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The Coast Starlight

March 2003

Monterey, California to Salem, Oregon

Page 4

Sunday March 9

We spent an hour of the morning in church, followed by a good 45 minutes of meeting old friends in the foyer. Then, after running a couple of errands, we returned to Mom's house for the rest of the afternoon.

I checked on our train status a couple of times at 2:30 and again at 3:00. "Julie" reported that #11 was just ten minutes late, which would put it in around 3:50pm. So we packed up the car and drove down to the station.

It was quiet there. Too quiet. The counter attendant said the train had been delayed a couple hours or so by a mud slide north of Olympia. He was puzzled that "Julie" hadn't picked up the info. He gave me a local number, 503-588-1551, for a recorded message that would be updated at 5:00.

The delay was probably for the best. My mother was having trouble with a watering eye, and she would have had to drive home herself. With the delay, Liz would be off work and able to go to the station with us and drive Mom home.

I called the station at 5:00 and learned that our train would be arriving around 6:00, just in time for dinner.

Our train finally arrives in Salem.

The train came in at 6:00 as expected. Fortunately we remained fairly dry as it arrived between drizzles. And this brings me to yet another example of Salem's poor sense of design. It rains all winter there. It usually rains in the fall and spring and often in the summer, too. Yet somehow most of the city neglects to add such basic architectural elements as awnings, or in this case, a covered rail platform. You wonder what goes through their minds.

But enough of my petty complaints, for at 6:05 we were on the train, in our room, and we were rolling. We headed to room E where our attendant Kiyosi explained the features of the room in detail. He also had a 6:45 dinner reservation made on our behalf.

We settled down and within five minutes the conductor took our tickets. This was the first time we had been in a Superliner Deluxe room for over 20 years and we were enjoying the ability to just spread ourselves out as far as we could. I could easily travel across country in one of these.

But we didn't want to linger here too long for this train had a real Parlor Car. It was time to give Mrs. Toy the grand tour. Wow! She was impressed. I took her downstairs for a brief look at the theater before we took a seat and awaited our dinner call.

A Man and His Parlor Car

Two other couples were also waiting for dinner, and the car attendant, Tom, took great care to make sure that we were adequately entertained, offering some stories about the history of the Parlor Car, this one in particular.

Tom told us that we were in the first Pacific Parlor Car which went into service. As with all Parlor Cars, it is not a Superliner, but a refurbished 1950s era Santa Fe Hi-Level lounge from the old El Capitan route. Although the Superliners were based on the old Hi-Levels, there are some significant differences, the most obvious being that the Hi-Levels are a tad shorter. The only other Hi-Levels still in Amtrak service are a handful of coaches used on the Heartland Flyer between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth.

Tom went onto explain that Amtrak employees helped design the furnishings and layout, and this was the Parlor Car they made all the mistakes on. Unlike coaches* and sleepers, the Parlor Car is always oriented the same way on every train. There are three types of seats. Booth tables, two long bench seats which face inward, and plush swivel armchairs. On this particular car the bench seats are both on the same side, while all of the armchairs are on the other. This means that there are no seats facing the ocean on the northbound trip. They corrected this problem in subsequent Parlor Cars by placing the benches on opposite sides across from each other, and the armchairs at the front end of the car, also on both sides. If this was the only one with this particular configuration, then I have been in it once before.

Tom also spoke of some cutbacks which reduced the amount of washing the car received. As a result the salt deposits collected while along the ocean were etching the glass, causing them to look dirty.

He said that Amtrak had one spare Parlor Car, for situations when one was taken out of service, but it was sent to Beach Grove back east for repairs. That is why we didn't have a Parlor Car on our northbound trip.

Finally Tom invited us to the movies after dinner. We wouldn't be able to catch the 7:00pm show, but there would be a second feature at 9:00, a "chick flick" as Tom described it, called Sweet Home Alabama. It sounded good to us.

Dinner Call

Our dinner call came at 6:55 and we sat down to dinner with Chris and Arliss, a slightly-past-middle-age couple from Minnesota. This was their first Amtrak trip. They flew to Seattle to visit friends, then decided to try the train to LA, taking a few days to stop by the central California coast along the way. They were going to get off in San Jose, rent a car, and work their way to Monterey.

Chris had ridden TGV high-speed trains in France, but had never been on a domestic train until now. He was impressed by Amtrak's comfort and service, but noted that the ride was not nearly as smooth as the TGV. They both agreed that this was a great way to travel and would do it again. Originally they had booked coach seats, but they were later offered an upgrade to a sleeper, which they accepted.

At 8:05 the train was well past Eugene and we were back in our room. Mrs. Toy laid down on the sofa for a nap while I sat in the chair with a magazine, listening to the scanner on headphones. She fell asleep and I wondered if we would make the movie after all. It didn't matter, as we were both content right where we were.

8:42pm "UP detector, detector milepost 583.5, no defects, total axles 48, speed 42 mph." We were soon passing Oakridge, Mrs. Toy was zonked, and it looked like we would be staying put.

Then, just moments before 9:00, Mrs Toy picked up her head and was ready to go to the show.

The Picture Show

We walked to the lower level of the Parlor Car, stopping briefly to let Kiyosi know he could make up our beds whenever it was convenient. We stepped into the theater just in time for the opening credits of Sweet Home Alabama. We took a seat right down front. After the credits the words "Swank Motion Pictures" appeared at the bottom of the screen. Swank Motion Pictures is the parent company of my employer, Swank Audio Visuals. Swank is the country's primary distributor of movies for non-theatrical public exhibition, such as this.

There was a lot of motion in the opening scenes, cameras going down roads and things like that. For a time it was difficult to reconcile these visual motion cues with the actual motions of the train. But after a bit of time my brain sorted this all out, separate fact from fiction, and get into the story.

The 32" TV, however, did have a little trouble with the motion. The colors scanning the picture tube were not always hitting their mark, causing odd color shifts in the image with some regularity.

This little theater is also equipped with a surround stereo system, and I did hear some fairly good right-left audio separation, but the surround effects, if any, were lost in the sounds the train. While they have a great little setup here, the volume needed to be louder to better overcome the train's noises.

The movie ended at 9:50 just as we stopped in Chemult. Usually we will watch a movie right through the closing credits and enjoy the closing music, but Mrs Toy wanted to head straight back so she could walk on a steady floor back to bed.

Snuggle Time

Kiyosi had made up both the upper and lower bunks. I should have told him that we didn't need the upper. The lower bed is large enough for two and we wanted to take advantage of that for a good cuddle. (Officially the room will sleep three, but three's a crowd.) I folded the upper bunk back up and at 11:20 we were tucked in.

Sleep came, at first in small doses as it often does on the train. I had to get used to the motion all over again. In a Standard room the bed is oriented front to rear, but in the Deluxe it is oriented side to side. So this time we were rocking head to toe, an unfamiliar motion to me.

During the night I woke to a few familiar sounds, including the bridge over Lake Shasta. This time I got up for a look. Not much to see, save for passing diagonal girders and a red light from a radio tower reflecting off the water. Then we went right into a tunnel. On the other side I saw that enough light was being emitted from train windows to make out a good amount of detail in the landscape immediately adjacent to the tracks.

After that I slept soundly.

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*Coaches can be oriented in either direction. Seats can be turned to face forwards regardless of which way the car faces.

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