Try Checking Out All That Scenery

A high school teacher of mine had been a naval officer before his career in education. He enjoyed mocking the Navy’s slogan back then – “Join the Navy and see the world” – by adding “… through a porthole.”

I was reminded of that on the final leg of my recent Around-the-US rail odyssey, the three-hour ride from Los Angeles to San Diego on Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner. My version went, “Ride the Surfliner and see the ocean … through dirty windows.”

After this train clears all the urban and industrial sprawl south of LA, it runs along the coast, often just 50 or 60 feet from the edge of the beach itself. There are swimmers and surfers in the water, and families wave at the train from their towels spread out on the beach. And so it’s really a disappointment when the windows are dirty … and on that particular day, they were really dirty!

In fairness, this photo makes the windows look somewhat worse than they really were. I guess shooting through the window into the sunlight did that. Nevertheless, they were very dirty and obviously hadn’t been washed in many days. I walked through several other cars and all the windows looked the same.

Furthermore, the inside of the train had also been neglected. This is a shot of the dirt – not dust, dirt! – that had accumulated on the narrow ledge at the base of the window on the inside of the car.

As you can tell, this is one of my hot buttons. Amtrak justifiably promotes the LA to San Diego trip as one of its most used, most popular and most scenic trains. It’s hard to imagine any kind of valid excuse for the condition of those cars on that day.

And there you have my gripe-of-the-day. However, to put all this into context, I must add that the rest of my rail journey of some 8200 miles went very well, as I will be reporting here in coming days.