I really like Amtrak’s 1-800-USA-RAIL automated train arrival feature. I’m sure that the ticket agents appreciate it too. Yesterday when my train, the southbound Coast Starlight (#11) was still in Oregon, I was able to check its progress. It left Portland 40 minutes late and stayed about 40 to 50 minutes late most of the way down to Klamath Falls. I set my alarm for 1:30AM so I could get to the station for a 2:19AM departure should #11 make up the time. After getting up at 1:30AM, I called 1-800-USA-RAIL for a final update on #11’s progress and it was now only 10 minutes late (leaving Dunsmuir, CA).
My grandmother drove me to the Redding depot where a surprisingly large crowd had gathered. I then remembered that #14 was due in the same hour as #11 so this was a combination of northbound and southbound riders. I sat in the car until about 2:30AM when I heard the distinct rumbling of F40PH locomotives in the distance. There is usually a breeze from the north and when a train crosses the Redding trestle (over the Sacramento River), the sound really is carried to the depot! I grabbed my bag, got out my ticket and headed for the platform. Train #11 did a “double-spot” for sleeping and coach passengers. The conductor got off the sleeping car and asked if anybody was ticketed for the sleeper. Naturally, the crowd of people immediately ran forward and tried to board the sleeping car since they didn’t know there was going to be a double-spot. I had ridden this train enough times to know that they do that for stations with shortened platforms. The conductor asked again if there were any sleeping car passengers boarding. He knew there was one person ticketed for Redding and I was the only person in the sleeper. I pushed through the crowd of people and gave him my ticket. After I got aboard the sleeping car, the conductor went to close the door and people became concerned that the train was going to leave. The conductor carefully explained that the coaches were five cars to the rear but the train would pull ahead so they didn’t have to walk. He had to explain it at least two times! Because it’s the middle of the night, it’s hard for some people to comprehend the situation. While this was going on, my grandmother and I said our good-byes.
After stepping aboard, I heard a woman say something like “Is he in a sleeper? I don’t believe it!” I couldn’t hear all her comments but she’ll be paying for her sore neck in the morning. The conductor showed me to my room and all the controls. I was too tired to interrupt him so I let him finish. We pulled forward five cars and the coach passengers boarded. I looked around the room to see if everything was in order and I noticed that the top bed was made up as well. A mint was on the pillows of each bed. The conductor said that the attendant had thought that there would be two traveling in this room. The mints were delicious! Everything seemed to be in order and all the lights and air vent worked. The usual Coast Starlight stationery, information cards, fresh flowers (in the “closet” on the floor), toiletries kit were there. Also, a box of tissues was on the bed.. Missing was the Coast Starlight timetable. I didn’t mind, as I had three of them with me. There was no route guide either, nor in the room on the way up. I did see some people in the Pacific Parlor car—which was a real Pacific Parlor car this time-- looking at route guides so they must have been in their rooms or in the Parlor car somewhere. I didn’t need one because I already have three of them! We pulled out of Redding at exactly 2:36AM, 17 minutes down.
I was delighted to see it was a Superliner II sleeper! I would have been upset if I had gotten the same car I had come up in. I sat up in bed with the lights out and watched Redding go by. Once we were out of town and it had grown dark, I leaned back and looked up at the stars. The curtains were shut when I came into the room but I prefer to have them wide open so I can sit up and see where I am. I would also be afraid I’d wake up LATE and miss the first seating at breakfast. I had always wondered if the car attendant made the bed specifically so your feet were pointing in the direction the train was traveling. This time, my head was facing in the direction of travel I really don’t care which way I face but I heard some people insist on their feet facing forward. I plugged the scanner into the AC outlet, keeping the volume low to hear any radio traffic but not to disturb others.
I awoke to find we had stopped in a siding, no doubt to meet the northbound Coast Starlight which was running about an hour late. Ten minutes later, #14 zoomed past us at full speed and I couldn’t even count the cars! Once we got moving up to full speed on the main line, I dropped off once again.
