Category Archives: Road Trip

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All Aboard: Celebrate National Train Day

Hundreds of cities and towns across the U.S. are celebrating National Train Day with events, entertainment and exhibits at train stations and other locations. Find a train event near you.

Sunset Limited. Hiawatha. Empire Builder. Super Chief. I can’t hear the names of the great American train lines without finding myself completely smitten. The Romance of the Rails has gotten to me pretty much every time I’ve taken a train, even a lowly commute one. My first long-distance trip was on the Coast Starlight, a two-night journey (was it supposed to be one? I didn’t care) from San Francisco to Seattle. I highly recommend this, and other long-distance routes, for family travel.

My 7-year-old daughter and I boarded the train about midnight, when many of the passengers were already asleep. We were given warm chocolate chip cookies as we tiptoed to our sleeping car. We both stayed up most of the night, staring out the train window at the houses and yards as they passed by in slices, under a full moon, at just the right speed for contemplation. The train’s mournful whistle occasionally sounded onto the empty main streets. At rural stops, a passenger or two would come aboard, their drivers shuffling back to their hulking cars.

ctempemploymentlawblog

In the morning, we ate on a table set with a white tablecloth, as the train circled a snow-covered Mt. Shasta. We’d later play games in the observation car, meet Europeans who talked politics and American father-son pairs touring the country’s ball parks, drink wine with a very knowledgeable and funny sommelier, watch movies in a beautiful, lower-level movie screening car, and continue staring out the window at the tiny logging towns, the green college towns, the gorge-filled Willamette Valley, and the fir-lined Cascade Mountains. We may have been a full day late getting into Seattle but, of course, we couldn’t have been happier.

mtshasta

cascadestream2

Richard Talmy, the sommelier, was indeed a trip highlight. He was encyclopedic about California wines and wine tasting, as well as train and Coast Starlight history, and he served all up with a great deal of verve, encouraging everyone to eat and drink up, to have fun, and to just acknowledge the fact that we’d “get on the train as passengers and leave as freight.”

Train Web writer and photographer Carl Morrison wrote a piece on parlor car wine tasting with Richard Talmy, where you can see the man in action and get a bit of the flavor of a tasting.

DiningCar

Anna and her new train companions enjoying a meal.

I’ve learned since that first trip that the Coast Starlight is the only Amtrak route to feature a parlor car with wine tasting and a screening room. (And that the parlor car itself is a refurbished car from the historic El Capitan line of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe.) Even so, a few summers ago, I had the pleasure of taking the Washington D.C. – New York train (which bore the unromantic name, Acela) and, truly, just a window seat and a garden burger were enough to make my day. Dusk and sunset didn’t hurt the mood, either, as I took in every aluminum-sided diner (themselves former train cars), corner tavern, brick row house, backyard swing set, hilly main street, church steeple, and pane-windowed factory building as the train swung through Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, and finally to its resting place in a tunnel beneath Penn Station. Only the vaulted Grand Central lobby would have made the trip more complete. I could have come with this placard of warning: Beware romantic, yearning West Coast person experiencing train rapture.

SunsetTrain

Our car attendant on that first trip was named Douglas and, like Richard, he seems to be a character of lore among Coast Starlight riders. From the cookie on, we knew we were in good hands. A big man, I’ll never forget him cruising through the dining car, about mid-morning, calling out “Hungry Man Walking.” His humor (and our laughter) continued the whole trip.

We slept in a “roomette”, really a closet with beds that hinged out from the walls. (We since booked a family sleeping car, for a second trip on the Coast Starlight. It is roomy and sleeps four, but sacrifices views.) What we didn’t have, apparently, was the grand-era Pullman sleeper car service and room. (Note: I have just returned from a Los Angeles-Chicago train trip in a vintage Pullman car. More on that journey in a future blog.)

