Trip Leg #3: Emeryville, CA to Denver, CO. 1,400 miles. 33 hours.
Elaine graciously drove me to Emeryville at the ass crack of dawn so I didn't have to spend a night at a hotel (and leave Monterey a day early). So, after getting stuck in Oakland traffic, taking a wrong turn, and desperately hailing random passersby to locate the station, I miraculously made my 9 a.m. train. Yes, the California Zephyr, easily the most scenic, entertaining, and all-around fun portion of the entire trip, due largely to the fact that everyone on the crew was a complete character.
10:00 a.m. The conductor, a gregarious (and slightly mischievous) man in his 50s, stops by my seat. He's holding the ticket that the car attendant ripped out of my booklet, and he says, "You're going the wrong way." I briefly have a mini heart attack, and then look more closely. The attendant accidentally ripped out my ticket from Denver to Chicago. The conductor laughs and apologizes and I give him the correct ticket. A few minutes later, I realize that I'm also missing my ticket from Chicago to Minneapolis, so I flag him down again. He promises to find it and then find me.
12:00 p.m. I head to the dining car for lunch and get seated with two Australians who whisper mysteriously to each other rather than making small talk. Seated next to me is Steve, who used to be an architect and then worked for American Airlines, and who now travels to Sydney several times a year to visit his best friend, a woman he met on a boat to Santorini, Greece. The Aussies warmed right up to Steve, even though I should have had dibs, since he and I soon discovered that we were actually related. I shit you not.
I should mention that, for the first segment of this trip, there was a guy on board giving a running commentary about local landmarks and historical information over the PA system. When he remarked that a certain river had been important during the gold rush, the Australian woman leaned over to her husband and asked, "Are we in Deadwood?" He replied, "No, that's in South Dakota." Seeing my opportunity, I said, "I'm from South Dakota, and I've been to Deadwood." Shocked, the woman gasped, "You HAVE? What's it like?" I'm not sure if she was expecting me to tell her I knew Seth Bullock and Al Swearengen personally, but she seemed a bit disappointed when I replied that it was mostly gambling and tourists.
1:00 p.m. I grab a seat in the lounge car and journal a bit, until I'm interrupted by the conductor, who has tracked me down again. He slides in next to me and says, "We really should get to know each other if we're going to keep meeting like this. I'm Paul." He hands me my ticket from Chicago to Minneapolis, laughs, grabs my hand, and kisses it gallantly.
2:00 p.m. I'm joined at my table by Marla and Rhonda, two older ladies who (unbeknownst to me) are going to make the next six or seven hours one of the most enjoyable days I could ask for.
To be continued.