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Archive for November, 2017

November 8-10, 2017        

Leg 1

We were up and at ‘em at 4:30 a.m. It had been a long time since we needed an alarm clock wakening. Neither of us slept very well – it was going to be a long, complex day.

SuperShuttle arrived at 5:30. We were the first to be picked up. Would we head directly to the airport? Of course not. The van headed up into the foothills of San Bruno Mountains. It felt surreal and peaceful, driving through the dark, empty streets of the Bay Area. We gradually made our way south, picking up additional travelers. We passed a sign welcoming us to the city of Colma. The very first thing I saw after that was a long succession of cemeteries. Colma was founded as a necropolis, a city of about 1.5 million dead. San Francisco outlawed burial of the dead in 1900 and eventually evicted all the cemeteries in the city. So Colma has a lot of green space.

Leg 2

We reached SFO around 6:15. Our flight was at 8, so we had lots of time for coffee and for me, a large Apple Fritter. Sunrise was dramatic, with lots of clouds. Enough clouds, I guess, to make Southwest Airlines cancel 3 flights that were supposed to depart an hour later than we were to fly off. Lucky break for us.

Note: The images are a mix of Dave and my iPhones and my Nikon Coolpix. They were mostly taken behind windows on moving vehicles, i.e. not so great.

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The flight was only 45 minutes, so the lack of leg space and the miniscule time period I could go to the bathroom weren’t too bothersome. The plane flew south over California. We were over land instead of sea, and I got to play my personal game of trying to guess where we were flying over. Pinnacles National Park? Kings Canyon National Park? Carrizo Plains? The one constant was a thin line of blue running north/south: the California Aqueduct. It moves a tremendous amount of water from Northern and Central Sierra Nevada Mountains to Southern California. I sipped from my plastic water bottle as I peered past Dave’s shoulder.

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Leg 3

We arrived at LAX on time, took off our sweaters, retrieved our luggage and broke into a gentle sweat as we waited for the FlyAway bus in the sunshine. It took us about 45 minutes to reach Union Station in Los Angeles, a huge facility that hosts hordes of trains and buses. We were here to rent a car. We could only return a car here if we rented it from here and we would board a train here tomorrow.

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Mural at Union Station

Leg 4

Oh boy, we got to drive in Los Angeles! It was only 35 miles to Pomona and our little Yaris made a good job of it. We felt a little insecure without our Garmin to guide us through the snake nest of highways that cover greater Los Angeles. I used Google Maps to get us to our destination – the Sheraton Fairplex Hotel in Pomona. Traffic was fairly light at 1 p.m. so we got there fairly quickly. There was a small complication. Google seemed to think we were cattle headed into the fairgrounds, but human intervention helped us locate the hotel. We checked in, had a late lunch and relaxed for a while, relishing the air-conditioned suite that the university had provided for us.

 

The University of La Verne

The reason for the trip? Gary Colby, the Photography Department Chair at the University of La Verne in La Verne, California, saw Dave’s work and really liked his Life on Wheels: The New American Nomads project. He invited Dave to exhibit at

the Irene Carlson Gallery of Photography, on the University campus. Part of their mission statement: “We choose photographers whose work causes us to think about the effects of our craft on our culture. By these presentations the University of La Verne invites students, faculty, staff, and community members to become inspired by photographs and informed by the peculiar way of knowing realized by adventurous photographers.”

Dave was excited to display a large body of his work on the project. We were still on an RV road trip when the exhibit opened, so Gary arranged a reception for Dave on November 8.

The University of La Verne was founded in 1891 by members of the Church of the Brethren who had moved west. Both the college and the surrounding agricultural community were renamed La Verne in 1917. I didn’t see all of the campus but was impressed by the area I saw. Having attended the University of San Francisco, an urban, compressed campus in the center of the city, I was impressed by the expansive, green, sunny campus. Gary told me a little about the University’s history while Dave and Kevin Bowman, the Photography Department Manger, were stowing the Yaris.

