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To and Across Canada

Oak Park to Seattle

Copyright © 2003 by David E. Ross

The first segment of our adventure involved riding Amtrak from southern California to Seattle, with a stopover in Oakland to visit my brother Mark.

22 July
As usual, our son Allen was late picking us up to take us to the Amtrak station in Oxnard. But he was only 5 minutes late, and the train itself was about 30 minutes late. photo of train approaching Oxnard Station

The Oxnard station is closer to our Oak Park home than Union Station in downtown Los Angeles, and the traffic to Oxnard is far better than the traffic into Los Angeles. As the train approached the station, I wanted to begin the trip by taking its photograph. Only when it did not slow for a stop did I realize that this was a freight train, a major cause of our train running later and later along our trip.

A very serious problem with Amtrak schedules in California results from the fact that Union Pacific — a freight company — owns most of the tracks. When setting signals and switches, Union Pacific gives first priority to its own freight trains, often sidelining passenger trains. Between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo, our train stopped on a siding for a freight to pass. The freight train consisted primarily of cars for carrying cargo containers, all of which were empty! That's right: We had to stop to allow an empty freight train to pass. photo of Vandenberg AFB from train

While traversing Vandenberg Air Force Base, we saw some of the launch facilities for military space satellites. For over 30 years, I tested the software used in operating those satellites but never actually saw one.

This part of our trip, we traveled in coach class. It is a one-day trip from Oxnard to Oakland, and we would not be sleeping on the train. As we approached Oakland, Evelyn asked me how many nights we would be on the train from Oakland to Seattle, when we would travel first-class with a bedroom. I checked our itinerary and then checked it again. Something seemed wrong. I had thought we stayed only one night in Oakland, but I discovered then that we were to stay two nights.

That evening, we checked into the Marriott Courtyard in downtown Oakland. This is one of those hotels that has a tissue dispenser that shreds any tissue you try to remove. It also has water conservation measures that are excessive.

23 July
Evelyn and I spent a pleasant day with my brother Mark, who lives in an old house in a hilly neighborhood of Oakland. His backyard is shaded by one of those oaks that gives the city its name.

During part of the day, Mark took us to the UC Berkeley botanical garden. Not as large as some gardens I have visited, this one is very well designed and implemented. It too is on a hill, which left us exhausted but happy. photo of goose at Lake Merritt

We went to dinner with Mark, at one of his favorite Mexican restaurants, Otaez Mexicatessen. (Yes, multi-ethnicity abounds in this city. We saw a Chinese restaurant whose sign was entirely Spanish.) The pico de gallo was very good, but the chips were almost burned. The waitress (the owner's daughter) really gave us the rush to leave when we finished eating. (I say more about this restaurant tomorrow.)

After dinner, we went to Lake Merritt, a brackish estuary of San Francisco Bay that extends into the heart of Oakland's downtown. The lake is surrounded by parkland, with ball fields and playgrounds. Boathouses cater to the many oarsmen who use the lake. Also using the lake are a large number of Canada geese, which are year-round pests and no longer migrate. Mark showed us his disdain for the geese by chasing a few. It was a riot to see him run, using a style like Groucho Marx.

24 July
We awoke to find a statement under our door, a "quick checkout" service of the Courtyard. However, there was a $19 charge for parking. Not only did we not have a car with us, but we didn't even bring our divers' licenses. Our checkout was delayed while a corrected statement was prepared.

We also awoke to find my stomach not feeling too good. As the day advanced, I realized that I got food poisoning at Otaez Mexicatessen the night before. This reached its peak this evening, after we boarded the train to Seattle. Fortunately, we had a bedroom with its own toilet.

photo of San Francisco cablecar After finally checking out from the Courtyard, we checked our luggage in the hotel's lobby and then boarded the BART (Bay-Area Rapid Transit, a commuter train) to San Francisco. Having been to San Francisco many times before, we just wandered around. We enjoy riding the cable cars, walking along Fisherman's Wharf, and visited Ghiradelli Square. Feeling a bit queasy (but not yet realizing I had food poisoning), I did not want to eat dinner there; so we took the BART back to Oakland. We had a light dinner in a Chinese restaurant near the Courtyard.

Our train was an hour late arriving in Oakland. When we boarded, we discovered that our bedroom had not yet been cleaned from the previous passengers who used it. We had to wait an hour in another bedroom. (I never understood why we could not merely be reassigned to the bedroom where we waited.) On top of that, the car attendant (a position that used to be called porter) groused and whined because we asked him to help us with our luggage.

The first-class bedroom was about the size of the walk-in closet in our master bedroom back home. We quickly realized that we should have packed differently so that we could have checked one bag and only taken one bag into the bedroom. Only after we settled into the bedroom, the full brunt of food poisoning hit me. I'm glad we had both a toilet and a shower in our bedroom. Unfortunately, both the toilet and the shower were in the same small cubicle.

During the night, through the wall between our bedroom and the next one, we heard "[soprano] Oh, oh, OH … oh, oh, OH … [baritone] unggh, unggh, UNGGH!"

photo of Mount Shasta from the train 25 July
Traveling farther north than we have ever been in California, we saw Mount Shasta. It was spectacular.

The train was so late — with stops to allow freight trains to pass — that passengers who were supposed to leave the train in the morning were still aboard for lunch. (We were six hours late leaving Portland, Oregon.) The kitchen was emptied of all supplies before everyone was served. This was quite unfortunate for me as my food poisoning had abated by then.

26 July
We must have made up some time because the train was only five hours late arriving in Seattle (1:30am Saturday instead of 8:30pm Friday).

Seattle, Victoria, and Vancouver

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