Memoir: The Thomas Fire, Ventura 2017

Memoirs take very different forms, follow a variety of paths and themes, and tell a multitude of stories. Usually, they involved the past being brought to the present. Sometimes, however, that past is not very far away and they tell the beginning of a memory. In other words, the memory is within days, hours, minutes, or moments of when it occurred. Today I’ve been watching what will someday be expressed as a “Remember when…”

Remember when all those houses burned in that terrible fire in 2017, probably the worst fire ever in Ventura, CA.

Last night about nine o’clock the lights flickered. A couple minutes later they flickered again. Then they went out, the computer screen in front of me turned black, the printer clunked, the room went dark and quiet. Perhaps I should have turned the computer, the printer, and the lights off to avoid that shock that happens to the computer, the printer, and me when the power returns. I didn’t. I sat cursing for a moment and waited. Often when the power goes down it returns a minute or two later. It didn’t. So, I stumbled around, heading for one of the places I keep a flashlight. Just as I got there the lights, computer and printer went back on. I returned to the computer. I’d barely sat down when the lights went back out. Damn, I thought.

During the past couple months, there have been a number of power outages here. Three of them were scheduled, starting between 8 and 9 at night on a predetermined day and lasting until somewhere between 2 and 5 in the morning. Not terrible. Not curse-worthy. Irritating.

Three other power outages were not scheduled. They might have been related to the scheduled outages, but last night it didn’t matter. I had no idea what was going on so it was easiest to blame Southern California Edison (SCE) and use words like terrible or worst or incompetent. After the power went out for the fourth and final time last night I used my cell phone to post this on Facebook.

photo fo darkness#SCE has to be about the worst electric company in the country. In the past month, we have had ten power outages: three of them scheduled, seven of them unplanned, and four of those have happened tonight. Here’s a picture of the way my world looks right now!

That was about nine-thirty. Not more than a half hour later a friend called asking if I’d heard about the fires in Santa Paula that were “spreading all over the place” including toward Ventura. She said people near her (much closer to Santa Paula than I was) were evacuating. Although she wasn’t going anywhere she’d packed a bag in case the fire got too close. There are many streets between the house where I live and the usual paths a wildfire might travel so I didn’t think it was necessary to either evacuate or pack a bag. However, this news of fires had me thinking they might be related to the power outage. So, again I opened Facebook on my iPhone and posted this…

****** Apparently the problem may not one with SCE. There appear to be two problems in the area: strong winds and the fires. Either one of them could have caused the electrical outage we are experiencing right now.

When my morning iPhone alarm called me at 6:30, the power was still off. I got up anyway, headed to the kitchen, checked to make sure the stove still worked (it did with the help of a match), and pulled some stuff for breakfast from the refrigerator. Back in the bedroom, I dressed, the stepped into the bathroom to washed my face, drag a comb across my head, brushed my teeth, and take my meds. A minute or so later I was looking out the window at the orange sky in the distance and the microwave beeped as my alarm radio clicked, and the night lights went on. After turning on the computer (I don’t have a TV), I found the L.A. CBS TV news site and clicked their red button that says, “Watch and Listen Live.” The reporters were talking about the Thomas fire, a fire that had spread a distance of 20 miles from Santa Paula to Ventura in a few hours. Then they talked about the 200,000 people in Ventura who were without power.

Opening Facebook I posted again…

***** Looks like I misspoke. When you don’t have power you don’t know how bad it is. More than 200,000 other people were without power. Considering that, SCE did an excellent job getting the power back online for more than 180,000 of us within 10 hours.

I have a second iPhone morning alarm that goes off 45 minutes after the first (if I’m going to snooze, nine minutes is not enough). Turning off the alarm I noticed a text from the friend who’d called me the night before…

First, it might have taken more than a couple hours to go from a very controllable but unknown fire to 30,000 acres but within 4 – 6 hours it had spread from Santa Paula to within a few blocks of downtown Ventura. Second, I should carefully proofread my texts because there’s a sentence where I said, “All of Santa Paula, some of Ojai and your area of Ventura are threatened.” Third, I didn’t know how far into Ventura the fire had gone. Fourth, after having seen the power pop off and back on several times, ten hours ago and knowing the fires were still burning in places where there could have been lines bringing electricity into Ventura, I wasn’t too confident the power would remain on. In fact, as I type this I’m afraid the power could go off at any second. When it went off last night I was writing a date-specific blog post. I’m not sure what to do with the post now, but it’s scheduled for December 4th, 2018.

