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Trip Report

Tour Guide on the Coast Starlight L.A. to Oakland

July 12, 2003


I filled in for one of the Tour Guides on Saturday, July 12, on the "WESTERN TRAILS AND RAILS" Tour. I escorted a tour on the rail portion from Union Station in Los Angeles to Jack London Square Station in Oakland.

My tour group got more than it bargained for. About 10 minutes before the train pulled in to Santa Barbara, the train ran right next to the beach -- and a lady on the beach wearing nothing on top but a towel, faced the Amtrak train, and flashed the whole train as it went by! Let's just say she was very "well endowed". We were in the Sightseer Car at the time, so the old ladies in the group looked very shocked at what they saw, while the children in the group were laughing.

Then, after we left Santa Barbara, I was giving the history and some facts about the next town we would soon be visiting, when suddenly, I heard all the children in my group laughing and giggling. I looked out the window and saw why. Everyone on the beach was butt naked! Right in front of the Amtrak train! I managed to keep my composure and didn't miss a beat in my descriptions, but I couldn't help but notice myself, so I mentioned that what they saw was a "tradition" at this particular beach. This gives new meaning to "Sightseer Cars".

Other highlights included the MANY dolphins that we all saw from the train, lots of them, that kept popping up out of the water. We also spotted a few sharks, and several sea lions. After San Luis Obispo, we saw the Horseshoe Curve, where we saw the front of our train and the back of our train at the same time. The Horseshoe Curve was one of about 8 horseshoes all connected to each other, along with several S-Curves and Corkscrews. The train at that point was literally going around in circles, tight circles, and not making much progress at all as far as heading north to Oakland. About a half hour later, looking way down below from the mountain tops, I still saw the same tracks that we were on a half hour prior, looking down at all the horseshoes, and what almost looked like "Figure-8"'s that the train had just done.

Just passed Salinas, we passed through this inland wildlife refuge that connect somewhere to the sea, and there were a lot of pelicans, Egrets, and Blue Herons in there. The conductor said that he has seen seals, sea lions, and sharks in that waterway, even though it is about a 1/2 mile inland from the sea.

The train left Los Angeles on time, but arrived in Oakland 1 hour and 15 minutes late due to all the times it had to pull over to let passing freight trains go by.

One of the features of this train was the Parlour Car, where they had the Wine Tasting, along with free cheeses and crackers, and later, after dinner, free fresh-baked warm soft (chips melting) home-made chocolate chip cookies. This Parlour car, the conductor told me, has been running since 1956 when it was first put in to service and still has many of its original features.

Oh, one more thing. I was, naturally, wearing my Tour Guide uniform the whole time, and every time I either walked up or down the train, people thought I worked for Amtrak! They were all asking me where the Mens Room was, where the Kiddie Car is, where to buy snacks, or said "Sir!" as I walked by. Several people asked me what time the movie was starting and what movies they would be showing on the train. Someone even said "What was the name of those mountains again?" They seemed shocked that I didn't know, because they assumed I worked for Amtrak, and how could I not know? I guess they confused the "ATI" logo on my uniform shirt for an "Amtrak" logo, or the red ATI tie, with all the ATI logos on it for an Amtrak tie. So I was getting at least 3 questions from people in each car I walked through in both directions. One of the passengers (not in my group), wanted me to settle a "seat dispute" for them. All I could tell them is that "I am a passenger just like you are and I don't have the authority".

All in all, it was a great tour, and after I said "good bye" to my tour group, I had a nice lunch at an outdoor cafe on the sidewalk of Fisherman's Wharf, and spent several hours sightseeing and riding the Cable Cars, until it was time for the BART Ride to the "Coliseum" Station, where I transferred to the AirBART Shuttle bus to Oakland for the VERY short flight back here to Los Angeles.

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