June 19 Sunset Limited

They assigned me to seat 41 before I boarded the train. So, naturally, when I got on, there wasn’t one.

Once he came to mark our seats, he fixed where he wanted us. We were underway on time just before noon, and though I was quite hungry, the earliest reservation was at 2:00 by the time it got to our car.

I was seated with two older guys.  Both hard of hearing, and one nearly blind.  Minimal conversation entailed because it required me to yell.  A young guy visiting a friend for his first time in Houston was seated to me after we had already been served.  He spent much of the meal texting, and indeed every time I saw him on the train after that he was texting away.

Later in the evening after we had passed over the Sabine river into Texas I sat for a while in the observation car.  When  we were passing through Dayton, there were about four other tracks next to us, and a line of shrubs and fence hemmed them in.  Three small calfs were running along the other tracks, obviously spooked by our passing.

When we got close to town, there was an obvious 50′ hill on the north side of the tracks.  I’m assuming it was a landfill from the looks of it.  In the flat coastal area, it stuck out quite obviously.

We pulled into Houston almost an hour early, the sun was setting on the skyscrapers and looked quite nice.  I was out of change, and there was a long line of confused people in line to the incompetently slow station attendants.  I didn’t think I had a chance of getting change easily.  I called my mother collect.  She was planning on picking me up, but not for a while.

She commented that I looked like a homeless person with my shaggy hair and travel beard.  A brief ride, and I was home.  Still several days later I’m still settling in, but I will only have a few days until I’m on a place to Reston, Virginia for over a week.

June 18 The City of New Orleans

I woke around day break on the train, but not having slept well napped on and off all morning. A slight soreness in my throat that had begun in Chicago, likely due to drainage, had increased a bit.

I was sitting on the east side of the train, which was keeping fairly warm from the sun. The terrain was typically southern, heavily wooded. The few times I saw farming, the corn was about head high, whereas across Iowa and California it had been knee high or lower.

When we stopped in Jackson, Mississippi many people got out to stretch their legs and commented on the heat outside.

By far the staff on this leg of my trip has been the least friendly, least helpful, and least informative. And the patrons had a vocally boisterous subset of urban blacks and rural whites. Though there was one little girl who’s “oh, lawdy” quite humored me.

When we got past Hammond, we broke out of the forests and into open swamp and inland waterways. Then the track came along the coast of Lake Ponchetrain.

We passed Zephyr Field on the way into town, the home of a minor league team associated with the Astros.

June 15 California Zephyr

The guy next to me was off the train in Lincoln, and the spot was soon filled by 1 of a group of 3. I was soon back asleep.

I awoke around 7am, it was raining in Iowa. It remained overcast and puddled throughout. A while later I went up to the lounge car and got a cinnamon bun and some orange juice for breakfast.

Not having slept well, and with the help of the overcast mood, and the monotony of farm land, I napped a bit.

Afternoon we passed over the Mississippi River into Illinois and more farmland.

I moved up to the lounge car, read a central Illinois paper, and grabbed some lunch.

I found it odd that as the sun broke through the clouds and I rode the train through a pre-suburban countryside somehow so near to Chicago that I was reminded of Liz Phair.

As I came into Chicago, we went into a switchyard that was under the station.  It was the end of the line and with all the unpacking of checked baggage and old-people movers, it was slightly difficult to make it down the narrow, dark, and loud platform.  When I made it into the station, John K was right there waiting for me.

June 14 California Zephyr

I woke around 7:30 pacific time, but the train was now in the mountain time zone. The scenery was an ever changing collection of typically stark mountains that Utah is known for.

The engineer commented that the type of rail we were passing over would lead to a rougher ride than normal, and he was correct.

I got up to get a cup of ice from the lounge for my Dr Pepper and was then tempted by the Prairie City donut holes only to realize I had left my wallet at my seat and the attendant was about to take his morning break.

However the attendant gave me what I wanted if I would bring him the money later on account it would make his comment easier to produce: “if Paul Giamanti and David Crosby could produce a child, I belive it would be you.”. Made all the more humorous for his resemblance to Ray Liota.

We took a brief break at Green River along the foothills of the longest east-to-west mountain range in the US.

Did a bit of reading, watching, listening, and working for much of the day. The guy who had sat next to me in the middle of the night found an open seat after we stopped in Grand Junction, Colorado.

I decided to skip lunch since I wasn’t doing much to burn calories.

We stopped in Winter Park just before 4:00p, and soon thereafter passed through the Moffat Tunnel that goes under the Continental Divide, over 9600 feet in altitude.

After that we passed through some amazing views into a canyon and passed through 44 tunnels in total. The approach into Denver was fabulous, with nice weather and amazing views.

We were early into Denver and had about an hour to kill. Unfortunately, I had dinner reservations on the train only an 30 minutes later. Fortunately, there was a brewpub across the street.

I went across and had one beer, and checked my email. Suspiciously, I had only 7 emails after a day and a half on the train. Twitter API didn’t work, but the website did.

I got back to the train to hear that the 7:30 reservations were running late. Luckily I wasn’t seated with any of quite a few oddball groups. They sat me with a very interesting British journalist who had flown to San Francisco and was heading to Boston via train. All the while stopping at the oddball small towns on the route.

He had actually stayed in Winnemucca (sp?) and said the nearby hotel had a fabulous Basque restaurant, and they were having a Basque festival (as well as a rodeo) the few days he was there.

He was disembarking the train in eastern Colorado.

After dinner I hung out in the observation car until after dark, enjoying a book and an apertif. I suspected that I had gathered a travelmate since my absence, and indeed I had.

While many of the other single occupancy seats were being maintained by what seemed like bag ladies, my spot was relatively clean on top of being unoccupied through several stops.

