Sunday, April 15, 2012

Michael and Jean's Further AMTRAK Adventures

In Michael and Jean's Further AMTRAK Adventures, we find our heroes traveling north out of LA on the Coast Starlight, heading for home at the end of a week-long AMTRAK trip to Norman (expletive deleted), Oklahoma and back.

We boarded the train with weary relief, after having traversed the desert wastes of Arizona, New Mexico and west Texas, twice, all the while dodging increasing numbers of freight trains, forcing us to cool our wheels on anonymous sidings. We did manage to pass through Marfa, Texas without incident this time.

We made our way past the accustomed sights, the looming high rise jail in downtown LA, the Bob Hope airport where the final scene in Casablanca wasn't filmed, the cell phone towers disguised as palm trees, and the splendiferous Mission-style terminal in Santa Barbara. Life was grand.

Then, somewhere along the coast after Goleta, the train stopped... and stayed. The conductor came on the intercom and informed the 127 passengers aboard that the engine had broken and mechanics were being sent out from Goleta to fix it. "Sorry for the inconvenience."

We admired the scenery outside our roomette window, the undulating surf, the sea birds and pelicans wafting by inches above the water, a pod of porpoises surfacing amidst a passing raft of kayakers. Who could complain about such a well-arranged delay in our travels. After all, we were on the train, with everything we needed.

We did have a concern about our final destination in San José, where we were to connect with the Highway 17 express bus to Santa Cruz, but it seemed doable and a discussion with our car attendant reassured us that we should make it home pretty much on schedule.

Soon enough, the engine started up again, and the lovely scenery outside began to creep slowly backwards. We were on our way again!

All was well for a while, until the train stopped once again, and stayed... again, just outside of Oceano, south of San Luis Obispo.

"Uh-oh," we said to each other, "there goes our connection in San José."

Sure enough, the engine had broken again, the same way (something to do with the brakes), and we sat for an hour or more athwart a crossing at the edge of town. When nothing continued to happen for a significant time period, we entered into deep and meaningful discussion with the conductor about our fate should we ever make it to San José. He called ahead and verified that indeed there would be a taxi waiting for us at the station, courtesy of AMTRAK, and a station agent would be there as well to make sure we made it home as promised.

The train crew got creative and magically switched the two engines around, somehow, so we had enough power to pull into the San Luis Obispo station. We made up our beds and snoozed fitfully until finally, some time deep in the night, we pulled out again, fully powered and with functioning brakes (we assumed), on our way again, singing across the rails.

Sure enough, when we decanted from the train in San José at 3 AM, six and a half hours late, Karen, the station agent was on the job, had called for the taxi and made sure the driver knew where to take us. In less than an hour, we were home in bed, exhausted, and embraced in the arms of Morpheus.