Day #12 actually started at 1:00am as Tony dropped us off in Maricopa for the Sunset Limited. The Sunset Limited rolls into Maricopa at this crazy early time in this crazy out of the way place. So he got us out there, and Jo & I loitered about in one of the creepiest Amtrak Stations we’ve ever been in. Before I continue on about this station, I am going to say a few words in regards to the Sunset Limited.
The Sunset Limited, before Amtrak took control of it in the 70s, used to run between New Orleans and LA. It might have gone further but I’m not sure, I just know for a fact it, as with all Amtrak’s trains, predates Amtrak operation of the train. I’m not sure what schedule or anything that train operated on, but it existed so feel free to look it up.
What I do know specifically is that Amtrak’s Sunset Limited leaves 3 times a week from LA. It takes about 48 hours to travel the great southern expanse of the US from LA to New Orleans. This is all fine and dandy, however there are some issues with taking this train.
- The train is completely unorganized compared to the Coast Starlight, Empire Builder, and I’d suspect the other western US transcontinental trains. The crew can’t seem to get people on and off, the stations are designed with standard nor any intelligible use for an actual passenger train.
- The train only leaves 3 times a week. This, unfortunately is probably part of a physical limitation from a lack of equipment. Even though it seems, since the train doesn’t go all the way to Orlando anymore there should be enough. Whatever the reason, the 3 day departure frequency just sucks. It makes planning any connections really difficult.
- Now this complaint isn’t about the train itself, nor the crew. The last major complaint I have is about the people that ride this train. I guess, it brings back my annoyance with the southern USA. I’ll just suffice it to say that the average IQ went down about 20 points and the educational level ceased to exceed 8th grade.
The Sunset Limited really needs some help in becoming a world class train again. I didn’t see a ridership problem, the train was technically full and there was approximately another half a train full of people that would detrain and board along the way. No, the train wasn’t at capacity, but it wasn’t doing any worse at this time than most of the other intercontinental trains.
Now that I’ve explained the issues with the Sunset Limited you’ll understand why the station is rather creepy in Maricopa. Aside from the fact there are some pretty decrepit, goofy looking creepy people, the station adds to the aura of creepiness by being located in Maricopa. One can’t see anything in any direction except a gas station down the road. Everything else surrounding the station is nothing more than pitch black. Being surrounding by this blackened soot of night we sat waiting for our train with about 60 other people.
We had arrived at 10:00pm after Tony dropped us off. Fortunately we were full of tasty Cuban Food so all we had to do was chill out and wait. The time ticked by toward that 1:07am arrival. Tick tock, tick tock. We sat with all the creepy folk. Finally about 12:40am we all headed out as the train arrival was imminent. When we stepped outside the arrival wasn’t imminent, but it was instead arrived.
She sat there in the darkness with lights off, engine humming, and crew changing out. The Sunset Limited cars, which couldn’t fit in the station while the engine driver swap occurred, sat upon the tracks in the soot black of the night. After the engine crew changed out the train pulled ahead about 150 feet or so the first cars could be boarded.
The first few cars on the Sunset Limited were sleeping cars. On the Sunset Limited there are sleeping cars on the front and rear of the train. The reason there are sleepers on the front and back is because the Texas Eagle & Sunset Limited are joined together in Texas. From there they traverse as one train. Since this train in the past was the Sunset Limited, I stick to calling it just that.
The train finally pulled forward to the coaches where everyone else got on board except Jo and I. The conductor had informed us a few minutes before that we would board last since we are the only sleeping car passenger boarding in Maricopa. We waited for these people to board. Once that was done she pulled forward further, and we boarded the sleeping cars on the end of the train.
Once aboard we quickly sprang into action stowing our luggage and other errata. Within minutes our car attendant came by and informed us that the dining car would start breakfast at 5:30am. We passed out at this point, enjoying the rapture of sleep.
