Thursday, February 21, 2013

Leave Your Car in LA - Take Amtrak Instead

It was more than 10 years ago that I first hopped an Amtrak train from San Francisco to Los Angeles. When we rolled into LA's Union Station over four hours late in a rainstorm, it made me think twice about taking the train again. Since then, I've driven the SF-LA route dozens of times, often swearing in frustration at big traffic jams on the I-5 Fwy. 

This week I boarded the Coast Starlight train again and gave Amtrak another shot. Not only was the train impeccably on time, it was even more comfortable than driving my own Subaru. My upper-deck train seat was at least twice as wide as on a plane, and when the coach car attendant walked around handing out free sleeping pillows, I was gobsmacked.

During lunch in the dining car, as I was looking out panoramic observation windows onto the Pacific coast, I whiled away a relaxing hour chatting with other travelers. Mostly we talked about why we chose to take the train instead of driving or flying: the slower pace of rail travel, the unbeatable views, and bonding with family and friends en route, not to mention shrinking our carbon footprints.

When the Coast Starlight chugged into the tiny train station that was my final destination, I was reluctant to step off onto the platform. When was the last time I felt that way about an airplane ride? Never.

Come over and join me on Instagram to see more pictures of this week's California trip by train!

Related links:
Coastal California: The Anti-Hotel Top 10 List
All Aboard Amtrak's National Train Day
Fall Travel: Sunshine on California's Coast

Photo credit: Sara J. Benson (postcard via Gogobot)

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Itty-Bitty Book Review: State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America

Packed with contemporary travel essays, State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America, edited by Matt Weiland and Sean Wilsey, is the most memorable book I've read this year. With rambling narratives reminiscent of William Least Heat Moon's Blue Highways, this giant anthology tackles all 50 states (you can skip the Washington DC interview).

Weaving together travel, politics and history, it's a tribute to the WPA travel guidebooks published in the 1930s, to which soon-to-be-famous writers such as Zola Neale Hurston, Studs Terkel and Kenneth Rexroth contributed. Published in 2008, State by State is an equally eclectic travel book. Follow along with its writers as they fly in bush planes through the Alaska wilderness, run out of gas in rural Illinois and hang around pawn shops in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Not every essay is a winner, particularly those that superficially skim over the state (Saïd Sayrafiezadeh's "South Dakota) or dismiss it with smartypants snark (Sarah Vowell's "Montana"). But most take an unstinting look at that state's real-deal character, with its beauty spots, flaws and all. Immigrant stories are among the most insightful chapters in the book.

If you haven't gotten around to joining the 50 States Club yet, plowing through State by State - it's over 600 pages long - might just spur you to hit the road.

Related links:
State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America
The WPA Guide to California in the 1930s
Itty-Bitty Book Review: Shadow of a Bear