The exhibition was nicely mounted in the Irene Carlson Gallery of Photography. People started to filter in, most of them photography students. Dave got many questions about how he started out in photography, why he chose to photograph RV full-timers as well as questions about some of the individuals pictured. It was interesting to meet some young photographers who are learning to use equipment other than smart phones. The department maintains a darkroom and film and alternative photographic processes are explored.

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Things wound down at 7:30 and Gary, Kevin and Art Suwansang, A Senior Adjunct Professor in the Photography Department, took us to dinner in old downtown La Verne. We walked only two or three blocks to reach downtown, an advantage when a town develops around the university. While cool enough to put on a sweater, it was a distinct pleasure to walk after a long day of traveling.

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Kevin, Dave, Art, Gary

We bade farewell and collapsed back in the hotel. After an hour of the National Geographic Channel showing a feature involving the enormous flood that created the Scablands (love the name!) in Washington state, we slept well.

Leg 5

We rose at 6 a.m. That gave us 4 hours to shower, pack up and drive the 35 miles back to Union Station, turn in the car and board the train. The drive, west on the 10 (everyone in SoCal seems to preface highway names with “the”) was, as we expected slow. Not excruciatingly slow, but 20-mile-an-hour slow for a good portion of it. I was using Google Maps on Dave’s iPhone and by the time we got off I-10 his phone battery was low. We had to stop for gas and the street to return the car was not the main entrance to Union Station where Google was trying to direct us. All in all, it took us 2.5 hours to reach Union Station and return the car. We were both limp after the tension of driving in unfamiliar territory.

Leg 6

We had enough time to get an Egg-a-muffin and coffee from Starbucks and headed to Track 10-B to catch the Amtrak Coast Starlight. It was almost right on time and we stowed the luggage and found our seats. And ohhhhhhh, the leg space. Enough to stand up and turn sideways. A footrest came down from the seat in front and I had to stretch a little to reach it. The seat reclined fairly well and a leg rest could be popped up. We beamed at each other. No more driving for the rest of the trip.

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Waiting for the train

The ride to Santa Barbara was only 2.5 hours and it was a pleasure. The train heads west through suburban terrain for the first 90 minutes. We reached the coast when we got to Ventura. It was fun to try to identify the campgrounds we had stayed at over the years. The views were wonderful. We congratulated ourselves for requesting seats on the left, the ocean side of the car.

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The lounge car in front of ours had seats facing the large windows. I thought the seating was reserved but the car is open to all. We ensconced ourselves in there for an hour or so, sipping our drinks, still winding down from the morning. Nice!

Leg 7

We reached Santa Barbara around 12:45 and detrained in the pretty little Amtrak Station. We had to walk to our hotel, the Hotel Indigo. It took, oh, about 3 minutes. We had stayed there several years before and noticed how close it was to the train station.

Hotel Indigo may not be for everyone, but it has its own Euro-style vibe. The rooms are small. Our king bed had about 1 to 3 feet of space from it to the wall. There is a small desk and a short, open closet with 2 drawers. We discovered the terry cloth robes in the drawer too late to enjoy them. A phone and small coffee pot took up most of the available surface space. Since we were there for one night, we didn’t unpack the suitcases which meant we had to maneuver around or over them to move around the room. It was cluttered.

The bath is nicely done but is also small. The frosted glass bathroom door lays flat against one wall with the sink. The shower has a glass door that also flattens against the wall, next to the toilet. To shower, you pull the glass wall open next to the toilet and pull over a shower curtain that is at a 90-degree angle to the glass wall. Inevitably, all the water does not stay in the shower area.

I believe the idea is that you won’t be spending a lot of time in your room except to sleep and shower. The hotel makes up for the small room space by creating several public areas. There are two upstairs outdoor patios that guests can use. There’s a library with loads of art books and comfy chairs. The lobby also has indoor-outdoor seating. Santa Barbara’s mild climate is ideal for this setup.

