This trip was made necessary by my brother's surprise announcement in early June that he had gotten engaged at age 41. Having witnessed the expensive disaster that my marriage became, we figured he was just being wise and had chosen to enjoy the single life. But then in early 2003 he moved to California and met someone the very day he stepped off the plane. After dating for about 17 months, the question was popped, the answer was affirmative, and the stage was set for this journey.
The pot was sweetened by my achieving Best Man status, which was only proper since my brother had the same honor at my wedding 15 years prior. However, since I would have to take off from work, and Michael would have to miss two days of school, we decided to make our visit more worthwhile and see Los Angeles. Of course to me that meant riding the rails out there, mostly rails that I've never ridden before. I put together an itinerary that would be split between our arrival day and our departure day, with the day of the wedding in between. I also realized that we would be taking our first airline flight in many years to get there and back, since time would not allow a leisurely transcontinental train trip.
Having been a member of Continental Airlines One Pass frequent flyer program, and having not used it for air travel for so many years, I was surprised that it was still available to me. Of course, I fully intended to earn the One Pass miles and then convert them to Amtrak Guest Rewards points. With my One Pass point balance before the trip, coupled with what I would earn, that would allow me to transfer 10,000 points to Amtrak Guest Rewards upon my return. So the trip would yield benefits to me even though my intercity train travel was kept to a minimum.
I looked at many scenarios in choosing the best flight. I wanted a nonstop flight across the country, as I did not wish to be changing planes or making extra landings in places like Houston, Cleveland, or Denver. I looked at all three New York area airports, as well as Philadelphia. What I found was that the fares were much cheaper from Philadelphia to Los Angeles, vs. New York & Newark, due to a price war that had begun with Southwest Airlines' entry into Philadelphia. Now I still wanted to take Continental, but I found that they had no nonstop flights between Philadelphia and Los Angeles. However, I uncovered something very interesting in my research.
As we know, Continental Airlines offers code sharing trips for flights out of Newark Liberty International Airport, with connecting Amtrak train service to Philadelphia and other east coast cities. I found that a trip between Philadelphia and Los Angeles, by way of Newark Airport, was about 100 dollars cheaper per passenger then if we just originated in Newark. I grabbed this, since I knew we would not mind the train trip, and because we would be saving money by traveling further, as strange as that sounds. At least this would give me a chance to try out the Continental/Amtrak code share arrangement.
Officially we were booked on Amtrak Train 644, a Keystone Service train. Our Continental itinerary also referred to the train by a four digit Continental flight number for code share purposes. Our return train from Newark Airport to Philadelphia was Regional 185, which is the first Amtrak train of the morning that stops at the airport. I realized that this left us a lot of dwell time at Newark Airport if our flight came in on time, but as you will see later on, I resolved that situation myself unbeknownst to Continental.
Then I decided that although we had a noontime flight out of Newark, our connecting train out of Philadelphia would be fairly early in the morning. Since we would have to leave earlier in the day, I decided that we could stay at a hotel in the Philadelphia area the night before. Among the cheapest at the time was a Four Points By Sheraton near the Philadelphia Airport. That stay would earn me yet another 500 Amtrak Guest Rewards points. Since I had saved $100 on the round trip flight by originating in Philadelphia, with the stay at this hotel plus the $11 round trip on SEPTA I was still ahead.
I had never partaken of a code share arrangement before, and this one involved two different modes of travel. I received a lot of guidance by OTOL member Bill Magee, who divides his interests among both trains and planes. He was able to find out for me exactly what I could and could not do, and the procedure I would have to go through on my departure date. He also warned me that certain things might not work right, like the automated check-in procedures at the airport, due to the code sharing with Amtrak. He said that I should be able to pickup my Amtrak ticket for the Philadelphia-Newark Airport segment the day before the trip, which would mean while we are at 30th Street Station on Friday night.
With everything in place, I made up an itinerary of the entire trip, including our visit to Philadelphia, our time in the Los Angeles area, and our two flights and two code share Amtrak trips. We awaited our departure day on Friday, October 22nd, on what would be a very busy, whirlwind weekend.
Chapter 1: Friday, October 22, 2004
Michael went to school as usual, but I took off from work in order to finish packing and preparing our house for our absence. Our cat Fluffy had to be fed and medicated for a day beyond our departure until her sitter would come in and take over her care. This day's activities would include driving down to Cherry Hill, taking NJ TRANSIT into Philadelphia, and then a SEPTA commuter train ride to the airport followed by a hotel van trip to our hotel.