While George Pullman didn’t invent the sleeper car, it was he who realized there was a market in luxury, comfort and service, and he and his Pullman cars dominated the industry during its golden age, when everyone traveled by train. A key component of Pullman service was the Pullman porter. The porters were black men — the first ones were former slaves — and it is said that, even though some of the work could be demeaning, Pullman provided them with almost unequaled earning opportunity and job security for the times. During World War II, there were 12,000 Pullman porters. Their union was referred to as a Brotherhood. It’s shocking, then, that the last Pullman car would take a run on December 31, 1968, a victim of the plane and the car.

pullmanx-large

Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall, former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown, and Olympic athlete Wilma Rudolph are just three famous offspring of Pullman porters.The last Pullman porters, many of whom are in their 80s and 90s, are gathered for last year’s Train Day celebration at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station.

National Train Day commemorates the “golden spike” that was driven into the final tie that joined the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific railways, thus creating America’s first transcontinental railroad, on May 10, 1869. I salute Train Day, the Pullman porters and the grand era of rail travel, even if it comes in the form of a refurbished Parlor Car.

Hundreds of cities and towns across the U.S. are celebrating National Train Day with events, entertainment and exhibits at train stations and other locations. Visit the National Train Day web site for complete event information and other resources about train history.

I suggest this site to get lost in some wonderful train horn sounds.

amtrakstop

IACMusic.com

Pullman Photo Courtesy of A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum
Early 1900s: Waiter John Larvell Dorsey, left, on Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.

Other Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman

May is Bike to Work and School Month

May is an especially great month to be a biker. In the U.S., the weather generally cooperates. Now is a great time to dust off or tune up your bike and enjoy spring and summer riding.

Want to experience safety in numbers? National Safe Routes to Schools Bike to School Day is May 7. National Bike to Work Day is May 16. San Francisco cyclists enjoy Bike to Work Day May 8. Washington, D.C. and others have declared May 17 to be Bike to Work Day. Best yet, the League of American Bicyclists has declared the entire month of May Bike to Work Month. Their site lists tons of bike-related events and resources from Anchorage, Alaska, to Tallahassee, Florida, that should make it easy for almost anyone to ride alone or with a group, take a class, and enjoy other fun activities.

Here are just a few of the fun ways you can get involved:

National Safe Routes to Schools Bike to School Day is May 7. If you missed it, don’t worry! Safe Routes to Schools is offering a bicycle and helmet giveaway until May 31. They also offer suggestions for biking year-round.

Enjoy CycloFemme on Mother’s Day, May 11. CycloFemme is a global women’s cycling event to empower women riders and share the joy of biking, with 276 rides scheduled worldwide.

This is just a smattering of the many events offered in various cities nationwide. Find a bike event or class near you.

Pueblo, CO: Crusin’ Pueblo Ride, May 8.

Cedar Rapids, IA: Bicycle Scavenger Hunt, May 10.

Tampa Bay, FL: Bike with the Mayor, May 16.

Chico, CA: GRUB Garden Bike Tour, May 17.

Trenton, NJ: Trenton Bike Tour, May 17.

Honolulu, HI: Free admission for bikers to the Honolulu Zoo, May 18.

Radford, VA: Family Wilderness Road Ride, May 24.

Seattle, WA: Summer Streets Party, May 29.

Of course, anyone getting out biking wants to be safe. The League of American Bicyclists offers these tips for bike safety.

Another great resource for information about bike and pedestrian safety and school biking and walking programs is Safe Routes to Schools.

Enjoy biking to work and school and just for fun!

Photos: Top, my family in Acadia National Park, Maine. Above, three of the most inspirational bikers I know – my daughter Anna, a college freshman who has been a devoted bike commuter since the age of 10; my husband Lippy, who rides almost every day for exercise; and my good friend Victoria, who loves to ride more than anyone I know and organizes long, fun rides for herself and her friends.

Enjoy Roadside Attractions along California’s Redwood Highway

This post is part of the Sunshine Kids California Blog Hop.  See below for details and more kid-friendly California posts!

If you love a budget-friendly mix of roadside attractions and natural awe, northern California’s Highway 101, from Leggett to Scotia, offers a wonderful stretch of road that feels like something from a slower era.

