Xavier Jared


Two brothers on personal development, philosophy, and being awesome

The Coast Starlight


I boarded the Coast Starlight fifteen hours ago. It is currently running a line up the north-west coast of the USA, from Los Angeles (though I boarded closer to San Francisco) up through Portland, all the way to Seattle. The Coastal Starlight is widely regarded the most scenic train route in all of the USA, clearly beating the Texas Eagle line that I was intending to travel from Chicago to Dallas, which I hear showcases twenty unbroken hours of the largest wheat fields in the country. We are currently winding through a track cut out of the side of a mountain, revealing stunning views of forested mountains, lakes, plains and rivers. I plan to spy a bear soon, perhaps fishing for salmon.

A train
Kudos to Roadside Pictures

I am seated next to a fellow vegan, Jordan, the odds of which are incalculably small. Thanks, universe! We hit up the observation car soon after the train pulled out, the windows in the roof providing stunning views of the darkness, and sank a few beers. She is moving to Portland from St Louis Obisbo because you can’t live in SLO forever. Jordan is a bit younger than me, also a Capricorn, wearing short shorts, and thought that it was cold last night. This morning she read Tarot cards. One of my cards was a knight which was awesome, and one depicted hardship showing a kid with a broken leg, a really down looking fellow, and it was snowing, so that was somewhat depressing. At least they weren’t wearing short shorts.

Steve is almost twenty one, and is returning to a home he was kicked out of three months ago for getting his Xbox gamer tag tattooed across his back. He wasn’t planning to return so soon, but his house mates bailed on him and he wasn’t able to pay rent by himself. He plays guitar. And video games, clearly. His parents don’t know about the latest tattoo he got on his wrist. So far he has drunk seven kool-aid grape juice packets, and appears to have a deep stash still to work through. Steve flipped over the death card. That doesn’t mean he is going to die, but it is not ideal.

Rob looks similar in style to Steve, but refuses to volunteer any information about himself beyond his name. Jordan is frustrated that she does not know his star sign. He wants a pack of playing cards, but does not want to purchase one for five dollars from the bar. No one volunters to assist. Rob declined to have his Tarot cards read.

There is an older dude wearing a backwards cap, oakleys (even at night), and a short sleeve SF giants t-shirt over a long white one, who is always talking to someone. Always someone different, but always talking. I have avoided his barrage so far. He was fair drunk last night and up early this morning, with a vodka and lime in hand for breakfast. He would read his own Tarot if he knew what we were up to.

While dozing off to sleep last night, Nick directly behind me was teaching an unrelated kid sitting in the seat next to him how to play the Nintendo DS he had lent him. It was so sweet that it wasn’t annoying. He is unshaven, a bit chubby, has long hair tied back into a pony tail, wears a black t-shirt, and has a friendly face. I got talking to him this morning, and he is one of the nicest, most soft spoken people I have met. He was returning from a hardcore BDSM trip to San Francisco, latex vacuum bag in tow. He invited me to their social meet up the following evening, which I was unable to attend.


I brought my own supply of nuts and dates to eat, backed up by emergency power bars, which have not yet been required. The dining car menu had looked less than appetizing when I booked my tickets. I felt a journalistic compulsion to visit at least once, however, so I booked in for a 1:30 lunch. I was seated at a table with Michael Gross, the producer of Ghostbusters and Beethoven, and was far too awestruck to make interesting conversation. His grating, raspy voice speaks of many years hard time in Hollywood. Currently retired, he curates an art museum in San Diego and was visiting Portland to catch up with friends he made during the making of Kindergarten Cop fifteen years go. No word on Ghostbusters 3. He does not have a tumour.

Lunch was a shock for me—I had forgotten it was possible to make food look so terrible, and the old chips/fries confusion had bitten me again (here, burger with chips means burger with potato crips!). Luckily my order was mixed up, and I was able to escape with my taste buds intact before the error was rectified.

Better than planes?

For what would be a three hour flight, eighteen hours seems like a big commitment. In reality though, I’m not moving so much slower—we left at 9:30 last night, and will arrive at 3:30 this afternoon. Compare that to a morning flight: by the time I get to the airport—usually way out of town—early for check-in, then back in to the destination city, the better part of the day is gone anyway. Besides, I am hardly in a rush.

The train has no take off or landing, no re-pressurization, and no seated-and-seat-belted restrictions. There is a power point for my laptop and plenty of room to use it either on my lap or on a table in one of the parlour carriages. Unlike a plane where it is illegal to congregate, there is plenty of room and allowance to get up, walk around, and mingle with other passengers.

Cost-wise this train was slightly more expensive than a plane, though apparently you can get cheap deals if you book further in advance than I did (not hard). That doesn’t bother me so much though; my biggest problem with aeroplanes is the obscene fuel usage, which a train undercuts severly by about an order of magnitude. Trains are a greener way to travel. There is a time cost, but I can get some serious work, reading, or touristing done on the way. It’s not wasted time, which I often find aeroplanes to be.

The seats are large and luxurious, slightly better than business class on a long haul flight, though they don’t recline flat. It is not hard to find two to lie across for more comfortable sleeping, and there is plenty of floor space in the observation car.

I probably will not have any more opportunities to travel by train on this trip, but it is certainly an option I will be considering for future adventures.

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