Sunday, June 22, 2008

Riding the Rails

Pacific Surfliner starting out from San Luis Obispo, Thursday, June 19

Union Station, Los Angeles, Friday evening June 20

I’m writing this at 7:30 am on Saturday morning, the first day of summer, though I won’t be able to post it till later as there is no internet access on this train. I’m on the Southwest Chief traveling just east of Winslow, Arizona. The sun rose early, and the first thing I could see in its morning rays were the ponderosa pines near Flagstaff. Then an elk having breakfast near the tracks!

We got off to a rocky start last night as the train was delayed by more than an hour – the result of the flooding in the Midwest. On top of that, there were tons of screaming children waiting to board the train – the result of summer vacation, I guess. Los Angeles’ Union Station is an architectural gem, but not so relaxing to wait in, in the near 100 degree heat, and with loud voices telling us how delayed the trains were booming out of the speakers and echoing in the huge chamber of the main waiting room.

I was having second thoughts about my choice to take a train instead of flying to New Mexico, but all is forgiven this morning after a surprisingly restful night and a good breakfast in the dining car (“Railroad French Toast” and a sausage plus coffee). Sat at a dining table with a retired San Francisco policeman and a young man from Mexico soon to start a graduate degree in urban design and architecture at UC Berkeley.

I find it so soothing to feel the rocking motion of the train, the rhythm of the tracks going by underneath us, and the slow, leisurely pace of train travel. No one searches you before you get on a train, and most of your fellow passengers are here to enjoy the journey too… there was something very sweet about seeing adults carrying around their favorite pillows and blankets onto the train, and kids bringing their stuffed elephants, bears, etc. Trains will definitely be a highlight of my nascent Center for Nonviolent Transportation!

If all goes according to schedule, we should be in Lamy, New Mexico, around 3 pm this afternoon, where I’ll hop on a bus up to Santa Fe. All in all, it amounts to about a 19-hour trip.

The Pacific Surfliner from San Luis Obispo to Los Angeles was a relatively short, beautiful ride… hugging the coastline for much of the day. That train had electrical outlets so I could keep my laptop plugged in… this one doesn’t, so I’m jamming in the writing here before my battery goes.

The view from the Surfliner, somewhere near Santa Barbara

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