Do the locomotion: part II

Rolling out of Stockton on the Amtrak, it becomes obvious very quickly where the pleasure of train travel truly lies.

It’s in the sound and the feel; the iron horse is a gigantic groove machine unto itself. That klickety-klack klickety-klack of the wheels on the track is a rich noise to the ear, in the same sonically rewarding category as the crack of a bat and the sizzle of frying bacon.And while you’re hearing the sound of the train’s wheels clicking off its hypnoidal beat, you’re feeling those wheels creating that beat as a thick vibration moving up through your body. When you factor in the slight samba-like side-to-side sway that shimmies each car as it streams down the track, you end up rockin’ and swingin’ simultaneously.

Which probably explains the large number of train riders I see who are zonked out in Napland. There are quite a few, and most of them aren’t engaged in light dozing. No, they seem to be locked down about two levels deeper, committed to that stone-gone zone where both dreams and drool are possible. Very few people sleep like that on a bus or a jet; the deep, soothing rhythms of the train are crucial for truly satisfying travel slumber.

I get to experience the full swing of the Amtrak thing when I make my move to the dining and bar car. I am in car five, and the goodies are in car one, which means I have to walk the length of the train.

It’s a much more entertaining trek than, say, walking the narrow center aisle of a jet to get to its bathroom. You have to get your steps in sync with the train’s roll and sway, which takes a little getting used to. For additional cheap thrills, you can look down from the interconnecting platforms that join each car and see the tracks whizzing past underneath your feet.

Finally, I skank my way into the car of face-feeding. The snack section is loaded with cookies, chips, fruits, yogurts, sodas, waters, beers, etc., a well-rounded and extremely decent lineup. I go for the chili and corn bread, which the cook quickly zaps and serves. It is non-wretched, even edible, and eating it on the train helped it to somehow be better.

The microwave oven is a godsend for the train, making safe, hot food possible in a vehicle that shakes a lot. They have lots of nice-sounding dinners available, but that chili completely taps me out.

The train pulls into Fresno, only 10 minutes late. Not bad. I find myself wishing that I were riding to Bakersfield, just to hang out a little longer. I can’t remember the last time I had a similar feeling on a plane.

The California Zephyr is the train that runs from Emeryville (Berkeley) to Chicago through Reno, Elko, Salt Lake, Denver and Omaha. It’s actually more expensive than flying, but considerably more comfortable, pleasurable and just plain fun.