arriving in san francisco | train 8

My train journey is coming to an end. We made it through the heavy snow drifts of the Sierra Nevadas and the first vineyards alight the California landscape. Familiar names to unfamiliar places are slipping by: UC Davis and Mountain View. And as I pack my bag, moving haltingly in the tight space to reach my scattered things, I feel a tinge of jealousy for passengers that arrive on days that are not so wet and grey. The rain has thrown a dim film on the world. The low light mars my pictures from the train-in-motion, and I eventually give up, setting the camera beside my chair and framing pictures with my mind instead. The rain specks remain fixed on the windows. Pete my official Amtrak Sleeping Car Attendant has been friendly but awkward the entire trip. He pokes his head in occasionally with an offer for bottled water or fresh towels, but he has a little script he says, smiling into the distance. Interrupting him for a question hits a 404 Not Found error—he abruptly stops talking without making eye contact, shakes his head a little and slides your door shut briskly. He’s like an early software model—able to do a few things well, but ready to crash on getting unexpected input (like, “Pete, can you tell me more about the connecting bus service in San Francisco?” = Melt down). Oh well. I’ve decided to have compassion, but I’m a little unsure how much to tip him. I read online that 5 dollars a night is a pretty good tip. I spent two nights, so I decide I’ll go ahead and give him the $10.

Susan, the Dining Car Attendant, walks by my open door and says “bye!” She is carrying a purse and her jacket, and I wonder if she has people in San Francisco she can stay with.

All in all, I’m sad to leave the California Zephyr. Two days is enough time to start to feel at home, and now I know why people take the train. It is the antidote to an information-glut life, running at high-speed. The first goal is to sit and stare out the window; watching the trees and rivers and mesas as they float by. It’s a calming way to travel, nothing to filter or sort or answer or know. And nobody made you take your shoes off to do it.

Goodbye California Zephyr. Let’s do it again some day.