What we had neglected to know, or be informed of, was that the psychotic announcer would actually announce breakfast at 5:30am over the intercom. Addition, we had not realized that our in room intercom was on. One can easily turn it off if they don’t want to hear the announcements in car, but we had not noticed. So our oddball, somewhat brash experience on the Sunset Limited route was about to take a turn for the turbo brash. By our neglect, and the somewhat stupid idea that people get up at 5:30am, the dining car was about to punch us square in the head.
THIS IS THE DINING CAR SPEAKING!!!
The statement blared over our internal intercom, which in addition was turned up to 10. It blasted in our room and through the hallways as we slept. I sat up immediately, knowing this would probably even wake Jo. Waking Jo at 5:30 am would probably mean half the train & the staff would be given a verbal lashing of a vulgar and immense magnitude. Being that I now also felt brutalized I reached up with both eyes still closed. I flailed around trying to find the volume and button to turn this interruptive and brash voice off. I poked haphazardly still without an eye open and found the control panel above the bed. Now groping, still unseeing as the dining car attendant made their damnably loud announcement at 5:30am, I worked to find the dial. Finally I found and flicked the dial. The blathering voice now disappeared and we only could hear the hallway intercom now. Still annoying, but silent by comparison.
I couldn’t seem to get the echo of the dining car attendant’s voice out of my head now. I laid there, with my arm still upon the dials letting my now tense muscles relax. Slowly I moved my arm back to my side, sort of walking my fingers across the window. I still had a surge of anger in my chest, a screaming in my head, perturbed that we paid extra for sleeping accommodations only to be roughly awoken at 5:30am for breakfast that neither of us wanted. In addition, only about 5% of the train eats breakfast, and probably about 5% of that 5% actually get up at the blazing insane hour of 5am!
Slowly the calm of sleep came back over me and I passed into a relaxing slumber. We managed to get another couple hours of sleep before our 1 hr early arrival in Los Angeles. Still beat flying, still beat the hell out of driving, but jeez it would have been nice to sleep like we had intended.
Regardless of that, we were here, arrived in Los Angeles.
Once we arrived we immediately set out to stow our luggage. With the luggage stowed in short order the next order of business was breakfast. Since we were back downtown the decision was to head
to Phillipe’s again. We headed out the main Union Station entrance and onward toward Phillipe’s. After a short walk to Phillipe’s we had a great breakfast and still had about 2 hours before our friends would appear in Hollywood that we intended on meeting. So we had a relaxing post lunch do nothing session in the park nearby.
Back to the Trusty Subway Red Line
Once we were done we set out to meet the married couple. It was coincidence that we both happened to schedule ourselves to be in LA on Hollywood at the same time. We boarded the Red Line Subway from Union Station to Hollywood. Twenty or so minutes later we arrived in Hollywood and rode the escalators to street level. A block up and across the street we managed to meet up with them and take a slow walk down Hollywood.
After doing the touristy thing, we all grabbed a few photos of random stars and other such things, lunch was in order. After a short discussion we all decided that the best option would be to jump back on the Red Line and head back downtown to Cole’s for a French Dip. Jason & Cubers LOVED the French Dips. Jo & I, of course loving ours too, tore through the sandwiches like the hungry people we were.
Afterwards Jo & I escorted our comrades along the Red Line back to Vine & Hollywood. They detrained and headed off, we all said our farewells. Jo & I however adventured onward toward the last stop. There we detrained and went above ground to find the Orange Line.
Orange Line Cancelled Because It Was Tired
We walked across the street and realized, as I had completely forgotten, that the Orange Line is actually BRT. Surprised at this Jo gave some resistance to riding at first. She wasn’t sure about riding around on a bus, being that she was tired. But we walked across and began to wait for the next bus. The frequency at this time of day was pretty frequent. However as we sat, with my own growing weariness, the crowds began growing rapidly coming from the Subway and from the park & ride area.
Before the next bus arrived the seating capacity was already exceeded and it would be standing room only. We watched the bus become a packed sardine can. Now both Jo & I had a change of spirit, neither of us wanting to ride a vehicle this packed while we were so tired. Instead we decided the Red Line was for us and went back into the subterranean expanse to board a Union Station bound Red Line.
