Train #11, the southbound Coast Starlight was scheduled to arrive in Davis at 6:48 AM but after calling 800-USA-RAIL, #11 was running about 58 minutes late out of Chico. I knew, however, the train had about 45 minutes of schedule padding built in between Chico and Sacramento so I knew I didn't have much time to spare. The weather was crystal clear and slightly nippy temperatures in the mid 40s. Pretty chilly for a Spring day but great train riding weather! I had my usual compliment of gadgets for a trip such as this: scanner, camera, Altamont California Timetable #11, micro cassette tape recorder for logging notes and my new GPS unit for tracking of my trip! I was concerned that the thick metal of the train would disrupt signals from the satellites but if I placed the unit's antenna right up against the glass, I could get a strong enough signal to at least track my speed and position. While in each station, I marked the exact position of the depot so I could refer to it on future train trips and know EXACTLY how far the next station stop was. Very handy tool but mainly a fancy toy.
I had no problem finding a great parking spot upon arriving at the Davis Amtrak station. I immediately went inside the depot and obtained a parking permit for the day. Parking is free at Davis but you MUST have a parking permit or you will be cited by Davis parking enforcement and possibly towed away. All you do is show the station attendant your tickets and the attendant will gladly stamp a parking permit with the current date. It was a GREAT sunrise and the station glowed an adobe red/orange color in the morning sun, so I took several photos around the station.
No sooner did I place the parking permit slip in my car did I hear the faint sound of an Amtrak whistle! I gathered my backpack and other belongings I was taking on the trip and headed for the platform. Train #11 arrived at exactly 7:00 AM. I misjudged where the Coaches would be stopping and found myself in front of the Sleeping cars! I had to hoof it about 5 cars to my coach car which was directly behind the Sightseer Lounge car. The car attendant at the door looked at my ticket and told me to sit wherever I wanted. I went upstairs and at first couldn't' find any window seat but then noticed a few open pairs of seats near the front of the coach. I sat 4 rows from the end of the car near the Lounge on the left-hand side. As soon as I sat down, I knew I would hear that door near me opening and closing more than any other door in any other Coaches! Why? Since most Coach passengers frequent the Sightseer Lounge car, my car is the last Coach that all other coach passengers must walk through to reach the lounge and Dining car. Since I was seated very close to the door I would see ALL other Coach passengers from the cars to the rear including the car I was in walk past me. That would mean a lot of door opening and closing, opening and closing! When I used to go to Redding from Santa Barbara, I would be seated in this very same coach (behind the lounge) because it was the only door that would open in Coach for Redding, so I'm well aware of the foot traffic that this car endures!
As soon as my car attendant came upstairs, she found me and placed my hat check above my seat. I knew what that meant…off to the Dining car for breakfast! As soon as I stood up, the car attendant suggested breakfast in the dining car but I was way ahead of her! She didn't seem to enthusiastic about her job and spoke in a monotone voice most of the time. I didn't find that unusual about Coach car attendants but on the Coast Starlight, I expect better service on the Coast Starlight. I would be unpleasantly surprised at the rest of the staff in the Dining car.
Breakfast was delicious as usual but the service was far from acceptable in my opinion. I entered the dining car and saw the usual action, servers serving food to customers but there was no Dining car steward seating anybody. I stood in the entrance about 3 minutes and seemed to be ignored by all attendants. I walked slowly down the middle of the aisle until I reached the very end of the Dining car! I even walked past a table full of Dining car crewmembers just sitting there talking up a storm! I turned around and walked back to the center of the car and had to stand right in the middle of the aisle in the way before someone noticed me! A rather surely waitress asked me if I needed any help. I simply said :"One for breakfast." The waitress told me to hang on a moment and she leaned down the stairwell to the kitchen and yelled for the Dining car steward to return to seat me. The Dining car steward came up the stairs, walked past me without even making eye contact and the waitress said to follow him. I followed very closely behind him, almost running him down to get his attention. He turned around and asked if I needed help. Again I said: "One for breakfast." FINALLY he led me to table with 3 other people seated and I was finally able to enjoy myself. I would say that whole episode lasted only 5 minutes but usually the food servers will at least greet you and tell you to wait while they get the Dining car steward, not just ignore you like you weren't even there. The Dining car steward was probably down in the kitchen solving a problem but still I felt unimportant.
