Tuesday, January 27, 2009

LA to Monterey

I'm back in LA now after a weekend in Monterey. What a place to visit, with its fresh sea air and piney hills. There seemed to be a fair bit of bicycle infrastructure in the area, with a rec trail connecting Monterey, Seaside, Pacific Grove, and other nearby cities, and a lot of bike route signage on streets. It's a meandering area. I'll have to take my folding bike up there the next time I go. I left it at home this time because I wasn't sure if the Amtrak "Thruway Bus" could accommodate such a large item.
Which brings me to my next point, transportation to and from Monterey. From LA one can hop on the Coast Starlight up to Salinas, an eight hour ride through gorgeous coastal hills and many charming villes. Amtrak's website currently says that costs $49, but I think I paid less than that. The Coast Starlight is a sleeper train, so even the coach seats are nice and big, and there's an observation car with big skylights and funny arrangements of seats. I'm certainly not above enjoying an Amtrak hot dog, so I had a nice trip. Another nice thing about Amtrak is the access to electrical outlets at every seat, which made it possible for me to take notes on Marc Augé's Non-places: introduction to an anthropology of supermodernity using my laptop.
My friend picked me up in Salinas and took me over the hills to Monterey.
Coming home, I took an MST (Monterey-Salinas Transit) bus on Route 20 from downtown Monterey to downtown Salinas. It cost $5 for an hourlong trip, which seemed steep to me since in many parts of Southern California you can travel even longer distances for $1.25. But it got me there, and Salinas was very pretty in the early morning sunlight. Cold air, green mountains around the lovely valley, quiet art deco train station asleep until 10 am. From there I took an Amtrak Thruway Bus down to Santa Barbara. I had thus far avoided using this service, as it seems to me that if I'm going to pay for the train, I want to ride on a damn train. It can't be helped, though, because of constant and ephemeral track maintenance that closes down bits of the route. The bus was very fancy, much more of a controlled space than the Greyhound, and mostly empty to boot. I listened while some funny old ladies from the South learned about the passing landscapes from the driver. He claimed many odd things (including announcing that David Crosby was Bing Crosby's son), but then lost his veneer of charm when he decided to play Rush Limbaugh loud enough for the passengers to hear. I retreated into my headphoned world of the Fleet Foxes. It was a more fitting soundtrack for the beautiful ride.
In Santa Barbara (another adorable train station) we got shuffled onto a different Thruway bus, this one more crowded, for the hourlong trip to Oxnard. And there, finally, I stepped onto a train, the familiar Pacific Surfliner which I often ride between LA, Irvine, and San Juan Capistrano. Another Amtrak hot dog awaited me, and I proceeded to use my time most productively (which as a grad student always means reading and writing).
The trip's total transportation costs: $85 for Amtrak, and $5 for MST bus, equals $90.
I love a bargain!