Day 3 The Beach Life & Day 4 Into the Breach

On Day 3, Jo and I pretty much stayed put.  We didn’t head into town or even leave the Balboa Peninsula for that matter.  Half the reason was because it is awesome and relaxing just hanging out there, nothing more needed.  We checked out the beach, went out on the pier to Ruby’s.  Ruby’s is an old style diner, burgers, shakes, and such.  Except instead of the traditional location on the side of the road, this one was on the end of the pier.

After that the most transport we did anywhere was rent some bikes and ply the entire Balboa Peninsula.  That was pretty cool, checking the out the area.  Later on she’ll have some awesome photos of our exploration posted and I’ll post links to them here.

Overall, that was the summary of Day 3.  Complete, utter, beach bumness.  It was awesome.  🙂

Into the Breach, Day 4

Day 4 started at 7:00am.  Our escape route from the Peninsula was to give our buddy Mike a ride into work, then drive the last few miles into Santa Ana Station and ride the train into LA.  So far being this far from LA, has posed serious complexity to actually getting into the city.  Any route, includes multiple transfers and approximately 2 hours and 46 minutes at minimum.  There is one bus on the Peninsula, which I must admit is fairly impressive considering.  It has almost zero ridership this far south on its route and the people that do ride it are almost all maids or some other service sector employees that come to the Peninsula and then leave the minute they’re done working.  I get the notion this is a running theme in LA.  Half the population seems to serve the other half, directly.

The bus that serves the peninsula is the #71 Orange County Transit Authority Bus Route.  The primary route goes up and down highway 55 off of the Peninsula and into the mainland area.

We managed to head out the door around 8:05am.  This was almost miraculous considering Jo usually won’t budge before 9am.  We dropped our comrade Mike off at the office and headed toward Santa Ana Station.  We pulled out and headed for the sprawling monstrosity of a highway.  We rolled onto 55 north bound and that turned into the lovely 8 lanes of chaos, frustration, road rage, and anger.  It was beautiful in its own sickening way.  We made good time and in about 25 minutes arrived at the station.  We took a minute trying to figure out where to park, eventually found a good place in the parking garage on deck 3.

We walked into the station with plenty of time for our 9:58am departure.  The Santa Ana Station was a masterpiece among stations.  Simple, mission style architecture.  The station stood about 3 stories tall and now serves multiple purposes for the city of Santa Ana.  Downstairs was a pleasant waiting room.  In one corner was a souvenir shop.  Opposite of that was a little cafe.  On the far end of the station stood Jo and I at the entrance, and in the other corner parallel to us was the ticket counter.  We strolled up, and inquired about our reservation.  The ticket clerk courteously printed the tickets, and handed them over to us.  Irony, out of the two tracks that stood outside, he said track #2 and we ended up waiting and boarding the correct train on track #1.

Amtrak Pacific Surfliner

The Pacific Surfliner pulled in at exactly 9:57am.  Like a crack team of operatives, we rolled out of the station at 9:58am.  The trip was pleasant, and definitely beat trying to drive the Interstates or highways into downtown!  After about 10 minutes both Jo and I passed out.  We both needed that extra few minutes of sleep, being up late every night so far.  We awoke about 10 minutes out of the station.  As we passed gateway point into Union Station I realized Los Angeles, compared to about 15 years ago when I visited before, has drastically improved rail operations – or simply put, has rail operations again.  We say Metroliner Trains, other Amtrak Trains coming in, and off on other alignments one could see the subway cars.  Overall impressive.  Los Angeles finally wins some points for drastic improvements from the past!

We got off there and aimed ourselves for the front entrance of the station and our new mission, which was made en route via txting, was to find the Dash B.  The Dash B, under this new plan to go check out MOCA, would take us directly there.  We almost made it out the door without knowing what the Dash B was, or where to find it, but gleaned the information from an information attendant at the information booth.  With a few quarters in our pockets we made our way out of the station, across the street, and onto an arriving Dash B bus.