At the table I sat with a nice couple from San Francisco who were returning from Vancouver, BC, where they took a Princess cruise from San Francisco to Vancouver. We exchanged cruise stories and talked about train travel in general. The other man sitting next to me was traveling from Redding to San Jose. For breakfast I had the Coast Starlight Omelet, biscuit, potatoes and 3 cups of delicious Amtrak coffee!
We just departed Emeryville and we were ready to go just 2 minutes after the advertised departure time, but a wayward sleeping car passenger forgot to get off at his stop so the crew spent ten minutes running him down and getting him off the train! Incredible. I began monitoring my scanner closely to see if we would be going into the West Oakland Coachyard. If we didn't go into the yard, we would arrive in Oakland Jack London Square 45 minutes early! Just got word that we will be going into the Coachyard to add a couple of cars to the train! So much for our schedule padding.
I love going through the Oakland Coachyard because of all the variety of locomotives, passenger and freight cars present. Listed below are the locomotives I spotted as well as a private car on the service track:
The ride to San Jose was uneventful except for a couple of slow orders. The only power I saw was UP 1135, SP 7294 , ACE 3102, two DRGW and two other UP units (didn't get #s) on the south side of San Jose.
Just returned from a very nice lunch in the dining car. This time I was seated promptly by the dining car steward. I sat again with very nice people and the conversation at the table was non-stop from start to finish of our meals! Gail and John, a couple from San Luis Obispo were on their last leg of a month-long train trip! They started in San Luis Obispo and traveled all the way up into Eastern Canada and made their way back to San Luis Obispo. I have traveled across the country by train but did it within a week's time because I couldn't get more time off of work. Gail and John were anxious to return home to check on their animals, a couple of dogs, donkey and pork belly pig. We exchanged email addresses and after informing them I worked for Earthlink, Gail wanted to know more about Earthlink's programs. Of course I was more than happy to rave about Earthlink's promotions. For lunch I had the 14/11 burger, fries, diet Pepsi and, much to my surprise that they had it, apple pie (tort) a la mode! I have always been a big fan of Amtrak's apple pie a la mode. On previous trips, I would have it every chance I got.
Paso Robles has a very nice depot! I expected it to have a small platform where the train would have to be spotted a couple of times but the train fit perfectly. The station is not staffed by Amtrak employees but there is a travel agency in the building along with a Greyhound ticket office. I think the travel agency would charge a ticketing fee but Amtrak tickets could be purchased on-site which is convenient for travelers arriving at the station to pick up their tickets on the day of departure. After I got off the train, a friendly man said hello to me while he was picking up trash around the station. I had heard that were volunteers that hung around the depot at train times to answer passengers' questions and assist them as needed. I found a payphone and called 800-USA-RAIL to check the status of my train I would take back to Davis, #14. Amtrak said the train was running about 28 min. late so my stay would extend until about 4:48 PM.
I photographed the Paso Robles depot and walked around a bit as I didn't want to sit around for two hours waiting for #14. I wanted to explore a bit so I put my scanner and GPS unit away and started walking. I walked around the block and all I could find were lumber yards all around the depot! I crossed the tracks towards the US-101 freeway and the crossing gates came down. A short work train came roaring by at 50 MPH northbound with 2 UP units pulling. I think DS-73 referred it as the "San Ardo Job."
