Greetings from The Trainbow!
As I walk through my neighborhood, freshly brewed coffee in hand, three days of travel behind me and four months ahead, I continue to contemplate what I learned on this first leg of the adventure; I use the word ‘continue’, as I am a Virgo, and my mind is always running like a hamster on a wheel; hence, whiskey and yoga have remained constants in my life since I was 18. Between the two, I carve out times in my day, to breathe and relax.
After an amazing event at The Brit with the LA Sisters,–(more about that in another post)— I got up at 5:00 a.m., grabbed my suitcases, called a LYFT, and was dropped off at the eerily silent train station before 7:00 a.m. As the Lyft sped away, I noticed a sign that read ‘train tracks under repair, use shuttle bus at Ocean and Promenade’. I was a little panicked and hurried to find where the ‘shuttle’ would be.
Soon, I came to a pop-up tent with the word ‘shuttle’ scrawled across the banner. When they said ‘shuttle’ what they actually meant was Los Angeles City Express Bus; and when we say Los Angeles City Express bus, what we really mean is standing room only, sardine style in the gritty tin can that will pilot us on the 1.5-hour trek to Los Angeles. People were actually sleeping while standing on this bus.
The bus took me directly to Union Station in downtown L.A.; which is a place I love. With the exception of Starbucks, tucked in the corner, Union Station is a time capsule. Tinny voices blaring overhead from archaic speakers, colorful tiles underfoot, fountains and towering palms grace her interior. The station’s historic 161,000 square foot terminal was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 and the station was restored in 1992. It is a beautiful, bustling space that epitomizes Los Angeles.
Once inside, I know that the adventure has truly begun. Dubbed ‘the last great train station’, she celebrates her 80th birthday this year in 2019. I headed to track 11B, basked in the sun and awaited my train. At 9:30, I board the train and settle into my seat. As the conductor comes by, I hear a voice ask him; “Is there internet?” Micah, the conductor, tells him no. I smile inwardly; as I, along with most people in the country, if not the world, have developed the habit of immediately disconnecting from our present moment and connecting into cyberspace. I say ‘habit’, because, in the not too distant past, the internet did not exist—and ah yes, my young friends, I remember those Dark Age pre-internet/technology/computer days; a time when not only did phone books still exist, but, we actually used them, we set meeting times with a watch and used road maps when driving.
Our train departs on time and a disembodied voice rings out from overhead, announcing lunch reservations. As a passenger, you can sign up to go into the dining car and eat with others. Food prices on the train are nothing short of ‘highway robbery’; however, I wanted to eat in the dining car, at least once and decided to sign up for lunch.
At 12:15 p.m., my reservation group was called. Sunlight poured through oversized windows flooding the car with natural light; linen tablecloths and folded napkins adorn the booths. As a solo female traveler, I am directed to an empty table, where other guests will soon join. The first person to sit opposite me is a 49-year-old architect from San Francisco; a serious fellow, backed with a well-rounded education that covers American Literature to film. I know these things, only because of the next guest, a young Ukrainian woman; who appears and exudes an air of disdain towards, apparently all things. Perhaps it was this exact level of indifference that immediately caught the eye and attention of the ruddy-faced architect. He turned and asked her about her thoughts of the current presidential run in her country. (Zelenskiy/Poroshenko), to which she responded, “I don’t care.” Our young architect, not be thwarted, tried a different tack, following up with a comment about our own White House occupant saying…and I quote: “The only thing I have in common with our president, is his taste in Eastern European women.” I can barely contain my laughter, but Ukrainian lass apparently can and does. Her icy gaze bores holes into the Architects head. Architect Man is persistent and tries again by asking how long she had been in the USA. Ukrainian lass looked at him, then across the table at me, while silence fills the air. When our young architect understands the unasked question, he immediately rushes to assure her; “Oh, we are not together…I’ve never met her before. I don’t even know her name.” This could be a record; I was Shot Down in Flames, without even hitting on anyone.
