The California Zephyr, August 2000
Eastbound: Aug. 9-10 - Westbound: Aug. 15-16
This tale begins in early 2000. My wife and I learned that our niece, Debbie, would be getting married in August. She was living in Denver, having graduated from college there.
I had not ridden a train since 1984. For several years my wife and I had been hoping to take a train to Colorado but somehow we never found the time or money. Now we had the perfect excuse.
When I looked into Amtrak's schedules I found my mother and a sister, Liz, who live in Oregon, could come down on the Coast Starlight and meet us on the California Zephyr. Liz was quite excited about the idea, because she doesn't care to fly. Mom, on the other hand, wasn't so sure.
My mother came to visit in April and we discussed the plan further. She agreed to look into it, but she said she would prefer to have a deluxe sleeper with the rest room built in. We called Amtrak to see what the options were, and we learned that space on our chosen travel dates was going fast. Deluxe bedrooms were sold out, and only three standard bedrooms were left. We would need two. We decided to make our reservations on the spot, while we still could. To save money Mom and Liz would travel coach on the Starlight from Salem and connect with the California Zephyr at Emeryville, where we would join them.
Tuesday, August 8
Around 3:30pm, out of curiosity, I went on-line and checked the status of the Coast Starlight, which Mom & Liz would be boarding about this time. It said their train was running 1 hour and 15 minutes late.
At 6:55pm we left our home on the Monterey Peninsula. Two hours later we arrived at the home of my wife's parents in San Mateo. They would take us across the bay to Emeryville in the morning.
Wednesday, August 9
En route to Emeryville we passed the old Oakland train station where I used to catch the train as a teenager. I noticed the ornate curling ironwork on the canopy over the platform, which I had forgotten about. It looked kind of sad with roof tiles were falling off.
Oops, we missed our exit, but we took the next one and made our way back to Powell street and the station. We parked in a tiny, overcrowded lot that said "Amtrak parking."
At 8:33 we checked our two largest bags and held onto the rest for onboard usage. I asked the clerk about the status of the Coast Starlight. She answered that it was running four hours late. Yikes! However, she assured us that connecting passengers would meet us in Sacramento. We’re supposed to get there at 11:59. If the Starlight is four hours late they’ll get to Sacramento at 10:30.That would be OK.
I wanted to be able to get a photo of our train as it approached. Two little girls had gone outside to wait. All I had to do was watch and wait for them to start jumping up and down and pointing, which is exactly what they did as the train came into their view. That was my cue. I went out to get my pictures, but didn’t do as well as I had hoped. There was a little boy watching and as the train drew nearer I hoped to get him into my shot. But blast! His mother kept getting in my way! I never did get him in and in my effort to do so I almost missed the train completely!
So the train pulled up, the the passenger cars passed us then it kept on going! The rear of the train had a bunch of freight cars attached and the passenger cars were some distance away when it finally stopped. I didn't realize Amtrak was now hauling freight.
in-laws escorted us to our car, which was named "George M. Pullman." The
attendant greeting us at the door. We said goodbye and boarded at 9:25. Our
attendant directed us to our compartment (#14) which was in the door and
on the right on the lower level. We found it easily and settled in. This
was obviously an older car. The seats had the older orange upholstery and
it was looking a little tired. Clean, but tired. A fresh pillow was placed
in the corner of each seat. We waved to my wife's parents through our window,
which was pretty dirty on the outside.
Across the hall was Mom & Liz’s compartment, empty.
At 9:34am our attendant, P.J, made a welcome announcement over the PA system. She said she would soon come by to greet us individually., and asked us not to leave our seats until the conductor had taken our tickets.
Two minutes later we were moving! P.J. soon came by with her list of names and we got acquainted. She asked if my wife was Liz. No, we explained, Liz and my mother were coming on the Coast Starlight and would be in the compartment across the hall. I expressed some mild concern about their connection. She assured us that if we were told they would be in Sacramento, they would be. At 9:53 the conductor came for our tickets. He also assured us that they would be in Sacramento.
At around 10:45 we ventured out and explored the train. We passed through the diner, toured the lounge and checked out the snack bar prices. We went to the first coach car on the other side of the lounge car, and went downstairs. We saw they had a smoking "lounge" which is somewhat of a misnomer because it didn’t look very relaxing. It had nothing more than a few ashtrays and a row of plastic chairs that faced inwards. I opened the door and WHEW it stunk inside.
We went back to our compartment to watch the Central Valley go by. Not far away a crop duster was dusting. As I watched Interstate 80 in the distance it suddenly occurred to me there’s more "real life" to see along the rail line than along freeways. We went right past some farmhouses. We saw lots of sunflowers. We crossed streams with egrets and other waterfowl. You just can’t see that much detail from a car. The train brings you up close.
At 11:18 the Southbound Starlight passed us, and a minute later we were stopped at Davis. The station looks like something from an old western movie. I used to get on and off here a lot when I was going to and from school. Back then it looked pretty tired, but that only gave it more of the feeling of a movie. Today it is nicely restored and looks very inviting. It was one of the nicest looking stations we passed on the entire rip, for refurbished stations such as this are still a rarity.
As we pulled out an announcement was made that passengers from "Train 11" will be boarding in Sacramento. We appreciated that bit of reassurance.
We pulled into Sacramento at 11:47. We saw Mom & Liz through the window just seconds before we stopped. I went to the door and helped them on.
Our family was together for our great adventure.
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