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 27, 2002)

(San 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.

me, Carmen and Dad
(above) Me, Carmen and Dad right before I boarded the train.

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.

knitting. more knitting.
(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.

LA train station lobby
(Above) The train station in LA - a nice place to spend
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)

(Southwest 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.

the seat - la to lv
(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.

the rest of the train sleeping through az
(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.

good morning az!
(Above) Arizona desert, early morning

coffee... (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 New Mexico.

AZ/ NM border
(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.

cars and dust along the train tracks
(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.

canyon up close
(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.

train station, las vegas nm
(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.

murpheys, las vegas nm
(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 in town.

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.

prayer cards
(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.

grandfather with tree
(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.

grey water
(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 flock there.

bird feeders and water
(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.

train tracks in las vegas, nm
(Above) Looking down the tracks, waiting for the train

After an extra half hour the train arrived, we said our goodbyes and I hopped on my sleeper car.

my grandparents and me at the train station
(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.

colorado sunset
(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.

bedroom operating instructions
(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.

the bed, all set up
(Above) The unfolded bed - no sleeping in a chair again!

bed, with yarn
(above) The all-important knitting gets prime bedside space

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.

kansas morning
(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 particular.

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.

another barn
(Above) One of the many many fields-with-barn along the way

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.

train track view, during delay
(Above) Midwest train tracks. Notice that we're not moving.

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.

crossing the mississippi
(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 hotels.

roadside succor
(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 beginning.


Chicago (IL) to Washington (DC) on the Capitol Limited (June 2-3, 2002)

(Capitol 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.

setup from chicago to dc
(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 late.

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 hours late.

So I continued settling in. Things started getting more industrial, less picturesque. Or maybe I was just less inspired.

window view
(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.

in west va
(Above) Green green trees along the tracks in W. Virginia

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)

a m.   just a m

back to the index page all (well some) about me on to the dailies what I'm working on everything else

all text, images (except those noted) copyright 2002-2010 Moryma Aydelott.