Cocktail hour arrived and we went to the restaurant next to the hotel for drinks and a couple of small plates. We sat in the patio and watched people go by while listening in to what appeared to be a first date at the table next to ours. We walked a few blocks to Stearn’s Pier. Later on, we walked up State Street a quarter-mile or so and had dinner at a Spanish restaurant, Cadiz. The night was mild and the walk back was pleasant.

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View from Stearn’s Pier, Santa Barbara

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On Friday morning, Dave had arranged a meeting with his friend, Christa Dix, the founder and director of wall space. Christa’s mission is to help promote photographers and photography. He discussed his new project, Into the Anthropocene, with her as several families and lots of kids enjoyed a Veteran’s Day breakfast around us.

After that, knowing we had a long day of sitting on the train, we took a long walk up State Street. Having seen the snack shop on the train, we bought sandwiches at a little lunch place to take on the train.

Leg 8

After checking out, we pulled our suitcases across the railroad tracks to the station. Dave had noticed that one of the wheels on his beat-up suitcase had lost a pin and was falling off. He rigged it and hoped it would make it home. Carrying a suitcase up the hill to our house was not something he wanted to do.

There was a group of about 25 young teenagers sitting in a huge circle at the train station. We fervently hoped they would not be in our car. They were not. We asked for seats on the coast side and received them. We stowed the bags and ascended to the coach seats. They were perfect. We settled in for the 8.5-hour ride.

There were lots of clouds but the sun kept breaking out. The views were wonderful. We saw another campground we stayed at. We saw lots of surfers. We read our books. We ate our lunch. We watched people come and go on the train. We relaxed. Eventually, the train headed inland but we were going past ranches, farms and occasional small towns. We mostly weren’t traveling near Highway 1 or 101.

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After hours of sitting, dinner reservations took us to the dining car at 5:30 to sit somewhere different. Cloth tablecloths and napkins added a touch of class but the menu wasn’t too exciting. Steak for Dave, chicken for me. Woodbridge was the only choice for wine. Adequate. Couples were expected to share tables so we met a couple coming from San Diego and heading to Oakland to visit their daughter. It was a pleasant meal.

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Back at our seats, we amused ourselves for another 3 hours. I could faintly smell smoke in our car. After a while a warning came over the loudspeaker, saying the train personnel knew someone was smoking in the bathroom and when (not if) they found them, they would be put off the train. I had my suspicions about one person but they were still on the train when we arrived at Jack London Square in Oakland.

Leg 9

It felt quite romantic leaving the train. It had rained and the station platform was wet. We found the bus to San Francisco and sat in the front seats. The train was departing as the bus pulled out of the station. We saw two people running for the train but they weren’t going to catch it. At the train stops, there are clear warnings of how long people have to “stretch their legs”. Those two had taken too long.

It took the bus about two minutes to get on the Bay Bridge. The huge windshield allowed me to get some pictures of our beautiful city as we crossed the bridge.

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Leg 10

We retrieved our bags and started rolling our way to BART, about 4 blocks. The transit angels were looking after us and we caught a train immediately. We were at the Glen Park BART station in fifteen minutes.

Leg 11

As we came up the stairs to the street, the wheel fell off Dave’s suitcase. He wasn’t going to carry it up the long hill to our house, so I sat down with the luggage and he went home to get the car. As I waited, I was watching a woman yelling at her prospective Uber driver on the phone. He apparently was claiming he was waiting at the Glen Park Station. Where was she? “I can’t see you” she kept saying. I couldn’t see him either. No fun at 11 p.m.

Dave showed up and we finally made it home. Unloaded the toothbrushes and left the rest for tomorrow. Toasted a successful trip with a tot of Glenlivit Scotch and slept in our own bed.

Conclusion

The train trip was comfortable and fun. Breaking it into two days improved things a lot. Arriving at our destination at a reasonable hour helped a lot. I haven’t heard good reports of doing a cross-country trip on Amtrak but the Coast Starlight was very nice. I recommend it. Be sure to bring your own entertainment and your own food. Be aware that WiFi on the train costs.

P.S. The one-way train trip for 2 seniors (62 or older), broken into 2 days was $185. A good value, I think.

 

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