Chapter 1.1: Drive to Cherry Hill, dinner in Pennsauken
After Michael got home from school, we made our final preparations for departure. We really were not in any rush, as the only schedule we had to make was that of the NJ TRANSIT Atlantic City Line trains. I figured we would catch one at either 6:05 PM or 6:46 PM.
We ended up leaving home around 4 PM, so we got to the Cherry Hill area with plenty of time to spare before the 6:05 PM train. Since we were hungry, we decided on a quick Burger King meal. There used to be one near the station, but it closed a few years ago. I continued west on Route 70 and then south on US 130, and we came upon a Burger King in Pennsauken. We ate there quickly, and then returned to the station in Cherry Hill. We had no problem making the 6:05 train.
Chapter 1.2: NJ TRANSIT Atlantic City Line, Train #4620: Cherry Hill, NJ to 30th Street Station, Philadelphia
This was just another mundane trip on NJ TRANSIT's Atlantic City Line, one we have taken many, many times before. It left Cherry Hill about four minutes late, and then lost some more time along the Northeast Corridor with some unexplained stops. We got into 30th Street Station at 6:43 PM, ten minutes off the advertised.
Chapter 1.3: At 30th Street Station
Our business at 30th Street Station included purchasing NJT tickets for the trip back to Cherry Hill at the conclusion of our journey, and trying to pickup our code share tickets from the Quick-Trak machine as instructed by Continental Airlines. We also had to buy SEPTA round trip tickets for the R1 to and from Philadelphia Airport. The purchases of commuter rail tickets went without a hitch. We were not so lucky with the Continental/Amtrak tickets.
Those problems that Bill warned me about started right away. The machine would not recognize the information I gave it. I ended up having to wait in line to talk with a human Amtrak agent. She told me the machines never work right (yet Continental does not advise its passengers to go to a human agent; only to use the Quick-Trak machine). At any rate, we did get our Amtrak tickets for Saturday morning.
Chapter 1.4: SEPTA R1 Airport Line, Train #0159: 30th Street Station, Philadelphia to Philadelphia International Airport-Terminal E
Now it was time to make our way to our hotel. This segment of the trip began with a trip on SEPTA's R1 Airport Line to the airport. Because we had made the earlier NJ TRANSIT train, we were also able to take a SEPTA train to the airport half an hour earlier than planned.
This train left 30th Street Station a few minutes late but lost five minutes on the way to the airport. At this point tonight we were in no hurry. I figured we would go all the way to the last stop at Terminal E, to minimize our trip in the shuttle van due to the circular nature of the airport roadways. In the morning, however, going back to the city, we would take the hotel shuttle only as far as Terminal A, so that once more our van trip would be as short as possible.
While we were on the train, just after its University City stop, I called our hotel on my cell phone to let them know we were coming into Terminal E and would need transportation to their hotel. I was told that the van makes a circuit every so often, and that while they would page the driver, he could not wait at any airline terminal for too long.
We detrained at Terminal E, and went into the arrivals area, then outside to await the van. Being five minutes late on the train we most likely just missed the van trip that was supposed to meet us. Despite my call, we had to wait about twenty minutes while many other hotel vans came by and left. It was frustrating craning our necks for so long looking for the correct vehicle to board.
Chapter 1.5: Hotel van: Airport-Terminal E to Four Points Hotel
When the van finally came, it was quite crowded, but we did find two seats together. It turns out that the van is shared by the Four Points by Sheraton, as well as an adjacent Sheraton Suites. The latter hotel is used by a lot of flight attendants based at this airport.
Our trip consisted of leaving the airport, riding for one exit on I-95, and then making a stop at the Sheraton Suites first before going to the Four Points.
We arrived at our hotel and checked in. After Michael went to sleep, I went downstairs to the Business Center to use the computer.
Chapter 1.6: Business Center at Four Points Hotel
It was a very good thing I went to the Business Center. When I checked my e-mail, it turned out that Continental had sent me e-mail with further instructions on how to pick up my tickets. This was sent after we had departed from home, so I never would have seen it until we got home. I also found out that I had made an error in the seat selection process for our California-bound flight. It had Michael and me in the same row, but each of us in middle seats on different sides of the aisle. Somehow I had not chosen our seats correctly, or else my computer had frozen during this process. I decided I would try to correct this in the morning at Newark Liberty upon check-in for the air portion of our trip. Meanwhile, on Continental's site I made sure that we did have seats together on the Newark-bound flight Monday night, which was still possible since it was a red eye flight and was not yet fully booked.