I continued sending texts to her throughout the day to keep her updated.

iPhone’s mistranslated what I said in the first text above. I’d said, “Where you live is not in an evacuation area yet.” Iphone’s ears must have been clogged because it heard, “Where you live is not vacuolation aria yet.” I should consider myself lucky the phone didn’t re-correct my ‘correction’ to something like, ‘ejaculation area yet.’

Even though a couple hours had passed, I still didn’t know the fire had long ago moved deep into Ventura and far beyond Ventura High School. There were stories about fires burning in Santa Paula and along Foothill Road about a half mile into Ventura, but nothing yet about fires deep into the city. The TV report at the time said 150+ buildings had burned, but what I was watching showed at least 10 structures burning so I put 150 and 10 together. That, of course, equaled 200.

Since I was keeping my friend up to date it seemed only fair I should do the same for my Facebook friends and family…

The power is back on. The wind is still blowing things around on the patio. The fire is a couple miles from the area of Ventura where I used to live, but about five miles from where I am.

It was almost 9:30 and I was just beginning to realize how terrible a disaster this was. As a famous reporter uttered back in 1937 as he watched a similar, yet very different disaster unfold…



“It’s burst into flames! Get this, Charlie; get this, Charlie! It’s fire… and it’s crashing! It’s crashing terrible! Oh, my! Get out of the way, please! It’s burning and bursting into flames and the… and it’s falling on the mooring mast. And all the folks agree that this is terrible; this is the worst of the worst catastrophes in the world. Oh it’s… [unintelligible] its flames… Crashing, oh! Four- or five-hundred feet into the sky and it… it’s a terrific crash, ladies and gentlemen. It’s smoke, and it’s in flames now; and the frame is crashing to the ground, not quite to the mooring mast. Oh, the humanity!” — Herbert Morrison, Transcription of WLS radio broadcast describing the Hindenburg disaster.


Arroyo Verde Park is one of the larger parks in Ventura. It’s at the bottom of a small valley. A couple great hiking trails go around the park on the hillsides and at the top there are houses. Some of those houses

were about to catch fire. The fire department’s goal was to keep the fire on the north side of Foothill Drive. The fire knew nothing about that plan. First, it jumped the road to grab a single house about a quarter-mile from Arroyo Verde. Then, apparently liking what it had done, it jumped across Foothill again about at the entrance to Arroyo Verde Park and burned six more houses on the east side of Foothill.

The 126 is Highway 126 between Ventura, Santa Paula, Fillmore, and Castaic. When I started watching the CBS coverage of the Thomas fire another small fire, the Creek Fire, was also being mentioned. It appeared to be the major concern of both the L.A. ABC and NBC stations, perhaps because it was closer to Los Angeles in Sylmar, CA, 70 miles from Ventura. A small fire, 200 acres, it seemed very controllable. However, the Santa Ana winds rarely let any Southern California fire be controllable. That 200-acre fire quickly grew into a 1,000-acre fire, but unlike Ventura’s Thomas fire spreading west, the Creek Fire was spreading south. It would eventually damage more than 50 homes and a horse ranch in four different communities over a distance of 11 miles. The I5 was closed because of the Creek Fire and another fire near Hwy 126, the Rye fire, newly formed and less than 200 acres in Castaic.

Every half hour or so there was a news story about 3 – 6 more houses being destroyed in Ventura. To me the fire seemed to be marching closer to a house on Poli St. where I once lived (Poli is the name of Foothill when the street makes a slight turn in Ventura). Again, I did not know the fire had sent a scouting party into Ventura late the night before. I realized my mistake about the fire after seeing two things on CBS. First there was a shot from a helicopter that scanned the hillsides above Ventura. The shot began at the Ventura Botanical Gardens which cover the hillsides above the San Buenaventura Mission in downtown Ventura and I noticed some black near the Gardens. However, because it hadn’t been mentioned I thought it was just a stray brush fire. Then I was able to put one and one together when a reporter told the Hawaiian Village story, a 53 unit apartment building that caught fire about midnight and burned to the ground well before sunrise.