Dash B

The Dash B route was cool.  The little short buses, running a small route downtown, with a 7-8 minute frequency.  All this frequency and such, for a measly quarter!  I’ll have to check information on these little routes later, they seem interesting.  In no less than 10 minutes we arrived at MOCA and made our way under the outside display.  David met us there and we toured the MOCA, while MOCA was closed.  It is truly awesome knowing people that can hook a person up with tours like that.

After that Jo, David, Sarah, and myself snagged some great sandwiches around the corner.  We discussed the other ideas for the days’ activities and David suggest we ride with Sarah down to Long Beach to save a few minutes and have more time to check stuff out.  We deemed that a grand and awesome idea and after lunch said our farewells and headed off with Sarah.

Sarah got us into downtown Long Beach where we immediately found the Blue Line Light Rail and jumped another bus to tour around Long Beach.  We got to see some cruise ships, checked out a slight bit of the loading cranes from a distance, and generally just kind of viewed the city from the little tour bus we were riding.

Metro Blue Line

(Light Rail Line)

Once back into the core of Long Beach a Blue Line approached just a few minutes after we arrived.  We boarded while it sat there at its layover stop.  After a few more minutes, with our 3 long LRV train, we headed onward toward downtown LA.  The run started from Long Beach with about 15 people on the entire train.  By the time we left Long Beach there were at least, and yes I was counting like an OCD case study, approximately 140 people on board.  By the mid-point of the trip there was approximately 210-220 people on the train set.  With the people getting on and off at each station, there is little doubt that the train saw at least 600-700 trip
s for that single run.  LA has done a very good job with their system.  I’m now going to have to dig up the ridership numbers for the respective light rail lines.

Metro Red Line


We arrived back downtown at the transfer point to the Red Line.  About 240 people got off of the Blue Line and the majority headed up to the level above to board the Red Line.  Within 5 minutes the Red Line blazed into the station as a subway train does, with heavy breaking the train came to a stop.  Everyone boarded quickly and off zoomed the subway train en route to Union Station.  It is always impressive the speed and mobility enabled by a subway system.

The Red Line, as only a subway train could provide, eclipsed the ridership of the light rail train by a couple hundred.  I wasn’t counting but my estimates where at minimum 4-5x as many as was on the Blue Line.  Again, I need to look up the statistics on this line too.

Back to the Surfliner

Jo and I finally arrived back at Union Station with 12 minutes to spare.  We figured out which track our train was preparing to depart from and headed up.  We boarded the train with 4 minutes to spare, and at 4:10pm sharp, we rolled out of Los Angeles Union Station.

We arrived back in Santa Ana on time and jumped in the ole’ hooptie for our last stretch back to Balboa Peninsula.

LA’s Summary

I couldn’t help but think, “LA actually has better transit than Portland does, what gives?!  Why do I still find it the last place I’d suggest to live?” and immediately came up with a few thoughts on that.

  • Portland has contained itself in a reasonable boundary to serve.  LA is and continues to be a total zoning catastrophe.
  • The roads and blocks in Portland remain human size versus auto-oriented size, which LA fails miserably at.
  • LA has an attitude still and barely a soul knows there is anything besides their car.  Portland absolutely knows there are many options besides the car.
  • Downtown LA could be beautiful and alive, instead there is a lot of work to do still.  Even though there are thousands and thousands more living in downtown LA than in downtown Portland, the later has much more life after 5pm than the former, massively larger city.

LA has vast potential to recover from the last half dozen decades of bad zoning and lack of sustainable infrastructure construction.  LA is a city with a short history, but a solid one with a world spotlight fixed directly at its heart.  LA has the stars, it has the port (ok, so that is Long Beach, but it is the metropolitan area), it has a fair environment, and overall sits in an area that people find attractive.  The only problem is overcoming the damning zoning and livability issues it has.  I have no doubt LA will overcome these issues, but there are definitely some very serious speed bumps on the way.

