Friday, February 22, 2008

Santa Barbara Choo Choo

It had been my intention to regale you with beautiful photos from my trip down here to Santa Barbara, but to do that, I have to practically dismantle my brother-in-law's desk to get to the USB port in the back of his computer, so you'll have to wait till I get home for photos.

Anyway, I am here. The train was even a little bit early arriving in Santa Barbara, which my friend Gerry (who met me at the station) told me almost never happens.

After feeling totally frazzled about the leave-taking, I did, in fact, leave. Walt took me to the train station at 6 or so, we checked my huge suitcase (the attendant seemed surprised that I was actually going to check a bag to Santa Barbara...I could see was the only bag checked and they had to DRIVE it to the train!), and we waited outside, where it was cooler, for the train to arrive.

I settled myself in a seat by the window that would face the ocean when we finally hit the coast and I took out my iPod, prepared to listen to the podcasts I had stored, or watch one of the videos I had saved, or listen to the book on tape that I had downloaded from But when I got everything arranged, I was greeted with the black screen of death. This has happened before and I knew there was a way to fix it (forgetting that the last time this happened, I had efficiently put a sign on the back of the iPod with instructions for how to do it). I texted Jeri, who found a friend of hers, who sent instructions...but from the response I got, I finally determined that it wasn't really the black screen of death, but rather a dead battery.


Eleven hours on the train and my electonic gadget was dead.

As it turned out, this was probably the very best thing that could have happened. I had brought James Lipton's "Inside Inside" to read and there was scenery to watch. By the end of the first hour, I was in a real zen-like state and thinking that it's a shame that we are in such a hurry in our lives and that we should all just take the time, now and then, to stop and smell the roses. (Feel free to borrow that; it's rather profound, don't you think?)

I went up to the observation car and sat watching the scene passing by.

At that point I was glad that I was too fat to fly Express Jet. I could have gotten here in an hour on the plane, but I would have missed the marsh. We arrived at the marsh at "rush hour," when all the grebe families were waking up and parents leading their teenagers (no longer babies) out of the rushes where the nests were and floating in a single line to the break in the vegetation, where they met another line of grebes coming from the other direction and then each line quietly merged together as they all floated out onto the bigger pond at the end. It was just lovely.

It has been raining and as this is the start of the growing season, all the hills are covered in a brilliant kelly green carpet of vegetation that looks as soft as downy languo on a growing fetus' skin. In a few weeks it will stand so tall that it will start bending over and then turning brown. This is the time of year--one brief shining moment--when the hills sparkle and shimmer and I love it.

I had packed some food for myself. My plan had been to pack enough to get me through the 11 hrs, or two meals, but the flu cut into that plan. But I did inaugurate my cute little Bento box and brought half a banana, two pieces of plain bread, a container of applesauce, and a handful of grapes. That worked fine to get me through to about 1 p.m. But I did go downstairs to get an outrageously priced cup of truly abominable coffee.

I listened to the mournful sound of the train whistle as it passed through intersections. It's not quite as romantic as the sound of a steam train...but it's cleaner!

I love the sights that you see from the train. You see the insides of factories, see the various styles of all the taggers who desecrate walls, check out shopping centers, and you get to borrow pieces of people's lives as you peer into their back yards, some of them nicely manicured and decorated, others ours. Here and there a dog wandered by. There was what appeared to be a very old trailer park, with mobile homes that obviously had not been mobile in a very long time.

As we left the more populated areas, we passed into the agricultural part of the trip, through Castroville, for example--the artichoke capitol of the world, with its field after field of artichoke plants, eventually giving way to vineyards broken up by lines of tall trees, planted as windbreaks.

At one point on a hillside I saw a couple of raptors on the ground circling a mound of carion, of undetermined species, but the train passed too quickly to do more than take notice of them.

We finally left the agricultural areas and into oil fields, with the oil derricks, all looking like perpetual bobbing birds drinking water out of a glass.

At some point, I went back to the snack bar and got myself a sandwich, which lived up to the promise of the earlier coffee, but since it cost me $10 for a sandwich, chips and water, I ate it anyway.

Through it all I continued to read James Lipton, who can't be read rapidly, but whose words -- even in this autobiograpy -- make you stop and think. Sometimes you need to call upon the old French genes to translate the French which is liberally sprinkled throughout, or the bits of Latin put in here and there, or recall bits of ancient history or mythology or just savor the wealth of information about the craft of acting. I'm not rushing this book. I'm enjoying it too much.

We finally got to the ocean just as a ray of sun broke through the grey clouds and hit the water. It was spectacular. There was also a harsh wind blowing and all the waves were giving off misty sprays as they broke onto the shore. At this point I put the book away and just enjoyed the scenery on into Santa Barbara.

But now I'm ensconced here at my sister-in-law's house. They are at a ball game and I'm taking over the computer. It was, as I said, an absolutely delightful, civilized, genteel way to travel and, given that I will probably come to Santa Barbara a lot more often now, I'm glad to discover that I enjoy this method of travel.

1 comment:

Marilyn said...

I could go on and on about my love of train travel...and yet I rarely take them. When we first moved here, I hopped on the Capitol Corridor and took it to Sac to visit the Railroad Museum. And two years ago I took my teenage niece to the City via train. I thought she'd think it was lame (given the stuff they all like to do)...but she LOVED it. A blogging friend recently took a train trip from her home in San Diego to L.A. and looking at her photos made me want to take that trip. :)