Riding the Rails (May 27 - June 3, 2002)
The night before I left I didn't sleep well. Was petrified
that I'd sleep late, that somehow the train tickets wouldn't work, that
I'd get robbed while napping on the train, etc. All ridiculous - I travel
all the time from DC to Hartford so am used to long train trips.
But nothing like four days.
Oakland to Los Angeles on the San Joaquins (May
Joaquins train route and info)
Dad and Carmen took me to the train station. We confirmed
with the Amtrak people that despite our getting there 45 minutes early
that no the train hadn't left yet (yes, I'm that freaky when traveling).
Then it got there, and I got on.
(above) Me, Carmen and Dad right before I boarded
Settled into a seat and saw Dad and Carmen there on the
platform waving at me. As soon as the train started pulling out of the
station I started crying. Not a big jag or anything, just the closed
throat quieter tears as how much I was going to miss them miss living
in CA hit me. Chokes me up still, even now.
Train went north towards Richmond (passing right by my
old apartment - we could always hear the train go by but I never really
thought about that meant passengers could actually look up at it), then
turned to travel south down the central valley. The trip itself was
unexciting - through Fresno, Modesto, down to Bakersfield. So what did
I do? Read and knit.
(Above) knitting needles at the ready
Got into Bakersfield and had to transfer to a bus to LA.
The woman who sat next to me on the train said something about how it
would have been to hard to put train tracks up/around the steep grade
into LA - don't know if it's true but it sounds plausible. But I will
tell you that the bus transfer scene in Bakersfield is out of control.
Picture a few hundred people, seven or eight buses, poor signage, inaudible
loudspeaker announcements, absent Amtrak personnel, disinterested bus
divers, and the grinding fear you'll be left in friggin Bakersfield
because you can't figure out what damn bus you're supposed to get on.
Miraculously, I got there fine. Which was great because
the train station in Los Angeles is so amazing.
(Above) The train station in LA - a nice place to
my two hour layover.
The waiting rooms are a mass of gorgeous art-deco-oh-I-don't-know-what-period.
Ceiling is coffered, huge chandeliers hang, doors are open on either
side of the hall letting breezes sift through and a view of the courtyard.
Los Angeles (CA) to Las Vegas (NM) on the Southwest
Chief (May 27 - 28, 2002)
Chief train route and info)
When they called the train I joined the running (okay,
strolling) horde. Because I stroll faster than most I managed to secure
a window seat.
(Above) my waking/ resting place from LA to LV. Notice
the snack, wallet, and multiple books on the seat and the knitting bag
protruding from the backpack.
By the time we left LA it was almost 8. They announced the movie in
the Lounge car but I was feeling sleepy and antisocial so decided to
read for a while ("How to be Good" by Nick Hornby) then go
to sleep, somewhere past Fullerton.
It was one of the most uncomfortable nights in recent memory. I had
both seats to myself but there was no peace to be had. Slept in 45 minute
or so chunks - curled up on one side, flipped to the other side, sitting
up, anything. Think I managed six hours or so overall, then I gave up
at around 6:30 with cricks in every part of my body. Other people on
the train seemed to sleep easier.
(Above) Sleeping passengers, outside Flagstaff
We left LA after dark so I couldn't see much of anything then. But
Arizona in the morning was beautiful - desert and scrub trees and empty
highway zipping by.
(Above) Arizona desert, early morning
(left) Mmmmmm. Coffee
By around 8 other people started getting up. Most of the seats around
me were families with kids so I got to hear someone's Scooby Doo sticker
book and someone else's gameboy. I ate the orange I brought with me
rather than brave the scary train food. By late morning we crossed into
(Above) At least they said this was the Arizona/ New Mexico border
The rest of the day was pretty quiet - just read and knitted and looked
up and out the window. We got into Albuquerque at around noon and had
a hour or so layover. Then we began the slow chug to Vegas.
(Above) Cars and dust along the train tracks
It wasn't all desert wasteland (though I'd already seen that if you
want to see the toniest part of the town the train tracks probably weren't
the best view) - the ride from Lamy to Las Vegas was amazing. Train
traveled slow due to the curvy tracks and inclines - there were times
when were were just a few feet from canyon walls.
(Above) More than a few feet but still close to canyon walls
We got to Vegas at 3:45 pm. My grandmother picked me up at the station.
We ran a couple of errands then headed home.
(Above) The train station in Las Vegas NM
Vegas, baby, Vegas (May 28 - June 1, 2002)
Las Vegas, NM where my grandparents live is a beautiful example of
a once-larger railroad town that hit it's heyday in the early 1900s
and has been valiantly holding on ever since. It's rife with historic and
not historic but still cool buildings.
(Above) I like the sign at Murphey's. But the Virtual
Tour of Las Vegas has many more and better photos of the cool places
They moved there was I was nine and I used to visit every summer until
High School or so. There wasn't a lot to do then and there isn't much
more now. My grandfather works, my grandmother hangs out at home. We
shop, run errands, visit family, have dinner at Pino's or the Hillcrest,
and go to church.
(Above) Collection of prayer cards
Had a great time visiting. My grandparents are wonderful - sharing
family history or just talking about the events of the day. I was the
only grandchild for ten years; being coddled by them for a few days
reminded me of growing up, and being with them was just ... being home.
(Above) My grandfather, with one of his beloved trees
Whenever I visit my grandfather lets me help out with whatever outside
work he's doing. This summer the drought there is horrible - by the
time I left they were prohibiting all watering and talking rationing.
Now, my grandfather has a green thumb and a great yard - no grass but
trees, roses and raspberries galore. Not wanting to break the law and
not wanting everything to die, he and my grandmother have been collecting
grey water from the washing machine's rinse cycle. Every load yields
three to four buckets of soapy water which my grandmother would fill
and place in the hall and my grandfather or I would take outside.
