Bums on the train

Once again, I’m on the train, on the Amtrak super liner known as the California Zephyr. That’s Amtrak’s number 5, going from Chicago to San Francisco (actually, Emeryville). It’s bringing hordes of washed and unwashed alike to the promised land, so they can be on hand when that big 10.2 quake guaranteed by various Art Bell-ian psychic prognosticators puts its version of Extreme Makeover on the continental shelf.

I keep finding it very easy to buy the ticket for the super-slow, over-priced ole Zephyr. I think I got the formula for the Denver roundtrip just right: Fly into town (this time, it’s for the kid’s graduation ceremony, and yep, daughter Catie is now out of high school, and tempus continues to fugit at an increasingly disturbing rate), and then hop on the train to come home.

One of the best reasons to take the Zephyr is the riparian scenery. It’s simply pleasing, in some fundamental way, to be in a train clackety-clacketing alongside some of the West’s nicest rivers. Soon after pulling out of Denver, for example, the train falls in next to the fabulous Colorado and then clings to this wondrous stream for about seven hours until it reaches the Utah border. This makes it possible to truly appreciate this always gorgeous and occasionally awesome waterway, which quickly becomes a considerable piece of work as it gobbles up its tributaries gushing down from the high Rockies.

At one point, we were zipping along a stretch of the Colorado that, according to the scenic guide book brought along by one of the gents at our white-clothed lunch table in the dining car, has been nicknamed Moon River. We dared to wonder why.

Well, says the book, this section of the Colorado is quite busy at certain times of the year with rafters. These rafters often can’t resist waving their fuzzy glutes at a passing train. Sure enough, since today is the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, we soon passed a group of boats, and, sure enough, three of the gnarlier gents of the troupe were compelled to include themselves in the annals of Moon River lore. I tried to telekinetically topple one of the vulgarians, using a quarked up inter-dimensional thought blast in an attempt to wobble and then dump him into the river, maybe whip a little etiquette-inducing hypothermia on his very vulnerable ass. But, alas, it appears that that part of my mind remains stubbornly inaccessible. (The guide book notes that another notorious strip of “Moon River” assaulting the eyeballs of western train travelers comes a bit later on the Zephyr’s run, courtesy of the rafters on the Truckee between Reno and Floriston).

At the Utah border, the great river turns to the southwest, while the Zephyr angles to the northwest. The sun begins to set, enriching the light on the surrounding landscape. If John Fogerty ever wanted to break a spell of writer’s block, a seat on this train might get the job done.