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Andy Anderson Amtrak Journey: Coast Starlight
Leg Four - October 4th - Coast Starlight
andy anderson train site coast starlight
The Coast Starlight heads north up the California coast
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October 4th 2010 - The Coast Starlight: Los Angeles to Seattle

Although all of the Amtrak fleet is awesome, the Coast Starlight is a really cool train. You have the same amenities of anyone traveling in a deluxe sleeper with some extra touches... like a bottle of Champagne. But we'll save the drinking stories until later...

Checking out of the Los Angeles Downtown Marriott

My eyes pop open up at 5:00a. In know that I went to bed at 2:30a, but it doesn't matter, I always seem to wake up a 5:00a. What's weird about that is that I'm two time zones away from my base of operations. Doesn't matter...

I'm out of bed and starting the coffee maker. My stay here at the Downtown Marriott, has been excellent. The staff were friendly, and helpful, and the room was fantastic (who can complain about a suite). I drink some coffee, and then head down to the gym for a bit of exercise. After three days on the Texas Eagle/Sunset Limited, eating and sitting, I really feel the need for a bit of exercise. I spend about an hour in the gym, and then head back to my room for a leisurely shower. It's still early, and I have plenty of time.

I do a last check of my luggage, make sure I haven't left anything behind, and then head downstairs to check out. The time is about 7:00AM. I decide that I have time to eat breakfast at Original Phillippe's

Original Phillippe's

I'll have to admit that this is one cool place. For breakfast I get a couple of eggs with some sausage and whole-wheat toast... And, of course, some of Original Phillippe's famous 9-cent coffee... no refills, thank you very much. I linger over breakfast, and have another cup of coffee, but I'm keeping track of time.. At about 8:30AM, I leave my empty plate, and head out to the station. Los Angeles Union Station is only about 5-minutes from breakfast, but I want to get there in time for the opening of the Traxx Bar/Lounge.

Los Angeles Union Station, and the Traxx Bar/Lounge

The Traxx Bar/Lounge is a really cool place, and it's only available for first-class passengers on the north-bound Coast Starlight. When you enter the station (main entrance), it's just off to your right. Amtrak contracted with the owners of the station, to use the bar as a meeting place for the first-class passengers. I assume that in the evening, it reverts back to a regular bar. The joint opens at 8:45AM, and as I enter the station, the attendant is just opening the place for business. She checks my ticket, smiles, and lets me in. I grab a nice seat, next to the open-air garden, pull out my computer and begin writing. After a few minutes, I stop and get some coffee from the bar area. Regular drinks are free to passengers... mixed drinks cost. I thought about doing a bloody mary or something... Hey, I'm on vacation. However, since I'm getting a bottle of Champagne on the train, I decide that 8:45 in the morning, is not the best time for my morning adult beverage.

So here I am... Sitting with my computer, cup of coffee, and typing away. Let me set the picture for you... When I got up, the weather was cool and low hanging clouds were scraping the tops the surrounding downtown buildings. Now the morning is perfect. The sky is a hard blue... so hard blue that you could strike a match on it. The few clouds that remain in the sky are as white and fluffy as balls of cotton. The Traxx Bar opens out into a courtyard, and from where I'm sitting, it's just about heaven. I'm looking forward to getting on the Coast Starlight; however, right now, I'm just enjoying the California experience. The temperature is hovering around 65f... Could this get any better? I've been at the Traxx Lounge at times when you have parents with screaming babies, and unruly children. However, today could not be any better. The passengers are all adults... friendly and courteous. As I type away, you can hear the birds chattering away in the courtyard... What a way to start a trip.

I've had enough coffee for one day, so I switch to my favorite hot beverage... Tea. While I'm typing away, one of the attendants brings in a tray of small cakes and, in spite of stuffing myself at breakfast, I grab one. As I take a bite, I drop a few crumbs and a small bird swoops in for the feast. I debate whether to drop a few more morsels; however, a stern look from the attendant, lets me know that feeding the birds is not permitted... Oh Well.

As I'm typing away, I notice this lady eyeing me from another table, after a bit she comes over and we begin talking. She noticed by camera (Nikon D3), and asked if I was a photographer. We begin talking and I find out that she is a photographer, of sorts, and she has a coffee shop in San Diego. For the last twenty-some days, she has been on the train and off the train, on her own travel odyssey. We swap photo stories for about a half-hour, and then the conductor comes in to check our tickets. The time is about 9:05a.