I’m going to catch 40 winks before jumping back aboard the flanged wheel for our next stretch of the journey.

With that here’s a few shots from day 1 and day 2 of the trip.

I’ve had the debate a few zillion times.  I’ll repeat the debate.  Show me a photo that shows a mode of transport that actively moves while you can be this

comfortable!  My lovely Jo is chilling in the Parlor Car.  I’ve never been as comfortable in a plane, bus, or any other mode ever.  Maybe a cruise ship might give a train a run for its money.

I challenge anyone to present a mode that is as remotely comfortable and human as rail travel.

Day 1 & 2 – Coast Starlight Departing Portland and Rolling South

The day started out pretty normal for a Saturday, slow and chill.  I suspect it was about 74, give or take a few degrees, and the sun was out.  Jo and I decided after finalizing our packed luggage to head for some biscuits at Pine State Biscuits.  With that we where out the door and headed for the east bound #4 Bus.

We arrived in short order.  The bus stop at 20th & Division is pretty cool.  It happens to have no shelter, but is near a New Seasons.  So nearby there are chairs and tables just off the paved sidewalk, near the side entranceway.  There are windows all along this part of New Seasons, which give it an open feeling of welcome to any bus riders waiting or coming.  Near the corner of the store there is a art piece that also acts as runoff from the roof.  The piece is kind of a metal scare crow man, holding a wheel of some sort where the water runs in and down.  From there the water runs into a bioswale (spelling?) where it is cleansed and sent into the river runoff.

We stood patiently and waited about 5 minutes for the arrival.  We were a little carried away with getting biscuits so had arrived excessively early.  The bus arrived on time and off we headed toward 39th, where we would transfer to the #75 north bound.  After arriving and transferring we were off again.  Finally we arrived at Belmont, got off the bus, and walked the remainder of the few blocks.

Pine State Biscuits

In standard Pine State Biscuits fashion there was a 30+ minute line for biscuits.  Thanks to some TV shows who showcased their awesome biscuits, we now had a line every Saturday and Sunday of out of towners and suburbanites.  I couldn’t really blame either group of people, the biscuits are awesome, and you just can’t get food like this in the burbs or most other towns for that matter.  But seriously, I’m sickened by the burbites most of the time.  As the statistics point out, urbanites are generally in better shape, healthier, and all around much nicer to look at.  Burbites tend to make the stomach spin and the skin crawl.  The IQ points tend to drop too, just like the general statistics of the bell curve.  One doesn’t have to assume, it is on display by their very actions.

But I do digress.

We got our biscuits, sat down and enjoyed them as one properly should.  Afterwards we left and walked back, a mere few blocks to the bus stop, and boarded the #75 for our return trip.  After the return trip transfer and the short walk from Ladd & Division (the west bound stop parallel to 20th & Division), we got our luggage together and prepared for the grand mileage of this vacation.  The real journey, our multiple hundreds of miles to traverse upon the Coast Starlight to LA.

Back aboard our trusty #9 bus to downtown and Union Station.  As we walked out the door and up to the bus stop the $9 pulled up for our transport.  We boarded with the largest set of packed luggage we’ve ever traveled with and took up almost the whole back seat of the bus (that’s 5 seats for those bus newbs).  Fortunately we didn’t feel too bad about it being that we actually managed to get on a bus that only had about 15 people on it.  This was very strange for today, and for the #9 route.  Often we don’t see buses with only 15 people on this route until about 10pm or so.

We got to the station at 2:35pm.  We had checked earlier and our #11 Coast Starlight was an hour and a half late leaving Seattle.  We figured we would be plenty ahead of her then if we arrived 10 minutes after the original scheduled departure time.  Of course, we were right and took a relaxing break in the Metropolitan Lounge in Union Station.  It is always nice to travel first class like this and have access to the lounges.

The Coast Starlight arrived and we all boarded.  We departed from the station at 3:24pm, exactly 59 minutes late.  A time that could theoretically be made up easily.