Chapter 1.7: End of Friday's activities
Friday was over, but the big flight was tomorrow. So far our short first day of travel had been successful. The best was yet to come.
Chapter 2: Saturday, October 23, 2004
Saturday dawned in Philadelphia and ended many hours later in Los Angeles. We had to take a van to the airport, a SEPTA train to the city, and an Amtrak train to Newark Airport. Then we would fly to Los Angeles, and would ride three different Los Angeles Metro lines before ultimately arriving in North Hollywood. We then would be picked up by my parents and driven to Van Nuys, our final destination. All that, plus the three hour time difference, promised many hours of travel.
Chapter 2.1: Hotel van: Four Points Hotel to Airport-Terminal A
We had a much shorter wait this time for the hotel van. However, it was even more crowded than the previous night, and again mostly with pilots and flight attendants who had come from the Sheraton Suites. I told the driver that we were going to SEPTA rather than an airline, and we agreed that Terminal A would be the best place to discharge us. We left the Four Points at 7:40 AM, and ten minutes later we were at the airport once more.
We made one stop at the relatively new Terminal 1, which does not yet have a rail station next to it. Then at Terminal A we were let off. We walked into the terminal, found access to the skybridge that leads to the rail station and arrivals area, and walked to where the stairway to the train platform is. We did not go down to the track level right away, preferring to stay warmer on the skybridge.
Chapter 2.2: SEPTA R1 Airport Line, Train #4312: Philadelphia International Airport-Terminal A to 30th Street Station, Philadelphia
A few minutes before the train's due time of 8:13 AM, we went downstairs to wait on the platform. The train picked us up exactly on time.
From here it was a 17-minute ride to 30th Street Station, making the intermediate stops at Eastwick and University City. We arrived at 30th Street right on time at 8:30 AM, giving us one hour before our Amtrak train would be departing.
Chapter 2.3: Amtrak Train #644, KEYSTONE SERVICE: 30th Street Station, Philadelphia to Newark Airport Rail Station
Amtrak's Keystone Service Train 644 was running about ten minutes late as we watched the Solari Board in the station. This train comes from Harrisburg before making its Philadelphia-New York run. The train actually departed at 9:38 AM, just eight minutes off. It was an uneventful trip on a train that was almost empty. We arrived at Newark Airport Station at 10:39 AM, also eight minutes late.
We quickly went through the AirTrain fare gate (Amtrak ticket stubs get you right through without need for further payment) and a monorail train was waiting for us downstairs.
Chapter 2.4: AirTrain Newark: Rail Link Station to Terminal C
AirTrain Newark took us from the Rail Link station to Terminal C. This trip took about five minutes. We arrived at Terminal C at 10:50, giving us just 55 minutes before our scheduled 11:45 AM flight departure. In this time we had to check-in for the flight, check our one piece of luggage, and make our way through the security checkpoint.
Chapter 2.5: At Newark Liberty International Airport
We waited on a short line for the check-in procedure. Having not flown in many years, I was surprised to find this process had been largely automated. A machine was supposed to issue our boarding pass upon my entering of our reservation number. However, as per Bill's warning, this did not work because of the complication of our code share trip on Amtrak. The first leg of our trip may not have been registered in the computer since we'd had our Amtrak ticket issued by a live agent in Philadelphia. So a live agent, this time one from Continental, had to intervene and get us our passes. At that time, I also mentioned our problem with the seating, and I was told to resolve that at the gate.
Then, instead of the agent taking our luggage as I expected, we were sent to another area where the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) puts luggage through a "sniffing" machine. It is there that one parts with their luggage and is given a claim check.
Next came our trip through security. The lines were not too long as this was an off season for flying. The terror alert had not been raised to Orange for some time. I was however shocked at how quickly and easily we went through. Although we had to remove our sneakers, everything else went without a hitch. The TSA agents did not search our bags, and the watch that I accidentally forgot to remove did not set off the detector as it should have. After collecting our bags, we continued walking to the gate assigned for our flight.
At the gate I spoke to the agent at the desk, explaining that we were given seats apart from one another. He told me the plane was basically booked. Then he found an unsold seat in a row with an emergency exit. He exchanged my assigned seat for this one, and then told me to try and switch once aboard the plane with the person who sits in the aisle seat next to Michael. By giving me the emergency exit row seat, the swap would be much more acceptable by the other person since it has a lot of legroom.
