Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Riding the Rails: Lafayette to Los Angeles Part 1

Waiting for the Sunset Limited at Lafayette, La.
“I wouldn’t leave my car here for two weeks,” the young woman wearing a security guard uniform told me flatly, when I asked for directions to the free parking for Amtrak passengers and if there were restrictions on the length of time a vehicle could be left.

“There is no security here at night after 10:30,” she informed me. Following her gaze toward the entrance to the Transit Center, I saw what appeared to be a number of loiterers. I felt a little uneasy in this parking lot at 11:30 a.m.

 “These trains are late a lot, and sometimes they are up to 16 or more hours late and come in here in the middle of the night,” she continued.

“What about parking garages?” I asked. “Are there any close by?”

“They’re too far away to carry your luggage,” she answered. “And this not a safe area at night.”

“Are the taxis here at night?”

“No.” she replied. “And if you call one, they may or may not show up. So many times, bus passengers have called a taxi, thinking their ride wasn’t going to show up. Then their ride gets here before the taxi, and the taxi driver is left high and dry. And if they do come, it could be an hour after you call. You can’t depend on them at night.”

After driving more than 700 miles from our home in Tennessee, my husband, 15-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter had just arrived at the Transit Center in Lafayette, La., to board a train for our first long distance Amtak trip. This was an unstaffed station that only opened for about an hour for departures and arrivals. We had just gotten into town after spending the previous night with friends near Laurel, Miss. We still had about three hours to wait for the train.

We were expecting adventure on the trip but not before boarding the train.

Riding the Rails: Lafayette to Los Angeles Part 2

View of the Pecos River in West Texas from a dirty train window.
Awakening, I realized the train had stopped. From my window, I could see bright lights and a flurry of activity on the platform below. It was 5:30 a.m, and we had arrived in San Antonio, the time we were supposed to be leaving.

In San Antonio, a coach and a sleeper car from the Texas Eagle, which had arrived earlier from Chicago, were attached to the end of our car. This was going to take some time, so I got up and went out on the platform where a few passengers had gathered, mainly smokers.

Around 8:30 a.m., we left San Antonio, passing by the Alamo. In the distance we could see the hill country. The train turned south, and we were heading into the prairie.

After leaving the prairie, we stopped at Del Rio, which had a pretty pink stucco station and looked new. From there, we caught our first glimpse of Mexico, just beyond the Amistad National Recreation Area. A park ranger boarded the train and talked about the history of the area and the terrain and pointed out landmarks, such as the Pecos River Bridge, once one of the tallest bridges in the country. He told us to keep an eye out for the miniature deer that roamed the area.

Riding the Rails: Lafayette to Los Angeles Part 3

Windmill farm in Palm Springs, Calif.

When I woke up, the train was still and quiet. My watch said 5:30. But I didn’t know what time zone we were in and couldn’t remember if I had reset my watch. Looking out the window, I could see the sun coming up in the desert. In the distance was a highway. It looked like an interstate. 

As quietly as I could, I took a change of clothes from my luggage and headed to the dressing room. As I walked through through the coach car, I didn’t see anyone awake. When I got to the dressing room, one of the women in the wedding party on board, was finishing her make up.  She had a huge make up case. Before leaving, she took paper towels and washed down the counter and sink and then wiped them dry. I was so inspired by this that I did the same when I left.

As I left the dressing room, I saw the elderly gentleman from Oceanside, Calif., standing in the hall looking out the window of the door. I asked him if he knew where we were.

“We are about 50 miles east of Yuma, Arizona, and running about five hours late,” he answered, adding, “I won’t get home until about 5 this afternoon.”

On my way to the snack bar to get coffee, I met the conductor and asked him why we were five hours late. He said that during the night there had been a mechanical problem, and they had to wait for a freight to bring a part to fix it. 

In a few minutes, the train started moving...slowly. We passed through red rock formations, and the scenery just became picture postcard gorgeous. As we continued on toYuma, the landscape unfolded into one breathtaking scene after another. I woke my husband up, so he wouldn’t miss any of it. On time, the train would have rolled through all this beauty in the dark.