Heading north, start at the town of Leggett, about 175 miles north of San Francisco, and the Drive-Through Chandelier Tree. Yes, you really can drive (and walk, if it’s not too crowded) though this 315-foot-tall coastal redwood tree.

 

The tree was believed to have been carved in the 1930s. The park has a lake and quiet picnic spots.

Just north of Leggett is the roadside attraction, Confusion Hill , which offers a miniature train ride in summer and lots of old-school believe-it-or-not-style physical features that play with your idea of gravity and level ground.

A tourist attraction since 1949, Confusion Hill is listed as a California State Point of Historical Interest. It’s both modest and kitsch and full of low-key fun.

Travel another 25 miles or so North on Highway 101 to the entrance of the Avenue of the Giants, a separate, stunning, road that parallels the 101 for 31 beautiful miles, from Garberville to Scotia. This stretch, also known as State Route 254, is home to some of the oldest-growth redwood trees in the world, the oldest of which may be as old as 2,000 years. (Most redwoods live 500-700 years.)

Originally a stagecoach road, the Avenue of the Giants was officially dedicated in 1960. It seemed that the new,  high-speed Highway 101 allowed the Redwood route to become, in the California governor’s words,

a serene drive where kids and families can cross the road at will, where traffic moves at a far slower pace.

It’s amazing to be in a tunnel of truly majestic redwoods. There are more opportunies to experience world-famous drive-through coast redwoods. There are also opportunities for hiking, strolling, playing, fishing, swimming and camping.

The whole area is rich with more wonderful and strange tourist stops, like the One Log House and Hobbiton, USA, both in Phillipsville, the nearby Legend of Bigfoot attraction. The road is further dotted with eatieries, small motels, and burled-redwood artisan shops. It’s worth meandering the stopping in various places. We’ve ridden this highway in summer and winter and never find it crowded.

I highly recommend driving the Avenue of the Giants and Highway 101, perhaps in conjunction with a trip to San Francisco, or the northern CA or southern OR coast.

The Save the Redwoods League offers fun activities to help families explore the Avenue of the Giants.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman, wikipedia

This post is part of the Sunshine Kids California Kids Blog Hop. I’m thrilled to participate. Please join in!

Sunshine Kids California Blog HopThe Sunshine Kids California Blog Hop celebrates all that is wonderful about raising kids in the Golden State.

Link up your kid-centered posts about California: places to visit, books to read, crafts to create, recipes to try, and so on.

The blog hop will run from August 19 to September 2.

Thanks to Akane of Juggling With Kids for the beautiful photo!

You can also check out even more California posts on our collaborative Kid Friendly California Pinterest board!

Be sure to check out our upcoming project, Exploring the California Missions!

 

 

 

 

 

Participating Blogs:

All Done Monkey InCultureParent.com - Raising little global citizens.
Kids Yoga Stories The Silly Pearl
The Art Pantry 2KuriousKids
A Mom With a Lesson Plan
Adventure Bee
Capri+3
Juggling With Kids
Little Hiccups
Slow Family The Good Long Road Adventures in Wunderland

Link up your kid-centered California posts below!

 

I Won a Costa Rica Gift of Happiness!

What do you do when, out of the blue, you get an e-mail, inviting you and your family to visit the country the Happy Planet Index has rated Number One in national happiness? When the country is Costa Rica, you immediately picture lush rainforests, gleaming and growing under a canopy of bird calls and life, miles of gorgeous coastal beaches, and, yes, happy people in a mellow, ecologically sustainable, place. I’d heard about “pura vida”, the phrase that denotes the Costa Rican spirit, a “bounty of life”. People I’ve known who have spent time in Costa Rica tell me they can’t wait to return – for the natural beauty, spirit, adventure experiences, and ease.

I read and re-read the email from the Costa Rican Tourist Board I didn’t tell anyone about it or answer right away. The offer came because of my Slow Family blog readership and the alignment the Board felt with the blog’s message of slowing down and enjoying life with family and community. After all, the spokescreature for the Costa Rica’s Gift of Happiness Sweepstakes, which my prize is a part of, is a relaxed and happy sloth.