We did not have long to wait until the boarding process began for our airline flight. This was due to the slight tardiness of our connecting "flight", the monorail trip, the check-in problems and the two visits with TSA agents (one for our luggage, one for us).
Chapter 2.6: Continental Airlines Flight #1202: Newark, NJ to Los Angeles, CA
When we boarded the flight, my first concern was making the boarding pass swap so that I could sit next to Michael. I first went back to the seat for which I had the ticket, and Michael went to his assigned seat. The row I got was among the best seats on the plane. Next to one of the emergency exits, it had plenty of legroom. After somebody sat next to Michael, I went to her and offered the seat swap idea to her. It was quickly agreed upon, as she got legroom and kept her aisle seat, while I got an aisle seat and got to sit next to Michael. Of course in the seat I fought to get, I couldn't find anywhere to put my feet. Having been on an Amtrak train earlier today, one can really appreciate the amount of legroom on a train vs. an airplane.
Now that the seating situation was resolved, we settled in for our flight. We left the Newark gate about 5 minutes late, and did not take off until about 20 minutes later.
During the flight, the movie feature was Spider-Man 2. We found it entertaining, but also found it strange that a superhero would take off his mask and reveal his real face to the public like that. The runaway elevated train in the film gave me some mental connection with trains while I was airborne. The movie was followed by a slew of commercials for the airline and its destinations, some public service shows, and a short television sitcom. Boring as it was, it did make the flight go faster. We were also served what they call "lunch", which was a chicken teriyaki sandwich along with some side items. It was good, but it did not fill us up. The snacks that we had brought along certainly came in handy.
Our flight landed at 2:40 PM Pacific Time, and arrived at the gate six minutes later. We were actually five minutes ahead of the advertised arrival time. After the chaos of getting every passenger through the one exit from the plane (another reason I prefer trains), we could finally stretch our legs as we walked through the airport's Terminal 6.
Chapter 2.7: At Los Angeles International Airport
We quickly found our way to the baggage claim area of Terminal 6. It took about 15 minutes before our luggage arrived on the carousel. With my baggage claim check in hand, I thought that somebody would verify that I was taking the correct luggage. But nobody did.
I wanted to leave Los Angeles International Airport as soon as possible and head once more for the rails. We were feeling a bit hungry, as the portions of lunch served on the plane had not suited our appetites. So we were in a hurry to get to our planned dinner stop. We went outside to find the free shuttle bus to the Metro Green Line station.
For the second time in 24 hours, we found ourselves on the curbside of an airport roadway, craning our necks to find the correct vehicle to board to our destination. In this case, we were looking for a bus marked with the letter "G". Naturally, plenty of buses to other destinations came along before our "G" shuttle arrived.
Chapter 2.8: Airport Shuttle "G": Los Angeles International Airport-Terminal 6 to Aviation/I-105 Station
When LAX Airport Shuttle G arrived, it was packed with people. We ended up having to stand the whole way and ride like sardines. When the bus stopped at Terminal 7, we were told to move to the back of the bus, but there was no place to go. It was quite a hair-raising ride to the Metro station, which is about a mile from the airport property.
At the Aviation/105 station we were mercifully discharged from the bus. Our first order of business there was to purchase our Day Passes, which would get us all the way to North Hollywood later that evening. My brother had told me that the machines are located at ground level underneath the freeway.
The machines were user friendly, however they were new to me. Since I was used to the contraptions on the East Coast, it took a little while to make the two purchases (which as far as I could tell, had to be done as two separate transactions). I thought we would have time to make a 3:21 PM train towards Redondo Beach, but as we were going up the escalator we heard it leaving the station right on time.
Chapter 2.9: Metro Green Line: Aviation/I-105 to Rosecrans/Douglas, El Segundo
The Metro Green Line was the first rail transit ride of many we would be taking in the next three days. It would be a relatively short trip, since the plan was to stop for dinner very soon. Although it was the 3:00 hour, to our bodies it was past 6 PM, well past dinnertime.
So our first trip would be in the west and south direction, towards Redondo Beach. Because of my membership in the transit advocacy group Southern California Transit Advocates (SOCATA), I had read about a meeting taking place at a Boston Market restaurant near the Rosecrans/Douglas Green Line station in El Segundo. I thought that this restaurant would be perfect for us, a nice place to fill our deprived bellies.
