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.


Sibyl said...

Watched the Amtrak passenger train chuff through Elkhorn Slough (between Santa Cruz and Monterey) two weekends ago and randomly wondered if you'd been on it. Looks like I was a tad early. But I waved. Growing up in San Diego, many of us, pacifists included, were/are grateful to the Marine Corps, as Camp Pendleton is the only thing which has kept the Orange Curtain from falling over San Diego County. Talk about mixed feelings!

Civic Center said...

Dear Sibyl: According to a recent Jeapordy answer/question, the largest undeveloped chunk of coastline in California is the Camp Pendleton Marine base. It is an interesting irony, isn't it?

Of course, United Sates military is not particularly known for its intentional environmental stewardship, as many toxic, nuclear dumps all over the world demonstrate. Still, there have been some unintended good consequences. The best example in San Francisco is the beautiful, forested 19th Century Army Presidio which has just become public in the last couple of decades.