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Welcome. In a few short days I will be setting off to Chicago, actually arrive there on Valentines Day 2010.. just right to experience the romance of the rails...


I hope to update this travel diary as I journey around, I would like this to be about my feelings, what I see, who I meet, as well as the train aspect of the trip. Cheers! Eddie.

15/02/2010 Today is "the day".. Two days ago was two days before the day, and that was when I left home in Nottingham and travelled down to London to overnight in a hotel near Heathrow airport. Got up early on that Saturday, and started my last minute “rushing around”. I pretty much leave stuff to the last minute always. Not, I think, just because I am disorganised, but often because I don’t like being pinned down.. not a great trait in someone who runs their own business, methinks! went first to work and received their assurances that everything was in order and I was still “good to go”, and afterwards into Nottingham to buy some dollars. The exchange rate is very low at this time, which will make this trip expensive. Thank goodness for Mr Credit Card, my flexible friend.. although he ‘aint so flexible at the end of the month.
Travelling light is something I much prefer, but on this trip I am taking a lot more baggage from my home life. My son is 16, and I am leaving him “home alone”. His mum and older sister live nearby, but I am still concerned that I should not be doing this. On one level I feel it will be good for him, as I do tend to be over protective, and always try to organise his stuff too much, on the other hand he is only 16.. nuff said ?
I decided to take a pack a larger case to put in the hold of the plane, as the policy just now is only one carry on case, after that guy tried to blow up stuff with his underpants a few months back. I am already sorry for this decision, as my back is aching, and my neck is sore. I hope this diary won’t become a litany of my medical ailments, but sadly one can only work with what one has.. and although I could happily curl up my 6’ 2” frame on the two Amtrak coach seats a few years ago and sleep, my bones are protesting at even carrying a tiny extra load these days.
The flight across yesterday was good, Boeing 777, had twin seats to myself, and the American Airlines captain announced that we would be an hour early due to favourable winds. I was reading in the newspaper that the airlines have been padding their journey times to give a more “on time” score to their flights, but this was a genuinely quicker flight.
The approach to Chicago was magnificent, we flew in from the west side, the views of the city skyline were sharp and clear, quite breathtaking. I will remember that view for a long time. (I will have to remember it as the seatbelt signs were on and I couldn’t get to my camera in my coat in the overhead locker!)
Spent the night at a hotel downtown, very close to the Amtrak Union station, so not too far to lug my case. (is that why it’s called luggage..?).
I did have a walk down to the station yesterday afternoon, but being a Sunday things were quiet. I found out from the hotel TV that today is Presidents Day, so I expect things will be slow today. I can see that the traffic is quite light outside my window. Yesterday, I had a Big Mac at the station, and afterwards bought a bottle of wine and a corkscrew from a store on the opposite corner to take back to the hotel. With the time difference I was pretty tired by then, so after watching a bit of TV I retired, the wine untouched. I will take it with me towards California, but my guess is it won’t reach there intact..
In the UK, we say “carry coals to Newcastle” to indicate an over supply of something already there, maybe “carrying wine to California” has the same meaning in America. Or maybe just "carrying guns to anywhere in usa"....! Oddly enough, I think we import coal to Newcastle from South America these days.
So I will be setting off for the station soon with the intention to leave my bag there and have a quick look around the streets before boarding the California Zephyr, scheduled departure is 2pm on this chilly bright Chicago day.
Thursday 18th Feb 2010.
I Arrived in Sacramento on time yesterday after a wonderful ride down on the California Zephyr.
Checking out of the Hotel in Chicago, there were just a few specks of snow on the wind. A short walk along Clinton brought me to the Union Station, and I got my pre paid ticket from the machine, and then passed into the lounge, an area reserved for sleeping car passengers. The lady behind the counter was just finishing s****ing behind her hand at the previous passengers accent, then she issued my pass to me. The lounge was pretty full, mostly elderly people. I left my luggage and went for a stroll, I had a couple of hours in hand.
I love skyscrapers, they seem to be so unreal, on a super human scale, like huge works of art, sculptures rather than practical buildings. I like the way the angles between them change as one walks around, and also the textures created by the windows, the fire escapes, the reflections seen in the glass walled canyons. Funnily enough, my neck is a weak spot these days, so I find it easier to view them from a distance than right up close at the base. Many signs warned me to beware of falling ice from the buildings, not that easy to avoid walking near tall buildings in downtown Chicago.
Purchased a take away salad plus a few provisions for the train ride and wandered back to the lounge.
I was hopeful of having interesting travelling companions, and found all those in our little lower floor area had tales to tell, more of that anon.
Reginald, our train attendant introduced himself, personifying tall and skeletal elegance as he explained the workings of the call button, the location of the coffee and juice.
The ride out from Chicago as far as Denver is pretty flat, with little to see of any interest. There was a light patchy covering of snow most of the way. After a good dinner (and half a bottle of wine that tasted like strawberry jelly) I had an early night, and awoke in the morning to find our train backing into Denver station, about an hour early.
After breakfast aboard while the train was standing in the station, and reminding the elderly lady from the roomette opposite mine who was eating breakfast at another table that this was Denver, her stop, I detrained and got some fresh air for a few minutes before we set off again on time.
The section from Denver up through the Rockies, and again along the Colorado river and Sierra Nevada, is a scenic marvel. One is alternately treated to wide open views from the mountain heights, to steep river gorges, and massive rock faces rearing up alongside the track. Snow was in evidence for most of this winter fantasy, nothing too extreme, but enough to make one glad of the warmth of the train!
After almost exactly 48 hours aboard the train, we pulled into Sacramento on time. The lack of freight traffic I assume is due to the recession, it makes one realise that this is how passenger rail travel in America should always be.. great fun, great views, and that most elusive element.. On Time!
Leaving the station I walked along H street to the Hostelling International building (sometimes called youth hostels), past many offices offering “bail bonds”, something we don’t have in England, and to my mind giving a flavour of the “wild west” to the area.
The Sacrament hostel is in a huge 3 storey Victorian era wooden house, which unbelievably to a UK resident, was actually “jacked up”, and moved to it’s present location in one piece.
Arriving mid afternoon, I was the first person in the 10 bunk bed dormitory room on the 1st floor, gradually more people arrived through the course of the evening, finishing up half full. A party of junior school age kids and teachers and parents were in some other rooms, seemingly well behaved and polite.
I had a walk back down to the old town, and sat in the warm sunshine daydreaming, looking at the river, remembering the train ride and feeling pretty pleased with myself. I am booked into this hostel for 4 nights, and then I go on to Las Vegas. Hotel rooms are pretty cheap in Vegas just now.. I will take advantage of that, but I don’t think I will be putting many quarters into their machines..well, maybe just one or two.
The hostel has free internet, so after I got back from the riverside I thought I should update my diary, but was feeling rather tired.. 8 hours time difference now from the UK, so my body clock was telling me it was 2am , not 6pm. I settled for reading my emails. Apart from a couple urging me to increase my sex drive and grow my penis, there was nothing. I checked they were not from my last girlfriend (nope..) and called it a day.
Fair night’s rest, but I can tell you the Sacramento bin men are up and about early on Thursdays!
Instant porridge mix for breakfast, desperately sweet artificial flavour, must get to a shop for some fresh food ingredients later today. I will take in a few museums today, and see if there is an all day tram ticket available. I love just going around aimlessly on local trams and busses.. I am pretty sure I miss out on many of the “must see” sights that way, but it gives an excuse to pass this way again in the future.

