sky scrapers, palm trees and beaches, but I was so glad to get back to gently sloped horizons.



Eat your heart out, California.
 

Cina

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Mar 26, 2014
Messages
333
(Ugh, none of my imgur-hosted pictures are coming through now. I'll re-host them after lunch :rolleyes: )
 

SarahZ

Conductor
Joined
May 8, 2011
Messages
8,071
Awesome trip report!

Once you experience a roomette, it's SO hard to go back to coach. We had to travel coach to ABQ last year since the roomettes sold out in about a nanosecond, and I was so. ticked. off.

I can see a bunch of pictures. Unless there were more than what I'm seeing?
 

Bob Dylan

Conductor
Joined
May 31, 2009
Messages
20,014
Thanks for sharing your trip and pics with us! When and where is your next LD Adventure? LOL
 

Cina

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Mar 26, 2014
Messages
333
They seem to be working now! Good! :)

Jim - All of this has made my parents want to take a train trip, so I think I'm going to try to arrange something with them on the SW chief to see my dad's brother in Albuquerque next summer! We'll see :D
 

SarahZ

Conductor
Joined
May 8, 2011
Messages
8,071
They seem to be working now! Good! :)

Jim - All of this has made my parents want to take a train trip, so I think I'm going to try to arrange something with them on the SW chief to see my dad's brother in Albuquerque next summer! We'll see :D
Yes. Do it. We go to ABQ every year to visit my boyfriend's family and friends, and it's a beautiful trip.
 

Ryan

Conductor
Joined
Apr 14, 2008
Messages
17,025
This is the greatest trip report I've read in the history of all trip reports.

Please take more trips quickly so that we have more trip reports to read.
 
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