I'm on the train. Everything is good. America is passing by one town at a time.
The concerns of real life seem distant. The train is its own little world. Life passes at a slower pace and everybody here is fine with that.
We started from Los Angeles on Saturday night, and as I start writing this blog on Sunday, Amtrak's Southwest Chief is winding its way through central New Mexico. The landscape is a mix of brown, red and green. Dry rivers cut past us. Bushes dot otherwise barren hillsides. It is strangely beautiful.
The train is a bit pricey — unless you want to sleep sitting up, which I definitely will not do — so I can only do it one way. Thus, my vacation began with a plane ride to San Francisco. Cross-country flights are less enjoyable as I get older and the leg room gets smaller, but there are still wondrous things about flying. Like watching as your plane descends into a bank of clouds, as if it were landing on cotton balls.
If you don't mind the expense and can dodge the aggressive skateboarders, San Fran is a fun city to visit. There's always something to do, including the usual touristy things ...
I've been to San Francisco several times but somehow never made it out to the Golden Gate bridge. There's a bus that drops you right at the front gate and it's an easy walk out to middle of the bridge, or even the other side, if you're up for it.
It's impossible to put into words how immense the center towers are. Better just to show you.
After a day and a half, it was on to Los Angeles. It was a bit eccentric to make this a two-stop trip in California, but the flights were numerous and cheap, so what the heck, it was wheels up and down to LAX.
It got as high as 80 degrees during my 2 1/2 days there. I don't mean to rub it in, but I had to buy a tube of sunscreen lotion. Sorry about the weather you've had back home.
LA is a spread-out kind of place and my hotel was in Hawthorne, about 15 miles from center city. To get there meant a ride on the green line, a change to the blue line and then another change to the red line. As commutes go in this city, not bad.
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On my last day in Los Angeles I had a free afternoon before the train departed. That left time for a quirky bit of big-kid entertainment back at the airport, thanks to a coincidence of timing.
They open the observation deck on top of the Theme Building only on the second weekend of each month. It's not advertised or well known. The only other people up there besides me were a handful of travelers and one bonafide, old-fashioned plane spotter, dutifully writing down the tail numbers of aircraft as they landed.
I spent an hour and a half just watching planes take off and land. It's a cool way to kill time.
Then it was on to Union Station to begin a three-day, ground-level journey across the country, with a change of trains in Chicago. If flying is reality TV, then taking the train is a documentary, minus the commentary. Your window fills with houses, hills, cities, villages, farms and everything else there is to see along the way.
The Southwest Chief only goes through two cities of any size en route — Albuquerque and Kansas City — so the small towns stand out. You often get a look at downtown on the way through. We stopped in Raton, New Mexico on a 10-minute "fresh air break" and could look down Park Street as we stood outside the train. I wished I could wander down the street and take a look around.
That's the downside of the train. You're constantly rumbling through paper-thin slices of people's lives. A large party spills across a backyard ... what's the occasion? A tire hangs from a tree in the middle of nowhere ... who put it there? A baseball game is underway ... who's playing? It all whisks past your window, gone in seconds, just a bare sketch left in your memory.
As passengers, you take it as it comes. The show never stops until darkness descends.
There's time to talk with fellow travelers, especially during meals, when passengers are seated randomly with one other. Every meal brings a different conversation. I sat with two different people from Australia. There was a family from Canada who had lived for a while in Saratoga Springs. I somehow feel comfortable in this setting in spite of my stilted, socially challenged personality.
We're in the Midwest on Monday as I finish up this blog, through Kansas and Missouri, over the mighty Mississippi and into Illinois. Long, flat fields of farmland stretch to the horizon, broken only by grain elevators, the occasional village and a smattering of houses. I hope we're late. I could sit here forever, just staring out the window.
America is passing by one town at a time. Everything is good. I'm on the train.