I would love to be doing this trip with my 16 year old son, but that wasn’t to be.. maybe next time, if the house is still standing when I get home!

Friday 19th Feb 2010

Looking back over the ride down on the California Zephyr, I want to record a few more notes before I forget them.
I will try and add a few random pics from the trip so far, to break it up a bit.
Reginald, our train sleeping car assistant was great. He kept the coffee on the brew, water and juice a plenty, and even ice in abundance.
The roomette opposite mine was taken by an elderly lady who had already had a night on a train to Chicago, before joining the Zephyr. She was good company, and we swapped traveller’s tales, she told me of her cycling tour of Scotland in her younger days, staying in youth hostels. She was being met in Denver by her sister. The next morning I was having breakfast while the train was in Denver station, and noticed she was eating at a nearby table. Somehow she hadn’t twigged that she was at her destination. I reminded her, and also informed Reggie that she was still aboard.. She managed a few mouthfuls of French toast before detraining in a rush!
The family room was being held all the way from Chicago to San Francisco by an ex airman, his wife and young lad. He had been based in the UK for 4 years, and was interested to share his impressions of Europe with me. The family were very happy with their train experience, and would be happy to repeat it.
In addition, there were an interesting and disorganised couple travelling to Glenwood Springs in one lower level roomette. As the train was a bit early into Glenwood, they were carrying off armfuls of their unpacked stuff from the train at Glenwood. The last roomette was taken by a young guy who worked for a greetings card company, going to Green River.
The woman who joined at Denver started by asking me what one does on a train? I said either read or watch the scenery.. She asked if the bar was open, and it became interesting from then on. She liked a drink and a “smoke”, and seemed to hold her alcohol just well enough. On a trip to the lounge car she came back with a drunk dude from the coach section, and they got to know each other in the privacy of her roomette. I later noticed an empty full size bottle of Bacardi in the trash.. nestled next to the half empty bottle of almost undrinkable wine which I had abandoned.

