|Dining on the Amtrak Starlight|
Dad’s sister, Alma, and Mom’s sister, Ella, were good friends all their lives. After each had been widowed, they made train trips together out west to visit us in Washington. As the train screeched to a stop and conductors helped passengers alight from the coaches, we eagerly watched for our beloved aunts.
Now Hank and I are the ones traveling by rail. One daughter lives in San Diego, another in Tucson, so we travel up and down the Pacific coast on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight. We used to drive our own car. That had its advantages, but as traffic became heavier and heavier in the Puget Sound corridor, that part of the drive became less and less appealing.
Once aboard the train, you don’t have to be concerned about traffic jams or what other drivers may do…you can sit back and enjoy scenery you completely miss from the freeway. And you don’t have to keep your eyes on the road! If scenery is not your thing, you can read, play electronic games, work, e-mail, even surf the Internet if the train’s WIFI is working. You can meet people from all over the world, traveling for many different reasons. You’ll be pampered by friendly, hard-working staff who will do all they can to insure that your trip is pleasant.
Since it’s a two-days-and-a-night trip to southern California, we always go by sleeper car. That way we have our own private compartment, although we are welcome to ride in the comfortable lounge car as well. At night, the conductor makes up the beds and we travel while we snooze. Meals are included with the cost of our sleeper tickets; a choice of menu items served in a nicely appointed dining car. It’s community seating, so you’re sure to meet new people at each meal.
At most stops, people get on and off. Many of them are traveling short distances so they pay the cheaper coach fares. The main disadvantage for those of us taking a longer trip is the lack of exercise. Although we do walk to the lounge and dining cars and move about just to stretch, we always welcome the longer stops where we can get off and walk up and down the platform until the conductors call “All aboard!”
One of the mixed blessings of train travel are the frequent loudspeaker announcements: announcements of upcoming stops, repeat listings of procedures after each new group boards the train, announcements of menus and times for upcoming meals, announcements about special events such as wine tasting parties or movies, announcements of regulations concerning drinking and smoking…disembodied voices making sure that everyone knows everything. The up side is that confusion is avoided and unpleasant situations are forestalled.
This spring’s trip was our third on the Coast Starlight, but it was the first time we’d seen out-of-control behavior dealt with. When we stopped in one town, we noticed two fire engines and an ambulance waiting at the platform. Emergency technicians pushed a gurney past our window. An employee from the depot retrieved someone’s luggage from the train, then a couple of policemen arrived. Soon they returned with a handcuffed woman between them. The EMTs followed with the empty gurney and we proceeded down the track. One of our dinner companions later told us the woman had been drunk and causing a disturbance. The next day a person was taken off the train for refusing to move away from the open door while smoking on the platform and then being abusive to the conductor.
But mostly our train travel has been comfortable, relaxed, and enjoyable. And the views have to be some of the best in the whole United States.
Aunts Alma and Ella would be surprised to see how pleasant today’s train travel can be. They’d be pleased to know that despite the changing culture, there is zero tolerance for misbehavior on the train.
|Tacoma Narrows Bridge|
|Nearing Oregon: I-5 and the Columbia River|
|An exercise break while passengers load|
|Crossing California’s coast range to the Pacific|
|Playing in the Pacific Ocean|