#11 headed out across the Willamette, plying the rail bridge as thousands of trains have before us, heading across and turning south for our journey.  We made really good time all the way through until the mountains just before Chemault before we had any additional delays.  This delay was merely a few minutes at that, which left us with a good potential to make up the tardiness.

Train People, British, and Conversations

When we boarded, my mother and father had boarded in Vancouver, Washington to ride with us to Eugene.  We decided after pulling out of Portland to head to the Lounge Car and hang out with them for a bit.  We started walking through our sleeping car, enjoying the slight rocking of the train.  Jo mentioned how she had missed this, as I did myself.  We made our way through the next sleeping car and into the Parlor Car.  We got halfway through the car and there on the lounge couch chairs sat mother and father.  We plunked down and immediately dove into conversation.

Jo & my mother began knitting away in turbo mode while father and I discussed various aspects of the voyage as we travelled along.  We passed through Milwaukee and into Oregon City.  In Oregon City we moved through with a slow order for the work crews doing maintenance on the tracks.  As we crept out of Oregon City we viewed the Willamette, and the water crashing over the dam for the industrial facilities along the river.

Father saw a lady sitting across from us with a book titled “USA by Rail” and inquired where she had boarded.  She answered, “I boarded in Chicago and took the Empire Builder across to Portland.”  He immediately, as did we all, picked up that she had a good and true British accent.  He, and I, discussed aspects of her trip so far.  She was happy to discuss and asked a few questions about various things along the way.  We pointed out a few tidbits for her to keep an eye out for.

We kept a steady banter up almost all the way to Eugene.  In preparation for detraining mother and father decided to head back to their coach seats about 25 minutes before their Eugene arrival.  Jo and I headed off to the Sleeper to enjoy the view and relax while we waited for our 6:30pm dinner reservations.  The view, as always, was magnificent.

6:30pm Dinner Reservations, More Friendliness & Tasty Foods

The announcement was made over the intercom that 6:30pm dinner reservations were ready.  Jo and I immediately shoved our ready feet back into our shoes and off we marched for dinner.  As with all meals in the dining car, all seats at all tables are filled, so often couples sit with other couples, loners sit with others, and the arrangements go on and on.  Needless to say, at any meal in the diner on a train one gets to meet new people.

Jo & I got to meet a couple from Connecticut for dinner.  The couple had just visited Portland for the first time.  The husband of the couple had flown in earlier in the week for business.  His wife, who hates flying, flew out later in the week.  They both had decided that they’d then take the train south just for fun.

We discussed with this couple, as we often do with anyone when they visit Portland, how absolutely amazing the city is.  The conversation ranged from the amazing transit that even tourists feel fine using, the easy access to all parts of town, the beautiful parks, and more.  Basically, I don’t recall ever meeting a single person who isn’t amazed at what Portland is.  They brought up their nearest comparison, Hartford Connecticut and described how horrible it is compared to Portland.  Stating simply, “their mayor of Hartford needed to come spend some really time in Portland to get their city of Hartford straiten
ed out.”

It is moments like these I realize how awesome Portland really is, amid the random bitching and griping that often goes on among a select few of us that push hard for things to be even better.  Portland truly is, one of the best cities in America, hands down no contest.

We finished our dinner, Jo with her Mahi Mahi & I with my crab cakes.  Dessert was a must have of apple tart.  After a tasty dinner topped off with some great Pinot Grigio Wine we headed back again to our roomette.

We carried on about the rest of the night, eventually heading back to the Parlor Car for a late night chocolate and a cappuccino.  Of course, all this being part of the new Parlor Car Service of the Coast Starlight.  Eventually midnight struck, and we both managed to pass out after a great first day of vacation and a grand day around Portland and aboard the Coast Starlight.

Day 2 – Coast Starlight Arriving in Los Angeles

We awoke north of Martinez, California.  The train was back on schedule and making good time.  We were easily running at 79mph, the legal speed limit.  We made it across the water and along the shore, into Martinez.  In short order we were out of Martinez and on our way again.