Yesterday was a day of rest, I had a look around the Sacramento Rail Museum, got a few groceries, and read quite a bit. I have been finishing off “Ghost Train to the Eastern Star” a 30 year sequel to “Great Railway Bazaar” , the definitive railway travel book for my generation by Paul Theroux. A great read, but one is aware that his fame and contacts open many doors and grease the wheels towards meetings with other famous people along the way.. not something that is available to mere bloggers, methinks! (I also enjoy Michael Palins travel writings via the BBC, but realise that he has endless researchers, minders, facilitators, and BBC clout behind his “intrepid” journeys.) Wonder if either of them has stayed in downtown Sacramento..?
When I got back to the hostel yesterday, the school party were finishing up in the kitchen, and offered me some of their extra food, so I had pasta and bolognaise and a very good salad all made for me, gratis!
Tonight I have to get my own food ready, and my tummy tells me about now would be an ideal time..
Saturday 20th Feb 2010
On Friday, I bought a day pass for the tram and bus system. Cost was $6. I had been to the Amtrak station to get my tickets for Las Vegas, and the tram (or light rail, as they call it here) terminates at the station. The other end of the line goes to Folsom (known from Johnny Cash's prison song..) I normally enjoy these aimless trips by public transport, but there was absolutely nothing of any interest to see once we left the city centre. I was struck by the kindness shown towards one young mother with a crying 2 year old child, with offers of candy, etc. Amazing how kids can go from a full throated bellow of anguish to a contented chuckle on production of sweets! I was also overhearing two teenagers talking and using the expression "hella" this and "hella" that. I thought it was only said on the South Park tv show.. wonder which came first, life or art? Historic Folsom, as it describes itself, was pretty quiet. The short main street has some interesting small old buildings, but several shops were out of business and others having closing down sales. I had a look in an "antiques and collectors" emporium, but there was nothing much of interest.. I guess the UK has a head start when it comes to old stuff! So it was a little disappointing. I rode back to town and finished off my Paul Theroux book on the way. I bought a few groceries on the way to the hostel.
Today I woke up early, and just wandered around town again after my breakfast porridge! It has been quite cold today, such a change from that hot sunny afternoon on Wednesday when I arrived.
I had a look at the Sacramento Historical museum, which was quite interesting. I learnt about the workings of the Linotype Compositing machine, as they have an old print shop set up there. There were only a handful of people in the museum at the time, so I got individual attention. The machine itself was a real wonder, with all its mechanical cogs and levers, and it could compose typeface ready for use at up to 80 words a minute. Funnily enough, when I paid to enter the museum I paid in shiny new $1 coins which I got in change from the tram ticket machine, and the woman seemed quite surprised, and looked at them as if she hadn’t seen one before. She remarked that they don’t get payment in $1 coins often. Maybe it was her second day in the job..
One thing that struck me from visiting both the rail and history museums was the difference between those poor workers who worked to build the railways, together with those who worked picking fruit or worked in coal mining, and the wealthy landowners and employers. From the exhibits it seems once things picked up for the owners, they were reluctant to share much of it with their workers. Hop picker? Complain about low pay and they called in the police, no messing, you were sacked on the spot, no unions then! We remember the names of the railroad bosses, but no one knows the names of the guys toiling to lay the rails on subsistence wages.
So it is evening again now and I need to placate the inner man..

No Fear..and Loafing in Las Vegas.

