A day on a train. 23 hours, in fact – my longest journey on a US train right at the beginning. I hopped on late last night and all was quiet – aside from the couple in front, who ignored the instruction that ‘it’s quiet time’ and chatted while watching tv, but they were reasonably quiet about it. He got off around 6 in the morning, at Sacramento, leaving her to spread out and finally get some sleep. It’s a bit odd getting on a train in dark that has been going for a while, a little like entering somewhere that’s had a party, but that’s now over and everyone is going to sleep. Oh, and this guy and that girl are the wild cards, we’ve all seen them in action but for you it’s discovery time.
A few people watched us new arrivals on to the train, but only from curiosity rather than threat. The one wildcard was a youngish woman up ahead, who seemed to turn some inquiry of the attendant into a problem, though I didn’t pay enough attention to really know what her problem was. I did later discover that she has a slight problem with locks – once you’ve stripped for a wash in the largest restroom, sliding and checking the lock is an essential skill.
Jaw drop. Eyes drop. Suspected nakedness confirmed. Door shut. “Sorry love!”
The trip was great, though. I didn’t sleep much, letting podcasts take me to sleep at midnight then waking several times to see city lights go by or darkness when we were on the plains. Half the carriage got off at Sacramento, giving the rest of us space, and we sat parked at the station for a while as the sun came up. I slept a little in the daylight but there is a glorious lounge car on an Amtrak super liner, portrait windows open into, though not quite across, the roof, and I trusted seat61.com that there were usually seats available. I moved in after Martinez station. My neighbour got off there, glad her long journey from Seattle was over and a little friendlier for it. She had apologised for being ‘all over me’ during the night, but it was only a little overspill. Which she couldn’t really help.
I was given a new neighbour and decided at that point to give us both some space and took my book to the lounge. Comfortable, seats facing out, snacks available downstairs. This journey couldn’t go on too long, really. A good mentality, because LA was our final stop, 9pm. It doesn’t look far enough on the map, but it took nearly that long, with us arriving at 8.30pm. I had spent my time finishing a book, looking out whenever the conductor gave us the steer. As we passed through a nature reserve Moss landing (sp.), inspiration for Steinbeck, was on to one side. Seals were lounging by the water and later a lone cyclist on the road gave the train a wave. See ya, sucker/s, from both sides.
Reading an article in National Geographic from 1982 about Angkor Wat, I was struck by mention of the casualties in the 70s. Not so much the numbers, as the comparison – 1-3 million out of 7.5 would have equated to 30-90 million of the US population. How the population has grown since then. I think the author would be pleased that the temples have been saved, though.
In the mid afternoon we made it to the coast, first the sea visible through hills and then the full shore. The inland side holds a massive military base, the beach on the sea side is public but can only be reached by boat because of the base. Off shore platforms dotted the horizon for a large portion of the journey. After two hours by the coast we stopped at Oxnard and turned inland. It was dark when we arrived in LA but Union Station was easy to navigate, I found my way onto Main Street and walked, crossing streets 1st through to 6th, with the streets busier and busier as I went. Lonely Planet suggests Tinseltown attracts a better class of performer, but I wasn’t convinced by a lone trumpeter. The drummers near 5th were better but the highlight was the rap battle; a parking lot off to one side, a tattooed and pierced youth dancing over the bonnet of a truck while another rapped into a microphone. Loud and American, just perfect – if generally adding to my sense of dislocation. A quick hit of culture, though, then I was into my grand hotel/hostel. It used to have a reputation, as the Cecil Hotel, though I only know that because it is alluded to in reviews of the ‘check out this name and you’ll know what I mean!’ I quite liked the place – no real communal areas, but small rooms, so just a two bed dorm for me, with Korean Jeremy who was young and curious about life. After we’d both escaped for food – I wondered where I could go, but there was a wrap and rice place right next door and I was empty enough to even take the free iced tea and enjoy it – we stayed up and talked in broken English about philosophy, life and philosophies of life.
Reading: Michael Farquhar, A Treasury of Deception