Sunday, April 30, 2006

Train 14: sleep gaze eat gaze eat gaze sleep

We reach the highest point of the Coast Starlight's route a little while later, with the mountains behind us and to the right, and the vast valley around Grass Lake on our left. The landscape between the mountains is gentle but dry, with red soil and scraggy looking plants. The sky is blue though, and as we start to go downhill the train picks up a bit of speed. I am yawning, despite a dozen cups of coffee at breakfast. I must be an addict, it doesn't have the same effect on me any more.

During the course of the day, the train's parlour car attendant comes over the PA. The Coast Starlight is unusual for Amtrak, in that sleeper passengers normally have an extra car at their disposal, called the Pacific Parlour Car. These refurbished cars offer a well stocked library, wood panelled lounge, large screen movies and wine tastings. However, a mechanical fault in Los Angeles (the train's base) has meant that the sleeper passengers are without their lounge - probably a big downer for anyone who's saved up and been planning a big trip in first class for some time. To compensate the first class 'reception' and wine tasting takes place in the restaurant car during the afternoon. I, of course, with my rail pass ticket, am not invited, so it's not exactly earth shattering news.

Just before lunch time we pass through Chemault, Oregon. The station is another minimalist blink-and-you-miss-it transport facility. There is, however, an intriguing little minibus waiting for passengers with 'Redmond Airport Shuttle' written on the side. I'm guessing this would be a fairly risky connection to make for an aeroplane, considering we're now four hours schedule.

I've not been in the mood for reading or window gazing much on this ride, so I decide to partake of the only other respectable activity on board: eating. This will be my last chance to see if the Amtrak kitchen can make up for my disappointing dinner the other day with a cheaper lunch. So I head down the train around 12.30, and wait to be seated. I sit down with two other men (one of whom was briefly in the chair next to me last night) and a woman. The conversation is slow to start with (there is at least one hangover joining us at the table) but over the lunch menu we start chatting about where we've been and where we're going. As usual, my itinerary takes top trumps for length and probably also for stupidity.

I order the ham and swiss sandwich, which comes with a pile of crisps on the side. Followed by a strawberry cheesecake, it's actually not bad at all, and for $11.50 is a damn sight more reasonably priced than dinner service. So follow my advice next time you go long distance on Amtrak: head to the restaurant for breakfast and lunch, but pack your own dinner. Just don't expect to let the experience linger - as soon as our plates were cleared they were taken away, and before my desert had been ordered, my bill had been brought. The staff in the restaurant car evidently don't like you to linger.

So, four new acquaintances bid each other farewell, and I head to the lounge car. I pick up a hefty copy of the 'Sunday Oregonian' but after ten or fifteen minutes my eyelids are getting heavy. I break my own rule (which I usually follow to help me sleep at night on the train) and head back to my seat for some shut-eye.

I doze off as Oregon slips past...

1 comment:

chicagogirl said...

It sounds like you are truly having a good journey! As for me, I ended up sitting in front of a just-out-of-rehab, snaggle-toothed, redneck alcoholic crackhead on the way back from Denver. He, quite unfortunately, had a relapse of sorts on the train and spent the entire trip high and drunk -- and obnoxious (kept calling me "brown sugar"). Fortunately he got off at Ottumwa, leaving the rest of us heading to Chicago with a few hours of peace. You telling the story about dining with somebody who appeared to be hungover reminded me of him.

It strikes me that Amtrak really has no effective way of dealing with disruptive passengers. With our guy, a few of us basically cornered him and told him to shut the hell up and sleep it off "or else." None of us knows what the "or else" would have been but it worked. Then as he was getting off at Ottumwa, he hit up as many people as he could for $5 each. Even in its hilarity, it was pretty sad.