Posts Tagged 'Amtrak'

Choo, choo

We spent a week at Rancho LaPuerta over the Christmas holiday.

It started last summer under the massive oak tree that has been resting peacefully for some two hundred years in front of Jackie’s house in the Arbolada. Sitting in the two comfy chairs beneath its canopy, the blessed silence was interrupted with a question from Jackie, “Would you like to spend a week at Rancho LaPuerta?”

Recovering from my semi-stupor, I suggested that the answer to her question required some additional information, “What is Rancho LaPorta?”

“LaPuerta, LaPuerta, not LaPorta” she admonished. “LaPuerta means door while LaPorta means porthole.” Thank goodness for her spot-on translation. Spending a week squeezed into a porthole was definitely not my idea of fancy travelling.

Further interrogation revealed that Rancho LaPuerta is an upscale fitness spa located in Tecate, Mexico, about an hour’s drive from the San Diego airport. So far so good. Additionally, the spa served real food instead of the Bugs Bunny diet enjoyed by Jackie at her regular stomping grounds, the Optimum Health Institute. I was sold enough to suggest a phone call to the spa.

Jackie is not one to postpone tasks. Once assigned, they are quickly disposed of. Grasping her iPhone X with those cute little fingers, she deftly connected to the Rancho. Ten minutes later, my Visa card’s available balance surviving on fumes, we were booked into the Rancho.

Conveniently, Jackie’s plans immediately prior to our Rancho excursion included a one week visit to Optimum Health in San Diego. She would drive to OHI. I would then meet her in San Diego, drive her car to the San Diego airport and take the Rancho’s private bus from there to the Mexican border. To get to San Diego, I could fly from LAX, or take the Amtrak train from Ventura.

Ever since our trip to Costa Rica, I have had sufficient time to hone my dislike of airports and airplanes. The opportunity of a relaxing trip on the train was too tempting to pass up. Checking the Amtrak schedule, I found a 7:30am departure from Ventura that, five and a half hours later, would deposit me in San Diego more than two hours ahead of the Rancho’s bus trip from the airport to the border. Enough time for Jackie to scoop me up from the train and dump us at the airport. It was the last scheduled Rancho bus trip of the day, Missing the bus would cause complications too horrible to contemplate. And my Spanish is not so good, por favor.

I booked a seat on Amtrak 768. And over the next few weeks, I endured the horror stories related to me by the hapless souls who had banked on Amtrak to get them where they needed to be, yet failed miserably. No matter, surely I would be the exception to the rule.

Joy is Ojai’s airport and train station driver of choice. A delightfully gabby woman who combines wit with daredevil driving, she picked me up at 6:35am on departure day. It was Saturday and traffic on the 33 was almost non-existent. The uneventful trip brought us to the Ventura train station twenty minutes ahead of schedule. Piece of cake.

Except for an overhang, the train platform is exposed to the elements. But twenty minutes on a chilly morning seemed like a doable wait. Rolling my suitcase up the platform ramp, I deposited myself in a spot where the sun offered some warmth. There’s a digital time display on the platform that also informs riders of train arrival time. It said Train 768 will be twenty minutes late. I quickly calculated that I now had less than two hours of leeway before I would run out of time. My pulse reacted from the adrenaline rush. Then my logic took over and said “It’s only twenty minutes late, dummy. Not to worry.”

I stared at the clock as it ticked down 768’s arrival time. Then, without so much as a by your leave, the display blanked out and returned with a new arrival time…8:10am. Another twenty minutes charged to my declining spare time balance. Like a watched pot, I’m convinced that the digital clock moved ever slower as I gazed at it. Minutes seemed like hours. My life passed before my eyes.

768 arrived at 8:25, nearly an hour late. Hoping I had seen the worst, I hopped aboard, stowed my bag and found a window seat that gave me full view of the surroundings as we passed and stopped at too many stations. Oxnard, Camarillo, Moorpark, Simi Valley, Chatsworth, Van Nuys. Was there a place on earth that this train was not going to stop? At each stop I mentally shoved the passengers on and off the train, hoping to gain back some precious minutes.

And then the conductor said, “We will be making an equipment change in Los Angeles.” A what? What’s wrong with this equipment, I thought. It’s been good enough to get us this far. Why not just keep things the way they are? I’ve got no time to spare. I’ve got to catch a bus.

And so we changed equipment. Amtrak employees wandered around the train platform like lost sheep. And I lost the last remaining hour of my spare time. Not yet finished teasing me, 768 lost another twenty minutes on the last leg of the journey. I started practicing my Spanish. Donde esta el banyo?

I had been texting Jackie, keeping her updated on our lack of progress, my accelerating heart rate and my rising blood pressure. Poor sweetheart, she had been waiting anxiously at the train station like a war-time wife. When I did arrive, she embraced me like a soldier returning home from the Battle of the Bulge. Her iPhone was hot to the touch from pleading with the bus company to delay their departure.

She drove to the airport like a woman possessed, only to see the bus already making its way to the Mexican border. It was, like in the movies, all I could do to stop her from blocking the twenty-ton bus with her tiny car.

And I thought, where was Mussolini when you really needed him?

 

Her Face

Just returned from Albany, New York where Jackie and I took part in two Passover Seders. Her gracious cousins, Roberta and Don, opened their Schenectady house to me. A stranger in their land, I thought I should conduct myself in a way that would be both understated yet reasonably intelligent. I knew the understated part would be easy. Intelligence is tougher to display, but can usually be easily achieved by keeping one’s mouth under control.