While we waited I got a room reserved at The Standard there in downtown LA for Thursday night. We wanted to stay close to Union Station so we would be able to make the train without trying to get up at 5am. After the last few days we were needing all the sleep we could get. Once I did that I plotted out how we would get back to Balboa Peninsula for beers, food, and whatever else Mike, Jo, & I might come up with in our nerd minds. I purchased two tickets for the 6:30pm Metrolink Train. I informed Jo while she napped in Union Station in one of the comfortable chairs they have in the station. We concurred that I should go drop the excess luggage off at the hotel by myself so I could make haste.
I jumped down the steps with the luggage headed for The Standard via the Red Line Subway. I hustled as best I could to get on the Subway Train that sat in the station, but unfortunately I just missed it as I was walking up. The clock kept ticking, it was already 5:42pm. I thought to myself, “I should have enough time.” The next Red Line arrived, which I boarded, and off we went. 5:58pm and I was coming up on 7th. I immediately pulled out my iPhone and began searching for The Standard. Being that this was an artsy, modern, friggin’ awesome hotel, it was in a building that was unto itself confusing. I eventually found it, but the clock read 6:12 when I stepped back on the Subway.
I arrived at Union Station at 6:17pm and immediately made haste toward where Jo sat. I txt’ed here to tell her to be ready and find out what track the Oceanside Metrolink Train departed on. Again, luck was not for me tonight, Jo’s phone battery was dead and I was txt’ing for no reason. In addition to that bad luck, I had gotten off of the Red Line on the part that exits to the Metro Station part of Union Station, which meant I had to cover about 1000ft before I was back into Union Station proper.
I kept my quick pace up walking through the underground track concourse. I walked into Union Station and immediately looked at the reader board. I saw track 6b for the “…side” train. Awesome, Oceanside departure is on track 6b. I walked over and Jo had the laptop and other stuff out, so we worked together to hurriedly pack everything and head to track 6b. We set out with the remaining bits of luggage in tow. We got to track 6b with 3 minutes to spare. I thought, “Wow, that was cutting it close.” Jo went walking upstairs, for whatever reason I followed with the luggage. That was a dumb idea, but hey, I do that sometimes. We couldn’t fit them all in the train upstairs so I went downstairs with one and found another seat.
I sat down, but felt somewhat odd about something, so to be sure I asked an individual sitting nearby, “this is the train to Oceanside correct?” To which I received the horrible news, “No, this train is to Riverside.” Immediately it all flooded into my head. There where two trains on the reader board, a “R… side” and a “O… side”. It didn’t occur to me that some place would end with “side” just like Oceanside so though there were two trains leaving. At this point I freaked, ran up stairs, and told Jo we where on the wrong train. We grabbed all of our stuff and detrained.
I was so ticked I tossed one piece down and had to catch my breath after all this running. We then started out to try to make it to track 8b. We had literally one minute, and time was ticking. We started running toward the concourse area to run below the track and back onto the 8b track to board. As I ran up the concourse ramp toward the train, with Jo barely 15 feet behind me, the doors on the Metrolink Oceanside South Bound Train closed!
I have NEVER missed a train I intended to catch in my entire life. I was effectively PISSED OFF! Yeah, I was enraged. At that point, I was so tired, it was also effectively everybody’s fault in addition to mine. I had never planned so poorly, and failed so monumentally. At this juncture in time I wasn’t sure what to do, I wanted to fall into the ground and melt away. In my own mind I was tortured by this failure. How could I, the Transit Sleuth, screw up a train departure so bad as to miss a train? New York, Chicago, New Orleans, Memphis, Jackson, Washington DC, Eugene, Centralia, Seattle, Edmunds, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Emeryville, Oakland, and more – all these stops, all those schedules, and I haven’t missed any of them. But today I failed.
WOW. 😦 #fail Oh My @#$%(@%^!)%#^)!%#^!*)^(*^$(&!#()%!
