A couple of days ago we went on vacation and we did it—more or less—entirely by rail. It wasn't so much to make statement so much as it was convenient: I'm a big fan of trains and we had $50 in free Amtrak money to spend before the winter ended, so we decided to go up to San Luis Obispo. The plan—at least this was the initial plan—was to walk to the metro blue line up from our home in Long Beach all the way, take the red/purple to union station and hop on the Surfliner up to SLO where we'd spend the two days walking around, maybe taking a bus to Heart Castle. Everything went according to plan except for these two occasions:
1) We had to drive to the WIllow metro station's park and ride. We did this because we didn't want to ask anyone to drive us to the station at five in the morning and that even though the nearest blue line station is a mere 10 minute walk from our house, we couldn't leave the car parked on the street for for fear of getting a street sweeping ticket.
As a side note, I'm actually still on the train back home and I'm assuming my car is still inside the park and ride station over there. That nobody stole it and that the L.A. Sheriff's Dept didn't tow it. I have no idea, I called the Sheriff's twice, talked to five people and they told me in very uncertain and shaky terms that it wouldn't get towed unless it looks abandoned. Here's hoping! (Post-facto edit: it's fine.)
The other exception:
2) We really really wanted to see Hearst Castle. There is a bus from SLO to Heast Castle, but it only operates on weekends, and we wanted to go on Tuesday. So we rented a car. Actually we didn't rent a car, because the car rental place in SLO was fresh out. We rented a van instead.
By the way, not to digress too much but this bears repeating. Every rental car place was practically out of cars because of a planned shutdown of a local nuclear power plant. Apparently they bring employees in for this from all over the country and every time it happens it creates a total buyout of all of SLO's available rental cars.
The van, a huge and intimidating Ford cargo-style behemoth, had two seats in the front and was empty in the back. For some reason (sympathy?) the van cost the exact same amount as it would to rent an economy car, so the cost wasn't bad at all, except when we had to refill.
As for the train itself, it was OK. I spent the majority train ride up trying to find a way to tune into the inauguration. Let it be said that no matter how advanced technology gets, there is no good way to listen to an inauguration with your cell phone. I texted ChaCha asking if there was some number I could call in (the number, for the record, is blogtalkradio and can be reached at 646-652-2642). It didn't work out, to say the least. Our train was too in the middle of nowhere and cell-phone sound quality is pretty piss poor to begin with. Sounds of the inauguration cracked in and out, I think I heard a brief speech from Dianne Feinstein? I really should have bought a radio. Between text updates from a friend and the phone-radio I got an extremely fuzzy picture of the day's events. Apparently only 20% of the U.S. population missed the inauguration. I might as well get thrown in with the rest of them.
Other than that we had a great time. It's frustrating—but not at all surprising—that vacationing car-free in California is prohibitively difficult for the average vacationer. But I take a lot of comfort in the thought that the incoming president and his family rode a train into Washington, and that Biden touted proudly his daily rail commute from Delaware regularly through Amtrak. Maybe in the coming eight years our nation is going to get the railway it deserves, finally. Maybe then we'll no longer have to make painful exceptions to trips that would otherwise be 100% rail?
Train photo used under a Creative Commons license and taken by Nick Chill.