I arrived at the Santa Barbara depot at 11:10 AM. Although my Amtrak Thruway bus to Bakersfield didn't leave until 11:40 AM, I wanted to allow plenty of time just in case I encountered long lines of angry displaced Coast Starlight passengers at the ticket counter! I was very surprised to find only two other passengers waiting inside the depot with nobody waiting at the ticket counter! I was instructed earlier that morning by the agent at 1-800-USA-RAIL to show my tickets to the agent at Santa Barbara in order to change my travel plans and confirmation that all trains/buses were operational. Due to flooding and many track washouts of the Union Pacific Coast Line, my original plan of taking train #14, The Coast Starlight was literally "washed away!" Knowing this in advance, I was considering to scrubbing the entire trip. I would only be riding in Coach for this particular segment and it would not have been that horrible to ride a bus part way for this segment only. My alternate route I chose was to take an Amtrak Thruway bus to Bakersfield and change to a San Joaquin train through the San Joaquin Valley. Those trains are equipped with the new Amtrak California equipment and I had never ridden the San Joaquin route.
I handed my "book" of tickets to the ticket agent and explained to him that I had spoken with an agent at Amtrak's 800 number and sought a different route to Sacramento. The agent entered my reservation number off the ticket and began clicking away on his computer. I could hear him talking to himself and at the computer and I heard him say things like "This is not right!....Hmmm, San Joaquin 717 is not running today it says here." Oh my, I'm in trouble now! The agent continued clicking on his keyboard, picked up the phone, and dialed an Amtrak telephone number for ticket personnel, as he was on a first-name basis with the party he was speaking to. After what seamed like an eternity, he came back to the window and said everything was set and to wait for the boarding call for the bus to Bakersfield. What a relief that was. The alternative was to see if Amtrak would pay for me to fly to Sacramento in order to catch the California Zephyr the following morning, or simply refund my entire trip. It would have been a shame to cancel the trip after I had already packed everything and I was AT the station! US 101 had closed overnight at Ventura due to flooding of the Ventura River, so even the bus was in danger of cancellation. Fortunately, the highway opened up in the nick of time--two hours before my bus was to depart Santa Barbara!
The bus pulled out of the depot at 11:42 AM and I was on my way! This is not a way to begin a TRAIN TRIP but it was the best that could be done after an onslaught by El Nino the previous day that made rail travel impossible. It was bright and sunny with a few puffy clouds capping the mountains and rain was the last thing on my mind. Temperatures were in the 60s and a stiff breeze from the west. The call for boarding came at 11:25 AM and I made my way to the front of the depot where the bus was waiting. I handed the driver my tickets and the driver thumbed through all of them briefly. I guess conductors look through to see your entire journey either because they are required to or just for curiosity. The bus driver exclaimed in a humorous voice: "Wow you have enough tickets here that you could go all the way to China!" I sure did! There were a total of seven passengers on the bus plus the driver, so everyone could spread out comfortably.
Going by La Conchita and Seacliff, I could see so many hillsides that had washed out during the height of the storm, plus a huge brigade of Union Pacific track workers all along the line armed with huge trucks of Ballast (gravel for rail bed), front-end loaders and "hirailer" vehicles.
As we were leaving Ventura, we turned on to a bus access road that was within a few feet of the tracks and when I looked out the window, it reminded me of being on a train and watching the adjacent track. We veered away from the rails and the brief fantasy was over. Too bad this bus was not equipped with "hirail" equipment so we could just travel the rails like the Regio Sprinter, a "bus with railroad wheels." When we approach a slide or washout, we simply get off the tracks and drive on surface streets around the slide and get back on the tracks past the affected area.
We arrived at 12:30 PM and four passengers boarded.
The weather turned nasty over Interstate 5's Grapevine Summit. No snow was falling but it was very cold and windy with heavy rain falling. We had to detour near Pyru on route 126 due to a slide and again at the Interstate 5 and Highway 99 interchange due to bridge damage from high waters. Those detours delayed us about half an hour. Some nice schedule padding got the Thruway bus to Bakersfield in plenty of time to meet Train 717, the San Joaquin.