A beautiful day was in store….a very HOT beautiful day, that is. I listened to NOAA weather radio just before we arrived in Sacramento; it was supposed to be in the triple digits all the way down to San Luis Obispo. I was really tired and didn’t feel like getting up at 6AM to head to the Pacific Parlor Car so I decided to lie in bed until just before 6:30AM when the dining car would open. The hallway outside my door was getting noisy with passengers walking by from the adjacent sleeping car, so I figured they were all headed for the dining car. Then, I heard a very professional-sounding voice in the hallway what appeared to be a radio announcer! He was excellent too! I seriously thought it was a radio at first but when he said things like:
When he got to my room, the San Francisco Chronicle slid under my door right on cue while “Radio Man” was still jabbering. He quieted down when he reached the end of the hallway. Obviously this was my car attendant. I could tell this was going to be a great trip with him around!
I headed down to the dining car at exactly 6:30AM. It is a good thing I did because the dining car was COMPLETELY FULL by 6:36AM! When I entered, there were plenty of tables available. I ordered the Two Egg breakfast (over easy) with hash browns, toast, side of bacon, orange juice and coffee. Delicious as always but the toast was kind of cold. Oh well, it was crisp and I pretended it was Melba toast! My table companions were very talkative and were enjoying their trip very much. A father and his daughter boarded in Chicago and took the Empire Builder to Seattle, toured for two days, and are now are heading to Los Angeles to tour for two more days before flying home. The other woman at the table was a pre- school teacher in New York City and was traveling around the country to see friends. She boarded the Lake Shore Limited to Chicago, transferred to the California Zephyr to Sacramento where she visited with friends. Eventually, she will get down to Los Angeles and catch the Sunset Limited to New Orleans and the Crescent back to New York. Before this trip, she had never been on a train before! What a way to become an instant veteran train traveler!
When I got back from breakfast, my room was all made up for daytime travel. I sat down and turned my scanner back on when I looked up, I saw my car attendant come in and take a seat across from me! He asked if everything was satisfactory and introduced himself. His name was Donald. As he was about to leave after his introductions, I told him to wait so I could get a photo of him for my webpage! The Chief of On-Board Services had a heavy foreign accent and I think his name was Are Madella. The spelling I’m sure is wrong but that’s how it sounded.
Since we had no “work” to do in the Oakland coach yard, we got right back on time in a hurry! Even if we had been more than 45 minutes late, we would have made up the time due to lots of padding built into the schedule. Extra time is necessary to allow for work in the coach yard if any cars needed to be taken off or added. Last year, we took on four vintage Southern Pacific passenger cars (including a dome) that were being taken to San Diego for the Republican Convention. We pulled into Oakland Jack London Square at 8:55AM, 40 minutes before the scheduled departure of 9:35AM. This gave me an opportunity to explore the depot and take photos of the train. There is even a pedestrian bridge that goes over the tracks. I wanted to shoot some pictures from there but the bright orange fine-meshed cyclone fencing ruined it, so I skipped the photos. Seeing this bridge reminded me of Fullerton depot with its footbridge over the tracks but that bridge’s cyclone fencing is black and the holes are bigger so if you can get the camera lens close enough to the fence opening, it is possible to get a non-obstructed photo. I have a few photos of Fullerton on my web page.
At noon, I headed down to the dining car to see if lunch was being served because there had been no announcement made beforehand. It’s a good thing I went down when I did because the dining car was nearly filled to capacity and a waiting list was started within a minute after I was seated! The dining car chief seemed to have a bit of a cynical attitude towards the people coming in to be put on the waiting list. It appeared he didn’t want to add to the waiting list, for he would tell people that it was “one-and-a-half hours wait for lunch, maybe two.” I might have misunderstood, but he seemed to be saying it with a degree of sarcasm , as if he were telling them to get lost!
I had the 11/14 Burger with cheese, which came with potato chips. The chips were all in tact, not in little crumbs like I had had on previous Amtrak trips. For desert I had my favorite: apple pie a la mode. I sat across from two middle-aged women who got on at Portland and were traveling to see relatives in Oxnard, CA. They “claimed” to be vegetarians but I saw that one had the 11/14 burger too! They said they were on vacation so that makes it okay to indulge. An elderly woman who sat next to me was traveling from Marysville to San Luis Obispo. I don’t remember if she was on vacation or not. Nobody at my table left a tip afterwards.
