Dec 08

Train to San Francisco: Not so simple.

A small station.

On a day that I thought I wouldn’t have to ride, I ended up riding 50 km just trying to find the Amtrak station.  First I followed the signs.  Then the signs stopped and I was 6 km out of town on a long quiet rural road battling a serious headwind.  “This can’t be right.” I muttered to Tony.  Tony shrugged.  So we turned around and rode back into town to where on the map I thought the station would most likely be.  It wasn’t there.  (During this wandering, we got a nice tour of Lompoc, which of course was my intention all along.  Lompoc has the makings of what could be a really great cute small-town – even without having world famous pea soup – It just needs to have the right people and enough jobs.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to have either.)  So, we stopped and I asked for directions at a petrol station.  The kid working there looked at me like I was crazy.

“The Amtrak station?!”


“Um, well, BASICALLY you go down this road, and you just keep going, and you just keep going, it’s like maybe 15 miles out of town.”

He was indicating the road Tony and I had just finished doubling back on.

“And you can get on the train there?”

“Oh yeah, I guess, but it’s a realllly long ways, and the road is a dead end, basically it’s the beach and the rail line, and nothing else.”

Inside me the little man was screaming bloody murder.

I calmly replied, “Oh that’s no problem”

“Ok, well, straight down that way then…  It’s a long ways though”


Fortunately, his 15 miles was actually 9 miles.  When I got to the station though, it seemed almost not in use.  Also, Amtrak had been kind enough to not bother with anything silly like posting up information like train schedules or route information.  Instead I was to call a 1-800 number and talk past one of the annoying automated agents that are supposed to understand what you are saying, but never do.  When I did finally get a human agent on the phone she wasn’t exactly, shall we say, the quickest train in the fleet?  Getting any information out of her was painstaking, as she just kept repeating “We don’t really seem to stop at that station very often.”

Finally, what I did get out of her was that getting to San Francisco would not be as simple as hoping on the next northbound train and riding it to the Golden Gate in time for a late dinner.  Instead, I’d have to go south back to Santa Barbara, and the next day get a train/bus option (or just a bus option) up to San Francisco arriving in time for a late dinner.

Just then, a train pulled in… the next one would be in 24 hours.  Making a quick decision I rolled up to the conductor with no ticket in hand to enquire if this train was stopping in Santa Barbara.  Before I could open my mouth, and without even glancing at me, he somehow managed to shout me a command while at the same time asking me a question and all with a single word:


“Uh, is the train stopping at Santa Barbara?”


Another Amtrak automated agent…

“Um, I don’t have a ticket yet…”

“I’m going to ask you one last time… COMING?!”

“Uh, yeah… I’m coming”

He looked at me for the first time and nodded, then he spoke into his radio, “Charlie, we’ve got a 457FOXTROT DELTA, sort out the 6256 HOTEL GOLF, I’ve got a bike to load”

Are there strange people like this all over the world, and it’s just lost in translation for me when I’m traveling?  Or are Americans a breed apart?

In any case, Tony and I were on our way.  And once again, it was the wrong way.


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