Not long ago, your curmudgeon got the chance to take
the train to Portland, OR from the Oakland station in Jack London
Square. The departure is 9:40 pm, which affords time to visit the
lounge car and spend the next hour looking at Bay views as the train
winds it way around the Bay to Martinez. It’s not particularly fast,
but the views (even at night) make up for the difference.
The train is well furnished with lounge space, so
if you decided to spring for the extra fare and book a sleeping
compartment, it comes equipped with a “welcome aboard” package and
your own lounge car. All the equipment is double-decked, and the
lounge has windows in the roof, so viewing the scenery is easily
accomplished. A stroll through the train reveals a full dining car,
a coach lounge and leg rest coaches that make sitting up all night a
completely different experience from the airlines “Red Eye,” as you
have more space in coach than a first class airline passenger.
There is even a children’s play area in the lower
sections of one of the coaches, so that travel with small children
is comfortably accomplished. But your curmudgeon opted to take
advantage of the sleepers (figuring that the cost of a sleeper was
fairly similar to motel costs saved by taking the night train). A
longer stay in the lounge car revealed an old-fashioned camaraderie
where complete strangers were talking to each other like old
The next morning, the lucky
passenger awakes to startling views of Mount Shasta and sweeping
views of the countryside from the escarpment. Early morning sunlight
illuminates the scene in a magical way. Even the air smells good.
And then breakfast is freshly prepared and served in the dining car,
affording another opportunity to mingle with your fellow passengers
before retiring to the lounge car and taking in the views.
Newspapers from Klamath Falls (our early morning stop) bring you up
to speed on the day’s news as the train winds its way around the
rugged countryside. Mid-morning brings you back in touch with
civilization’s cell towers and more than likely your cell phone will
prod you with messages missed as you drop down into the Willamette
valley. At 3:40 pm, you ease into Portland, rested and willing to
take on the rest of the day’s challenges.
The next time you head north, be it Klamath Falls, Portland or
Seattle or even Vancouver, you might consider taking the train. Good
food, nice equipment, excellent service and friendly passengers make
this a “land cruise” rather than simple transportation. And it all
occurs for the price of simple transportation.