When the dining car chief came to collect money from everyone, I noticed that my lunch check had been written up on a coach ticket, which would mean that they’d expect me to pay. When I travel in the sleeper, I always carry my ticket stub to prove my sleeping car status. When I told the steward that I was in the sleeper, he gave me a puzzled look. As I was getting my ticket stub out to prove it, our server came up behind him and confirmed that I was in the sleeper. The chief then said that he remembered me from breakfast and apologized for the mix-up. The server leaned down and said that “he always does this.” HE was the one who seated me as I was coming in the direction of the Pacific Parlor car, so I was obviously a sleeping car passenger. With all the constant crowds and meals to serve, it’s no wonder people who work in the dining car go crazy and forget.
It would appear that the Paso Robles depot is being re-built adjacent to the burned out one. I didn’t notice this on the way up because I was eating dinner. The building has most of the framing up already but nobody was working on it at the moment. I would assume that it was due to the 109 degree temperature outside!
A few minutes ago, I returned from the Pacific Parlor car after eating cheese and crackers and Champagne sipping. I assumed that everyone was free to help themselves to the cheese and fruit plates that were set up as soon as the announcement had been made that Champagne sipping was commencing. I went to load my plate up and got some rather snooty attitude from the Pacific Parlor car attendant. She told me to wait for everything to be set up and an announcement to be made so “everybody can have the opportunity…” or something like that. I threw the attitude right back to her and told her that an announcement HAD already been made. She walked off in a huff after that. I saw her conferring with the Chief of Onboard Services who I think was setting her straight. Maybe he witnessed her conduct towards me? I work with the public every day and that kind of behavior would not be acceptable. I didn’t get her name but she was overweight, had bright orange hair and a heavy German accent. The Chief of Onboard Services had a heavy foreign accent as well.
The Conductor appears to be acting as a tour guide, pointing out various sights and landmarks along the way. He obviously enjoys his job and loves the people. The dining car chief came through earlier with dinner reservations and I made mine for 4:30PM, the first call. With an on time departure from San Luis Obispo (3:30PM), we would most certainly get into Santa Barbara at 5:45PM. There is about half an hour of padding between these two stops.
Dinner took much longer than I anticipated. I was seated promptly at 4:30PM and our order was taken immediately. The dining car chief wanted to have everybody fed by 6PM! The dining car crew must wash all dishes and put the dining car back together before they can get off the train in Los Angeles. This speeds the turn-around time and is less work for the cleaning crews. I ordered the salmon which came with a salad, potatoes and steamed vegetables—which were steamed to “correct” softness! My dinner companions consisted of a mother and daughter traveling from San Francisco to Los Angeles where they would fly home to Pennsylvania in two days. The other woman was a veteran Amtrak traveler and was traveling to Flagstaff, AZ from Seattle, WA. She and her husband were from Ohio and had flown to Seattle to take a two-week cruise. After that, her husband flew home and she elected to take the train home and stop off at Flagstaff to visit her son in college. Since the Coast Starlight no longer connects with the Southwest Chief, she was spending the night in Santa Barbara in order to spend her one day layover in more pleasant surroundings. There are plenty of things to do in Los Angeles, but there is a huge heatwave right now and Santa Barbara is 25 degrees cooler and relatively smog free. I forgot about the several wildfires burning out of control so there is quite a bit of smoke in the sky!
Our salads came within 15 seconds of ordering, but after that, it took nearly 40 minutes to get the main course! I gobbled it down too fast to really enjoy it because I knew we were getting close to Santa Barbara judging by all the familiar sights I saw! I asked for apple pie a la mode but our server claimed there was no apple pie, but apple tart. This was a different server from lunch so I’m sure there was some below. I didn’t argue and declined desert. It would probably have taken too long to get it! With dinner finished, I left a $1 tip and headed back to my room to pack up.
We arrived in Santa Barbara 25 minutes early which made the smokers very happy. I was sad that my trip was over but I still had four days left of vacation before returning to work. I gave Donald a $5 tip as I left the train and I got a very nice Coast Starlight coffee mug! This wasn’t like the other one I had. This one was white with the Coast Starlight logo on the front of it and the train in the background. The other one is gray and has the Coast Starlight Genesis locomotive on the front. They had better change the locomotives on all the Coast Starlight souvenirs because F40PH locomotives are being used for now to cut costs. While on this vacation, I planned my next Amtrak journey! I don’t know if and when I would be taking it due to the fact that I might be changing jobs which might involve a move to another city.