The train to Santa Barbara


Today was another lovely low-key day in San Luis Obispo. My host and I went out for morning coffee and pastries at Linnaea’s, a nearby vegetarian coffee shop with a lovely back patio. She told me that this coffee shop had been in operation for many decades; cool!

After that, I lounged around for a few hours, and then it was time to board the train to Santa Barbara. I had initially planned to bike to Santa Maria, then Solvang, then Santa Barbara. But, between a lack of lodging in Santa Maria, more distance and elevation than I liked from Solvang to Santa Barbara, and rainy and chilly weather forecasts in the next few days, I decided that my best bet would be to take the Coast Starlight to Santa Barbara. A bonus? I got to see the gorgeous coastal sunset views.

I packed up and pedaled the six blocks to the SLO train station just before 3:00. Once I got there, I learned that seat assignments would be given trainside, so I didn’t need to do anything before boarding. I kind of expected to be approached by at least one Amtrak employee, expressing skepticism at best or obstinacy at worst, about there not being space for my rig onboard, since that generally has happened on the six or seven Amtrak trips I’ve taken on this trip so far. But no one approached me.

However, as I approached the coach class cars to board, I encountered the familiar resistance. An attendant told me firmly that I would not be able to take the trailer on board, because they had such a full train today, and there was no space for such large carryon luggage. I remained calm and optimistic, and suggested that if the storage shelves were full in that car, perhaps I could try the other coach car. (I had done this on a previous train.)

“No, they’re both totally full!”

I hesitated a moment, but continued to trust that where there is a will there is a way, and that I would indeed be boarding soon with all my accoutrements. The attendant’s cohort seemed more willing to work with me: he told me to “hold tight” while he checked with the baggage car attendant. (The original attendant replied with, “It’s already closed!”) The second guy started walking down to the baggage car to see what he could do to help me. Meanwhile, perhaps because he saw that both his coworker and I seemed undeterred, the original attendant seemed to reconsider.

“Go down to that next car. See if there’s room there.”

I did.

There was.

(As I had already suggested.)

There was no one to help me load the trailer this time, though, and I was concerned whether I could handle its heft and bulk. Fortunately, this particular car had only one step, not the multiple narrow stairs some train cars have. I gave the trailer a good tug from inside the train, and managed to wrangle it into place. Then I hoisted the folded bike onto the next shelf.

I walked with some satisfaction back to that attendant outside. He handed me my seat assignment, and told me to board the car next to us. I did, and as I passed the shelves to climb the stairs, I noted that while snug, it would not have been impossible for me to have found space for the rig on that car either. I think the attendant just lacked spatial imagination.

Boarding thus fulfilled, I relaxed into the two-and-a-half-hour ride.

I visited the café car, where I found that their longstanding prepackaged vegan burger has apparently been replaced by a vegan tamale. I ordered it. I think it’s a bit better than the burger.

I savored the views of the golden hills, and then the ocean sunsets, before darkness fell.

I disembarked without incident in Santa Barbara; the attendant even seemed cheerful and chipper as he bade me farewell. I suppose once the stress of figuring out the baggage passes, most of them do relax by the time I leave the train.

I biked about half an hour to my new host’s place, a charming duplex in the northwest section of town. We shared a lovely homemade meal of broccoli and tofu, and sank immediately into some really cool conversation. He is a friend of a friend of mine. I’m continually grateful to my friends network for introducing me to their other wonderful friends along my path.

Tomorrow the weather should be sunny and pleasant, so I hope to get out and explore a beach and/or botanical garden, before the rain and chilly temps set in for the following several days.

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