The conductor turns out to be a young woman with a fetching smile, and a dang friendly attitude. She spends a bit of time with each of the passengers, and answers any questions. When she gets to me, and sees all of my computer junk, she asks me what I'm about. I tell her that I'm a writer, and I'm writing about this journey. She smiles, points to her name tag, and says: Make sure you spell my name correctly. I don't know... maybe it's because Amtrak personnel are supposed to be nice to the first-class passengers; however, I fly first-class on the airlines all the time, and almost never receive this type of hands-on, sincere treatment. She's either a good actor, or I'm really naive... Or just maybe... Just maybe... Amtrak is a company that cares about its customers... Now there's a novel idea for you.

Almost Time to Board...

The Coast Starlight is supposed to depart Los Angeles at 10:15AM... So I'll stop here and download this portion of the journey. The Coast Starlight has free wireless for first class; however, the last time I rode this train, it was a bit spotty. If I have access, I'll download the trip as it progresses.

I've got wireless, and I'm going to see if will work for this writer...

The Coast Starlight

At 9:15a, I walk toward down the boarding tunnel, and head toward track 10. When you get there, you'll see two track 10s. One on the left, and one on the right. Turn to the left for first class, and to the right for coach. I head left, go up the ramp and walk toward sleeper car 1430. Harold, our car attendant, greets me by the door, checks my tickets, and directs me to my room. He asks me if I've traveled in an Amtrak sleeper before, and respond by telling him that I'm a bit of an old hand. He smiles, and says he'll be by later to see how I've settled in to my room. I head up the narrow stairway to bedroom E. It's about a half hour before departure, so I stick my stuff in my room, close the door and go back outside to shoot a couple of photos. The cold gray clouds have returned to Los Angeles; actually, it's amazing how fast the weather can change when you're near the ocean. In Wichita, the weather can change quickly; however, it's usually from cloudy weather to tornado weather. Not, warm and dry, to cool and damp. As we move toward the coast, I gaze out at streets and see street glistening from the rain. Although I can't see the rain coming down, most of the cars we pass have their windshield wipers going, so the rain must be coming down.

Currently we're traveling about 55mph, and we just passed the city of Carmello. In about thirty minutes we should break through to the coast. I've never been on the Starlight on a cloudy day, although from the looks of the sky, it's a marine layer. If that's true it could burn off in the afternoon.

We just finished a stop at Oxnard, two whole minutes ahead of schedule... Next stop the Pacific Ocean.

The car I'm in is a Superliner II, and the ones on the first part of the journey were Superliner I cars. The big difference to me is that I'm in a newer car, and the windows are clearer; which means they're better to photograph out of... WOOPEE!!!

Lunch on the Coast Starlight

Julie the dining car attendant comes by my room and I make a 12:15p reservation in the Parlour car. Spot on time, my reservation is called and I find myself sitting with my lunch partner. Her name is Judy, and she's heading up the coast, like me, to Seattle. We hit a cord, and our conversation about travel on Amtrak, and around the planet lasts for over two hours. To be honest with you, I find it hard to keep up a conversation with a stranger for fifteen minutes, let alone two hours. As our conversation turns to Canal boats in Great Britain, the car attendant comes by and says he needs the table for the 3:00p wine tasting. We say our good-byes, and head our respective ways.

The Pacific Ocean

Suddenly we break through to the ocean. Today with all the gray clouds the water looks cold and uninviting. However, after about 10 minutes, the clouds burn away, and the sun hits that cold water and turns it into a million shinning points of light. Surfers dot the surface of the ocean like so many bobbing tops. Some are catching waves, and riding them to shore, while others are not so lucky. We pass several campsites, full of RV's. People sit by campfires as the sun slowly makes its journey to the horizon. It seems to move faster as it gets to the thin line that separates sky from water, almost as if it's tired of lighting up the world, and it needs a rest. I try to divide my time between writing and watching.

The ocean is fascinating... It's never the same. Every second it morphs into a new form. One moment it's calm and blue, another it's topped with green waves and foam. Always active... Always changing. It feeds us, supplies most of the oxygen we breath, and gives us endless pleasure. What more could you ask for.

After about fifteen minutes of watching the ocean pass by on our right, suddenly Vandenburg Airforce Base appears on the left. Vandenburg launches a lot of rockets and satellites, and as we pass, you can see the launch gantries jutting up into the afternoon sky. Now, what would be really cool if they would have a launch as we passed. This is a huge base... It take us over ten minutes of fast travel to pass its borders.

On and On

The land past Vandenburg is populated with farms producing what looks like lettuce and other green veggies. As we pass, hundreds of migrant workers, their backs bent from a day of hard labor, pick the produce and place it into waiting trucks. Some people may have a problem with migrant workers; however, I don't the complainers volunteering for these jobs.

