Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee

Closing the Loop (Almost)

Lisa and I got back to my apartment in San Jose around 9:30 PM, having arrived on time on the Coast Starlight from Los Angeles. The trip was pretty much without incident.

As I was paying for this trip (not using points) and it wasn't overnight, we were in coach. We got down to Union Station in good time to check in for the trip and boarded right after they opened the cars, which meant there was no problem getting our luggage in the downstairs racks.

Diagonally opposite us was a woman with a "foofums dog" — a tiny little dog not a whole lot bigger than Kuma Bear she was carrying in a tote bag and carefully trying to conceal every time the conductor or car attendant came by. Lisa whispered to me that she wanted to make a bet on how long before the conductor took note of the dog. "I bet Oxnard," she said.

As it happens, just as the train was pulling out of Oxnard station the conductor came and took official notice of Foofums. "I'd call that a push," I told Lisa. The woman claimed that she had no idea there were special rules for carrying pets on board Amtrak, a claim that would have held more water if she hadn't been clearly trying to hide that dog the whole trip. As it happens, the first time the dog started making any noise at all was when the conductor showed up. The soft-hearted conductor let this one slide. I don't think I would have done so and might well have put the woman off the train at the next stop, but then, I'm not impressed by Foofums dogs.

Our coach was warmer than I would have liked. Lisa and I spent a fair bit of the trip in the lounge car because it was cooler, but there were times when the volume of nonsense being spouted there drove us back to our coach. In particular there was a very loud woman who apparently has never lived anywhere other than in very large cities like San Jose and San Diego and has not traveled much (save by air, perhaps) who sounded alternately appalled, horrified, or loudly amused at places that weren't built up like Los Angeles, which includes a whole lot of the Starlight's route once it gets out of the urban areas. She couldn't believe that real people actually live in places where there's no gas station within sight, or that there's a dirt road to their front door, or that there were no tall buildings all around them. As a self-confessed hick-from-the-sticks, I found her attitude patronizing and highly annoying, but I didn't have the energy to engage her on it. Besides, what good would it have done?

I learned why it takes so darn long to get from Salinas to San Jose. There are eight grade crossings that crews have to manually flag in that stretch. That means the train must stop, a crew member must get off the train, and the train can then proceed at a walking pace through the grade crossing (even if the lights and crossing guards are working), after which the crew member can get back on and the train can continue. This makes a mockery of 79 MPH speed limits. The conductor said it's because the only trains on the route these days are the two Starlight trains and a handful of local freights, and Union Pacific doesn't want to spend the money to bring the signals up to modern standards.

A bunch of the people in our coach completely ignored the announcements about not using their cell phones or playing music. Why must people be so inconsiderate of their neighbors?

There's enough padding in the schedule that despite being late at almost every intermediate stop, we were on time at San Jose. Lisa and I rolled over to the light rail station. I seem to have mislaid my Clipper card (I hope it's not lost), but I bought a couple of one-way cash fares — unlike LA Metro, the VTA vending machines not only give change in dollar coins but also accept dollar coins — and with a relative minimum of fuss we got back to the apartment and unpacked.

Good news: we checked Lisa's pickup (it's parked in the garage at my apartment) and found the external battery pack for the camera. It must have fallen off the camera bag when she was shifting stuff around. Lisa is relieved she doesn't need to build another rig.

My travel loop is not completely closed because my van is still parked in Fremont. The current plan is for Lisa to take me to Fremont and drop me at my van, after which she'll continue home to Fernley tomorrow.

I have tomorrow off. I'm not setting an alarm.
Tags: amtrak, kuma bear, lisa, trains, travel

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