I returned home early yesterday morning on Train 4 from LA, which proceeded several hours later to have a little derailment in New Mexico. I see it is on the way to Chicago over 12 hours late. My trip was not quite as dramatic, departing Flagstaff on 3 on the night of Monday, September 25. This train had had a few delays and mishaps and arrived Flagstaff nearly four hours late, which was an inconvenience in that I wanted to go to bed and the hard benches in the station were not conducive to lying down and getting some rest, combined with a TV and another American passenger talking the ear off of an Australian visitor about anything and everything.
Usually on these trip I park my car at a friend's house in her driveway about a half mile west of the station. This time I tried a different approach. My trusty Toyota 4Runner, having done a 7000 mile road trip to the East Coast in the past month, was left in my garage to rest and for the first time in my five years of living in Flagstaff made use of the local bus system, hauling my bags across the field in back of my home to the bus stop and being able to observe the progress of my bus on the phone app. For 60 cents I rode downtown, had a nice dinner, and then the too long wait for the train. My roomette had just been vacated, but the SCA, Jose, made it up for me in short order, as he too wanted to go to bed. My car was in good working order and Jose kept it tidy. We arrived shortly after noon in LA. The French Toast for breakfast was OK. I don't like the coffee served in a takeout cup, but it does have a benefit that the customer can then take it with them to finish elsewhere.
I have stayed in other hotels in LA, but thought I would give the mixed reviewed Metro Plaza a try. Yes, folks, it is convenient to Union Station and Phillippe's and the rates are reasonable. It used to be a Days Inn. It has a shopworn look to the place. My room was a strange type of suite, actually two rooms, and it was clean and mostly tidy, with the exception of a condom found on the carpet. How attractive! ( Being a nice guy, I still left the maid a tip. ) This hotel will do for an overnight stay, but don't expect anything memorable.
My travel companion, the inimitable Mr. Bob Dylan from Austin, Texas came over and we had breakfast at Phillippe's and then went to Union Station, stayed in the nice lounge for awhile, and boarded our train. Marty was our attendant and he is one of the better SCAs encountered in the past few years. He took pride in his job and was a fine gentleman. It is a pleasure to report that the dining car cuisine, while it could still be better and is overpriced, has seen the introduction of new, more imaginative menu items such as an Indian style shrimp dish and Butternut Squash risotto. Definitely less boring and pretty good, but I would not pay the same prices in a regular restaurant for these dishes. This is the price we pay to enjoy sit down dining on a train.
I really enjoy the northbound Coast Starlight approaching Klamath Falls in the morning, having taken several car trips in this area. Such beautiful country, heading north to Chemult and then west over the Cascades, one of Amtrak's most enjoyable routes from a scenery perspective. We spent a fair amount of our time in the Parlor Car, that while looking somewhat worn, was comfortable and we ate most of our meals there. Our train arrived Portland only slightly late and we walked to the Marriott City Center Hotel on Broadway, a place which left us both satisfied. I have always liked the City of Portland, but the homeless and drug scene in the vicinity of the beautiful Union Station is depressing. At dinner we were joined at Pearl Tavern with the nice lady from New Jersey, Mystic River Dragon. I will leave it to others to recount the Gathering, except to say that the round trip to Seattle turned out to be a round trip to Olympia-Lacey, due to the cancellation of some trains this day by a problem with a track culvert. ( not a mudslide, which was fake news. ) Since we were out for a joyride, we did not continue to Seattle by bus, but returned on the same train. The matter was actually efficiently handled and our conductors were very personable and helpful gents.
Returning to Portland, I spent the evening at a theater production at the Portland Center Stage at the Armory and the next morning went to a beautiful service at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, and then visited friends Sunday evening in suburban Beaverton. They met me at the Light Rail and drove me back to Union Station the next day. Returning southbound, I had decided to try the new Coast Starlight Business Class instead of paying the big bucks for a sleeper, which turned out to be a good thing. For a modest additional coach fare what you get is a Superliner coach that is in very good condition, with recovered leather ( or faux leather ) seats and an attendant assigned to just that car. This was Eva, and she was very sweet. Our car was not crowded, but was patronized to a fair extent. Had it been full, it may have become less congenial. I chose a seat directly ahead of the stairway, so nobody was behind me and all was calm and peaceful. ( There are two other regular coaches at the rear of the train behind the Sightseer car. ) One gets a coupon good for $6 off meals in the diner or lounge car. So, not all that different, but my trip in this car was comfortable and pleasant. A private car, a former California Zephyr dome car, was attached at Oakland. The highlight of this run, which misses the good scenery southbound, was descending the amazing Cuesta Grade down into San Luis Obispo. I got off here, to spend one night in a nice B&B, the Heritage Inn, a one mile walk from the station. The next day I took the Thruway bus at 11:25 am, which was a fast nonstop run down Highway 101 to Santa Barbara and then rode the Surfliner Business Class to LA, which I've done before and was quite satisfactory.
I had decided to ride coach back to Flagstaff, as I don't like paying for a sleeper and then having to vacate it at such an early hour. Dinner with a delightful couple who live in Perth, Western Australia on their first trip to the US was great fun. The dining car on 4 was hopping, with only a staff of two, who certainly earned their money. The LSA, Merrill, made announcements and made descriptions that sounded like something out of a TV game show. My night in coach was for the most part OK, with the exception of a woman with a big mouth in back of me who boarded at Fullerton who complained about everything and how cold the train was. One of the attendants even told her to watch her mouth. During the night, I had my CPAP machine hooked up, which some of the time makes hissing and buzzing sounds from the mask and she kept hitting the back of my seat. I was tempted to get up and tell her if she did not like it, I would turn off the machine and the result would be that I will snore like a grizzly bear. I chose to ignore her and not make a scene, which would have only made me upset and cause lack of sleep. I had no recollections at all of station stops at Kingman and Needles. We arrived Flagstaff about 40 minutes late at 5:17 am, not bad. I summoned Lyft from the Amtrak app to take me home, which was perfect. Train 4 is now limping toward Chicago. Nice trip, but I will stay home for awhile Cheers.