I head back to my room, just as Julie comes by with the reservation list for diner. I pick 6:45p, and get to work. With the Internet working, I'll download this portion, and then see what kind of trouble I can get into.

Dinner on the Coast Starlight

I ate dinner in the Parlour car; in fact, I'll probably eat all my meals here. Anyway, I sat with a health salesman (no, he didn't try to sell me anything), and had the lamb stew. Normally, I'm not big on lamb, but this was actually quite tasty. I skipped the end-of-the-meal treat, and moved over into the seating area of the Parlour car to do some work.

All Work and No Play

This is the busyest I've seen the Parlour car in the six times I've taken this trip. Normally, there's not problem getting a table to work at; however, today, tables are at a premium. I wait a bit until I see one come available, and grab it. Then I open up my computer, and begin writing. A few people come by and we chat for a bit, and then they move on. That's the fun thing about the Parlour car, it's like a rolling conversation on wheels. If you don't want to talk, you can always go back to your room and shut the door; however, that's defeating the purpose of taking the train. If you don't want to talk to anyone... Take a plane. Around 9:00p I close up shop and head back to my room. Harold, our car attendant already has my bed ready, but I'm not ready for sleep. I work a bit more, and read a book on Adobe Dreamweaver CS5. About midnight I call it quits.

Unfortunetly, my sleeper car is not ready to call it quits. Amtrak has what it calls quiet time on the train, and it's supposed to be from 10:00p to 7:00a. No announcements are made over the PA, and if you want to hold a conversation with someone, or use you cell phone, you are suppposed to go to the lounge car. Not tonight... We've got people holding conversations with each other by yelling from one end of the car to the other. Some is playing some accordian music, and the people in the room next door to me decide that now is the time to unpack their things. It doesn't really bother me, but I'm surprised that Harold doesn't quiet things down. He doesn't, and about fifteen minutes later I'm alseep. I awake about 2:00a, and take a peek out the window. The stars are bright in the sky, and I can even see the Milky Way. If I can see that much from the window of a speeding train, I would love to see what it looks like outside the train.

Day Two on the Coast Starlight

I wake at about 4:30a, the GPS says that we are not far from the California/Oregon border. Shasta mountain is a really cool sight in the rays of the rising sun, but in making some calculations, we will probably pass it before the sun rises... Too bad.

I decide that I'll take my computer into the Parlour car and do some writing there (that's where I am now), and when I get there, the place is already populated with about 10 people.

Picture this: You have 10 warm bodies sitting in comphy swivel chairs, and others, at some of the tables... Most are asleep, and half asleep. Since the sun won't rise for another hour and a half, there's nothing to see out the windows. I'm here to spread out and do a bit of writing... Hey, writers are supposed to be excentric... But what the HECK are these people doing here?

One of the half-sleeping dudes, sighs as I open my computer, as if my typing is going to disturb his little nappy poo... I want to say: If you want to sleep, why don't you go back to bed, but I don't... I'm a nice guy.

Breakfast is at 6:30a in the diner car, and 7:30a in the Pacific Parlour car. It's now about 6:15a and what's really fun to watch is that every few minutes one or two of them will get up and move toward the diner car, get to the door, only to be turned back and told breakfast is at 6:30a. Then a few minutes later another one or two will try. When they get up, all the other people look up expectantly... Waiting for the verdict. Can we go in now... Do we have to wait another few minutes... Are you really going to make us wait until exactly 6:30a? This is fun to watch, it's as if each one of them wants to be the first to breakfast. That must be it, there must be a door prize for the first person to breakfast, like and extra portion of scrambled eggs.

My bet is on the couple to my left... They look lean and hungry, and they've been turned away from the diner car twice now. It's currently 6:28a, and the lady of the couple is now sitting on the edge of her seat... just waiting. It's now 6:29a, and the couple behind her starts to get up. That's all it takes, she and her husband are up and headed toward the magical entranceway to to breakfast with the other couple close behind. Now, all the other people realize that it's exactly 6:30a and as one they all rise and begin moving forward, but it's to late... The couple I placed my money on is at the door, and wonders of wonders, it opens. They walk in trimpuently to claim their prize. And as an added bonus to Andy... The Pacific Parlour car is now completly empty... Except for this lone writer.

Although I'll admit the I like the solitude of getting here about 5:00a, and doing my bit of writing, this is a lot more fun. All these people looking at me, and probably wondering what I'm doing here, have no idea that I'm writing about them.

Ahhh, people watching can be such a treat.

Morning on the Coast Starlight

It's about 6:45a, so I have about 45 minutes before the Parlour car opens for breakfast. They have a limited breakfast of scrambled eggs, breads, and fruits, so I can see why most people would opt for the full breakfast menu of the diner car. The food in either car is excellent, I guess I just like the experience of dining here.