So having just missed the intended 3:21 PM train to Redondo Beach, we would have to wait 15 minutes for the next one. This particular station of the line is not in the median of I-105, but it is still adjacent to the freeway. Immediately west of the station there is a turnout where someday a future extension will go directly to the airport. The existing line turns south to go through El Segundo to Redondo Beach.
Along the station's island platform there are benches, chairs, and tables set up to give the impression you are sitting in somebody's living room. During our wait, an eastbound train came, and most of the passengers that had been on the airport bus with us got on that train.
At precisely 3:36 PM, our light rail train arrived for Redondo Beach. I was impressed already at the time-keeping, as the three Green Line trains I had seen thus far were exactly on time. While I was upset we had missed the previous trip, we were still 15 minutes ahead of my planned itinerary.
It took us just six minutes to get to the Rosecrans/Douglas station. We alighted there and took the elevator downstairs to the street. I was worried now, as I did not immediately see the Boston Market. I realized though that there really was only one way to walk, in the westerly direction on Douglas, so we did that. After we walked about two blocks, we came upon a building that housed a few businesses, including the Boston Market we were looking for.
Chapter 2.10: Dinner in El Segundo
Now absolutely starving, we entered the Boston Market and ordered our favorite turkey dinners. Our meal was very refreshing. Since it was technically still early for dinner in this time zone, we were the only customers in the restaurant, except for one woman who seemed to live there, as she was watching a portable television while eating.
I had realized back at the Aviation station that I was out of film, and I wanted to get more while we were off the rails so that I could be ready for any photo opportunities. Diagonally across the street I saw a shopping center. While Michael finished his dinner and watched our suitcases, I ran across the street and found a Longs Drugs in the shopping center, where I purchased the film.
Back at the restaurant we finished up and then headed back to the Green Line station.
Chapter 2.11: Metro Green Line: Rosecrans/Douglas, El Segundo to Marine Avenue, Redondo Beach
We had spent the allotted 45 minutes for dinner, so when we caught the 4:27 PM train to Redondo Beach, we were still 15 minutes ahead of my original plans.
This segment of our journey, which got us to the end of the line, was just one station and four minutes. The setting sun to the west made it difficult to see the ocean or any other points of interest on that side of the train.
Just before the Marine/Redondo station, we crossed over to the other track and entered the station on the left side of the island platform. It only took two minutes for the operator to switch ends, and at 4:33 PM we were ready to head in the other direction once more, for a full end-to-end ride on the Green Line.
Chapter 2.12: Metro Green Line: Marine Avenue, Redondo Beach to I-605/I-105, Norwalk
Because my itinerary had allowed for a longer layover at Marine, we were now half an hour ahead of schedule. This allowed us to see a little more in the diminishing daylight than we would have if we had stuck to the original plan.
We returned north to the Aviation/I-105 station where we had boarded, and then continued onward. The line goes through an S-curve into the median of the freeway, and it remains in that median for the rest of the trip. All stations on the entire Green Line are of the island platform variety, by necessity since the freeway median is not all that wide.
One of our train's stops was at I-105's junction with I-110, the Harbor Freeway. The latter has an express busway in its median that functions as a transit line.
We proceeded eastbound. By far the busiest station on the line is Imperial/Wilmington/Rosa Parks, where there is a transfer to the Blue Line to Long Beach or Los Angeles. Almost all of the passengers on our train got off, to be replaced by others headed for Lakewood and Norwalk.
Three stops later, we arrived at the Green Line's eastern endpoint in Norwalk at I-105/I-605. The station sits underneath a tangle of freeways and flyover ramps. It is generally felt that the Green Line should have been built about a mile further east to hook up with the Norwalk/Santa Fe Springs station on Metrolink's Orange County Line and 91 Line. (We would be seeing that station from a commuter rail train on Monday.) For now, those making that connection have to take a city bus.
They run a tight ship on this line. The layover time at the Norwalk station is just four minutes. Before we knew it, it was 5:11 PM and time to head west once more.
Chapter 2.13: Metro Green Line: I-605/I-105, Norwalk to Imperial/Wilmington/Rosa Parks
Not only was the Green Line the first rail transit line we rode in the area, but it was also the first one we completed. Now we were doubling back to Imperial/Wilmington/Rosa Parks, a trip that took just eleven minutes.