Las Vegas, Monday Evening 22 Feb 2010.
I met a few interesting characters at the Sacramento hostel, the staff were ok, but appeared rather bored. I imagine that there must be something sad for them about “temporary guests” from all over the world arriving on the doorstep, while one, as an employee, stays put in Sacramento. I guess they have seen it all before, but somehow their lack of involvement with the guests seemed to diminish the overall hostel experience. Among other guests, I met Joseph, who was training towards a Christian “position”. He seemed a nice and sincere guy. Chris, who worked at another hostel near Denver as a gardener, was a bit of a dark horse, very guarded in response to my questions. The last evening was enlivened by the arrival of an attractive French girl, who had lived in the USA for 20 years after marrying an American. The marriage was long over, and I heard a long tale of false starts, and fresh starts, ending at the hostel in Sacramento where she arrived “having left her current lover for the third time, poor guy” (her words). She was on her phone arranging to go to Hawaii in the next few days. I thought her the author of her own misfortunes, but kept that thought to myself..
Up early on Sunday morning..creeping around trying not to disturb the sleeping room, I carried handfuls of stuff outside and packed up on the landing.. why did I bring so much gear??
Cup of tea and last check for emails (none) and so head off towards the station. 1st part of today’s journey to Las Vegas is by bus to Stockton. Someone will no doubt correct me, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the worlds first railway line ran between Stockton and Darlington in England. Today I was going not to Darlington but Bakersfield, on train 712 San Joaquin service. (pronounced San Wakeen).
Nothing much stands out about this journey, except that the toilet door catch was faulty and the door flew open as I was using it. Fortunately, no one was waiting outside! On my second visit to the snack bar the assistant told me if I kept my coffee cup, I could get a free refill. Shame he didn’t think to tell me that when I bought my first coffee... Lots of fruit trees in blossom, vines, fields with crop plantings in strict rows, creating almost Moire style patterns when viewed at certain angles from the passing train.
At Bakersfield, board lucky number 7 bus for the onward journey to Las Vegas. Weather rather overcast now, but quite beautiful distant views across the desert at times. Pass an area which seems to have the largest concentration of wind turbines I have ever seen, encouraging to see shoots of green thinking in this desert ..
Stop in Barstow for a half hour meal break, then on again towards El Dorado.. Overheard a rather endearing young black couple in the seats behind me, he kept up a constant description of all the hot cars he saw: Dodge Charger! Mustang! Porche! His girlfriend seemed quite tolerant, if not exactly fascinated by his commentary.
We pulled into LVS, aka the Greyhound bus station at 7 pm, after exactly 11 hours travelling. I wandered around for a few minutes before finding “The Duce” bus to Circus Circus, the less than “elegant abode” of yours truly for the next four nights. I have found a McDonalds with free wi fi, so I should be connected for a day or two.. Circus Circus, while a cheap place to stay, charges almost $15 a day to connect to the net!
Wednesday 24th Las Vegas. 24/02/2010
Among the sights from the train windows on the ride to Bakersfield were several small fenced off areas of churned up mud containing herds of cattle.
I don’t know if the cattle were soon for slaughter, or whether they were there on a permanent basis, eating dry feed, but their environment was bleak, almost industrial, with not a blade of grass underfoot.
Cowboys and prairies are such a big part of American lore, it was sad to think that this is the treatment of cattle, before the world famous steaks arrive on the nations dinner plates.
So much has been written about Las Vegas, I doubt that I can offer much of a fresh perspective... but I won’t let that stop me from commenting anyway..!
I chose to stay at Circus Circus on grounds of economy, it worked out at around $35 per night, and the fourth night was free as well, so it was as cheap as a youth hostel for my stay.
Because I am travelling solo on this trip, I am more of an observer than a participant. Having said that, I can’t ever conceive of coming to Vegas to gamble, or to see the shows, under any circumstances. It is just not my thing.
What I enjoy is to people watch, and this is a great place for that. Las Vegas is a playground environment, and most of us like to let our hair down from time to time.

I am on the 28th floor of the hotel, and looking out over the city tonight, it is a magical wonderland. The air is clear, and the city lights shimmer in the cool evening. Flashing neon closer at hand, bright diamonds in the dark night further away. During the day, the distant view is of a stunning ring of snow capped mountains around the city. The location, the stature of nature, easily putting most of the bizarre man made constructions to shame.

There are quite a few sites here where construction has halted, including a massive project next to my hotel. I haven’t seen a human being anywhere near the site in the last few days. It had reached a height of 9 unfinished concrete floors before they stopped work. I don’t gamble, but with the recession, I guess the odds are against them restarting work anytime soon..

Las Vegas Glamour? Well, not at this place. The gambling staff, the waitresses, do not exude a glamorous vibe at all. It feels rather like the retirement home of the industry, with the performers aware that their day has passed, I think they realise they are doomed to be Sideshow Bob, never Crusty the Clown, in this Circus Circus of life. Me? Yes, I feel right at home here too...