So many “offers” come by email and phone that I had trouble believing this one. I googled “Gift of Happiness”, liked the Gift of Happiness Facebook page, and made a tentative call to the number on the email, where a very friendly person on the other end of the phone told me that the trip was part of the Costa Rica’s Gift of Happiness program, which is giving away $1,000,000 worth of trips in the next few months (a trip each weekday) to help North Americans experience Costa Rica’s spirit.

The consultant detailed our (!) trip, one of six themed experiences — the 8-day, 7-night Family Happiness package, in which our whole family would stay in three CST-rated (Certification for Sustainable Tourism) hotels in three distinct regions in Costa Rica (Sarapuiqi, Monteverde and Matapalo Beach). Transportation and all kinds of fun family side trips and adventures, from visiting coffee plantations to walking on hanging bridges over the Cloud Forest, would be included. All so we could experience our own Costa Rican “pura vida”, in the happiest place on Earth.

What does one say to that? YES!

Things moved quickly. Family members checked calendars and watched a video of Anderson Cooper sending a surprised pair of honeymooners on their own Gift of Happiness (the Romantic Happiness package, no doubt), just to be extra, super sure this thing was real. I was sent a beautiful wooden certificate for the trip and put in touch with a travel consultant.

The trip is a dream come true. I’ve always wanted to visit Costa Rica with my family. And now we’re going! I will be sure to blog all about our adventures.

Read what another happy winner, Lindsay at Eco-Chick Escapes, writes about her trip and the great things she discovered about Costa Rica’s happiness rates and sustainable practices.

Read more about the Happy Planet Index, which measures countries based on a  matrix of environmental impact and physical and psychological well-being to illustrate that high levels of resource consumption do not reliably produce high levels of well-being. (In other words, simplifying can lead to happiness.)

Enter to win your own Costa Rica’s Gift of Happiness trip by “liking” the Gift of Happiness Facebook page.

Photos: Costa Rican Tourist Board, Lipman Family

Photo Friday: Occident Flour

My love for painted advertising signs on the sides of brick buildings is well documented here. It’s not unusual for me to yell “Stop the car!” or slow my family on a walk to capture one with a camera. More commonplace in earlier decades, they used blank brick canvasses to sell everything from mining equipment to toothpaste. I love coming upon them on country roadsides and in city alleyways. This bright one near St. Johnsbury, Vermont, was no doubt repainted and lovingly refurbished to its old-timey feel. I don’t think the site is a general store any longer.

I’ve since learned that Occident Flour was produced by the Russell-Miller Milling Company in the midwest from 1894-the early 1950s. It was sold to the Peavey Company in 1962 and acquired by ConAgra in 1982. That trajectory, along with newer advertising methods, partially explains the loss of painted signs for individual concerns.

Have you seen and photographed something unusual, whimsical, beautiful, or otherwise interesting in your travels? Has anything surprised you or caused you to pause? Or have you simply experienced a small, lovely moment that you wanted to capture? If so, I hope you’ll share with us by leaving a comment with a link to your photo. I look forward to seeing it!

 

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman, Graphic from Occident Flour

You may also be interested in:

Photo Friday: Ghost Sign
Photo Friday: San Francisco Storefront
Photo Friday: Tamalpais Motel at Dusk


Photo Friday: Tamalpais Motel at Dusk

I’m not sure quite why I can’t resist lingering over a neon roadside sign at dusk. Nor why I find some to be just a bit forlorn. Perhaps it’s the gulf between the sign’s bright promise — in this case evoking our local mountain, given the Native American Miwok name meaning “coastal mountain” — and the reality of a motel, or a bar, or an eatery that’s seen better times. Or maybe it’s just the time of day, the light, the glory and wonder of neon, and the beckoning of the open road, none of which ever grow old.

Have you seen and photographed something unusual, whimsical, beautiful, or otherwise interesting in your travels? Has anything surprised you or caused you to pause? Or have you simply experienced a small, lovely moment that you wanted to capture? If so, I hope you’ll share with us by leaving a comment with a link to your photo. I look forward to seeing it!

