Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Seattle and beyond...

Back on the train. 8 hours seems like nothing after the 30 hour jaunt.
Mark says he has a light feeling not getting into the car and driving. It’s true – I’m really relaxed again. Nothing to do but eat, nap and laugh at Mark narrating Clash of the Titans when the headphones don’t work (“Why didn’t you get me one of those cool fake beards, too? I will kill you!” “Wait wait, do not kill me. I can find you one of these fake beards if you put down that sword!”)

We settle into our seats, this time facing one another with a table between us. We buy salads and soups and orange juice. Zora gets 2 bags of Skittles with some of the $20 her grandfather gave her before we left. She shares some with us, mostly the green ones.

Zora likes this one train better than the last one. It has only one level, but plays movies and the doors between cars slide open automatically when you pass your hand in front of the sensor.

We enjoy a 55 minute layover in Seattle. I now consider a 55 minute layover an extreme sport. We tear through town, speed window shopping, looking for trouble. Found it at …an art opening! Handmade local artisans display their wares (see photo of Zora wearing locally made hat) and as long as you put your name on the mailing list they give you free wine! We try on hats, take a few pics, gulp down our wine, do more speed window shopping, ask a guy hawking tickets to the game at the stadium (next to the train station) how he likes living in Seattle, and run into the train station as they are signaling to the engineer to close the train doors. Now I understand why the conductor gave us the evil eye when I said “Just going for a quick walk!” 50 miinutes earlier.

Two hours later, as we approach the border, Zora starts asking everyone who passes our seats if there are Canadian. If they are, she does a special Canadian dance for them.

Here is the song: “C eh N eh D eh, CA-NA-DA!!!!” (I have the dance on the camera, but haven’t figured out how to upload it to this blog...)

Just when we think we will arrive on time, we are stuck for an hour waiting for a drawbridge to close. I see a bridge I hadn’t seen before, brightly lit. A Sky train goes over it and I realize that since I lived here, commuting in this city has drastically changed thanks to all the new forms of public transportation, the Sky train in particular.

Our train stops downtown near the Cambie Street Bridge where my father used to live. Zora confesses that she used to think it was the “Candy Street Bridge” (I knew that) and once she licked it just to check (I didn’t know that.)

My stepmother, Joan, and her partner, Larry, pick us up. It’s good to be home!!!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

More Day 2


Across the street from a psych facility just outside of Portland a computerized sensor detects a possible problem. The conductor complains over the loud speaker about the new fangled sensors. In the old days, the engineer in the caboose would watch the train for problems. They eliminated the engineer’s job (and the caboose!) when they invented the sensor. The crew looks everything over and finds nothing wrong with the train.

We pull into Portland an hour and a half late.

One more stop and we climb off the train in Vancouver, Washington. Mark’s half brother, Dave, drives us to their Dad's ranch.

It takes until the next day to shake the feeling of constant movement. Train legs.

Bill's stump ranch has no internet and poor cel phone reception.

I embrace the slow vacation.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Some notes on Amtrak and the easy-going travelers gone amuck

Our lovely customer service rep, Lynn, (who is paid to walk through the train and make sure everyone is happy with their trip) edumacated us a little on train travel in the US.

Apparently when Americans started traveling by rail, passenger train companies paid to ride on freight tracks. But as train travel grew more popular, the government laid track exclusively for leisure travel and commuting. (Amtrak = America Track)
Every four years Amtrak applies for subsidies from the federal government. Depending on the administration, trains get more or less in subsidies.

Prior to 9/11, train travel had dropped off to next to nothing and the government was considering pulling the rug from Amtrak altogether. Now rail ridership is up.

We pass ride alongside the San Andreas fault line. The conductor has a soft spot for puns. “If you experience an earthquake while riding this train, it is not Amtrak’s fault. It is the San Andreas fault.” Or later close to Monterey: “There are many types of birds in this area. Along the shore here you will see seagulls, but closer to the Monterey Bay you will see bay-gulls (bagels).”

After dark, the lounge car gets interesting. We play Bananagrams and can’t help but listen in on the drunken conversations, especially one in which two young guys hypothesized whether the other is homosexual:
“Just imagine, Dude, one of us could be on this trip and discover we’re gay.”
“Do you find me attractive?”
“Nah. I mean I don’t know. Because I’m not a girl.”
“But you said you could be discovering you’re gay.”
“I’m not gay. I just mean one of us could turn gay like that on this trip.”
“Do you find me attractive?”

Three other inebriated travelers share stories at another table. One of these three is traveling with his teenage daughter who, visibly embarrassed, sits at a separate table, trying to seem as if she were traveling alone. In between discussions about his jobs working for various environmental groups, the father addresses his daughter. Here’s one exchange:
“What’re ya eatin’?”
(Daughter ignores him.)
“Frosted Flakes?”
“That’s ok. Sometimes.” (to his new buddies) “I let her eat that crap sometimes, but mostly she eats real good. Veggies and stuff.” (to his daughter) “Eat yer whole foods, b****! (laughter).

You get the idea.

So after a night of intermittent sleep in the EZ Boy-esque recliners, we wake up (Day 2!) and walk through the lounge car. It now resembles a hen house, the floor evenly littered with sunflower seed shells. Some of the guys sleep face down at their table.

But the sun is up and Mount Shasta’s glaciers gleam above us. We cross a valley, glide alongside a river. We eat scrambled eggs and grits in the dining car while watching fat cows begin their day grazing in lush meadows.

Two of the larger guys wake up still drunk and belligerent and are kicked off the train.

We haven’t hit the border of Oregon yet. But it’s coming.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Day one of the Slow Vacation. So far so good.

Taking a train to Canada? Why?

Heard of slow food? You take time to gather the food from fresh, local sources. Nothing from a can. It takes time.

Train travel allows for an appreciation of all the ingredients of the trip: the stretch of land, the train itself, the food, and of course the people.

People who travel by train are a unique bunch. Or is it the gentle rocking of the train that turns the white knuckled freeway driver into an easy-going conversationalist? Everyone one of us started the trip scurrying through the bustle of Union Station but once on the train, a peaceful thought hits you: I’ve got 30 hours to do … nothing and everything. Read a book, play a game, talk, look out the window, sleep. It’s an embarrassment of riches in an area we so rarely enjoy these days: time.

The idea for the trip originally grew from our deep frustration with the BP oil spill and a sense that things are never going to get better unless we all make some serious changes and reduce our oil use. We had let go of the second family car about 4 years ago, bike and walk when we can, wear sweaters in the winter, etc but we thoroughly enjoy traveling. And we both have family and friends far from our mountain town. How to reconcile our desire to have a more positive impact on the environment, and yet travel what the esteemed journalist and global warming expert, George Monbiot, calls “love miles” to visit loved ones? Train travel as it turns out is one of the lowest carbon ways to travel.

But I had forgotten how much fun it is, too.