"Babes direct to your door” ,“Babes who want to meet you, available 24/7”, Finding comfort for guys here in Las Vegas is just an easy phone call away, according to the mobile billboards driving up and down the strip.. something about it reminds me strongly though, of those sad cattle in their pens...
Today is Wednesday, my last day booked here, still undecided about where to jump to next! The average temperatures are said to 10 degrees lower than expected at this time.. shame realy, I could do with some warmth from the sun, if not the "babes"..!
L.A., 26/02/2010
Having looked at a few options, and the weather forecast, I decided to leave Las Vegas by Greyhound bus.. It is the same bus that passengers use who have Amtrak “throughway” tickets, anyway. There might be a difference in the price between Amtrak and Greyhound tickets, I didn’t check.
I think the ordeal of buying a Greyhound bus ticket, in person, in Las Vegas bus station, has shortened my life expectancy considerably. The staff were 500% slow and incompetent, apart from the fact that it took 3 clerks 45 minutes to serve a line of about a dozen people, it was a breeze! I only had to turn up an hour early again today to get a tag on put my case and I would be good to go..
So here I am in Los Angeles, staying in a hotel near the Amtrak union station for just one night, then tomorrow I will be in coach class, on the coast starlight train as far as Emeryville, which is the Amtrak stop for San Francisco bus connections.
It was great to be on the move again, the trip out on the Greyhound was fine, the weather warm and sunny, and a real summer feel when I got off the bus at Union Station.
I like the desert views, the air seems so clear, and even the distant views look sharp. Lots of pastel colours in the rocks. About 70 miles out from L.A., there is a high mountain range, today with a fair sprinkling of snow, which had been visible to us in the clear air from many miles back. I was imagining what it must have looked like to early settlers in their horse drawn wagons, to see such spectacularly high mountains in front of them. One last big push before they could sit down with a glass of Californian wine and a chance to remove all those arrows from their hats, perhaps?
A few years ago I read all the Bill Bryson travel books I could find, I loved his quirky take, half American, half European. One thing he remarks on is the way that when he was young, in the 1950’s his father would drive miles off his route, following homemade signs to small wayside “attractions”. Today we passed the town of Baker, home to the “world’s tallest thermometer.” I could just imagine the Bryson family turning off for that one! I could see it as we passed in the bus, but sadly it was switched off, some sort of digital display, rather than the large red or silver tower I was imagining. I had even started to wonder how they would get a column of mercury or alcohol to expand enough in the heat, to qualify for the world’s tallest. Would it need to be ultra thin, or would a big bulb of liquid just expand “pro rata”? Sadly, I was unable to spot “The Mad Greek”, creator of “America’s best gyro”. Baker has some big credits for such a one horse town!
It did get me thinking though.. it would be fun to hire a car and just stop and try all the outlandish advertised attractions along the way. Not this trip though, maybe come back in the summer.
We stopped in Barstow for refreshments again, quite a few people bought lottery tickets there.. I was imagining that people might have got gambling out of their system after Vegas. (I had a beer last night, and I don’t seem to have got that out of my system, ‘cos I am having one tonight too).
Sad sad sight outside Walgreens in Las Vegas, an old unwashed woman was stood against the wall every single time I went in, with her dirty clothes, and her tatty bundles of stuff around her. The last time I saw her she was filing her grubby nails with a new emery board.. good food would be more use to her, I think. (but not for use on her nails..)
I dumped my stuff at the hotel, and set off for a wander and a sit in the late afternoon sunshine. After a while I went to the station and collected my tickets, then set out to buy milk (no tea making facilities in the room, but I have my travel kettle and tea bags!)
There is a large oriental area near this hotel, I went into several shops but could see nothing that I was sure was milk. Very exotic produce, but no milk. I bought milk and water eventually at the gas station opposite the hotel, so I have had my quota of tea for the day.
Nice to have internet in the hotel room, I was getting a bit fed up of Big Macs.
The Circus Circus hotel has an RV park at the rear, and I used the laundrette there last night before packing to leave. I was amazed to hear that they charge up to $60 a night for an RV there. With the cost of purchase or hire, together with fuel costs, not a very cheap way to see America, methinks.
I spoke to my 16 year old son back in Nottingham last night, he seems to be managing well without my “help”. It was great to hear his voice, I miss him a lot.
So, all I have to do next is decide where to go after Chicago, cos that’s where I go on the Zephyr again, after Emeryville (yes, it is my favourite train by far!)

Friday 26 Feb.. Emeryville, California.
Tonight finds me sat in room 600 of the Hilton Garden Inn at Emeryville. I have a beer at hand, which I purchased from the gas station opposite. Happily , being on the sixth floor, the gas station is almost below my line of sight as I look out of the window... but not quite. Oddly enough, the beer is quite gassy too.