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

You might also like:

Photo Friday: Ghost Sign
Photo Friday: San Francisco Storefront

In GPS Era, Map Reading Skills a Lost Art

This article relates a tale that is no doubt being played out all over the developed world:

Two college students playing in an out-of-town hockey tournament went out to eat with their parents after a late game, but the restaurant they picked had just closed its kitchen.

“There’s another place just a few blocks away,” the hostess said helpfully. “Take a left out of the parking lot, go two blocks, turn right and go one block.”

The parents and the players retreated to their separate cars. When the players sat in the parking lot for a couple of minutes without moving, one of the parents walked over to see if there was a problem with the car.

“Not at all,” they said. “We’re just programming the directions into the GPS.’ ”

Is that where we’ve ended up, with a younger generation that can’t go three blocks without being told by a electronic voice where to turn?

Like the author, I found this story dismaying. I know GPS (Global Positioning System) and similar devices are helpful, but they can also be a crutch and, ultimately, a detriment.

According to the British Cartographic Society, high-tech maps get the user from Point A to Point B but leave off traditional features like geographic and built landmarks, and this could lead to a loss of cultural and geographic literacy.

I, too, find the GPS experience extremely limiting, especially when visual or voice commands tell me (sometimes incorrectly) where to turn just before the turn needs to be made. With a map, preferably one on paper, one can pull out to a bird’s eye view, get a complete picture, plot a route, and have true satisfaction and awareness about ones place within it.

Nothing wrong with having a GPS as a back-up, but I see far too many people who completely depend on them, to the degree that, like the boys in the restaurant parking lot, they’re afraid to travel anywhere, even a few blocks, without one.

One study, from the University of Tokyo, found that people on foot using a GPS device actually made more errors and more stops, and walked farther and more slowly than traditional map users. They also demonstrated a poorer knowledge of the terrain, topography and routes.

GPS, researchers say, encourages people to stare at a screen, rather than looking around at their environment. Also, most GPS screens makes it impossible for a user to take in both their location and their destination at the same time.

Ah, there’s that Big Picture again.

There are additional consequences to over-reliance on GPS devices. I wrote last year about Nature Disconnect in Britain. It seems that a lack of map skills is actually somewhat responsible for keeping a whole generation of children there, and surely elsewhere, homebound, fearful of exploring, playing, and being outside in the unknown. Children’s very sense of adventure is being terribly circumscribed.

Luckily, there are steps being taken to combat this. This list of ideas ranges from walking in ones neighborhood and making friends, to creating neighborhood green spaces and safe pedestrian and bike routes, to educating parents about unfounded fears. And, of course, one can and should learn basic map reading skills.

Interestingly, technology is helping with the latter, as geocaching (group scavenger hunts which use GPS devices) as well as old-school scavenger hunts continue to gain popularity. In addition, the Boy Scouts have responded to the crisis in map reading by upping their universal requirements for using a compass and map. (Girl Scouts also offer geocaching and orienteering badges and programs.)

Debi at Go Explore Nature offers some tips for getting out and geocaching.

Where is the paper map in all this? Some say it’s going the way of the phone booth and the milkman. I’m sure many of you remember family car trips, during which the map was unfolded, dutifully followed with index finger on highway line, and then folded up, yet never in quite the same neat way it had come. (We still honor this practice in our family and begin many adventures with a trip to the California Automobile Association, which stopped producing paper maps a few years ago.) Indeed, maps are on their way to becoming collectors items.

Here’s hoping that you get to enjoy the tactile pleasure of an old-school map, the inner satisfaction of locating your place, the fun of an outdoor scavenger hunt or other adventure, and the gift of knowing which way is up.

Images: Hands on Museum, Built St. Louis, Route 66 Guidebooks, Ferrell Digital

Happy 50th Avenue of the Giant Redwoods

50 years may be a lot to us, but it’s a mere blip to some redwood trees, the oldest of which live 2,000 years. (Most live 500-700 years.)

Regardless, the Golden birthday is nothing to sneeze at, particularly in regard to the Avenue of the Giants Parkway,  the 32-mile-long road that stretches from Garberville to Scotia, a bit inland from the Northern California coast, that is home to some of the oldest-growth redwoods in the world.