I just returned from the Lounge/Dining/Snack car where I enjoyed a microwaved turkey cheese sandwich along with potato chips and a Diet Pepsi. Everything was quite tasty except the Sesame seed bun was a bit rubbery. I don't like Pepsi but, unfortunately, Amtrak has a 6-year contract with Pepsi Co. and Coke won't be riding Amtrak trains for a long time. I won't mention Pepsi again, rather I'll just say a diet "cola" if I do have Pepsi. I really enjoy drinking Sprite or 7UP which will provide me a nice out for Pepsi. I saw what appeared to be a full-service dining section in the snack/lounge car but it was very unclear what to do. Do I seat myself or does an attendant show me to a table? Is it "community seating?" There were a few other passengers eating already so there must be somebody working this section. I stood around for a few minutes but an attendant never made an appearance. The meals in the "full service" section were nearly double the cost of the snack section, so I just opted for a cheaper meal to save money.
Most of the ride was uneventful and the scenery was not too thrilling. The aftermath of yesterday's storm really took its toll on the Central Valley. Nearly every field we passed was flooded and there was water on both sides of the tracks just inches from the ballast bed! I think at one point we were traveling THROUGH water! There was a 5 MPH slow order with a BNSF maintenance-of-way crew watching us roll by. I saw waves rippling away from the train so the water must have been atop the rails. Murphy's law applied once again as there was a family of three in front of me and, you guessed it, a girl of about two years of age who screamed and fussed the entire trip. Never have I seen a such a lack of parental discipline in my life. I think that prospective parents should be forced to complete and pass a "basic parental discipline" course before conceiving a child. The parents seemed like nice, decent people but their child was definitely "runnin' the show" and getting the last word in. Unfortunately, this child was already versed in the "s**t" word and when angry, repeated it loudly at both her parents. Sad situation. The mother had a British accent and the father appeared to be a South African National as he spoke with that type of accent. I would have been whipped beyond recognition if I had behaved that way!
I had no trouble locating the Vagabond Inn, since it is located directly across the street from the Amtrak Station! As we drove in, I spotted the hotel and paid close attention to where it was as we maneuvered into the depot complex. I was told the street was quite difficult to cross as it's an on-ramp to THREE freeways that meet there! Since it was not rush hour, there wasn't much traffic but I did have to sprint across the street with cars bearing down on me! Tomorrow will be another story as it will be rush hour and I will have to utilize a nearby crosswalk. Checking into the Vagabond was a hassle. The clerk couldn't find any paperwork on my reservation and the hotel was booked solid for *4 days!!* Fortunately, I had my confirmation number and gave it to her so she could call the central reservations department. They faxed the reservation information to her and all was set. It got very busy with phones ringing, faxes coming in and the clerk appeared very flustered at this. She was an older woman with a heavy smoker's voice who had looked like she'd been around for 100 years! She was not the friendliest person to deal with, but she was trying her best under the situation. I guess that's why she worked the graveyard shift.
The Vagabond was renovating many of its rooms and I think that mine was just completed since it smelled of fresh paint. I don't mind that though. The room door lock was extremely difficult to open. I fiddled with it for about 5 minutes before I could get the door open. There were two keyholes, one for the guest's key and the other other is what appeared to be the master key for the maids or management. I was worried that if someone saw me trying to open my own room, they would suspect that I was a thief trying to break in! I finally discovered the trick necessary to open the door and it was no problem from then on.
I was a tad hungry so I decided to venture down to the attached Denny's restaurant It sure was convenient and I was too tired to walk around looking for a place to eat. I had their sampler dish of onion rings, chicken strips and cheese sticks with dipping sauces To drink I had an ice tea. After returning to my room, I decided to write this travelogue using my sister's Macintosh PowerBook 145B laptop computer that she was so generous to loan me. It saves me so much time to write the trip reports as I experience them rather than dictate into a cassette recorder and try to sift through many hours of tape at the end of my trip. It's hard to write a good travelogue when trying to re-live the experience a week after the fact!