Riding the Rails: Los Angeles to Lafayette Part 1

Waiting room at LAX Union Station.

It’s was nearly 11 a.m. as we arrived at the Amtrak Station in Anaheim, Calif., located behind the Los Angeles Angels’ Stadium. The temperature felt like it had already reached 90, just like it had for the last seven days of our stay. During our visit the year, also in July, the temperatures had stayed in the 70s range.

The air conditioning in the ticket office was welcoming, but the agent directed us to some steps outside that would take us up to the platform, where we would wait for the Pacific Surfliner that would take us back to Los Angeles Union Station. There, we would board the Sunset Limited 2 for our return trip to Lafayette, La.

Benches lined a walkway next to the station’s platform. While my husband, son and daughter walked along the platform, I sat down next to an older black woman, who was fanning herself with a wide brim brown hat that matched the lightweight floral dress that reached to her ankles. She was a thin woman, and her carefully styled hair fell just above her shoulders. She had an air of grace about her that extended to the slight movements of her hat.

Without turning toward me or smiling, she said, “I will be so glad to get home and away from this heat.”

“Where do you live?” I asked, thinking maybe she was from the Northwest.

“I live in Oxnard,” she replied. “We are about an hour north of LA, and the weather is always wonderful. The temperature is rarely above the 70s.”

In spite of her apparent refinement, she seemed friendly. “Have you always lived in California?” I asked.

“All but the 10 years I lived in China,” she answered. “I went to China to teach English. I didn’t know a soul there, nor could I speak a word of the language of the people I was going to teach. I was supposed to teach for a year and ended up staying there for 10 years.”

We chatted about her work in China until we heard the train whistle.

Riding the Rails: Los Angeles to Lafayette Part 2

Leaving the California desert behind, the Sunset Limited crossed the Colorado River and made its way into the Amtrak station in Yuma, Arizona. It was about 11 p.m. With the lights in our coach car dimmed for sleeping, most of the passengers were doing just that–sleeping. In the seat next to me, my son was sleeping soundly, as well as my husband and daughter in their seats across the aisle.

Behind me, the Fresno Family and the Air Force Family
had all been asleep for an hour or more. In front of me, the little Buddhist monk had stretched out across his seat and the adjoining empty seat. All around me seats were reclined for sleeping or passengers were taking advantage of an empty seat and stretched out across two seats.

Located between Lordsburg and Deming, New Mexico, this
is the lowest elevation for a rail crossing of the Continental
Divide in the country.
Just as I was thinking I was the only passenger still awake, I saw a young man return to his seat directly in front of my husband and daughter. He was a slim young man with short neatly trimmed red hair, parted to one side. He appeared to be in his early thirties. He was carrying a clear plastic cup containing beer, which he had purchased at the snack bar. He put his cup inside a cup holder at his seat and picked up a laptop. From my seat, I could see his laptop screen and found myself looking at it with amazement. He appeared to be working with photos and videos and was applying text to them. But it was what he was doing with the text that caught my attention. He seemed to be experimenting with different formats, and at one point, he had flames of fire shooting out from the letters. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Poem

April is National Poetry Month and here is another poem I like. Many years ago, I heard a woman recite this poem, using a tapestry to show the messy underside that we see in our lives and the beautiful top side seen by God.

My life is just a weaving, between my God and me,
I do not choose the colors, He works in steadily.

Some times he weaves in sorrow, and I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper, and I the underside.

Not till the loom is silent, and the shuttles cease to fly,
Will God unroll the canvas, and explain the reasons why

The dark threads are as needful in the skillful weaver’s hand
As threads of gold and silver in the pattern He has planned.


Sunday, April 22, 2012

"People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
 If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. 
If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway.
If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway. 
For you see, in the end, it is between you and God.
 It was never between you and them anyway." 

― Mother Teresa