Originally a stagecoach road, the Avenue of the Giants was officially dedicated by CA Governor Edmund G. Brown on August 27, 1960. It seemed that the new,  high-speed Highway 101 allowed the Redwood route to become, in Brown’s words, “a serene drive where kids and families can cross the road at will, where traffic moves at a far slower pace.”

Luckily for us!

I had always wanted to take this drive, which my family did last summer. It was amazing to be in a tunnel of truly majestic redwoods.

We also visited one of the three world-famous drive-through coast redwoods, which I’d seen on postcards most of my life.

We drove through the Leggett Chandelier Tree.

We also got to walk through it.

The whole area is rich with wonderful and strange tourist stops, like the One Log House and Hobbiton, USA, both in Phillipsville, and various redwood-themed amusements and artisan shops along Highway 101.

I highly recommend driving the Avenue of the Giants and Highway 101, perhaps in conjunction with a trip to San Francisco, or the northern CA or southern OR coast.

The Save the Redwoods League offers fun activities to help families explore the Avenue of the Giants.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Bike to Work and School Day

May is an especially great month to be a biker. In the U.S., the weather generally cooperates, and there are plenty of Bike to Work and School Days declared. San Francisco cyclists enjoyed Bike to Work Day today. Washington, D.C. and others have declared Friday, May 21, to be Bike to Work Day. And the League of American Bicyclists has declared the entire month of May Bike to Work Month. Their site lists tons of bike-related events happening throughout the month from Anchorage, Alaska to Tallahassee, Florida that should make it easy for almost anyone to ride alone or with a group, take a class, and enjoy other fun activities.

Here are just a few of the fun events that are listed on the League of American Bicyclists page:

Chico, CA: A selection of stores is offering a discount for cycling shoppers through May 15.

Santa Monica, CA: Valet bike parking on Main Street and at the Santa Monica Pier, ongoing

Pueblo, CO: Free breakfasts and prizes for bikers Friday May 21.

Tampa Bay, FL: Bike workshops, and an urban bike restaurant hop on May 27.

Honolulu, HI: Free admission for bikers to the Honolulu Zoo May 16.

Iowa City, IA: Many events including a bike/bus/car race May 18.

St. Louis, MO: Guided bike tours over the bridges that cross the Mississippi June 6.

Trenton, NJ: Trenton bike tour May 22.

Saratoga Springs, NY: Bike to Work and School Challenge May 21.

Roanoke, VA: Various events throughout May, in English and Spanish.

Seattle, WA: Summer Streets Party May 21.

According to the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, cyclists made up a whopping 75% of the traffic on SF’s Market Street this morning. Here is a great pic of that street’s big green bike lane.

Of course, anyone getting out biking wants to be safe. The League of American Bicyclists offers these tips for bike safety.

Another great resource for information about bike and pedestrian safety and school biking and walking programs is Safe Routes to Schools.

Enjoy biking to work and school and just for fun!

Photos: Top, my family in Acadia National Park, Maine. Above, two of the most inspirational bikers I know – my husband Lippy, who rides almost every day, and my good friend Victoria, who loves to ride more than anyone I know and organizes long, fun rides for herself and her friends.

All Aboard for National Train Day

Sunset Limited. Hiawatha. Empire Builder. Super Chief. I can’t hear the names of the great American train lines without finding myself completely smitten. The Romance of the Rails has gotten to me pretty much every time I’ve taken a train, even a lowly commute one. My first long-distance trip was on the Coast Starlight, a two-night journey (was it supposed to be one? I didn’t care) from San Francisco to Seattle. My daughter and I boarded about midnight, when many of the passengers were already asleep. We were given warm chocolate chip cookies as we tiptoed to our sleeping car. I stayed up most of the night, staring out the train window at the houses and yards as they passed by in slices, under a full moon, at just the right speed for contemplation. The train’s mournful whistle occasionally sounded onto the empty main streets. At rural stops, a passenger or two would come aboard, their drivers shuffling back to their hulking cars.

