west coast freight

In leaving, portland, san fran, travelling, west coast on December 9, 2010 at 1:09 pm

The 18hr train journey to Portland doesn’t start auspiciously. After hopping onto the bus from the ferry building in downtown San Francisco and traveling across the bay bridge to Emeryville (home of Pixar) we get to the station and are informed there has been an incident with a trespasser and the train at San Luis obispo, where I’d stopped earlier in the month, on the drive up to san francisco to have coffee and cake with Alex who I’d met in Bariloche.

The train was going to be two hours late, it was already ten o’clock at night. But what can you do, I sigh and look around at the other passengers waiting to board and I pull out the very large book that I’d snagged from the hostel in Los Angeles, which I’m close to finishing and glad to be so as I have another three books in the bag which needed to be read, which I’d actually bought and needed to be read so I could lighten the load.

Amtrak trains are on two levels, seating at the top and various things on the bottom, restrooms (don’t call them toilets, it upsets the average American) baggage, spaces for decades old arcade machines, played by young children, little shops for snacks and sundries. The seats are big, but old and cranky, they don’t recline all the way back and the pillows are slow in coming and there’s no blanky but the air-conditioning is set at an acceptable level, not too hot and not too cold.

But the views out of the wide window make up for it, tall green trees, acres of land with sprinklers flicking water across them, wide lakes stretching to a partially snow capped mountain on the horizon. Verdantly green triangular hills which remind me of volcanoes slumbering, ready to erupt again. Swathes of crushed, jagged rocks, across which the tracks of our train are raised, long dark tunnels through which your ears throb and pop.

Spindly trees line the course of the journey, thick and seemingly impenetrable, stretching away into the distance that you cannot see. Dappled sunlight seeps through cascading through the carriage dancing across flesh and foam, reflecting off the metal surfaces it alights on. The tracks follow the course of rivers and creeks, occasionally we cross and recross them, the sparkling water spilling out over rocks and fallen trees, as the day slowly awakens as the unblanketed occupants awaken, the red/purple sky strip of light swollen in the darkness.

Listen to the endless requests for reservations for the dining car, the reiteration of rules and regulations, the 2nd call for those who haven’t made their way to breakfast, lunch and if there are any other untoward stops, dinner. If I had my way the voice behind the calls would be crushed like a tin can beneath the thumb of a giant.

Trains in the states are slow, lumbering beasts, freight trains as I find out in Portland, are miles long, the railway lines in fact generally belong to freight companies and freight trains have priority. And standing at a railway crossing waiting for a freight train to pass can take a very long time. Time to break out the book or portable games unit. So the train rolls slowly, the old rolling stock not making it any faster, but its fun in a honey way, you give up on your own time constraints, and desires. The train will get there when it gets there and there’s nothing you can do about it, apart from quiet your buzz and sit in your chair. Which is what I do.

Sit and watch the time pass slowly through the ever changing view offered me by the windows either side.

America feels on that grand level now, like Argentina did as I swooped along the roads on the luxury buses. Big and vast and awe-inspiring, as you wonder what it must have been like way back when, when all you had was a horse-drawn cart and weeks and weeks to travel down a non-existent trail from one part of the state to the other. Now we can move so easily across states it makes a mockery of the hard work and effort and sacrifice that others made to make it possible.

I take a couple of photo’s and wander down the length of the train, try not to think about the rumbling in my stomach and hope that Nicole is there to meet me when I get to Portland.

PS fingers crossed the bike makes it in one piece. I’m pretty sure it will, but you never know, would be just my luck to have the bike get fucked as I travel through america rather than Argentina and Brazil.

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