Archive for the 'Trains' Category

Planes, trains and automobiles

Two months ago, we planned a trip to Starvation Palace in glorious Lemon Grove. If you’ve ever spent time in The Hood, you have some idea of what Lemon Grove is like. Calling it blue collar isn’t even close.

Starvation Palace is my nom-de-plume for the Optimum Health Institute or OHI, a sort of spa getaway just north of San Diego tucked between assorted drug dispensaries, car repair shops, the largest recyclable collector in southern California, and an athletic club that should pay you to attend their sordid digs.

But, hey, where else can you escape the world by entombing yourself for a week in a getaway that might be described as fantasyland with just a touch of Little Shop of Horrors. I call it my home away from home.

It was Jackie’s winter break and, to fill her idle moments, she booked a second week in a different “let them eat cake” spa four hours away from OHI in Desert Hot Springs. Believing I’d lose half my body weight downing wheat grass juice at OHI, I opted out of week number two in the desert and planned my trip back to sanity.

It made no sense to drive back to Ojai since Jackie had to go in a different direction. And, besides, it was her car. The Amtrak train seemed a logical alternative. At $55, I could buy a business class ticket and rest comfortably for five hours while someone else did the grunt work.

Buying the ticket came with a warning on the Amtrak website. Infrastructure repairs along the railroad tracks between Irvine and San Clemente would mean getting off the train and boarding a bus. Past San Clemente we’d get off the bus and get back on the train. I briefly thought about renting a car and driving in the Sunday traffic on the 5. But I could probably walk faster, and visions of a fatal stroke made that option unappealing. So, I punched the enter key and bought the ticket.

The week at OHI passed without serious injury or lapsing into a coma due to low blood sugar.  On Sunday morning we packed our bags, loaded the car, and took our 15-minute ride to San Diego’s train station. Called the Santa Fe Depot, it was built for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. It’s an impressive structure with sandstone colored soaring towers and tiled domes. Heavy on Mexican heritage, I half expected that Duncan Renaldo, the Romanian actor who played the Cisco Kid on TV, would come sweeping out of the depot chasing a band of desperados.

I kissed Jackie good-bye, rolled my retro-suitcase into the building, and ended my fantasy. It was much like a Greyhound bus station. The first thing I noticed was the absence of any clock on the wall that might tell passengers how long they had been languishing waiting for a delayed train.

An Amish contingent of at least 15 characteristically dressed people was grouped on two of the hard wooden benches. I wondered if they were headed north to work on the train repairs; unfortunately, it was too late to do me any good. Several of them were using cellphones; even the bare earth Amish can’t get along without them.

A voice boomed from the walls. Information about the trains. Number 777 was on time and leaving at noon, 90 minutes from now. And there was more.

It was Sunday, and because there was no work on weekends, Amtrak had decided to dump the bus part of the trip. That’s a relief. No injuries dragging suitcases off and on vehicles. No fighting for seats, and no added delays due to freeway traffic. I took a deep breath and admired my luck.

So, I thought I’d have a cup of coffee as a reward for my good fortune.

There was a small shop at the corner of the building. It sold drinks, ready-made sandwiches, and an assortment of stuff that you always forget to bring on your trip. It looked a lot like ones you see in the lobbies of seedy office buildings. Manned by a guy who looked like he’d rather be somewhere else, I took a chance and ordered a small coffee. I searched out the sugar and cream, removed the plastic top from the cup, added the things that make coffee drinkable, and replaced the top.

A few Formica-topped tables sat haphazardly around the shop. Chairs were randomly distributed, and I picked one that seemed recently cleaned…maybe a couple of days ago.

I sat. I brought the cup to my lips and…I felt a stream of hot liquid falling into my lap, through my pants and into my underwear. With so many opportunities, I hardly knew where to start. Stopping the flow seemed prudent, so I did. And then I realized that the lid had come loose and no longer sealed the cup.

A large dark stain appeared in my groin, making me look even more like an old guy who needed lots of Depends. I was sure everyone, including the Amish women, was staring at me. I looked for napkins to soak up the mess but couldn’t find any. I headed to the Men’s Room.

Toilet paper was useless, leaving its own white specks on my pants. I spotted a hand dryer, sidled up to it, and started it by waving my hand in its general vicinity. I pulled my pants close to the air outlet. And it stopped after five seconds. I waved again and it started, then stopped. I figured it was programmed by the same guy who decided to hide the napkins.

I continued the pant-holding-wave routine for a few minutes hoping no one would wonder about my sanity. Not wishing to push my luck and a trip to the nearest psychiatric hospital, I left the confines of the Men’s Room, found an unused bench, sat, spread my legs, and let nature do its thing.

It stayed damp on the train for five hours. But at least I didn’t have to get on a bus.



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