Yesterday morning I left Las Vegas, and this morning I boarded the “Coast Starlight” in Los Angeles. I was awake early, and took a slow stroll across to the Amtrak Station. I am not that good at following orders, and skulked near the Train 14 check in line, ready to dash down the tunnel ahead of the crowd. However, I noticed that people were actually being allocated seat numbers, so I had to swallow my pride and join the line. Talk about slow.. it took at least 45 minutes to plod up to the lone Amtrak employee, who I will call Peggy, only to then be informed that “the train will be late departing, we don’t know how late, ha ha..
I was lucky to be granted a window seat on the ocean side of the train, although the weather was rather dull and overcast, so the views were not as good as they could have been. I sat out in the garden while I waited for the boarding announcement. In the end we boarded quite soon, and departed Union Station only 35 minutes late. I had the twin coach seats to myself for the first section of the trip, so was able to stretch out and watch the world pass by, or at least some of L.A. pass by.
I was surprised to hear an English accent from the buffet car attendant, Jane, so I made my way there and had a chat about the problems of getting a decent cup of tea in America, amongst other topics. It transpired that Jane was from Derbyshire originally, so the next area to Nottingham, my own abode.
After a while the next seat was taken by a Chinese guy, Robert, who was a civil engineering student, and was going home to San Francisco just for the weekend. Turns out he was organising a “Dragon” display in china town to celebrate the Chinese new year a fortnight ago, (Year of the Tiger, so he said). He mentioned that his father had organised the event for many years, and now he was taking up the challenge. Apparently, San Francisco has the largest Chinese population outside Asia, so it was quite a big deal. Sadly, I will be on the California Zephyr at that time, or I would have liked to attend the celebrations.
There was a bit of a problem with one passenger as we came towards Emeryville, some sort of issue with her having a “reservation/ticket” reference, but no ticket. The Conductor, a short lady who’s name I forget, was being difficult, and said that as she didn’t have an Amtrak issued phone, she couldn’t call anywhere and check up on the story. I suggested that the passenger could run into the Emeryville station and quote her reference, and get her ticket printed. The conductor, rather shamefaced, admitted that could be one solution.. When I left the station at Emeryville, the female passenger was still trying to persuade the station clerk to hurry up.. Dunno what the outcome was.
Peggy also turned out to be my car attendant on the train, and she worked hard all day, a professional Amtrak employee who tried her best to make everyone happy, so in the end I mentally forgave her for the slow line to get checked in. One extra upsetting thing about the slow slow check in, was a nearby huge Amtrak poster with the headline “Why wait in Line?” it was advertising the self service Quick Track ticket machines. Quick Ticket or not, no way to avoid standing in at least one Amtrak slow line, methinks. I will add a few recent pics, and tomorrow morning should see me aboard the Zephyr to Chi town.


A Nice Chest !

