Monday, March 25, 2013
Pastorale 2: Amtrak Nuclear Spring
Vandenberg Air Force Base is a Cold War relic filled with Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles residing in concrete silos.
One of the few ways to experience the very private location between Santa Barbara and Santa Maria is via Amtrak where the Coast Starlight and the Surfliner routes hug the beautiful coastline.
Years ago, I was on this route when a volunteer historical association insisted on telling everyone facts and anecdotes over a loudspeaker during this section of the trip, and the officious narrator said, "The United States Air Force not only Protects Our Freedoms but is also Protecting Our Environment."
"Sure, nuclear missiles as environmental protection," I objected out loud, but looking at the pristine, undeveloped coastline from the train, it seems they had a point.
The Amtrak trip from Santa Barbara to Oakland lasts nine hours. According to rail guru John Burke, the trip used to require only seven hours when the tracks were better maintained and the trains could travel at 79 MPH. Still, service seems to be improving on the system in California, meals in the dining car are getting better, and the views are peerless as you can see.
Avoiding Homeland Security absurdity at airports is another attraction, not to mention the freedom of being able to walk around. Each car has its own attendant, and the majority of them are great captains of their respective containers. In Salinas, there was an announcement of a delay on account of a passenger's medical problem, and after ten minutes, we watched somebody being led off in the rain from the first class Parlor Car in handcuffs. Maybe the wine tasting that started in San Luis Obispo got out of hand, but unlike airplanes, it's easy to eject the sloppy troublemakers.