I smile at Architect Man, lean across the table and say, “You know if you say that a little louder, they will probably be able to hear you at the next table.” I lean back, pick up my bottle of Heineken, take a swig and wink at him; which was the most direct statement I could make without saying a word. After lunch, I decided to go to the Observation Deck. This is the car with the oversized windows and seats, in which you can literally get lost in the moment of now. Earlier I had met Michael Nyri on the platform in L.A. He is a delightful man, who fancies himself an ‘amateur photographer’ and was becoming 66 years young. Each year, he treats himself to a ‘birthdaycation’, and this year—Amtrak to Seattle was it.
I reconnected with him in the observation deck, and the hours drifted by in engaging conversation. We were soon joined by George, nearing retirement himself; former hairdresser and current tropical fish lover on his way to Seattle for an aquarium gardening workshop; which is a real thing. Bubba, a lovely gent from East Texas—“there are five regions—(pronounced reegyuns) in Texsus”, and Bubba is from the east one. Thirty-year-old Derek, clearly born in the wrong era, who guaranteed that he could get us “acid; the real stuff, like from the sixties…you remember the sixties,” he asked.
Bill, who owns a trucking company in Oxnard, and must have a hollow leg and a full wallet; I make this assumption based on how many Rum & Cokes, he consumed. Bill had very definite opinions about issues, such as immigration and border control, which he wanted to share, but Captain Morgan would arrive and the ‘information sharing’ took a back seat. Leonard, the continual watch checker, with wire-rimmed glasses perched on nose, Ayn Rand book nesting in lap, would engage any unwitting passerby in a political/philosophical game of roulette. One such casualty was Robin, who was reduced to tears and scampered away, leaving the seat next to Leonard unoccupied. He often queried why the train moved so slow or wondered when the conductor would make an announcement about the continual delays. Neither would happen, of course, so I would answer with my own Mother’s wisdom: “Well Leonard, we’ll get there, when we get there,” or “Well, go find something to do,” or “A watched pot never boils” or my personal favorite, “Wish in one hand and shit in the other and see which one fills up the fastest.” Leonard continued to fret and found no relief in my mother’s wisdom. When he could stand it no more he scurried off to find ‘someone in authority.’
Train travel is truly a state of mind; it starts out as a long trip and becomes progressively longer as the click of the rails by underneath. Never has the cliche, it’s about the journey, held more truth. We talked about life, where it has taken us and where we hope to go. We would stop, as we waited for trains from other directions to pass and much like the scenery outside, our conversations meandered. We all loved Umbrella Academy on Netflix and country legend, Willie Nelson; we’re not fans of the 45. We shared ‘remember when’ stories; and I must say George had the best one. Here it is. You decide:
Twelve hours after the train departed Los Angeles Union Station, I arrived at Jack London Square in Oakland. Yes, it was a long trip; but if ‘time is of the essence’, then train travel is not the right option; but, if you want to open the door to adventure and new experiences, I can think of no other mode of transit that compares.
A few parting notes; because of delays coupled with the cost of food on the train…take snacks—(and a flask). Train coffee was $4.25. Hot water is FREE. My recommendation: take Starbucks Via Packets, Cup O’ Noodles, Hot Tea, etc.…stock up on crackers, fruits, mini-veggies, cheese, hummus or whatever makes your heart happy.
Travel/camping cutlery is an amazing discovery. They are around $10.00, and it will be worth every penny after your 1st train trip.
If you have a sleeper car, blankets and pillows will be provided for you; but, the train gets cold and if you are in coach, make sure to bring some essentials to help you sleep.
If you drink, bring a flask—but DON’T get caught; I cannot emphasize this last part enough. It is against federal regulations to have your own alcohol on the train–so DON’T get caught OR bring a LOT of $. Alcohol is EXPENSIVE.
Thank you for joining the journey. I hope you find something useful, fun or inspirational here. I would love to hear about your experiences. Until then…