Saturday Evening, 27 Feb.
I slept well in the Emeryville hotel. It was the nicest hotel room so far on this trip, shame to check in at 10pm and check out at 9am, but that’s what it had to be. The hotel shuttle bus was not in operation, so the hotel paid for my cab to and from the Amtrak station, only a short trip, but awkward with luggage. Having checked out without breakfast, I was feeling hungry, but I thought the food on offer at the station was overpriced, and the Subway opposite was shut. A large crowd at the station, lots of people going to Reno. The booking office guy was making unintelligible announcements about my Zephyr train from behind his screen, so I went over but he wasn’t any clearer close up. He muttered about “go out the door in 10 minutes”. I thanked him for his input and left him to his microphone.
Lower level room 12 again, same as the trip down. Convenient, as I was able to clean the dirty windows from the platform. Female train attendant by the name of LaShandra introduced herself on the intercom. Among all the coffee and other facilities, she also mentioned that she had a nice chest. I was intrigued and went to have a look, but all I saw was an insulated container of ice..
I chatted to her later, and she said this was her 2nd year of working on Amtrak, but that she hasn’t got a permanent position, she works where she is needed. I hope to ask her again later about how that works.
Interesting couple at lunch, she sold metal sheeting and such for house building and repair, she said things were dead in her business. They had quite a passion for gambling, she more than him, I thought. The husband worked for the city of Martinez. He mentioned all the homeless people living near the rail tracks, and I said I thought there was less help available for homeless in America than Britain. His view was that help was available from charities, but that people had to be sober and drug free first, so that wasn’t going to happen for a lot of them. I guess if they could be drink and drug free anyway, many could get off the streets for themselves. It is a programme or system to care for those too far gone to care for themselves that seems to be needed. No easy answer to the conundrum of trying to deciding what is best for someone else..
This train car has one square wheel.. a flat point on the rim caused in the recent past by the brake locking and the wheel sliding on the metal rail, with the contact point being worn down slightly. The result of this is that once the wheel starts to revolve again, the wheel makes a “donk” noise every time the flat portion passes over the rail. It is quite loud in my roomette, like a mini jackhammer under the floor.
Dinner tonight was fun, I shared my table with two single ladies, one was some sort of prosecutor for accidents in the workplace, and the other had just come back from a year in the philippines, as a “peace corp worker” We had fun chatting and teasing. Our server was nice too, as was the lunchtime one. We looked up the origins of the word “docent”, not a word I had ever heard in the UK.
Back in the roomette, I felt rather tired, I enjoyed listening to the music on my laptop as I typed the above paragraphs.
Had a very good sleep, but still rather sleepy in the morning. I was woken by the announcement from the dining car about breakfast, so had a quick wash and made my way over. Once again seated with two different single lady passengers. Nice chat about everything and nothing, both women had travelled in their youth, and I found them pretty open minded, and good company.
Still felt a bit sleepy after breakfast so I had a rest on the bottom bed, later we pulled into Grand Junction station, with a halt of about 20 minutes there was time to visit the shop on the platform. I noticed that the whole station building was up for sale. Bought a Fat Boy ice cream. Before re boarding the train, I asked a passenger to take my picture alongside the train. She remarked on my accent, and said she was British by birth, American by choice. Having been here a long time she had a full American accent. We chatted in the vestibule as the train pulled out, but I found her to be right wing, a pretty serious George Bush fan, in all that she said.
Later, at lunch, I sat beside her companion, another woman, who said she was making money buying and selling stock options. She made it sound like easy money. She was into creating tax saving schemes in a big way too, so I thought the two of them were well paired.
The scenery is as fabulous in this direction as that seen coming out from Chicago. I have taken so many shots of the mountains and rivers, together with snow and frozen waterfalls. The train passes through occasional snow flurries, to emerge soon into another crystal clear vista. I guess the next stop will be Winter Park? I just typed that comment a second ago, and we have now come to an unexpected halt and an announcement was made to stay in our seats and cooperate, so something is amiss..?
Couple of versions unfolded.. Guy was drunk and belligerant, or guy was drunk and having chest pains. Either way the police and or medical people removed him from the train, at a halt just before Fraser, and we are now pulling into Winter Park.. It is indeed quite wintery here, so bare feet and wearing sandals was not the wisest choice to get down onto the platform with.
Few minutes fresh air, next is the long Moffat tunnel. The highest point on this journey is at 9300 feet, but the views are zero, as that is in the middle of the tunnel, which takes about 12 minutes to pass through. We pass over the continental divide again there too, which means that water always flows either towards the Pacific, or the Atlantic, depending on which side of the divide it falls.
I got chatting to Ms. American by Choice again, and she was expressing her interest in model train engines. She called them “brass”, so I guess live steam, but maybe electric powered. She mentioned having to practice her soldering skills to renovate her engines. She is intending to visit the Sacramento railroad museum on the return trip to see the massive full size version of one of her engines, a “cab forward” design created to overcome problems of crews being asphyxiated by smoke in the tunnels. She wants to enhance the engine she has with “super detailing” of pipe work etc.
We have come out to the Denver side of the Moffat tunnel, weather this side is rather heavy and darker with grey clouds.. but a lot brighter than in the tunnel!
As we are dropping down the mountainside, the weather has closed in a lot and the views are fairly non existant. I think we are already near the horseshoe curve. It looks murky out, and the light is beginning to fade The conductor has just announced that we should be early into Denver, at about 6.30, and we leave around 7.50.. ‘course we ‘aint there quite yet..
We were early into Denver, pretty much as expected. I had a 6.30 pm dinner reservation, so was called to sit down at the same time as we backed into the Denver station.
Dinner was a slight disappointment, the car was pretty empty, apart from me at a whole table to myself, there was only one other table occupied, by a family with a yelling youngster.
Later, I decided to invest in a few beers from the snack bar. The guy there, Johnny, had been making amusing P.A. announcements all the way from Emeryville, so it was interesting to put a face to the voice. After enjoying the beers, and listening to some music on the laptop again, I turned in.

