Friday, June 2, 2017

50 for 50: 11 -- Sleeper Car up the Coast with Marty and Linda

OK, I'll admit it -- this one IS sort of a bucket list thing.  Train travel.  Sleeper car.  Lounge in the vintage Pacific Parlour Car.  (Dress vaguely period-appropriate.)  I've wanted to give this one a try ever since I heard about it -- and the fact that our Amtrak Coast Starlight is supposed to be one of the prettiest train trips in the country sealed it a spot on the list.

Marty and Linda were not that hard to convince.  We made plans and were pretty much on the same page from the start -- sleeper car, separate rooms (but in the same car).  I got a "roomette"; they got the larger "bedroom."  We were originally supposed to go in early May -- but a freight train derailment damaged the tracks and postponed our trip.

(My standard position on travel insurance is that I don't buy it unless there's a reason to do so.  This derailment/rescheduling showed me exactly how many moving parts were in this trip:  the train ride itself; my schedule; Marty & Linda's schedule; the schedule of my friend in Seattle; the Seattle hotel I'd booked on Hotwire (no refunds!); and the flight home.  I was able to get most of it moved to this weekend.  (The hotel, I have to say, was a particularly good sport about this -- giving me a list of weekends on which they'd honor my previous Hotwire booking.  If they actually give me the room as promised, I will post very nice things about them all over the web.)  The only thing I couldn't move was the flight home -- the change fee cost twice as much as a whole new flight.  So, I ate about $88 on this one.  All things considered, not bad.)

So, we packed up our stuff--

Yes, I bought a hat box for this.  You don't go all 1940s with your wardrobe to take a sleeper car and NOT have a damn hat box.  (At least, I don't.)

-- so, we packed up our stuff, drove to Union Station, and piled onto the Coast Starlight.

Here's what you'll want to know about a roomette:  Ever since I first heard about those Japanese pod hotels, I've wondered what it would be like to sleep in one.  Well, wonder no longer.  A roomette is two oversized seats facing each other -- with a picture window between on one side, and a door to the hallway on the other.  At night, the two seats come together to form a bed, and another bunk flips down from the ceiling.  And... that's about it.  There's a fold-out table someplace, controls for the lights and climate, a single outlet, and a ledge that's just about the width of the hat box.  (The ledge does double duty -- providing both a place to keep an overnight bag AND a step to use if you're trying to leap into the upper bunk.  Actually, there are directions here for the upper bunk -- you don't leap into it, you "roll into bunk" and then "secure safety net."  I get that this room CAN sleep two people, but I'd only advise it if the second person is still young enough that rolling into an upper bunk you need a net to not roll out of is An Adventure.)  Marty and Linda wisely took the bedroom -- it has a double bed AND indoor plumbing (one of those shower rooms with the toilet in it).

But the rooms don't entirely matter because we spend all our time in the Parlour Car (and Dining Car).  The Parlour Car is vintage (although it has been renovated) and the Coast Starlight is the only route that still runs it.  The upper level has a bar at one end and easy chairs at the other, with big windows (including bendy ones that curve onto the ceiling around the top of the car).  It's perfect for sight-seeing or meeting people or just hanging out.  (It also has the best Wi-Fi on the train.  Meaning it has Wi-Fi.  Sometimes.)

The dining car takes reservations.  We sleeping car passengers get our meals included, and the single dining car -- which is all about 4-person booths -- just packs us in and cycles us through.  Since there are three of us, and the tables seat four, Amtrak parks a solo traveller with us at each meal.  (If we found a new best friend, we could just make our reservation for 4.  As it is, though, there are a lot of solo travellers, so we keep spinnin' the wheel o' dinner companions to see who we'll get.)

What kind of person (besides us, of course) decides to take a train up the coast?  I imagine there are some people who just can't afford the $88 plane ticket.  They're going to be in coach.  (We don't see them -- there's an observation car in the middle of the train where passengers in all classes can mingle; but since we've got the private Parlour Car, I have yet to see a need to go down there.)  The ones who will PAY MORE for a sleeper car than a flight are quite a mixed bag of individuals.  Some are afraid to fly.  Some hate flying.  Some are train enthusiasts.  We've met a lot of repeat customers here, although the ones who seem to be having the most fun are the ones who, like me, came here imagining all the romance of train travel -- while the repeat customers carry "fix-it kits" with duct tape, velcro, and tools, to fix whatever they anticipate will go wrong in their room THIS time.

In the first, say, nine hours on the train, we had lovely conversations with everyone we've met, with everyone staying the hell away from politics.  And then tonight's dinner companion, in what had started out as a conversation telling us what we can do in our 30-minute station stop in Portland -- somehow went off on how Portland is being taken over by radicals.  Lefty radicals.  Crunchy lefty radicals.  Whose threats to protest have shut down the Portland Rose Parade this year and she doesn't know why the city government would kowtow to the crunchy lefty radicals and let them control whether the parade is going to happen.  (Why?  WHY do people assume you agree with them politically and just rant on in the middle of an otherwise decent dinner?)  Marty initially cautiously followed up, asking her what the people were protesting that would cause them to want to cancel the parade?  (He also threw in something about, um, HELLO!  It's PORTLAND!  Where some dude just killed two people because of RACISM.  I swear -- Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche looks pretty crunchy and lefty to me, and that man died a fucking hero JUST THIS WEEK.  If that's what a crunchy lefty radical acts like, let's fill the damn country with them.  That'll fucking make America great again.)  But, no, I didn't say any of that.  I just stared at my food while Marty appeared to be testing if Dinner Companion over there was capable of an actual political discussion (wherein, perhaps, she could be convinced, with things like facts and reason).  Conclusion:  probably not.  When asked what the lefties were protesting about the rose parade, she didn't know, couldn't say, just "something political."  When he mentioned the racist murders of earlier this week, she seemed nonplussed.  Okay, we're dealing with someone who just hates crunchy lefty radicals on general principle (or lack thereof).  Marty just changed the damn topic.  Just changed it.  Didn't say, "Let's not talk politics or anything."  It was just a flat out, "So, when did you move to Arizona?" type of thing.  I adored it.  I have to remember that; it was very deftly done.

Well... to bed now.  I'm snuggled in my pod, various curtains not quite closing and broken parts clicking (should have brought a fix-it kit), but hopeful the train will rock me to sleep as it zooms north.

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