Saturday, July 19, 2008

Amtrak Adventure - Part 1

I’ll be taking a departure away from technology issues for the next few posts to submit a little online journal of my travel across the country with Dad on the Amtrak Coast Starlight and California Zephyr.

I got this hair-brained idea standing with my shoes off in an airport security line muttering to myself, “There’s got to be a better way!” I knew that I needed to get to Washington DC for the Discovery National Institute by July 21st. I knew that I didn’t want to take a “red eye” flight and arrive in DC at 5:30 in the morning. I also knew that driving from LA to DC with motels, food, and $4.50 per gallon gasoline was also not a desirable option.

Why not take the train? According to those “Great Rail Excursion” shows on PBS, the California Zephyr is one of the most scenic rail journeys in the US. Booking a sleeping compartment would not only gave me a private room to sleep in, but also included all meals in the dining car and first class treatment on board and at train stations. It seemed like a no-brainer.

So rather than take a “red eye” from LA to DC, here’s what I chose instead.

Coast Starlight from LA to Emeryville, CA (near Berkeley).
California Zephyr from Emeryville to Chicago.
Hiawatha commuter train from Chicago to Milwaukee.
Visit with family for a few days then fly from Milwaukee to DC for the National Institute.

We’ll see as these blog posts progress if this was a good idea.

July 15 - Coast Starlight

As we boarded the train we met Howard, our sleeping car attendant, who showed us to our compartment, explained how to work all the gadgets in our “roomette”, and told us where to find the dining, lounge, and observation cars. Leaving Los Angeles the first thing I noticed was the quiet. The superliner compartment was blissfully silent. No loud jet hum, coughing or sneezing passengers, or crying babies. I didn’t have to be told for the 100th time how to put on my seltbelt because there aren’t any. And there was no talk of oxygen masks falling from the ceiling or reminders that my seat cushion also serves as a flotation device in the event of a water landing - which in my mind is still called a “crash”.

Shortly after we were underway, Chris, the dining car steward, popped his head in our room and asked what time we would like to reserve seating for lunch. Meals are included for sleeping car passengers. Then, just before lunch Howard came back to deliver our complimentary champagne. (I think I’m starting to like this.)

For lunch Dad and I shared a table with a husband and wife who were traveling to Oregon to check out colleges for his graduate studies. Wonderful conversation - along with a nice plug for the DEN - was accompanied a fine meal with real silverware! Did I mention to beautiful ocean view right outside the window?

At San Luis Obispo, the train headed inland and the rest of the afternoon was spent reading in the observation car and enjoying the peace & quiet of our “roomette”. I took advantage of the time to make a few phone calls just because I didn’t have to shut off my cellular phone - or any electronic devices for that matter. We even had a standard electric outlet in our room for plugging in the laptop computer. Internet access is another issue. There is no WiFi or ethernet connections on the train and I’m too cheap to buy one of those mobile wireless cards so I’m dependent on whatever free WiFi I can find. No luck today.

At 7:30 Chris announced over the intercom that it was time for us to head up to the dining car for dinner. I had the steak and dad had half of a roasted game hen. Another fine meal.

We pulled into Emeryville at about 10:20pm, just a few minutes behind schedule. Ack! No free wireless at the hotel across from the train station - should have checked that when I made the reservation. Not sure when I’ll get to post this or what kind of access I’ll be able to find for the next few days on the train to Chicago. We’ll see what happens...

CLICK HERE for Part 2

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Mrs.A said...

It sounds like an incredible trip. Have fun at the National Institute. Will you be back in Chicago at all to visit on the way back? Could have met you before you went up to Milwaukee.

Anonymous said...

See you tomorrow at the DEN!