We pulled into Emeryville and then on to Oakland’s Jack London Station.  There we, for whatever reason, got a third engine attached to our train.  So even though we were back on time, this addition put us back about 5-10 minutes.

As we rolled out of Emeryville we ran parallel to the BART tracks, and along came a 6 car train parallel to us.  At first it easily passed us up, being we had just pulled out of the station.  We gained speed quickly, probably thanks to our additional engine, and kept pace with the BART train.  We gained a little bit on the BART, and then as it came to a station we finally overtook the train and rolled past.  We rode along for another 5-6 minutes and finally caught another BART train, the tracks still running nearly parallel to us, about a block away.  We easily overtook this 4 car BART train and kept rolling fast.

Catching Up From Day 1 PM

The last night somewhere rising in the mountains Wad (a writer from the Metrorider LA blog) had managed to get a call through to me.  Even though my connection was horrible I picked up and we talked for about 10 seconds before the phone lost connection again.  I tired calling back, but unfortunately we’d moved just far enough to eliminate any signal whatsoever.  The iPhone read, “No Signal”, and so I gave up trying for the night.

This morning when we awoke I realized, still here in California just west of Sacramento heading into Martinez that I had really cruddy signal.  Since it was 7am I figured it wouldn’t be prudent to call about at this time anyway.  I stashed the phone away and watched as the scenery flew by.

South of Oakland

After the little BART races, we kept a well intentioned 79 mph through southern Oakland and points further south.  Jo was livid over not being able to photograph the graffiti (mind you, not the tags, but the large pieces of graffiti).  While eating breakfast we determined we would have to make a trip sooner than later back to the area and make a real endeavor to capture some of the graffiti.

It might seem odd, but it is almost like anthropological study of peoples.  The graffiti tells a story, showcases the lives and emotes an expression of various individuals in an area.  Sure it is frustrating and often times, defacement of property, which I am adamantly against.  But once it is there, a sense of history can be derived by capturing it in pictures.  If I used this explanation to state a fascination, at least of my own, with graffiti I may bore any of those graffiti artists into picking up a new art form.

The train, just like so many along this route, travel directly through a lot of industrial areas.  These areas have thousands of pieces of graffiti (and unfortunately tagging) on the buildings.  The train also passes through hundreds of neighborhoods that have popped up over the years along the rail line.  Some sprawl, some urban zoned, some just sporadic catastrophes in the making.

San Jose and Beyond

We pulled into San Jose Diridon Station along the side of a CalTrain Commuter Train (that really sounds redundant).  The station was really fairly nice from the outside.  If I had known that we’d be sitting at the station for 10 minutes (like we seem to do at Sacramento and every station south of that.  Whatever the reason, if we do this heading north, I’m going to go picture taking crazy.

So far, Jo and I haven’t been too motivated to photograph much of anything.  Much of what can be viewed from the train around Emeryville, Oakland, and San Jose make California seem more like a third world nation than part of the the 1st world United States.  I know there are beautiful parts of this area, but the train skips much of it around the urban areas.

We headed out of San Jose for the remaining 10 or so hours of our journey.

As the Conductor Says, “Let’s talk about walking the train.”

Departing San Jose Diridon Station the conductor came over the IC to welcome everyone aboard.  In this new era of train travel there really does seem to be a new exuberance among the employees.  When I say new era, I’m referring to the “Obama Era of Train Travel”.  The conductor explained to people, that at 79 mph along this stretch of rail the walking gets a little bit difficult.  With a short explanation of feet at shoulders width, and walk with purses slung, make sure to have a hand ready so you don’t fall.  I could help but think, “newbs!”  🙂

The Popular Choice, Light Rail

Leaving San Jose station we passed over the Interstate and what did we have in the right of way, but none other than the transit mode du jour, light rail.  A single unit LRV was making its way parallel to the Interstate, to which we where running parallel to on the other side.  It seemed to go on for quite a few miles.  This however is one light rail system I literally know nothing about.  Don’t know where it goes, don’t know the ridership, and in all honesty, didn’t even realize it was here.  I will absolutely have to check it out and see what the specs are on that route.