As I write this, dawn is breaking, and the sky is slowly going from its evening wardrobe of shinning stars set in black velvet, to a more deep purple. Slowly the stars begin to fade away and a stain of orange and yellow begins to spread and grow across the eastern horizon. A few low-hanging clouds are ignited by the sun's rays and explode into mauves, reds, and yellows. This sunrise over Oregon is worth of a Matisse oil painting.

Although the sun has yet to make its appearance the eastern sky is already turning a hard blue, while the mountains to are west are still cloaked in the deep purple shadows of night. But nothing can stop this transformation. I watched last night as the sun dipped below the horizon; while I slept it traveled around the globe, giving light and life to parts of the planet that I've never seen. Now, it's about to make its grand appearance, and bring light to our travels as we head north.

The earth that's revealed to me by the light of the rising sun looks beautiful, and cold. Small pools of water that pass by the train are covered with a thin film of ice, and the scrub brush is clothed in white frost. Off to my left, I can see the top of Mount Shasta, and it looks like we're still about fifteen minutes until we get there. It's just possible that I might get a shot of the morning rays of the sun hitting the top of the mountain. Too bad I can't tell the engineer to slow the train down a bit.

Okay, this is weird... Just after I wrote that last sentence about slowing down, we began to slow down, and now we are stopped. I didn't know I had psysic powers. I promise that I'll only use them for good... Not evil.

Actually we just stopped to let a freight train pass, but every minute of delay helps me get that shot of Mount Shasta... I hope it's a long freight train. It's interesting how they move and coordinate the movement of the trains. There is basically is a single track and every so often there's a side track. But since our train is almost a quarter mile long, that side track must be big enough to handle large trains. What's interesting about that to me is the coordination of having those two opposing trains meeting at the right time, where one train hits the side line, and the other goes immeatdly by, and then we're off again. Seems like that would take a lot of planning.

As I'm writing, the sun rises above the horizon, and breaks through the low-hanging clouds. It hits the western mountains, and brings them to life with a shower of golden yellow. It would be perfect for a Shasta photoshop, except the old girl is shrouded in fog and clouds. Well, maybe next time.

Klamath Falls, Oregon

We hit Klamath Falls about a half hour early at 7:45a, since we'll wait here until our normal departure time of 8:25a, I choose this time to eat breakfast. Scramble eggs with turkey sausage hits the spot, and as I finish eating, be pull out of the station. Klamath Falls is a small station. I notice a group of sawmills to the right of the train, so I'm assuming that the main occupation of this town is cutting wood. Here's a bit of trivia for you... Where was the only U.S. mainland casualities during WWII? Right here in Klamath Falls. In May 1945, a Japanese balloon bomb killed a woman and five children on a church outing near the city.

Chemult, Oregon

I always used to say the Chemult had the smallest Amtrak station in the world. I mean the town has a population of 300... What do you expect. However, things are changing. The town got 1.2 million bucks to build a new station and construction is underway. As we pass through, I see a new foundation, and the framework is going up.

We hit Oregon City about 3:00p... It's the first city to be incorpoated west of the Rockies. We don't stop here; however, some of the homes that I see on the river look like they would take me several lifetimes to buy. This is obviously a high-scale area.

Portland, Oregon

At Portland we drop a lot of our passengers. As a matter of fact, our sleeper car is almost empty. Porland is a big city... One of the biggest in Oregon. As I look out my window, I see bikers, and joggers moving back and forth on the river walks. Oregon is known as a healthy State. Lots of joggers, exercisers, and biker types. Since we're a bit behind schedule, we're back on the road as soon as the last passengers exits the train.

Almost There

I go back to my room, do the remainder of my packing, and then spend the rest of my time in the Pacific Parlour car. We still have several hours, and so I sit by the window and look out at the Washington landscape. It's a pretty afternoon, and as I watch, the sun sets over the horizon, and nights fills the sky.

At 8:15p we pull into Seattle station. As I depart the train, I say good-bye to Harold, our train attendant and head to the taxi stand. The Amtrak station is right next door to the Seattle Mariners stadium, and currently there's a game going on. I leave the station to the sound of cheers and yells... Seattle must have made a touchdown.

At the Seattle Waterfront Marriott

It's almost 9:00a as I arrive at the hotel. The check-in goes smoothly, and five minutes later, I'm in the room. I set up my computer do some work, and hit the hay around 11:00p. Tomorrow it't the Empire Builder, and my trip across the top of the country, back to Chicago.

Read about it here...




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Keep the faith... And keep traveling
Andy Anderson