West Coast Wander, Day 12: Riding on the Coast Starlight

From here on, our trip was more of a swaying glide than a wander.

We had a two-week vacation, and decided that it would be fun to drive down the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and California and then drop off our rental car and take a train back home. I’m calling this journey the West Coast Wander, and plan to blog about it every other day so as not to totally alienate those who have no interest in travel, and yet allow those who do to travel vicariously with us. Here’s the first in the series, if you want to start at the beginning.  I hope you enjoy it, dear reader.

From here on out, our trip is less of a wander and more of a swaying glide. We decided to let Amtrak do the driving. We hopped on the train in Los Angeles for a 35 hour trip up the coast to Seattle. This train, called the Coast Starlight, was every bit as magical and romantic as its name.

We could have caught a train in San Clemente, our southernmost point on the journey, but that would have meant getting up at an obscene hour, and then changing trains and then experiencing a long delay in Los Angeles anyway. We decided it would be better to stay in a hotel nearby in Los Angeles and uber over to join the other passengers at a more civilized hour. (You’ve probably gotten the idea that I’m not a morning person by now, and that goes to show you’re very smart, indeed.)

The drive to Union Station in Los Angeles was a bit sobering. Train stations and their accompanying tracks tend not to be in the best of neighborhoods, and this was no exception. We passed so many homeless encampments that I wanted to cry. Something has got to change in this country. There is a division of wealth that has reached criminal levels. There is absolutely no reason why everyone in this country shouldn’t be able to live in a place that is safe and comfortable and permanent. Instead we have someone spending 28 million dollars to fly into outer space for 11 minutes with Jeff Bezos and his brother while people are suffering in tents on city sidewalks. Outrageous.

After seeing that, it kind of made me blink to walk into Los Angeles’ Union Station, with its art deco vibe. It was like being transported back in time. Marble floors, stunning chandeliers, leather seating, tile accents. It’s beautiful, and you’ve probably seen bits of it in many a movie. I kind of felt like a country mouse seeing the big city for the first time. But I was startled to see a pigeon in there who seemed to have made himself quite at home.

I knew I was in for a real treat, and one that is out of reach for many people. It reminded me how lucky I am, and how I’ve done very little to earn any of this privilege. It’s a rather odd feeling, admitting to that and yet still taking advantage of it.

This train made several stops along the way. I hope no one in the business/coach class was staying on for the entire route. 35 hours in an upright seat in a room full of strangers, not all of whom consistently wore masks, with no meals provided, sounds a little hellish.

We opted for the next class up. We got a roomette. This consisted of two reclinable chairs facing each other by a window. At night, the chairs slide down and toward each other to make a single bed, and then an upper bunk folds down from the ceiling. It was cozy and very convenient. Bathrooms were down the hall, and we didn’t find out until later that there was a shower down below. The thought of trying to shower on a swaying train boggles the mind. It wasn’t a huge sacrifice. The trip was only 35 hours, after all.

We checked a lot of our baggage, but even so, the room was a little snug. It began to feel even more snug with each passing hour. But it was fun sitting there watching the gorgeous world go by, and it was a rare and delicious opportunity to do nothing but read for hours on end. What luxury.

They do also offer bedrooms, which are twice the size of a roomette and have private bathrooms. The family bedrooms are even bigger. I peeked into a few of those, as discreetly as possible. I didn’t want to creep people out. The accommodations looked quite nice.

And there were other places to go on the train. There was a sightseer lounge with windows on both sides, and we took advantage of that quite a bit to enjoy the water views as our roomette was on the inland side. It was very comfortable. We also saw lush forests, fertile valleys, farms, and gorgeous mountains. Train tracks being what they are, we also saw some very beautiful and creative graffiti along the way.

And of course there was the dining car with its many tables. Meals were included for anyone who had booked a sleeper. Thanks to COVID, they’re not doing their formal dining. They’ve opted for what they call flexible dining. There’s a range of times that you can show up for meals, and the same menu for both day’s lunches and dinners, and a different one for breakfast. On this first day, I had shrimp with lobster sauce for lunch and braised beef for dinner. It was surprisingly good for meals that had been prepared in advance and simply had to be heated up by the staff.

If you travel by train during flexible dining, I suggest that you do what we did, and wait until closer to the end of the meal’s time frame. You avoid the rush and the crowds that way. They also are not making people sit at the same table with strangers anymore, due to the pandemic. I was definitely not complaining about that. I don’t enjoy making small talk with strangers while trying to eat. So this worked out perfectly.

We got to pass through many of the same towns we had explored as we went south. It was often a different perspective. It definitely was in the large cities, as we saw a lot more homeless encampments along the tracks than we did on the tourist trail.

Riding on a swaying train can be rather hypnotic. We set up the roomette into sleep mode and went to bed early, but not before passing through the outskirts of San Francisco. I enjoyed knowing that as I slept away, we would draw ever closer to home sweet home.

Check out Day 13 of this grand adventure here!

The ultimate form of recycling: Buy my book, read it, and then donate it to your local public library or your neighborhood little free library! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5


Author: The View from a Drawbridge

I have been a bridgetender since 2001, and gives me plenty of time to think and observe the world.

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