Monday 1st March. We had passed through a heavy snowfall during the night, there was a lot of ice stuck to the windows on either side of the train this morning. At breakfast I was seated across from Robert, a guy who had the loudest speaking voice ever. Although only 50, he was retired to Florida and was enjoying fishing from his boat. He mentioned getting the occasional call from his old boss in New Jersey to come up and do a job now and again. I asked him if he was a gangster, fortunately he saw the funny side and told me he just re modelled bathrooms nowadays, and was a former navy fire fighter. Most of the species of fish he mentioned catching were new to me, but I am not a fisherman. Due to a mix up with the server, I didn’t get my full breakfast order (two countries separated by a common language again!!) but Robert insisted on donating a portion of his, which was nice of him. He was with his wife on a nationwide city tour, his wife was still asleep, he said.
The train lost a bit of time during the night, we were running about 45 minutes late at breakfast time. Still undecided on my next move after Chicago.. I am booked into the HI Hostel for the next two nights. Not that impressed with our car’s attendant, she is ok, but just does enough to get by. The next sleeper has a warm natured attendant, who has put flowers, sweets and cookies out for her passengers. I will try and collect a few names of the staff before I leave the train. Next stop is Ottumwa, which is in my spellchecker, surprisingly!
I seem to be the only occupant of this lower level now, I forgot to mention a very nice couple who had been in the handicap room from Sacramento, the wife being on oxygen therapy. His mother had passed away, and they had gone to sort out her affairs. He told me a little about the place they lived. I think there would be a great human interest book to be written if one could interview and record every person’s story who boarded the car from start in San Francisco to finish in Chicago. Possibly even more so in Coach class. For myself, I think the main story of my trip is the as yet unwritten one, the time out, a chance to get to know myself better, daydreaming on trains, away from the responsibilities of everyday life. Arrived in Chicago about 5pm, so about an hour and a half late. Surprising, as we had been early for most of the trip. Caught CTA bus to the hostel, where I am uploading this now. Hostel seems good, and I have put my grubby clothes in to wash. Now ready for some grub to eat!

Thats all folks..

Well, one of the things I had hoped to achieve with the American train trip, was to find space to think through for myself a few upcoming lifestyle changes and priorities. Many of these changes are to do with my son. I have pretty much been a single parent since he was age 4. He is aged 16 now, and I feel an acute case of “empty nest syndrome”. He still lives at home, but is absent from me by his interests and lifestyle, which is as it should be, he needs to live his life for himself, not for me. Still, it is tough.. a bit like finding one’s hard won job skills are not needed in today’s economy!
In day to day life, one is often hemmed in by routine, by duties real and imagined, so it can be difficult to think “outside the box”.
I cannot say that travelling around these past few weeks has solved all my questions about life, the universe, and everything, but certainly it has provided a great environment to think, away from the norm.
I feel that my main “souvenir” of this trip is a genuine, slightly better understanding of myself..
So, to cut a long story just a little short, I realised that most of my thinking had been done, and so I have begun to return home. I decided to visit Dublin, Ireland, on the way home, and that is where I am tonight, Thursday 4th.
On Tuesday evening, at the Chicago hostel, I booked on Expedia to fly to Dublin, a lot cheaper than to London, one way. I can make my way from here via the Ferry and train back to Nottingham in a few days time.
It was exciting to be moving again on Wednesday morning, taking the blue line out to O’Hara, and obtaining the boarding passes. It is all very well airlines cutting back on check in staff and using self service machines, but those machines don’t always work, and then there is no one around to help!
Changing planes at Newark, NJ, the check in guy was wearing a civilian suit, not a uniform, and he looked just like a caricature of a young Robert DeNero in Italian gangster mode, big guy, thick set, black hair oiled and combed back. I felt it a pleasing omen for leaving the USA, so much of what I have seen has been familiar from the movies..
Heuston, we have a problem...

Friday eve 5th march 2010.
Interesting day, went into town to see about “rail/sail” tickets. Bought an all day pass for the trams, 6 Euros. The rail staff at Connolly Rail station, while cheerful and amiable in an Irish way, had not got the leaflet, nor the timetables.. So I decided to try at Dublin’s Heuston station, same story there. I refrained from saying “we have a problem”, and went back to Connolly. This time a different female was in the information booth, and she accessed the internet, and also found a leaflet, so it shows the value of having staff who do give a f***
The upshot was that I bought a ferry and rail ticket to Nottingham, and also sorted out the bus connection to Dublin Ferryport, so with any luck, and some organisation, I should be leaving the hotel tomorrow morning at around 6am, and getting back home around 5pm.
After the tickets were “sorted”, I had a walk around Dublin city centre, it was warm in the sunshine. Many people here speak Irish these days, so it was often hard to differentiate between locals and foreign speaking tourists, to my untrained ear. Quite a few beggar women around, these appear not to be locals, but Eastern Europeans, possibly Romanians.
I read in the local paper about the way traditional Irish Travellers are pretty much settled into houses these days, their customary caravan resting places blocked off or built upon.
My parents met in England, but were both from Ireland, and I am proud of any Irish genes I have.. strange that I am not a more affable or voluble person myself.. although, maybe my footloose roaming around desires come from tinkers genes in my distant past, I would quite like to think so..

Thanks to anyone who has read my "blog".



Edited by caravanman

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Ed, as always a wonderful trip report with a lot of humour. Thanks!

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