I picked a direction at the next cross street and started walking to the south for about half a mile and only found industrial businesses. I wanted to find perhaps a store or coffees shop to sit in for awhile. I turned around and walked the other way, passed my original point where I turned on to this street and walked about ¼ mile when I stumbled on to this very nice little coffee shop called Café Vio, which happened to be an E-café! Wow! It was just what I wanted too! There were comfortable couches, chairs and tables to sit at while I had Almond roca mocha and read a magazine I picked up on the train. There was Internet access there as well but the price was too expensive: $10/hr, $3 for 15 minutes. If I was on a trip and it would be a long time before I could check my email, I would have paid $3 to send a message to everyone. Since I was returning home the same day, I decided not to waste the money. I talked with the young woman working there and she is a Cal Poly student majoring in Landscape Architecture, so I reminisced about the good old days when I was there. I've been out of college for 10 years now. Unbelievable. Before I knew it, it was 4:10 and I had to head back to the depot to catch my train back to Davis. I once again called 800-USA-RAIL and was very glad I returned to the depot when I did, because my northbound train #14 had made up nearly all of it's lost time thanks to schedule padding in San Luis Obispo! It was now only 7 minutes late and was due to arrive at 4:27 PM. I got back to the station at 4:18 PM, a little too close for my comfort but fortunately for me I didn't know it until I actually arrived AT the station!
The only complaint I had about Paso Robles is the cellular coverage. I have an AT&T 8 western states plan with no roaming areas, supposedly. In Paso Robles, my cell phone displays "Roam" and nowhere else in the state have I seen it display that except for this little area! In Emeryville and Oakland, I have an "Extended Area" which means that the cellular company has a partnership with AT&T. I guess the one in Paso Robles does not and has an apparent monopoly in the valley!
I sat in the same car as I did coming down, well the same car geographically on the train. Yes, behind the sightseer lounge but only two rows away from the door to the lounge in seat #9! As soon as the train began to move I heard the two words that would get my attention ANY time while on a train: "Dinner reservations, anyone?" This was the dining car steward's last car so the only reservation I could get was 8:15 PM. That was fine because I was still full from lunch and my delicious coffee I had earlier in Paso Robles.
Dinner in the dining car was delicious as always. I had the baked chicken with a delicious raspberry sauce, mashed garlic potatoes green salad and diet Pepsi. For desert, I had Apple tort a la mode. When I first sat down, it appeared like it would be a very silent dinner. I have sat with a full table in which not even a single word is uttered during the entire meal! It's awkward to say the least but it has happened. This was shaping up to be just that when suddenly we all started talking at once when our salads arrived! It was non-stop chatter from there and the people were very nice. The woman next to me was touring the U.S. by herself and was going to Seattle to fly home to Japan. She was visiting friends in Iowa and had been here for a month. The young lady across from me was a UCSB student going home to Chico for Mother's Day. The woman next to the UCSB student was going home to Tacoma, WA. When paying for dinner, the dining car steward apparently didn't know how to add correctly and I nearly got into an argument with him. I think he resented me double checking his addition but he overcharged me $1. I went over the addition like a teacher would to a pupil, but he resisted and insisted he was correct. Perhaps he new he made the mistake but had too much male pride to back down. I paid the man what he said I owed and considered the extra $1 an early Christmas present to Amtrak. I was going to leave without leaving a tip because of this but my server, Stephanie was exemplary and gave outstanding service so I left a $2 tip for her.
While on the platform, I used my last 3 photos and took them of the train at night. I placed my camera on the ground and activated the shutter on a 10 second timer so my pressing the shutter release wouldn't blur the photo.
I had been fortunate not to have anybody sit next to me the entire trip today but I guess the car attendant did try and assign the seat next to me. A tall man with thick blonde shoulder-length hair plopped himself down next to me with a big THUD! I was half asleep and when I turned to look at him, he jumped up as fast as he plopped himself down and let out a big sigh as he was getting up and bolted into the lounge car. He came back through our car door, stopped, uttered a swear word half under his breath but I heard what it was, turned around on one heel and walked back inside the lounge! I saw him for the last time when he came back through our car and walked right past me. He must have found a seat further back. WHATEVER! It seems like the car attendants always put weirdoes next to me. I don't understand it. Next time I will have my wife with me!
I was very happy with the outcome of this trip. Trains ran pretty much on time but I found plenty to do while in Paso Robles. My GPS unit functioned nominally but not my cell phone. I wanted to call home several times but kept loosing the signal. It's a great train ride aboard the Coast Starlight but it proved to be a very long day!