Archives for posts with tag: Train Travel

I may not know what it’s like to ride the subway in other metropolitan cities, but compared to the rides I’ve had in the cities I’ve visited, namely in Los Angeles and NYC, Washington D.C. may just be one of my top mass people movers in the country.

Clean, reliable, smooth. Passengers grasp basic mass transit etiquette, like waiting for all outbound riders to exit the car before filing in, or standing on the right side of the escalator to allow folks to walk up or down the left. Riding the Metro in Los Angeles was a bit of a cultural shock when I learned that the best way to secure a seat was to fight the outgoing traffic like a salmon swimming upstream and to always check your seat before sitting down lest you soil your pants with unidentifiable liquids.

Generally, the cars are well-lit and quiet, unless you’re headed to U Street on a weekend, or post-Nationals game. In LA, expect your eardrums to be blasted by an up-and-coming hip hop artist’s mixed tape, or thrown into a seatmate’s marital issues as she broadcasts her business into her cell phone and for everyone around to hear. Also expect terribly executed and sometimes creepy pick-up lines.

D.C. Metro lines are identified by color; red, blue, orange, silver and the stops come with fun names like Foggy Bottom, Friendship Heights and Shady Grove. The trains leave and arrive when they say they will, and the damp, sometimes moldy, musty, can’t-put-your-finger-on-it-smell is much more tolerable.

What do you think about the country’s mass transit systems? Leave me a comment below.

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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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