(Above) Grey water ready to get carried outside.
Once the large trash containers outside were filled with the slightly
soapy water, he and I took his red wagon and five gallon containers
and roamed the property watering the roses and trees (alas, the raspberries
went without because the water isn't potable).
Along with plants, my grandfather's other outdoor love are birds. He's
got a couple of bird feeders out back and a dish of fresh water. The
feeder's have to be filled every couple of days - birds from all over
(Above) bird feeders and water out back
After a few days rest, hanging out, and of course knitting it was time
to head out. I called to check on the train and found out it was two
hours late - the three of us went to the train station at the revised
time and waited.
(Above) Looking down the tracks, waiting for the
After an extra half hour the train arrived, we said our goodbyes and
I hopped on my sleeper car.
(Above) my grandparents and me at the train station
Las Vegas (NM) to Chicago (IL) on the Southwest
Chief (June 1-2, 2002)
We got on the train at 6:30 or so, the attendant showing me my sleeper
compartment then ushering me up to dinner. Meals are included in the
exorbitant sleeper car price so I had a steak, a salad and some coffee....
then sat and watched the mesas fly by. Saw some antelope, turkeys, and
a whole lot of scrub trees.
(Above) Sunset over the Colorado desert
Went back to my compartment, dropped off my book and picked up my knitting.
Headed up to the lounge car - they were showing "The Count of Monte
Cristo" (saw it back in CA with Lisa but it's swashbuckling satisfying
enough to see again). Got back and the attendant had converted my bed
for me - thank goodness because the instructions looked freaky.
(Above) Any bedroom that requires instructions is
a bit intimidating
But it was awesome - folded the covers and everything, she cleverly
corralled my scattered things into the small storage space left.
Went to sleep in Colorado, woke up in Kansas.
(Above) The unfolded bed - no sleeping in a chair
(above) The all-important knitting gets prime bedside
The mattress was thin and the sheets slightly scratchy,
I couldn't get the door to lock and the train's movement was a little
hard to sleep to. But I slept well and hard - waking up without cricks
or pains was completely worth the cost. It was about 7 - I washed up
in the 3' x 3' standing shower (at least that door locked) then went
up for breakfast. Got a table to myself - the rest of the sleeping car
are late risers I guess - read and looked out the window.
(Above) Kansas in the morning
Went back to my compartment and reveled in the space and
privacy of it. Stuck my feet up on the chair across from me, called
people on my phone whenever I could get a signal, listened to music,
read, and enjoyed having time to think, not having to do anything in
I think that was my favorite part of train travel - the
pace is so slow and deliberate, even when you're moving fast you still
look out the window and see every inch of it go by. I knew I was going
to be traveling for a while yet, there was no speeding it up, so it
freed me to just relax.
(Above) One of the many many fields-with-barn along
However, sometimes there was nothing to do but relax -
as a passenger train we had to spend a fair amount of time waiting while
freight trains took priority on the tracks and zoomed by.
(Above) Midwest train tracks. Notice that we're not
The coolest part of this section of the trip (other than getting to
sleep lying down) was crossing the Mississippi. I was on the phone
with one my project partners and the conductor announced that we were
about to go across. Now I've been on the Mississippi down in Louisiana
while visiting family but this was different. Bigger. Crossing this
big psychological, physical boundary - it really just made the whole
crossing the country deal more real. Can't really describe it, but it
was giddy, amazing.
(Above) The Mighty (though grey) Mississippi
Fields, old hotels, factories, and more fields - that was most of the
view along the way. Occasionally along the tracks there'd be some group
waving, or some kid flipping us off. And as a lover of kitsch, I appreciated
the old neon signs advertising usually already-closed restaurants or
(Above) One of the many cool signs along the way.
And woo hoo - look at the cars silently cursing out long train!
We got into Chicago two hours late and the attendant said as a result
the connection to Washington would be delayed by a little bit. Spent
the next two hours standing in the waiting area talking on the phone,
reading, and listening to Amtrak personnel not tell us what was going
on. Was annoyed but soon learned that the two hour delay was only the
Chicago (IL) to Washington (DC) on the Capitol Limited
(June 2-3, 2002)
Limited train route and info)
Got settled in the compartment, actually the same exact compartment
I had on the earlier leg of the trip. The compartments all look alike,
and actually it was handy not to have to memorize a new location. Had
dinner, the attendant had turned down my bed while I was away, and I
settled in for some reading and blissfully recumbent sleep.
(Above) My compartment from Chicago to DC. I guess
I'd just started the Katharine Graham book at that point.
Went to sleep in Indiana, woke up in Ohio. When I went to sleep we
were running two hours late, when I woke up we were running five hours
Getting up seemed ridiculous while we were going nowhere slowly. Asked
the attendant just to leave the bed down and spent much of the day lounging
and reading. Called Demmert to get D's work number, called D to let
her know I'd be late and would call when I got closer.
The attendant said we should be able to make up some time - instead
we lagged later and later and by mid-Pennslyvania we were running seven
So I continued settling in. Things started getting more industrial,
less picturesque. Or maybe I was just less inspired.
(Above) The view from the (dirty) window
By around Maryland and West Virginia I got hopeful that we would actually
arrive in DC, and things did start getting prettier.
(Above) Green green trees along the tracks in W.
We pulled into Union Station, I got off the train and knew I was home.
The smell of the humidity in the air, the heat, all that granite and
marble, and once I got out of the station the capitol right there; God,
it felt so right to be back.
Called D and let her know I was in; she and Fergus picked me up and
took me over to her old place. They dropped me off with some dinner
and a 12-pack of beer, and I started living in DC again.
(Started July 24, completed July 30)