The trip to Albany required catching a 6am flight at LAX, a change of planes in Chicago and a strong constitution that could withstand waking at 2:30 am, driving for ninety minutes to the airport, removing various articles of clothing at TSA security, squeezing into a seat that was meant for a three-year old, and surviving more than six hours of flight time. But I’m not complaining because all that while I could look at Jackie’s face, stroke her knee, and sneak a kiss whenever I needed one…which was often.

Her face is amazing. It’s one of those “touch me, kiss me” faces that seems to reach out and beckon your attention. I find it painful not to put my hands on either side of her face, caress her cheeks and draw her close. Her lips form a perfect heart shape that cries out for a kiss. And I oblige, often.

It was generally cold and rainy in Albany, punctuated by the occasional appearance of blue sky and golden sun. Between Seders, we rode to Saratoga with cousins Rodney and Jane where we visited shops where I was thankfully able to remove my warm hat in the heated confines of the stores. We had lunch in a kitschy, sparkly restaurant where our pizza left much to be desired, limp, devoid of cheese and moderately cool to the touch. Through it all, Jackie smiled, made sure I had what I needed and made all the world seem bright with expectation.

Sunday we awoke at 6 to catch an Amtrak train for a two and a half hour trip to Manhattan where we had tickets to see Jersey Boys. Jackie had picked the musical after confirming that I had not seen the live performance.

I like trains in small doses. Especially when headed toward an exciting destination, rather than coming back. The train was clean and reasonably comfortable. We passed by depot signs with names that seemed to come from movies or detective stories. Poughkeepsie, Croton-on-Hudson, and Yonkers made me realize I was in a different world, one populated with New Yorkers and their strange but captivating accents.

I watched the light from the rising sun fall on Jackie as we paralleled the Hudson River. Her face glowing with delight as we whisked our way to Penn Station. I managed a few touches and kisses along the way but the excitement of entering foreign territory seemed to preoccupy both of us. We ate the last of our crumbly trail mix and waited for the announcement. “Manhattan…last stop…watch your step as you exit the train.”

And we emerged on Broadway. You know, the one that George M. Cohan gave his regards to in 1904. A Broadway that’s aged reasonably well in spite of its tacky gift shops, twelve-dollar suitcases and enough scammers to fill Yankee Stadium. “Let’s walk to Junior’s” Jackie said through smiling lips and eyes. “It can’t be far.” I didn’t care how far so long as I could catch a glimpse of her face and her hair as we zig-zagged through the myriad of faces that walked towards us as we counted down the blocks from Penn Station to the place where we would find the world’s best and costliest pastrami sandwich.

32nd, 33rd, 34th. The streets came and went as we waited like tourists for the lights to change. And they did, but not before I could squeeze her hand and send a silent message that she would understand and smile to in response. A smile that was worth the walk. I didn’t need the pastrami to make my day.

We finished our pastrami. It was noon and the theater would open an hour and a half later. So we did what all Manhattanites do with time on their hands. We went to a bar. Sitting at the end of the long, highly polished wood bar, I was able to watch people walking up the aisle. Jackie took that walk and, on her return, flashed that cute smile that made me realize how much I had missed her. She had combed her hair with that big, black comb that she carries everywhere, making her glow even more as she stood out from the crowd.

Jackie ordered an unusual mimosa, sipped it a few times, crinkled up her cute nose, and decided it wasn’t so good. Flashing her smile and dark brown eyes at the bartender, she asked him for something else. Who could refuse that face?

Show time. The theater was a block away. We found our seats in the front row of the mezzanine, settled in and discovered that the lead role was to be filled by an understudy. Disappointed, the woman next to me filled the time by revealing most of the details of her life. Funny how complete strangers will tell you things they won’t reveal to their friends. Jackie absorbed the conversation and made small talk while I devoted my attention to the smile on her face.

The show was terrific. I would later discover that I had seen the live play accompanied by my daughter Nancy and sweet Ila more than five years ago. No matter. The songs made my feet dance and my heart sing. I even sang along quietly expecting that the wrath of our seatmates would get me tossed outside in the cold. The actors worked hard at fulfilling our expectations. And Jackie loved every minute of it.

At the end, the actors announced that they would be raising funds to combat various maladies and would be pleased to have their pictures taken with theater goers in the lobby, in return for a fairly generous contribution. We exited and grabbed onto Corey Jeacoma, the young man who played the role of Bob Gaudio, composer of the Four Seasons’ songs. Jackie lined up her majestic sixty-one pixie inches next to Corey’s towering seventy-four inch body. She looked up at Corey and I swear he nearly melted. I snapped the picture and became just little bit jealous. Silly, I know, but love will do that.

We had a delightful Italian dinner in a little, very crowded but typical Manhattan restaurant complete with narrow aisles, argumentative patrons and drafty corners. We both decided it was the best meal of our trip…even if it really wasn’t.

We taxied to Penn Station, boarded our Amtrak train and began the trip back to Albany. Jackie took the seat next to the window, closed her eyes, and slowed her breathing. The sky was darkening but there was just enough light to illuminate the edges of her forehead, her eyes, her nose and her chin. Just enough light so I could pretend that I was sitting next to a marble statue created by a long-ago genius. Just enough light to ease the trip back. Just enough light to see the face that brightens my heart.

 


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