By car, you are one of the herd, confined by the unpredictable flow of traffic. On the train, expectations are predetermined by a schedule. Theoretically, I would board Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner at 11:30 a.m. and arrive in the middle of Downtown Los Angeles and my final destination a few hours later.

The train rolled in a few minutes past the half hour. I climbed aboard slightly annoyed. It was the July 4th weekend, and I had a social schedule to keep. The top deck was sparse; I committed to one of the many open window seats and plugged my iPhone into an empty outlet. I scrolled through the #Amtrak Twitter search results to see what my fellow Amtrak passengers thought about their experiences. Unfortunately, it looked like there were major delay issues on the East Coast. A power outage, apparently. Fortunately, I was in California.

With that perspective, all was forgiven as we glided North from the Oceanside stop; past the surfers at San Onofre, the sparkling view of the sand and shore, colorful beach umbrellas ruffling in the breeze – the folks on the sand enjoying the bright, sunny day just like me. Because I’m on a train. And those folks crawling the opposite way on the I-5? They probably wished they took the train. I could almost feel the strain in my right foot toggling from the gas and brake pedals, a sporadic routine that is guaranteed on that wretched drive. Been there, done that way too many times. No thanks, not this weekend.

I felt in complete opposition to what it usually feels like to make the drive; on the day I took the train, I felt calm and quiet. Even the steady clang of the bell as we arrived at each stop and the intermittent blasts of the train’s warning horn (or whatever it’s called) felt welcome. After a while, it blended into the periphery.

Inside, the seats were wider and boasted more legroom than a domestic flight. The shushing of the air-conditioning and the pleasant rumble underfoot as it carried on put me at ease. Why haven’t I thought of train travel before?

This was the way America traveled the country before cars and planes; this was their way, it wasn’t novelty, the way I treated it. Train travel was their ticket to the future, a coal-fired exchange for more time, opportunity, exploration. I considered this as the conductor stopped at my seat as I unlocked my battered iPhone, flashed the QR code and was recorded as another passenger on its daily route.

View of Oceanside, CA from Amtrak Pacific Surfliner.

View of Oceanside, CA from Amtrak Pacific Surfliner.

 

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