Alright, Sanity Sets Back in, I failed, call a good reliable friend and just ask to get a ride. Admit defeat and just get the job done. I picked up the phone, Jo was perturbed also. I looked at her for a moment, she provided no solace. I was being weak in mind so I mustered a phone call, “You Mike, can you go ahead and swing into LA and give us a ride, I royally screwed up the Metrolink Schedule and we don’t have
another train south for some time, which will cause us to miss the transfer to the OCTA bus we need to catch.”, to which I received the reassuring can do attitude of Mr. Mike, “sure man, I’m on my way.”
It is a wonderful thing to know I have reliable, solid, trustworthy friends that will have my back when I screw up.
Train Schedule Screw Ups Get Remedied With The Hooptie
Mike, Jo & I rode back via the ole’ f-ing Interstate in the ole’ amazingly reliable Hooptie. Hooptie, is the name of Mike’s car. This beast has been through hurricane Katrina, LA driving, Jacksonville driving, and obviously more than a transcontinental road trip.
We get back to Balboa and after a short break head for something to eat. The beauty of Balboa is we never drive, we always just walk or bike out on the Peninsula. This makes for easily one of the most livable communities in America. The catch is, you better have some money.
With a short walk, not 100% sold on where we were heading, we come across a Sushi Restaurant. Mike had tried to take us here last week when we were through, so we figured why not, let’s go!
Proper Japanese Style Sushi
We sat down at the Sushi Bar. The Sushi Chefs, two of them, stood ready and working. Currently they were serving other customers. We all looked through the menu, ordered a few beverages and sat somewhat unsure of how to order. No Mike, Jo, & I are not sushi amateurs. We know how the typical American sushi joint works. Mark on the sushi list what you want, hand it to the sushi chef. Sushi check makes sushi, hand sushi to you on a plate of some type. Done.
Well that is the American way of getting sushi. It isn’t the proper or even the Japanese way to get sushi. In Japan I have heard that our way has influenced their way, but this place was a proper Japanese sushi joint! The way you order is you simply tell the sushi chef what you want and they make it. They then place it on a plate in front of you, but not your eating plate. Assistants on the floor bring you sushi plates that you actually eat off of as the sushi is made. Sometimes you get a new plate and sometimes you don’t, depending on the sauces and flavor mixes that might occur. The idea behind all this is simple, the sushi and sashimi must be as pure to what it is derived from as possible.
We all received our drinks. Jo got a Ramune & Mike & I got a bottle of imported sake to share. In proper Japanese fashion someone immediately poured each of us a glass of sake. Throughout the remaining dinner they made sure we did not ever need to pour the sake ourselves. The goal with this, was that they must be the best hosts as possible. This establishment held this traditional solidly!
When Mike ordered his sushi the sushi chef made a suggestion. Another tradition is if you receive a suggestion from the chef you do not turn him down, but maybe only offer slight suggestions about what you do or do not like. He then crafts a custom arrangement per the special of the day and other options available. Since I had ordered a few basic options, Unagi, Ebi, and some others I received those almost immediately. Meanwhile the check kept working on this custom cut of sashimi he was preparing for Mike, and each of us.
Eventually we received this amazing plate of sashimi. Jo, Mike, & myself were informed by the sushi chef on the proper way to eat this. Only add a slight bit of wasabi, no soy sauce. We each tried and were amazed, enthralled with the smooth texture and flawless smooth cuts of fish. This sashimi, we agreed in solidarity, was the best sashimi we had each ever had in our entire lives. With a round of cheers, we sipped our sake and slowly ate this delicacy. The night continued with the chef and each of us telling storied and going back and forth about various things. He prepared several custom plates of sushi and sashimi for us, finishing with some special chips and finally a home made ice cream.
We all were seriously impressed. So impressed that the somewhat large bill seemed more than worth it, it seemed a deal! If anyone is ever out on Balboa, this is absolutely, without doubt, 100%, THE place to get premium sushi with premium proper Japanese style service.
That basically ended our night with a bang! Amid all our trouble and missed trains, the amazing service and spectacular sushi service left all with a comfortable, satisfied flavor to fall asleep with. That, was Day #12.