At the transfer station, we detrained, and headed down an escalator to a mezzanine. Then we went further down another escalator to the Blue Line platform. This station, with the mezzanine between the platform levels, reminded me of the Fort Totten station on the Washington, DC Metro.
We had about a six minute wait until a southbound light rail train came marked "Long Beach".
Chapter 2.14: Metro Blue Line: Imperial/Wilmington/Rosa Parks to Long Beach Transit Mall
The entire Metro Blue Line was new to Michael, but this is the one route I had already ridden once before. Still, having been thirteen years since I was last in Southern California, it was essentially new to me as well.
Most of the Blue Line runs on its own right-of-way, either at grade or on a viaduct. We first passed through the infamous City of Compton, which does not look all that bad from the rail line. There is a transportation center just across the street from the rail station, which consolidates the stops on the local buses that serve the area.
Still in Compton, we came upon something just east of the tracks that surprised me. I did not know that there were active gambling casinos so close to Los Angeles. The Crystal Park Casino Hotel sits across a small parking lot from the Artesia station, which makes it very convenient from anywhere. That station also sits partially under the Artesia Freeway.
Del Amo is home to factory outlets, and some of them are a short walk from the station by the same name. Just after that station, we climbed onto a viaduct that spans both the Long Beach Freeway (I-710) and the Los Angeles River basin. In this stretch we also passed the Metro Blue Line's yard facilities.
After passing over the San Diego Freeway (I-405), we began to enter the city of Long Beach. We remained on a private right-of-way past the Wardlow and Willow stations. Just after the Willow station, but before actual crossing Willow Street, the line meets Long Beach Blvd. and begins running in its median.
We continued in the median of Long Beach Blvd, sometimes stopping to observe traffic signals. The next two stations we passed were Pacific Coast Highway and Anaheim Street. After Anaheim, we came upon a very rarely seen type of crossover. The southbound and northbound tracks just cross each other, and for about half a block the trains run left-handed. The Blue Line runs clockwise around downtown Long Beach on a one track, one way loop. This switch of track positions allows southbound trains to continue down Long Beach Blvd while Los Angeles-bound trains make a left from Eighth Street onto Long Beach Blvd going north.
Southbound trains make stops at Fifth Street and then First Street. We noticed that there are some major chain restaurants and stores right in downtown Long Beach.
After the First Street station, we turned right onto First, and entered the Transit Mall, the transportation center of the city. All buses converge on this two block long station, and the Metro Blue Line ends and begins its runs here. The operators do not have to change ends since they will just continue around the large loop to head back to Los Angeles.
Passengers are allowed to remain aboard the train during the brief layover, since some could be riding from one point in the loop to another. Since there is no fare collection when boarding, we were safe with our Day Passes. During our six minute layover, our operator did step off briefly to stretch his legs. Michael and I remained on board, too tired by now to stretch ours. The time was about 6 PM, which translates to Michael's usual bedtime at home. It was also totally dark by now, so it seemed to us like it was in fact 9 PM.
Chapter 2.15: Metro Blue Line: Long Beach Transit Mall to Metro Center, Los Angeles
At 6:05 PM we left the Transit Mall and continued around the loop. We turned north on Pacific Avenue, and made a stop at a station by the same name. Then we turned east on Eighth Street to return to Long Beach Blvd. We then turned north on that street, running left handed for a little bit until we once again went through the track crossing just before the Anaheim Street station to assume the right side of the two track right-of-way.
We now retraced our earlier trip through Long Beach, Del Amo, and Compton, up to Imperial/Wilmington/Rosa Parks. Now we entered Los Angeles' infamous Watts District, making a couple of stops there. The lights of the city got closer as we made stops at Firestone, Florence, Slauson, and Vernon.
After the Vernon station, the line comes off a viaduct for the last time and begins street running once more. It runs for a bit on Long Beach Avenue, and makes a stop at Washington before turning left to ride in Washington Blvd's median.
Knowing that the Blue Line ends in a subway tunnel, I chose this time to try to reach my parents and tell them that we were ahead of schedule, and would be arriving in North Hollywood at about 7:30. They were going to be at a party at the bride's parents' house, expecting to leave there to pick us up at 8:06 PM. When I spoke to my brother's future mother-in-law, she said that my parents were not there yet, but that she would convey the message to them when they arrived.