ctempemploymentlawblog

In the morning, we ate on a table set with a white tablecloth, as the train circled a snow-covered Mt. Shasta. We’d later play games in the observation car, meet Europeans who talked politics and American father-son pairs touring the country’s ball parks, drink wine with a very knowledgeable and funny sommelier, watch movies in a beautiful, lower-level movie screening car, and continue staring out the window at the tiny logging towns, the green college towns, the gorge-filled Willamette Valley, and the fir-lined Cascade Mountains. We may have been a full day late getting into Seattle but, of course, we couldn’t have been happier.

mtshasta

cascadestream2

Richard Talmy, the sommelier, was indeed a trip highlight. He was encyclopedic about California wines and wine tasting, as well as train and Coast Starlight history, and he served all up with a great deal of verve, encouraging everyone to eat and drink up, to have fun, and to just acknowledge the fact that we’d “get on the train as passengers and leave as freight.”

Train Web writer and photographer Carl Morrison wrote a piece on parlor car wine tasting with Richard Talmy, where you can see the man in action and get a bit of the flavor of a tasting.

DiningCar

I’ve learned since that first trip that the Coast Starlight is the only Amtrak route to feature a parlor car with wine tasting and a screening room. (And that the parlor car itself is a refurbished car from the historic El Capitan line of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe.) Even so, last summer I had the pleasure of taking the Washington D.C. – New York train (which bore the unromantic name, Acela) and, truly, just a window seat and a garden burger were enough to make my day. Dusk and sunset didn’t hurt the mood, either, as I took in every aluminum-sided diner (themselves former train cars), corner tavern, brick row house, backyard swing set, hilly main street, church steeple, and pane-windowed factory building as the train swung through Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, and finally to its resting place in a tunnel beneath Penn Station. Only the vaulted Grand Central lobby would have made the trip more complete. I could have come with this placard of warning: Beware romantic, yearning West Coast person experiencing train rapture.

SunsetTrain

Our car attendant on that first trip was named Douglas and, like Richard, he seems to be a character of lore among Coast Starlight riders. From the cookie on, we knew we were in good hands. A big man, I’ll never forget him cruising through the dining car, about mid-morning, calling out “Hungry Man Walking.” His humor (and our laughter) continued the whole trip.

We slept in a “roomette”, really a closet with beds that hinged out from the walls. (I’ve since booked a family sleeping car, which is roomy and sleeps four, but sacrifices views.) What we didn’t have, apparently, was the grand-era Pullman sleeper car service and room. While George Pullman didn’t invent the sleeper car, it was he who realized there was a market in luxury, comfort and service, and he and his Pullman cars dominated the industry during its golden age, when everyone traveled by train. A key component of Pullman service was the Pullman porter. The porters were black men — the first ones were former slaves — and it is said that, even though some of the work could be demeaning, Pullman provided them with almost unequaled earning opportunity and job security for the times. During World War II, there were 12,000 Pullman porters. Their union was referred to as a Brotherhood. It’s shocking, then, that the last Pullman car would take a run on December 31, 1968, a victim of the plane and the car.

pullmanx-large

Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall, former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown, and Olympic athlete Wilma Rudolph are just three famous offspring of Pullman porters.The last Pullman porters, many of whom are in their 80s and 90s, are gathered for last year’s Train Day celebration at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station.

National Train Day commemorates the “golden spike” that was driven into the final tie that joined the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific railways, thus creating America’s first transcontinental railroad, on May 10, 1869. I salute Train Day, the Pullman porters and the grand era of rail travel, even if it comes in the form of a refurbished Parlor Car.

Washington D.C., Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles are among the nearly 200 cities celebrating National Train Day with events, entertainment and exhibits at their train stations. Visit the National Train Day web site for complete event information and other resources about train history,

I suggest this site to get lost in some wonderful train sounds: dieselairhorns.com/sounds.

amtrakstop

IACMusic.com

Pullman Photo Courtesy of A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum
Early 1900s: Waiter John Larvell Dorsey, left, on Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.

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