Anyway, we arrived at 8:35pm, 35 minutes ahead of schedule.  I have to say, fairly impressive for the ole’ Star Late.  Our friend actually came an picked us up, as we could figure out reasonable transit to get to Balboa Peninsula.  The rest of this evening I’ll conclude in the next entry, for now, off to the metropolitan area of Los Angeles.

Los Angeles, Orange County, and Phoenix Itinerary

Next big trip, includes a few thousand rail miles.  I am sure Jo and I will land on a few buses during this trip.  If any auto usage is incurred, it will be through absolute necessity and with slight disdain.

  1. September 26th departing Portland Union Station @ 2:25pm on Amtrak Train #11.
  2. September 27th arriving Los Angeles Union Station @ 9:00pm on Amtrak Train #11.
  3. Chilling the OC life & roaming the LA mega sprawl via Metro.
  4. September 30th departing Los Angeles @ 2:30pm on Train #2 and Arriving Maricopa @ 10:07pm on Train #2.
  5. October 1st-4th will be staying at the Hampton in Gilbert (Mesa)
  6. and then
  7. Hotel San Carlos on the 4th-7th
  8. October 7th departing Maricopa @ 1:02am on Train #1 and arriving Los Angeles @ 9:40am on Train #1.
  9. Chilling in LA again, and shredding the OC.
  10. October 9th departing Los Angeles @ 10:15am on Train #14.
  11. October 10th arriving Portland @ 3:40pm on Train #14.
If you have any suggestions (I have received a few) of any particular routes, places, or other things Jo and I should hit up while in LA/OC please do comment.  Also in PHX – got a few things lining up and definitely looking forward to checking out both metropolis.  The last I was in LA was about a year ago, and the last time I saw Phoenix was in 1994 aboard the Sunset Limited – we took an unplanned 8+ hour delay into the city – it was a weird but awesome trip.  🙂

Green Line Videos Collection

I just wanted to throw together a montage of videos from the Green Line opening.

The Green Line green people invade Portland. This is, to note, NOT TriMet but a community group organizing. This is why I say private enterprise HAS to get involved to really make things lively and successful. Without, nobody cares.

bobrpdx put together this video, which shows the First Ride Event. The following is Part 1.

Phoenix's Ongoing Transit Blogosphere

I am truly impressed by the Phoenix Community’s ongoing support of the light rail system.  Phoenix almost, maybe it does, outdo Portland in support of light rail these days.  Either way, it seems oddly amazing that a city known as a blight* upon America, is working so hard and diligently to become an impressive and modern city.  All of the below sites can be found by a simple search on Google of Phoenix Rail Life.

Here’s a look at some of the Phoenix Community’s efforts:

  • Light Rail Blogger: I’ll admit it, Tony’s site is one of my favorite.  He has a real human element about his entire blog and life going car-less in a city not so well known for car-less survivability.
  • Downtown Phoenix Journal:  This is a new blog read to me.  But obviously is connected to efforts for successful light rail and urban lifestyles.  Enabling people to really step up in life.  It is an impressive site – I dig it.
  • Rail Life:  This is one of the first sites I saw pop up related to Phoenix Light Rail.  As per the topic of this blog entry, Rail Life’s Blog has an entry on activities in Phoenix.  This is a common thing to see on this and the other blogs.
  • Light Rail Hot Spots:  This is just a one off page, but still it is a site of interest.

This is something that I think Portland should really endeavor to improve, and which I would be more than happy to kick off.  Is there anyone else out there who could kick in some assistance?  Hit me up at adron [@] adronbhall [dot] com.

* I didn’t come up with that adjective, a local Portland resident tossed me the word blight when I asked for a description of Phoenix, Arizona while riding about on our newly opened Green Line.