Posted 01 May 2018 - 11:08 PM
Train #14 Monday 30 April
After a great walk around parts of LA city at workday wake-up time, during which time I picked up some items for the backpack, I made it back to the station in time to board the Coastal Starlight for the 14hr run to Sacramento.
I have a sorta decent sense of direction, and when exploring a new area on foot I always operate on the basis that one can never be lost if one is not trying to go somewhere in particular. I was just on the wander, with a sorta idea about which direction I needed to go to get back to the station.
It was the start of a working day, so I did felt neither conspicuous nor vulnerable, while on my exploration.
But one thing always catches me out when I leave my half of the world. For me, living south of the Tropic of Capricorn, the sun is always in the northern sky. For all residents of the USA (except for those in Hawaii) the sun is always in the southern sky.
I’ve found myself heading in exactly the opposite direction because of this, so have to think and rethink which direction I’m walking in when I do definitely want to head somewhere particular.
But I successfully made it back with enough time to attend to some ablutions in the Lounge, collect my bags, and roll to the relevant platform in time to board and find a suitable seat.
I had a different strategy today than on the previous trains. To counteract the overeating I’d subjected myself to on the previous rides, despite dropping one of the three meals each day, I decided Philippe’s breakfast was going to do me for the day.
Additionally, because of the unpleasant time of de-boarding at SAC, I was not going to be looking for fellow passengers to have a natter with, and intended mostly to zen out in my seat. I was also not going to deploy my gadgets, using only a tablet and a little camera.
I had a west-facing seat, and in the first row, so in exchange for not having an unneeded table, I had no chair in front to obscure the two windows available to me. I thought I that was a good deal.
Luggage stowed, USA to Oz power-plug deployed, I hunkered down and took the mindset of taking an international flight, but without the flight attendants bringing me things to eat and drink.
I enjoyed the climb out of LA through the twists and turns and tunnels of the climb to Simi Valley station.
The USA side of the Pacific Ocean appeared after a little while, so I Iooked across in the direction of home and my non-traveller partner Niki. The view was a bit hazy, and the islands off the coast were barely visible. There were a number of oil rigs in the distance, at one point, a line of seven of them.
Shortly afterwards, I had cause to thank the citizens of California for being excellent hosts and making me feel at home by populating the landscape with Eucalypts. There were two species I recognised: the Blue Gum, and the Stringybark. If possible, I would have liked to have a sniff, and perhaps crush a couple of leaves for a smell of home.
[An aside: a long time ago, I was on a mixture of private time and work time on an eight-month break from Oz, during which time I went around the world. One of the organised work times was when I spent a couple of days in Spain’s Donana National Park (there’s a tilde above the first n in Donana of course, but I can’t work out how to find it on this keypad). I was being driven around by one of the Rangers when suddenly we came upon a stand of Eucalypts and she was kind enough to let me to bring a bunch of leaves into the vehicle to stave of homesickness.]
The appearance of the gums animated me a touch, so I went in search of the rearmost carriage in an attempt to see the front of the train on some of the sharp curves we were undertaking, and to find out if the rear window was clean enough for some pix.
It was then I discovered that we had a private car attached. There was an Amtrak official in the last seat of the last car, and she spotted I was taking pix in the space behind the back row and engaged with me. I asked about the private car and she confirmed it was, and she said it was the Zephyr private car. It was a domed vehicle, and there were pax taking in the view from there.
I decided to risk the sight-seeing car and got prepared to get out of my bubble a bit. I saw a party of three in a central six-seats section and asked if the single was free. It ceartainly looked as if it were. The bloke of the party waved his hands, and in one of the Slavic languages I couldn’t further identify, indicated that his party was not complete and that the seat was actually occupied by someone temporarily absent.
I said “No worries, when your fourth, fifth, and sixth members turn up, I will happily vacate it”, and sat down. He shrugged his shoulders, likely in recognition that his bluff had been called.
I spotted we had now climbed to the top of the rise, and to the train’s west there appeared to be an abandoned isolated air force or other military base. I suspect it was of WWII vintage. It had various rail lines running in and out of it, now in obvious disrepair. There were the type of bunkers here and there which looked like the type of structure in which armaments or explosives are held. I can imagine it would have been a hive of isolated activity when operational, but seems now to sit idle.
Shortly afterwards, there was a large sulphur-producing plant on view, still functioning.
Two of my Slavic-speaking neighbours gave it away, leaving just the bloke who sought to wave me away holding fort in valiant defence of his six-seat balliwick. Not long afterwards, even he gave up holding the territory as a lost cause.
My recollection is that we hit our first serious agricultural area not long after that as we lost altitude to the San Luis Obispo station where there was a shirt break. I decided to head up along the platform to the power end to check our loco numbers. On the way, I saw some train staff unloading what appeared to be a wrecked crossing barrier from the baggage car to a small platform vehicle. I thought there had to be a story behind that.
I successfully got my loco shots and returned to my seat in the SSL, ready for the climb from there to Paso Robles and the ensuing twists and turns as it gained altitude over a short distance.
Two women, who told me they were headed to San Jose on a trip they would otherwise take by car, then occupied a couple of the seats. They pointed out the Highway 101 well below us which they’d have been on, and described how its earlier and narrower version was locally known as Dead Man’s Pass, such was its traffic risk.
The pair left and then a bloke I’d heard in conversation with some others behind me took one of the seats in that group of six. I’d already come to the conclusion that he was a good conversationalist and so introduced myself. His name was Scott and he was on a long holiday by train to a rainforest in Oregon after travelling from his home south of Chicago to LA on the SWC, and thence to Oregon on the CS.
He was a worker in the John Deere plant and he had the ability to take a long period of absence annually around this time of year which he filled in by travelling and engaging in other more active pursuits. These two train trips were his first, and he was enjoying things on rails.
As we were then in serious, industrial-strength, agricultural farmlands, we took the opportunity to go John Deere spotting. Their green and yellow colour-scheme makes them easily visible, and he saluted each one for keeping him in employment.
As I was reviewing the shots I took at SLO, I saw that I had captured a woman, clearly and identifiably, who I saw was also now our companion in the group of six seats. Scott agreed it was she. I approached her to show her what I had captured, indicated I would delete it if she sought it, but that now I had the opportunity to ask her, wanted to request her permission to keep it. She asked me if I intended to publish it, and after hearing I would do so, but likely only on my social media, she gave me approval.
I took my leave from the party, and made my way back to my seat which I intended to remain in for the balance of the trip.
By now, the sky was darkening, and we were approaching San Jose. I took a short moment out of the train to capture the station name. I saw, as we slowed into the station, that many platforms had the station name and track number displayed and hoped I could then run a visual joke based on Dionne Warwick’s famous song and the track number on the LP on which it appeared.
Alas! The station name and track number displays were for the suburban service, and we had pulled in on a numberless and nameless track right by the station building. I now formally hand over responsibility to capture and publish that visual joke to another AU member with access to the station, and the LP.
As darkness fell, we crossed into the Oakland and Emeryville stations with the huge docklands between, before leaving the city lights and the last stretch.
The car attendant tapped me on the shoulder as we neared Sacramento, not too far behind time, and I gathered my possessions and departed the train.
I decided I would walk all my belongings to my new digs - it wasn’t a great distance and I figured I could easily navigate myself.
I arrived unscathed, and soon went horizontal again.
Train #14 was pulled by loco #79 and led by loco #171.
oregon pioneer and Tony in Ann Arbor like this