When I returned at 10p the car was dark and the spot wad occupied; luckily he was still awake. He was disembarking at 4a in Lincoln, Nebraska.

I sat down, finished my wine, read some, and listened to a Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast I had managed to download to my iPod Touch at the brewpub.

June 13 California Zephyr

I began the day with a 5:45 wake up call. Not on my list of favorite ways to start the day. But I had already checked the bedside clock several times through the wee hours; I got out of bed and turned on the lights.

I had done no prep the day before, so I picked the clothes to wear, packed my bags and took a shower to last for three days. I checked out, and had only to walk across Market street to wait for the Amtrak connector bus.

It was scheduled for 7:15 on the schedule I had, and it was only 6:40 when I arrived. The bus came, loaded 4 of us and luggage and was gone by 6:50. Good thing I was early.

A few more stops and then it was over the Bay Bridge to Emeryville. There’s another bridge under construction next to the second half of the current bridge. It will include a pedestrian walk with periodic benches. It’s seven miles across the bay.

I waited over an hour and through several other train arrivals and departure before boarding the Number 6 train, the California Zephyr once again. This time for a three day / two night trip to Chicago.

After being awake for 4 hours I was getting a bit sleepy. I took a small nap over the familiar path with a variety of stops.

Later I had lunch with three Californian’s in the dining cart. An older couple was headed to Chicago and going to drive Route 66 back. The other was heading to her hometown in Nebraska. She implored us to check for the Morman Trail Museum arch early in the morning. She was slightly defensive about her home state and sprung to its defense before it could be attacked.

I read for a bit after lunch and listened to some podcasts. We passed through some dead dirt looking places. Playas?They looked like they had received some recent rain. There were also, oddly, some marshlike wetlands.

Later we passed through sagebrush with mountains in the distance most of the way. By the time the attendant came through for dinner reservations all that was left was 8:30, which is fine with me, though last time some of the items were no longer available.

We stopped about 8:00p in Winnemucca Nevada. It’s the first real town we had seen since leaving Reno, and it seemed rather small. There was no station to speak of, just a bus shelter and a parking lot. There was a hotel a block away that didn’t seem much larger than a house.

It was just a brief smoke and/or walk on Terra Firma break and we were once again headed east (northeast?) as the sun set over the mountains to our left.

I had dinner with a mom and son heading to Utah, then Idaho, to help her daughter pack and move back to Nevada. And a married lady with several kids but traveling alone. Her husband and sons had flown to Michegan for football camp. She has grown weary of flying and was going to meet them there.

I retired to my seat where it was mostly dark. Watched some video podcasts from the past week and was trying to sleep by midnight.

We had two latenight stops, and a guy had claimed the seat next to me around 2:30 in Salt Lake City.

May 30 Coast Starlight

I woke before my alarm, which actually didn’t sound, and showered and packed up before heading to Los Angeles’ Union Station.

The DASH B bus picks up across the street. I got there and it was marked as out of service. It listed the two closest stops, and I headed for one.

Of course the direction I chose had a brutal hill to be dragging your luggage up. Though I did pass an amazing art work built onto an AT&T building on Grand Street.

I noticed the streets were fairly barren compared to the day before. When I arrived at the stop I was looking for, I noticed it said “Weekday”, which reminded me it was actually Saturday.

So reconsulting my map of the shuttle busses, I now found myself in an abandoned downtown with an hour until my train departure.

There was a subway station several blocks away. I dragged myself there and it arrived without much delay and was only one stop from Union Station.

The metro connected to the train tracks from the back side, so I was closer to the track than Union Station actually was. I had to wait awhile for a seat assignment. It seems we were placed on cars according to destination. Car 11 is mostly empty, and this is the first time I’ve had someone sitting next to me. Car 12 is mostly full.

The guy next to me has been Amtraking for 30 days to Toronto/New York/Chicago/Los Angeles/San Francisco/Seattle. He’s from Korea.

I made a reservation for lunch and ate with two guys from California and Portland. Had good conversation with them.

Three different things about this line (Coast Starlight) vs. the last one (Sunset Limited): no power outlets, no outside alcohol, a parlor car for sleeper passengers. There are actually two power outlets available in the observation car.

Also, I noticed my Flip Mino HD LCD screen is broken. It was fine last night. I put it in my bag with my camera and computer, and when I got to the train, it was broken. It seems to be recording okay.

I discovered the name of the tree that has been in fabulous purple bloom in LA and a bit to the north: Jacunda.

We rode along the coast for a while after lunch. I sat in the observer car and enjoyed the ocean views. It was a bit overcast; the seas were quite calm. There were several small beaches that looked fabulous for camping and RVs.

The train passes through Vandenberg Airforce Base. Though you can see many of the impresively sized launch stations, much of the base is in its natural state, grassy mountainous terrain.

The train pulls away from the coast and passes through some farmland and near some dunes until arriving at San Luis Obispo.

When the train leaves San Luis Obispo, it immediately climbs into the mountains, and passes through several tunnels before emerging into more hilly farmland.

All the farms here are heavily irrigated, unlike in southeast Texas. It really gives you an appreciation for the fact that a farm job is an engineering job.

I had dinner with a lady originally from northern Louisiana who now lives in Long Beach. She’s heading to Takoma, then driving with her son to Michigan before he ships out to Afghanastan.

I then watched the sun setting against the mountains as we approached San Jose. I called my old roommate, John DeVenezia, and left a message that we were running on time. He’s supposed to pick me up in Emoryville at 10pm, and if things are still hopping at the fund raiser party he’s attending in Oakland, head back there. Since he’s hanging with the artist crowd these days, I suspect it will still be going.