I am trying hard to fight the romanticism of what I am about to embark on. I’m going on a train ride. A very long one. 16 hours (and 10 minutes). On Amtrak, which isn’t the Orient Express or anything close to it. Before that I have to take a commuter train (Metrolink), for an hour and a half. And before that a 45-minute car ride to Riverside, CA train station. In between, a 5 1/2 layover in Los Angeles. Oh, and then a 3-hour car drive from El Paso, TX Depot Station to Carlsbad, New Mexico, my final destination. All in all, about 27 hours of travel. Is it crazy that my enthusiasm and gushiness have not subsided?
After the 45 minute car drive I arrive at the Riverside Amtrak Station. I buy my ticket at the machine on the platform since on the Metrolink commuter train you can only purchase it on the day of.
As I approach Los Angeles the old bridge studded with graffiti seems to ask if I really want to leave. The answer is a rotund yes. I’m due for a road trip even if it is on a train!
At one of my very favorite old train stations, Union Station, I take a seat in their waiting lounge where a friend I haven’t seen in a while agreed to meet with me to make the wait before my next train shorter. It’s 5:00 pm and the rush hour commute is full on as well as a sea of blue that arrives to go to a Dodgers game.
A while back I toured a space in Union Station that housed the Harvey House which closed in the late 60’s. It was a stop to men returning home from war and those going off. It was also famous for its “Harvey Girls” which were the subject of a 1946 Judy Garland film of the same name. I often wondered why such a magnificent space hadn’t been used. Well, about a year ago the Imperial Brewing Company went in and it is there where my friend Jon and I head to. There truly isn’t anything better than a friend to the rescue, good conversation, oysters and beer.
My friend leaves and left alone I walk through “my” station. Union Station is the largest railroad passenger terminal in the Western United States and is widely regarded as “the last of the great train stations.” Inaugurated in 1939 I consider it a Grand Dame and give it the respect that entails. I love everything about it, including the characters in it. This group was singing loudly as they traversed it.
An Amtrak employee befriends me and chats with me until my time to board. Such a nice man, the kind that saves Amtrak from any criticism. He has been with the company for over 20 years. I think his name was Cyro or something like it. Thank you sir. And before I know it the time comes. I’m boarding!
I’m really glad that I checked my baggage because not having had to lug anything through the 5 1/2 hour layover was such a relief. And the storage on the train is minimal. Besides, the stairs going to the second floor on the train are so narrow people with any luggage or disability were having a rough time. I started helping people going up. As a result I was on a first-name basis with a lot of them in my wagon. I became fast friends with a retired gentleman going to Louisiana that was seated in front of me and another young man who had never been on a train, also going to Louisiana (I think they both had about a 2 day ride). The older one takes this trip 3 times a year and knows the train very well. He takes us on a tour. We settled in the observation car and chatted non-stop for hours. I now know what a lot of expressions in Louisiana mean and how to make gumbo from scratch. They were both great cooks.
We stop in Palm Springs and, with the lights, the landscape is eerie.
It’s around 2 am and we all head back to sleep a bit. I sleep soundly and quite comfortably. At 6:30 am Steve is up and looking my way. Want to go to breakfast? I say yes and off we go. He with a steady step, I bumping into the sides of the aisles. My equilibrium has never been good. At breakfast I forget my Keto diet and eat pancakes with syrup. The seating is cafeteria style and I smile inwardly when I think there’s a sense of intimacy to breakfast which I am now sharing with strangers. Train rides have a tendency to make total strangers into friends that tell you their life story.
Then to the observation car again where we claim the same seats we had last night.
As we cross Arizona we can observe the Cochise Head in the Chiricahua Mountains. If you look closely you’ll see his head, nose and chin. He’s face up.
Then we cross New Mexico (where I will backtrack to, once I “land” in Texas).
Train tracks all the way. The landscape is arid but I am most enjoying it.
I can’t believe almost 16 hours have passed since I boarded this train… 27 hours since I left home, but it must be because the conductor announces that our next stop is El Paso. I’m excited to see my friends at the station but I also am sad leaving the train. I kind of want this trip to continue on. Maybe forever. My friend tells me that I should buy burritos from this lady on the platform. They are tasty, really big, he says, and cheap at $2 each. But my friends will be picking me up and I’m sure we will eat on the way, which turns out so. We stop at a local mom and pop restaurant with fantastic service and that has their last name. I have a menudo. No. I am not keeping to a Keto lifestyle.
We have 3 hours to get to Carlsbad and as we drive we pass a checkpoint that brings back memories of 9 years ago when doing a cross country from Los Angeles to Orlando I was stopped and was questioned about my nationality and status. But that’s a long story that will be told another time.
We pass Diablo Rock where it is said that people have died on its trail from heat exhaustion. It does look quite imposing.
The sun sets, my eyes can barely stay open. Guess it was a long trip after all.
I have said that I would end my blogs with a song. One that reminded me of something or one that touches my heart in some way. I haven’t done so but I do want to, so this one ends with a video of a forever friend that just happened to have written a “little” song that Pat Benatar made famous and that forms part of many lives: We Belong. This song is one of my favorites of his, Arrows, of maybe a relationship lost but friendship gained. Dan Navarro is truly a folk legend.