Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Amtrak Salad

The menu at the Sea View Cafe is always changing. Most of the changes involve a shift/increase in price, but every now and then you witness a wholesale change to the menu. Case in point is the recent shift to a more fresh menu that eliminated the infamous JalapeƱo Burger and inserted such culinary treats as the Spicy Tuna Ball (I think they have sold 2 to date). Here is a link to the old menu, which is oddly still being listed as the official menu on the Amtrak website.

One thing remains constant throughout these changes, and that is the presence of the building blocks of an Amtrak Salad. It isn't on the menu directly, but if you follow these simple steps, you too can enjoy this healthy treat.

Step 1: Procure one of the cardboard boxes used in the Sea View Cafe to transport large food and drink orders. This box is one of the few free items you will find on Amtrak.

Step 2: Purchase at least 3 bags of snack food. You can chose from such delicacies as Lay's Potato Chips, Doritos, salted peanuts, pretzels, or the hugely popular Cheetos Cheese Snacks. Be sure to also pick up the crouton of the Amtrak Salad, otherwise known as the Peanut M&M's.

Step 3: Open all bags and dump the contents into the cardboard box, mix thoroughly, add M&M's. You should end up with a salad similar to the picture below.

Step 4: Enjoy with some friends.

Monday, March 28, 2011

California Seats Not So Cool

Every once in awhile when we board the 763 train at Solana Beach we are greeted by the depressing site of the California seat. Hope you don’t want to relax or stretch out. Instead of reclining, the lower lumbar portion of this seat will thrust your hips forward, pushing your knees into the seat in front of you! There should be a warning when boarding this train; “If you’re taller than a seven year old, we’re sorry; Thanks for riding the Caltrans \ Amtrak experiment.” After doing extensive research the Surf liner blog has learned that this seat was the result of Caltrans spending your tax dollars to improve on what Amtrak has been doing for years. Why would Caltrans by trains for Amtrak? If it was to subsidize; was it really necessary to turn Amtrak into the Metro?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Amtrak Surfliner Goes Green

The Surfliner cafe car is very small. It holds 4 tables and seats 11 people. The rest of the space is occupied by the food storage/selling area and the humongous ADA compliant restroom. Between the restroom and the first table sits a cardboard trash container. This thing is bulky and gets in the way of people and things.

Recently Amtrak decided to add a second bulky container specifically for recycling. Note the care taken to provide special slots for bottles (e.g. Arrogant Bastard), cans, newspapers and magazines. We guessed the concept was to keep item types  separate and minimize the sorting process for the recycler. That's why we were surprised, after lifting the lid, to find that this is the same old big giant box with no separate compartments.This is so silly it had to be done by committee. Reminds me of another classic invention.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Daylight Losing Time - Yet Another Late Train

The 763 train was late this morning. I have a theory about Amtrak. It operates like a very fragile system. In engineering terms it lacks robustness or redundancy. Or put simply it takes very little to put it out of whack. And with the onset of daylight savings time last night I knew that was all it would take to create a delay, for some reason.

The photo to the left shows  the Solana Beach regulars, at 6:43am, about two minutes before scheduled arrival on a normal day. This morning the picture would appear a bit darker both literally and figuratively as we waited anxiously to see if the train would even show up. These late trains seem to occur in spells in which a week or two with several late trains will occur. The good news is the 763 did show at about 7:02 am. Seventeen minutes late is not too bad. It even made up some of the delay by time it hit Irvine. Let's hope we're out of this spell of late trains for now.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Where's Amtrak

We have had an unfortunate string of late trains on the Surfliner recently. It seems like the train is late more often than not and the list of reasons given is long. Late departure in the morning because the crew slept in, late arrival in morning because of an accident up the line. And to make it even more fun, the train is occasionally, albeit rarely, early! Regardless of the reason on any particular day, these incidents provide opportunities to tell jokes, catch up with friends, and above all complain.

Waiting for the 784 in Los Angeles

The network of regular riders often does a better job of updating each other than the folks at Amtrak do. Texts, emails, and calls go out to riders up and down the line to warn of delays, and to determine how long a delay is likely to be (Amtrak's default reply is that the train will be there in 5 minutes). Alternatives are discussed (carpooling, taking Metrolink, going to Trax) and plans are made. We all eventually make it home safe to try again the next day.

In order to share these updates with the larger group, I have set up a Twitter account under the Rail_Tweet username and will post the status of my trains whenever we are running off schedule. The most recent tweets will also be displayed on the top of the blog homepage. Hope this helps people plan and feel free to send Rail_Tweet your updates as well. Working together is how we will win.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Different Class

It should not come as a surprise that there are different classes of service on the Surfliner. At the ticket counter they offer fares for Coach and, if you are willing to shell out an extra $11, Business - where you get "free" coffee in the morning or a small bottle of wine in the evening. But beyond the published fare categories for seats, there are also different classes of riders.

The Regular always sits in the same seat, usually surrounded by a group of similar Regulars. I would compare it to a blend of a school bus and Cheers. We look out for each other (and each other's seats). If you forget something, call your buddy who rides a bit further and he'll pick it up and hold it for you. Train is late? You will get a text message from up the line letting you know the situation. You will find many of these Regulars enshrined in the Commuter Hall of Fame page on this blog.

In contrast to the Regular is the Casual Rider. It is easy to poke fun at them, but we have to remember that each of us was a Fu-New-Gy at one point in our commuting lives. They are young, old, rich, poor... but most of all, they are clueless. You will find many of these Casual Riders enshrined on the People of Amtrak page on this blog.

Regardless of your class: Regular, Casual Rider, or Business, please let us know the strange and entertaining things you witness on the train. We are happy to share our stories, and to listen to yours.