Along Washington, the line runs about a block south of the Santa Monica Freeway (I-10). The San Pedro and Grand stations come next. Then the line makes a very sharp curve to the right onto Flower Street and passes under I-10. At Flower Street and Pico Blvd is the Pico station, from which one can clearly see on the left the Los Angeles Convention Center and the Staples Center. That was another surprise; neither of those venues was there the last time I was in town. I knew of the Staples Center but did not realize it was this close to the transit system.
After the Pico station, the Blue Line ducks down into a subway for the final several blocks to the station known as 7th Street/Metro Center/Julian Dixon. We crossed over to the left side track, and then came to a stop at a station with rare side platforms. It was intended at one point for this line to continue northward from here, and run all the way to Pasadena, hooking up with what is today's Metro Gold Line. In fact, until about a year before it opened, the Pasadena line was still referred to as the Blue Line. There have been various proposals in how to someday connect the two, but for now, one has to ride the Metro Red Line between them. So for now, Metro Center is an endpoint station. One can transfer here to the Red Line eastward to Union Station, or westward to either Wilshire/Western or North Hollywood.
It was exactly 7:00 PM when we detrained at Metro Center from the Blue Line. We went down an escalator to the Red Line platform to await our final transit conveyance of the day.
Chapter 2.16: Metro Red Line: Metro Center, Los Angeles to North Hollywood
The first westbound Metro Red Line train that came was headed to Wilshire/Western. We did not board, knowing that our train would be about seven minutes behind it. Our total wait on this platform was about ten minutes.
Our train for North Hollywood came, and we began the last leg of our long journey via public transportation from the airport.
I knew our subway train would be traveling on a zigzag course first westbound under Wilshire Blvd., then northbound under Vermont Avenue, then westbound again underneath Hollywood Blvd., and then north towards the San Fernando Valley. I was under the impression, however, that the line would come to the surface or be elevated as it went through Cahuenga Pass. I was surprised to find out that the Red Line never surfaces on the revenue portion of its run, as it remains beneath Cahuenga Blvd. and then Lankershim Blvd. It is a true subway all the way from Union Station to North Hollywood, the branch to Western Avenue included. (On Monday we did find a place where you can see Red Line cars out in the daylight! Stay tuned.....)
When we got to North Hollywood, we detrained and went upstairs. At the top of the escalator, my parents were waiting there with their rental car to pick us up. Coincidentally, also present was my brother's new mother-in-law who was picking up her son who had been on the same Red Line train.
Chapter 2.17: By car: North Hollywood to Travelodge Hotel in Van Nuys
Having been in the area two days before we got there, my father knew his way around already. He guided us through the streets of the San Fernando Valley through North Hollywood, Sherman Oaks, and Van Nuys until we came to our hotel, the Travelodge.
They had been staying there the two previous nights, and they had already gone through the check-in procedure for us to ensure that we had adjacent rooms.
Chapter 2.18: End of Saturday's activities
Tired as we were with the jet lag and our rail travel in Philadelphia, Newark, and Los Angeles, we still had to try on our formal wear so we would have no surprises on the day of the wedding. We found that while the tuxedos and cummerbunds fit, the store had given both Michael and me the wrong size shoes. In fact, they gave us the same size -- one that was too large for Michael and too small for me. That meant we would have to utilize some of our free time on Sunday to correct this so we would not be uncomfortable at the wedding.
After our modeling sessions were over, Michael and I both fell asleep easily after an exhausting day.
Chapter 3: Sunday, October 24, 2004
Sunday was the day of the wedding, our main reason for making this trip. But it was to start at 5:30 PM, with the photo session a few hours earlier than that. We had the morning to sightsee, and also correct the shoe problem.
Michael had never been to California before, so I thought it would be nice to take a walk through Hollywood on the Walk of Fame so he could see the stars embedded in the sidewalks. My father would accompany us, but my mother elected to remain behind at the hotel and begin getting ready for the wedding.
My father was going to drive to Hollywood and park somewhere along Hollywood Blvd. Remembering from past visits that the place is full of small and expensive parking lots that prey on tourists, guess what I suggested we do? I talked him into driving to the North Hollywood Red Line station and parking there, and then taking the train two stops to Hollywood/Highland. Michael and I would pay the $1.25 regular fare, but my father qualified for the senior rate of just 45 cents, so that probably sold him on my idea. Parking at North Hollywood was free, and our combined round trip fares were surely less than we would have paid to park the car in the middle of Hollywood.
