Amtrak California

I have, let us say, been dealing with anxiety. The latter being one of those nebulous, borderline useless terms for something vague, pervasive and, I suspect, generally human. Whatever. I still maintain that a conscious effort to sort out legitimate from illegitimate fear is worth the effort. In any case, I do see a general shift in perspective. Let’s see if it lasts. In fact, let’s see if it is even real.

First, let’s say that I care about some things more than others, and that at age 72 caring really should be a guiding force in my life. For example, I care about Amtrak California. Perhaps I care about the idea of Amtrak California. In any case, I care enough to be involved in an ad hoc team of disability advocates who have been reviewing the railcars set to operate within a few years along three routes in California.

I care enough about this matter to actually journey to Sacramento, California’s provincial capital. What gets accomplished in such a journey? The human element, I suppose. I enjoyed being in a room with the key players in our project that will be a significant part of this state’s future transportation. I enjoyed smiling at the principals. Yes, smiling. There wasn’t much to frown about. And there was much to cheer. And when there was something to criticize, I enjoyed that part too. In that moment I felt part of a statewide team, in fact a national team, with people on Skype from Washington to Los Angeles.

What did we accomplish? Well, in the end, one extra toilet aboard the train. And if I am still around when the new coaches roll, I plan to use that toilet with this day in mind. I will be a bit older, so let us put it this way, even if I am wasted, this day in 2019 wasn’t.

It must be said that in anticipation, today’s Sacramento excursion felt rather dire. First, it was long. I got up at 5:30 AM, rolled out the door at 6:30 AM…and got home 10 hours later. I did this trip by public transport, of course, and that explains much of the time consumption. Trains between Sacramento and the Bay Area are infrequent midday. But they are also attractively modern, clean and quiet. I did some reading. I spaced out. I enjoyed rolling beside the Sacramento River, then the very edge of upper San Francisco Bay.

If anxiety had colored my anticipation of the day, possible heavy rain, soaked wool sports coat, leading to pneumonia…reality did manage to come up with one grim experience. Richmond station. This is an end-of-the-line spot on the regional subway, BART, and a transfer point for the Amtrak California trains to Sacramento. Concerned about making the connection I arrived early, and the Sacramento train was somewhat late, giving me almost half an hour on the Richmond platform.

This has got to be one of the most accursed of public spaces. Bleak, unadorned and harshly utilitarian, not to mention cold in the foggy January morning. In truth, this is not a trivial spot on the Bay Area transit map, and a waiting room would not be out of the question. Yet short of that, it would be great to make people feel slightly wanted with a hint of welcome-aboard comfort. Surely there must be a way to do this. And I suppose it takes money, not to mention will, and the sense that we are all in this together and care about being together which is what public spaces are all about.

Caring. Yes, it’s a good thing. And I will confess to caring about the California Department of Transportation where I spent my morning. The DOT offices are literally opposite the California State Capitol, a neoclassic domed affair looking like a mini Washington DC Capitol Hill. Which is my way of saying that state workers serve the public in a grim structure that is somehow reminiscent of 1950s air raid shelters. Remember, California drove itself to prominence on roads envisioned, then engineered, funded and everything else…right here. Certainly, the location of this building, right across from the state’s center of power, it is no accident. But the grim visage, somehow it doesn’t seem right. 

A day of mixed impressions, exhausting travel and somehow, joy.

Comments are closed.