3-5-11 On the Train
I don’t know whether it’s the ride back, when things aren’t so novel, or I’m starting out tired and cranky, but the train ride thus far has not been nearly as much fun as the trip west. If I didn’t know better (and I probably don’t) I’d swear we were riding on different tracks. It definitely feels like we’ve been downgraded.
Someone at dinner last night mentioned that the major freight lines now own the tracks, and Amtrak merely rents their time on them, which means we’re riding on tracks built to handle freight. Dead freight, it’s sometimes called. Freight that has no opinion regarding how it’s handled. That explains it all, whether true or not, for we are definitely riding on tracks built to a standard that provides only that the cars generally do not fly off the tracks. It also hints at another reason why the trains leave Los Angeles around 6 p.m., which can seem inexplicable to those attempting to board and having to first fight their way into downtown L.A. during rush hour. The Roadrunner shuttle picked me up in Thousand Oaks at 3:25 p.m. and dropped me at Union Station, a distance of about 30 miles, at 5:15. But I went to bed somewhere outside San Barnardino and awoke just after 5 a.m. being tossed around like popcorn popping. I suspect they’ve decided it’s best to get the worst of the bad track out-of-the-way while we’re asleep. Generally works. I slept through it on the way out. This time, though, by a little after 5, mountain time, I’d had enough of being tossed about. I crept upstairs on this careening hotel to the coffeepot, poured myself a slug of their wonderful Green Mountain coffee and stumbled my way back to the observation car, where I sat and sipped and waited for the dawn.
Another surprise come the dawn. At some point, still bleary-eyed but too early for the dining car, I went downstairs instead in the observation, or lounge, car, where dwells the vending service for a second cuppa, and discovered to my delight and surprise that the coffee of choice there is Dowe Egbert, an exquisite brew made from a liquid coffee extract. I know. It sounds dreadful. But no. It’s the cat’s meow. Breakfast was an odd quartet, as was supper and as will the rest of the meals be, because they seat you wherever there’s a seat, irrespective of your preference, sorta like the old Ozark Cafe. It’s generally fun, and folks so far have been well-behaved and have interesting stories.
One thing I have noted, it remains awkward, when people go from “where are you going?” to “why are you going there, to say, “Well, I’m going, or had to go, to the Oscars.” First off, I’m not remotely recognizable to most, and secondly, if I might happen to be a celeb, what the devil am I doing on the train. It certainly gets some looks, not all of them kind. I wonder if I should make something up so I’ll seem more honest. Hmmm.
Thanks for posting the unpleasant as well as the pleasant of the experience. I appreciate honesty – however it seems to come out. Leave the interpretation to the reader.
Thanks, again. Best wishes on upcoming tour!
I think you got the eastbound tracks coming home. Most of the time the tracks are divided like a divided highway instead of sharing the same track. I’m guessing that one set is newer. Thanks for the heads up!! Someday I want to take that ride– bumpy or not. My favorite train ride was Nuevo Laredo to Mexico City– 24 hours each way. It leaves Nuevo Laredo about 6pm and gets to San Luis Potosi about noon. The train backs in over 5 miles into the station past a large “neighborhood” of duplexes made from converted wooden boxcars. The steps up are very basic. The residents mostly cook outside on open fires. The furniture is surprisingly modern– dinette sets and china cabinets visible through the doorways. But the most memorable part, visiually, were the many, many coffee cans mounted on the outside walls of the boxcars full of blooming geraniums and bouganvilla– turning a basic environment into one of beauty. The flat red/brown of the boxcars contrasted against the hot pink and bright red geraniums. 35+ years ago and I still get a sigh when I think of it.
Having just read “Stranger on a Train: Daydreaming and Smoking Around America with Interruptions” by the English writer Jenny Diski your travelogues makes an entertaining supplement. Thank you.