Friday, February 27, 2009

Riding the Rails: Day 1 Hey Porter

... Day 1 continued ...

San Luis Obispo Station We pulled into San Luis Obispo around 5pm. It was a smoke-break length stop, so all the little smokers streamed off the train for their first chance to smoke since, I think, Santa Barbara, which was about 3½ hours back, I believe. The horror! The two teachers two rows back, whose talking had been the only non-stop thing about this train, finally got off.

San Luis Obispo The car really did start to fill up there. A white-haired man ended up in the seat next to me. He asked how the trip had been, since we were 1 hour and 20 minutes late. I had no idea we were that far behind schedule. The only timepoints I knew were LA and San Jose. If they had announced something about it, I missed it. But, as I said in the previous post, we stopped fairly often and for sometimes rather extended periods. As they were starting to get ready to leave, they did announce that we were that far behind schedule and that they hoped to make up the time the rest of the way, but they did have to deal with some freight traffic. (Um, if they could have gone faster so as not to get behind schedule in the first place, wouldn't they have done that already?)

San Luis Obispo
That's a railroad tie they're working on
I ended up talking to my seat mate Jim the rest of the way to San Jose, just meandering over topics the way you do with a pleasant stranger you will never see again. One thing that's nice about the train is that you can actually converse at a regular volume without straining to hear, something airplane jet engines make almost impossible. He had been visiting childhood friend in San Luis Obispo, where he had grown up. He was going back to Portland to visit his son, then drive back to the small town outside of Seattle where he now lived.

After awhile, I grabbed something to eat for dinner in the "café." Read: mini-convenience store with microwave. I was hungry, though, and the sandwich was edible.

Oh, apropos of nothing, but I simply forgot to mention it earlier... The bathrooms are your standard airplane bathrooms, although some have extra space for a diaper changing table. In the first one I used, the water taps were the kind you had to hold down to keep the water coming, but there was one flow speed: firehose. Seriously, it sprayed all over the place. Especially considering the fact that the train could only carry a finite amount of water, you'd think it would behoove them to control the flow so as not to waste half of it by spraying everything in a 3-foot radius. I figured maybe it was just that one lavatory. Until the same thing happened in the other two I tried during the ride. At least I learned to straighten my arms as much as possible to try to keep my body out of range, although my arms just aren't that long so it was a fruitless effort.

We ended up getting to San Jose about 9:20, 50 minutes behind schedule. I was actually a little impressed that they had managed to make up 30 minutes. As I had mentioned, San Jose Diridon Station (the possible pronunciation puzzled me, but something there called it "DEAR-ih-done," so I'll go with that) handles Amtrak and Caltrain and also has a light rail stop. You have to walk the long around to get to the tunnel that passes under the heavy rail tracks to get to the light rail platform, though. I managed the ticket machine and had to wait about 15 minutes for the train.

The train was about half full, which is somewhat impressive, given the time of night on a Thursday. One of the things that impressed me about these trains, physically, was the bike section. Bikes on the LA light rail lines are really annoying, often because their owners are inconsiderate and the damned things are sometimes positioned so as to block the door on one side. Yes, you got on the train on the other side, but the reason they have doors on both sides is because, well, not all stations have you exit on the same side. Moron. The Santa Clara VTA trains have sections between the regular seating compartments which have a rack on side where about half a dozen cyclists can hang their bikes vertically and then sit right across from them. That's smart.

I got off at the 1st and Metro station. I should have gotten off at the next one, 1st and Katrina, which is a hair closer to the hotel, but before I had left, I had plugged in "Diridon Station to (hotel address) by PT" into Google Maps one more time, and it told me to get off at Metro. When I got off there, I realized that while the overall distance was less, which is what Google Maps was probably optimized for, walking distance was more. And I had only looked at the walking map from the Katrina Station, which I had planned to use the next day to get to the convention center. And hadn't printed out a map. I got lost in the Holiday Inn parking lot across the street (don't ask -- I thought it was a shortcut), then pulled out my cell phone. It had been fully charged in the morning. I had known that there would be no cell phone access on long stretches on the trip and knew that constantly searching for a signal can kill a cell phone battery, somehow those facts had not coalesced in my brain until that moment. Crap. I was pretty sure I had remembered seeing a pay phone at the rail platform and it was an obvious landmark anyway, as I was clearly going to need a cab. Fortunately the phone was working and the phone book was there and intact. The first cab company I called hung up on me because the asshole couldn't hear me the first time I said hello as he was talking, and then when I said "hello" again, he couldn't hear me because he was so impatient he was already saying, "Anyone there?" And then he hung up. Times like that, I totally wish I had a multi-purpose voodoo doll, I swear. The next company heard me just fine, thank you, but said he wouldn't be able to get a cab to me for at least 30 minutes, and then gave me the number I had called the first time. "Yeah, they hung on me." "Well, I can't help you." Apparently not. It was a good thing I had plenty of change with me. Third time was a charm, though. The dispatcher told me 10-15 minutes, but the cab showed up in about 5. He had been on his way to the airport. And even though it was dark, I got to see how he got to the hotel, which jibed with what I now remembered of the map. Yay.

I was tired, it was about 10:30, but the room was comfortable. I turned on my laptop. I had brought the USB cable to charge the phone, but then I remembered I had forgotten to install the driver for the phone. Crap. Fortunately, the hotel has reasonable free wireless, so I got the driver installed and the phone finally charging. It took me awhile to wind down, and then I stayed in bed reading awhile. Finally I could barely keep my eyes open, so I went to sleep...

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