California Zephyr

8/11/2008 – 8/12/2008 & 8/14/2008 – 8/15/2008

Amtrak: California Zephyr

I’ll admit, I was somewhat intimidated by the idea of two nights in a row sleeping in my seat on board the train. It was this, combined with the fact that my college friend Sarah lives in Denver, that led me to break the journey into two pieces. Overall, traveling by train has been a good experience. It takes quite a while, but can be cheaper than flying (and driving) and is actually a relaxing and interesting way to travel if you have the time. I made some notes on the people I met during the two legs of my journey.

Chicago to Denver
  • A retired old man who now mows fairways at a golf course by his house, on his way to visit his daughters in California.
  • Another old guy who talked a lot about World War II (“the war”) and Korea.
  • My seatmate on the first leg, a man from Denver who has retired from computer programming and now spends his time freaking out about peak oil. He seemed well-intentioned but pretty flaky. I learned some things talking to him.
  • Sandy, a young woman who grew up in NYC but now lives in Davis, California, who was on her way back home from DC. She flew out and took the train back for fun, which made me like her even more.
Denver to Emeryville
  • The train lost a car in Denver, so I sat at a table in the cafe-car with Frank, a mid 70s man headed to a $100 per plate union dinner in San Francisco.
  • Frank and I ended up playing cards with Ashley, a great girl I ended up hanging out with a decent part of the journey. She was on her way home to Sacramento from Denver.
  • A mom and her two cute young kids headed from Denver to Salt Lake City. The boy was wearing an awesome shirt that labeled the different parts of his “engineer kit”. I was obsessed with trains when I was a kid too, so I could relate.
  • A weird dude from Arkansas who was going to his brother’s property in northern California to pan for gold or something. Interesting story but this guy was seriously strange.
  • A nice lady who couldn’t finish her lunch and gave me lots of it, then I once I was given a seat I ended up next to her.
  • Rebecca, a woman moving across the country to the bay area, looking for big life changes. I ended up chatting with her quite a lot during the last few hours of the trip.
  • I had to change seats at Salt Lake, at two in the morning, and ended up sitting next to Mary from New York, an older lady whom I really enjoyed talking to. She mixed koolaid and grapefruit seed extract for her morning drink, which was strange, but overall she was great. Also, she writes limericks for fun, and I wrote one while I was sitting with her.
  • I ate breakfast in the dining car and met some folks there, including a Basque guy (“I’m European. Basque, actually. From Spain.”) He was well-traveled all over the world and ended up telling us about taking the trans-siberian railroad west from China to Moscow. I’d considered that trip eastbound, but never thought of doing it westbound. He also talked about getting a horse in Mongolia and going to live in the camp-villages for a few days.
  • We also sat with a tattooed and pierced guy who turned out to be a juggler. He talked a lot but was very nice, genuine, and loved life.
  • Our fourth was a picky woman who ate almost nothing. She tried to order off the menu several times, which doesn’t really work on Amtrak. They have what is on the menu and nothing else.

Reading: On The Road – finished on the train; Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood – started

Incidentally, I highly recommend reading Jack Kerouac’s On The Road while you are traveling through Denver and San Francisco. These two places, along with New York City, are the primary locations in which the story takes place. I guess I could have left from NYC rather than DC and that would have made it more perfect, but oh well. As it was, it was pretty neat to see the places in the story just as I was reading about them.

I suppose it would be possible to follow the exact paths taken by Dean and Sal, but that would take years, and many thousands of miles of travel. Good luck if you decide to try this.

On to the Bay, Sacramento, and eventually to a bit of a break in Oregon.

The comment form is closed.