I Heart Amtrak – Best Way To Travel
Oh, heavenly lord, I pray to thy skirt! I am on Amtrak, leaving straight from Stockton, Ca and going through to Portland, Or. I have a wee little stop in Sacramento (1 hour from now) where I will change trains and travel 15 hours to Portland.
We’re talking luxury people! I have a goddamn curtain here. Sure, it’s almost midnight, which is the only time Amtrak goes from Sac to PDX but who cares, this is the high life.
The Connecting Train – Amtrak San Joaquins
The first leg of my trip is on the Amtrak San Joaquins train which is coming in from South, probably from Bakersfield. I travel for 1 hour on here and then switch trains in Sactown.
I don’t even know where to start. There is carpet that is distinguishable from a swamp. The seats are upholstered with cloth rather than bodily discharge.
There are fancy luggage racks above each seat. Vent controls for air and plenty of lighting on the train.
It’s not packed traveling on a Sunday night. Maybe 20% occupied. There are seats above and seats below. There are nice tables that seat 4 people on every cart, plenty of them.
Each group of seats has an outlet and there are fold-down tables which can be used to place a laptop on or sniff some lines off of. Wifi is provided free through Amtrak and so far it has been working great. Rumor has it that the next train, the one traveling for 15 hours, doesn’t have Wifi and the website is ambivalent.
There is a huge food cart on this train, with a fairly decent selection. I don’t care for the food, I’m eyeing the booze. Matt, the trusty bartender, who is on his 15th hour, is the nicest fella and will even mix you up a cocktail if you buy the tiny liquor bottle and the soda separately.
I opted for the vino, Woodbridge, great vintage, 2015, in a tiny plastic bottle. Nothing but the finest for this doctor! $6 – and yes, it’s a twist-off.
Main Train – Amtrak Coast Starlight
In total my tickets would cost me $122 but I had some miles left from my old days of trying to play the miles game.
It would have cost $88 but I decided to upgrade to business class for an extra $40, just in case I was going to get Greyhounded like my last trip.
We’re talking fancyyyyyy! Business class for $40 more? Completely worth it. The leg room is insane and the occupancy is probably 5%.
The dining cart is 10 tables seating 4 each. You stand by the door and the wait staff seats you next to others, they kinda force you to mingle which is wonderful.
I enjoyed a delicious coffee and some potatoes. But even better, I got to enjoy amazing company. I’m gonna tell you a little about my dining mates in a bit.
Overnight On Amtrak
I could have sprung for a sleeper room for about $170 more but I’m not sure that would have been worthwhile. I slept fine on my business class seats.
The seat reclines quite a bit so you’re damn near horizontal when sleeping. Though, I found that the best way to sleep is with shoes off, stretching across both seats, a pillow against the ledge of the window and you’re good to go.
For business class they offer you free Wifi but I don’t believe there is Wifi for coach. The Wifi has been off ever since we got close to Oregon so I’m not sure it’s something I would depend on. Others seem to do fine tethering.
My Dining Buddies
In the dining cart, I got seated next to 3 other people, a husband and wife in their late 50’s and dude in his late 70’s. He was from Vancouver, Canada and the couple was from Santa Clarita Valley in California, a place I used to moonlight at quite a bit in residency.
The funniest thing is that we all had 1 thing in common, we had all retired in the last few months. And guess what, all of us were talking about the same shit, figuring out how to optimize spending, figuring out health insurance and how best to spend our free time.
The couple sort of burnt out from work so they took early retirement without much planning. They decided it’s better to start living life than dealing with the stress of a job. She was a controller and he was a designer for a T-shirt company.
The wife has some health issues which she believes was brought on by years of stress and the sedentary lifestyle that results from her particular career.
They are relocating from Southern California to Washington in order to lower their cost of living and have more free time to enjoy traveling and focusing on their health. O absolute delightful couple, I think they will be happy in the Pacific NW.
The older dude was a hoot. A wonderful man who has been living in Canada since the 60’s, married for 51 years. He bought a home for $400k and recently sold it for $900k. He retired just a few months ago from selling carpets. Before that he did horse training and he had a whole list of other jobs in his past.
He is spending his time traveling in retirement, visiting grandkids by Amtrak. His wife prefers the plane and so they meet up at the common destination, each choosing their own method of transportation.
Coincidentally, that’s what I was doing with my retirement time, visiting family in Stockton. I went thinking to stay the weekend and ended up staying for a little over a week. No rush to get back and no rush to leave a destination – that to me is the crux of retirement.
Am I bored, as many like to ask? Hardly. I am a far more productive person retired than working a job.
Back to the old dude. Apparently, a year ago, after sitting on a plane next to a flatulating man and a woman who had a 4-hour panic attack, he swore off airline travel.
Amtrak Travel Amenities
For the business class, there are 5 bathrooms downstairs, the large reclining seats which I mentioned. 2 outlets next to the seats, large tray tables and complimentary water, pillows and a $6 food cart certificate which paid for most of my breakfast.
The business seats have an attendant who comes around and checks on you regularly. Feels like first class which I’ve never experienced before.
You can walk around a lot and change seats and check out the rest of the train. I left my laptop and bag on my seat without feeling like it was gonna walk off.
The little rooms below for $170 have bunk beds and have a common shower that can be used for those who pay for these roomettes.
There are also suites for around $350 (on top of the $88 Amtrak tickets) which are below and have chairs, 4 beds, a shower and toilet.
For a family of 4, it would be $88*4+$350. The Amtrak website isn’t really all that clear so it might even be cheaper.
I would take this over a plane any freaking day! It’s amazing, beautiful and cozy. I don’t feel rushed and the overnight ride, sleeping on the reclined seat, was perfectly acceptable.
Waking up to a sunrise and this gorgeous scenery is priceless. I’m glad that I tried both Greyhound and Amtrak. And I’m really glad that I found a way to travel to Cali without taking the plane.
I wonder if people as a whole had more time as a resource whether they would choose to travel quickly by plane or slow & mellow by train?
As our world is stressed by the ever-expanding greed for natural resources in order to propel us faster from point A to point B, I’m wondering if regaining control over our free time isn’t an even more worthwhile cause.