Amtrak Neatly Overcomes a Glitch.

LOS ANGELES — Starting out, there was nothing particularly special about yesterday’s rail itinerary: a round-trip on Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner service from L.A. to Solana Beach, a couple of stops before San Diego, for a very brief visit with my daughter and granddaughter. The trip itself is a little over two hours, but just ten minutes into the ride, the PA cracked open and a thin male voice began warbling the Sara Lee jingle (you know … “Nobody doesn’t like Sara Lee …”) causing bemused passengers to looked up from their smart phones and iPads. The singing mercifully stopped and the Amtrak attendant in the cafe car launched into a patter about all the snack items and coffee and beverages that were available.
The conductor was a young man, in his early 30s perhaps, whose name tag identified him only as “Ray”. That seems too informal to me. First and last name would be better … more professional. I mean, what if the American Airlines captain had emerged from the flight deck wearing a name tag that said “Charlie”?

It is undeniably a nice ride down the coast, with the Pacific Ocean on the right side of the train for much of the way. However, most of the way on the left side, it’s California urban/suburban sprawl, with long stretches of light industrial use that eventually transitions seamlessly to tract homes, some completely covering ridges overlooking the ocean. I did note, sticking up from the middle of one long stretch of warehouses and auto repair shops, a cell phone tower, rather artfully disguised as a palm tree … which, of course, had the opposite effect from the intent. The “naked” tower would hardly be noticed in that location; the fake palm disguise made it stand out like a beacon.
A long stretch of track work near Oceanside slowed us down, but my daughter and granddaughter were waiting at Solana Beach and we had a nice time catching up over wonderful pizzas served at a restaurant attached to a winery in the hills with a view that stretched for probably 25 miles.
A Canadian dining car steward once told me, “You’ve got to be flexible to work for a railroad”, and that was ably demonstrated after I had been delivered back to the Solana Beach station for my return trip to Los Angeles. The locomotive on the earlier northbound train had failed in Oceanside, 16 miles north and they had been sitting in the station there for almost two hours. They were, of course, also blocking my train.
Not to worry. We left Solana Beach on time and pulled into Oceanside 20 minutes later, stopping directly behind the disabled train. First, everyone from our train was transferred to that train. Then our locomotive was uncoupled from the rear of our train (they push from the rear of northbound trains on this route), moved to the front of the disabled train, and took us all up to Los Angeles. Passengers from the earlier train had missed their connections, of course, and were glumly anticipating long bus rides. But Amtrak had assembled a new train and, once we reached Los Angeles, those passengers simply boarded that train and continued on their way. All in all, I thought it was an impressive performance.
Tonight I will board the Southwest Chief en route to Chicago. We’ll leave Los Angeles at 6:15; I’ll be in the dining car enjoying a steak and a half-bottle of wine as we go through San Bernardino, and will be comfortably in my berth (probably listening to Hawaiian music from my iPhone) by the time we get to Barstow. Breakfast will be in New Mexico. Is this the way to travel or what!
(My next post will be Tuesday from my brother’s home near Galesburg, Illinois.)