Chapter 3.1: Metro Red Line: North Hollywood to Hollywood/Highland, Hollywood
We purchased our one-way tickets, which are good for three hours. We did not plan on spending that much time in Hollywood since we other business to attend to this morning or we would be attending a wedding in our socks. So we figured we might get a round trip out of these tickets.
A train was waiting for us when we got down to the platform. My father had probably not ridden a subway since he worked in Manhattan years ago, so he was impressed by how clean this one looked. He wondered where the turnstiles were, but I explained that we were on the honor system so there were no barriers, and that we were subject to random ticket inspections.
Eight minutes after we started out, we arrived at the Hollywood/Highland station, where we made our way up to the street.
Chapter 3.2: In Hollywood
We first walked west on Hollywood Blvd. half a block to the front court of Grauman's Chinese Theater to see the footprints and hand prints of major movie stars embedded in the concrete. This area had changed a bit since I was there last, since the Kodak Theatre and the Hollywood & Highland Center surrounding it were added.
We then continued west on Hollywood Blvd. along the Walk of Fame, looking down at the stars along the sidewalk that are dedicated to movie, television, and radio personalities.
At the Walk's western end at La Brea Avenue, we crossed the street and began heading east. We walked all the way to the famous corner Hollywood & Vine before deciding we had seen enough sidewalk stars. (They actually continue further east on Hollywood Blvd. and for three blocks up and down Vine Street as well.)
At Hollywood & Vine we looked for an entrance to the Metro but could not find one. Being used to New York subways, we were looking for small, cluttered stairways from the street corner. We finally found the grand entrance to the Hollywood/Vine station in a plaza half a block further east on Hollywood Blvd.
Chapter 3.3: Metro Red Line: Hollywood/Vine, Hollywood to North Hollywood
The station platform at the center of the entertainment universe looked just like any other station platform along the Red Line. But when we looked up at the ceiling, we noticed that it was made of film reels, hundreds of them. It was very clever and appropriate artwork.
We had about 25 minutes before our original tickets would expire, and I knew from the timetable that the trip from Hollywood/Vine to North Hollywood should take eleven minutes. So we did not purchase any tickets for the trip back. My father was impressed that he had paid just 45 cents for his round trip.
We luckily got a train within five minutes, and we headed back to North Hollywood.
Chapter 3.4: Preparations for the wedding
By now, the formal wear store that had botched the shoe sizes had opened. We made our way to the Fashion Square Mall in Sherman Oaks and tried to right their wrong. They did not have our sizes in stock, but they called another nearby store and found some. We then had to drive to the next town, Studio City, and claim our shoes.
That problem now resolved, we now had to eat lunch. I had previously told my parents that with a 5:30 wedding ceremony, with the reception to follow, the prospects of having dinner before 7 PM were very slim. Coupled with our east coast body clocks, that would translate to 10 PM. Since that was unacceptable to me, we simply had to have a large lunch beforehand. Originally the plan was to have lunch at a Hometown Buffet in Van Nuys, not far from our hotel. But we have taken a lot of the time to resolve the issue with the formal shoes. So we would not have time to enjoy a buffet lunch before we had to get back to the hotel to get dressed for the photo shoot and then the wedding. So instead, we went back to Fashion Square Mall and ate at their food court. I found my favorite Sbarro (of course) and bulked up on extra meatballs, while Michael had a chicken dish from an Oriental restaurant.
After lunch we drove back to our hotel and got dressed in our formal wear, including our shoes that now fit us well.
After we were all dressed, my brother came by the hotel. He would guide us to the location where the photos were being taken. We drove in a two-car caravan to a very nice house in the foothills of the Hollywood mountains, and we were then at the mercy of a very entertaining and thorough professional photographer.
Once the shoot was completed, we then headed to the wedding.
Chapter 3.5: The wedding
I won't bore the readers with details of the wedding. It was a nice (but long) ceremony, and it was probably the only one in my life where I would be involved as the Best Man. Michael enjoyed his role in the wedding party as well as a Junior Usher.
The reception was in a banquet room in the same facility. We were entertained by a disc jockey named Tim Scarne, (a.k.a. Timbo), whose claim to fame is his co-starring with his brother in a 2004 movie called "L.A. D.J.". One highlight of the evening was the world's longest Best Man speech by yours truly.
We were among the last to leave the affair, as most of the guests left early.
Chapter 3.6: End of Sunday's activities
Back at our hotel we removed our formal wear, happy never to see it again. It was not difficult to fall asleep after what ended up being yet another busy day.