It turned out the firefighters hadn’t quite contained the fire to just that complex. All those houses you see around it went untouched, but out of the picture are a couple houses that got touched. One of the houses belonged to a friend of my daughter. During the years I’ve lived in Ventura, I’d often noticed Hawaiian Village, it could be seen from the ocean, and I thought it would be a great place to live especially because of its ocean views and proximity to downtown.

Just before Thanksgiving, there were a number of major fires in Central California, in and around Napa Valley. 42 people died because of those fires. While the destruction caused by today’s fires is considerable, the bodily harm caused is small. A firefighter was injured this morning and released in the afternoon, a few people were injured in car accidents while fleeing the fires, and a few people were treated for burns – none of them considered serious, but no one has died.

Meanwhile, the Thomas fire had grown to more than 50,000 acres, the Creek Fire to more than 11,000, the Rye fire to more than 5,000, and now there was a new fire, the 100 acre Little Mountain fire near San Bernardino.  When I sent that text one of the CBS reporters mentioned five fires, but the Santa Paula and Ventura fires were two legs of the Thomas fire that started near Thomas Aquinas College, about six miles north of Santa Paula in Ojai. The first direction the fire took was south before it took a left turn when it reached Santa Paula.  At that time with the fire heading both south and west, it could have gone in any direction, including toward the subdivision where my friend lives.

I’ve run a few chores since I began writing this so a few hours have passed and it’s getting dark. The helicopters that joined the fight about 3 pm are back on the ground and the firefighters are getting a little rest because the flames have subsided. Still, there are many small uncontained fires still burning between Santa Paula and Ventura. The embers left from the burned brush, trees, and buildings are in many cases, still smoldering. The hills north of Ventura are still on fire.

And this is what you are likely to see looking toward Ventura from the Pacific Ocean.

So, as this day of the worst fire I’ve ever been close to comes to a close I’m reflecting on some of what’s happened. I’ve heard many sad stories today.

  • The family expecting a New Year’s baby who lived in a house for two days before it burned to the ground.
  • The Green Bay Packers fan who may have moved here just two months ago, because he and his family lived in their brand new house just two months before the fire took it down.
  • The woman who saw news reports of her neighborhood and saw that while three of her neighbors’ houses sadly caught fire and burned for a few hours but hers was untouched. So, she headed home only to see her house in flames when she got there.
  • The family who tried to save “Grandma’s house” to no avail because the fire attacked it with too much intensity. The destruction of the Vista del Mar psychiatric hospital on Seneca Street on Ventura’s west side. Here’s a picture of it before it burned.

Vista del Mar psychiatric hospital, Ventura, CA

Then there were the ‘good’ stories.

  • The reporter who was not a horse owner and had never even ridden a horse, but helped rescue some horses from a barn that had caught fire.
  • The firefighters who managed to save houses next door to other houses that burned to the ground even though the wind appeared to be blowing the flames and embers toward those adjacent houses.
  • The homeowner who was told there was time to save just one thing from his house, so he chose the Christmas tree.
  • The Santa Clause who showed up at one of the evacuation centers in Ventura at the County Fairgrounds to entertain the 400 evacuees and children there.

I feel very sorry for those who lost so much. I found myself crying for them more than once. While I may not know any of the people whose homes burned today, I’ve followed their stories. It has been a terribly sad day for my daughter who was good friends with six of the people who lost their homes.

A terrible day is, of course, relative. Seven years ago I was in a hospital bed after having almost died during a 12-hour operation that was supposed to have taken three or four hours. It didn’t go well for either the doctor or for me. As miserable as I felt laying there wondering what was wrong with my eye, feeling pain on the left side of my face, and waiting for the nurse to come in to change my I.V.; I watched the news coverage of a disastrous earthquake in Haiti that left 230,000 people dead and millions homeless. People were digging through the rubble of what had been their homes. They had little to eat. It was winter and they had little heat. Their drinking water was diseased. I knew no matter how bad I felt, there was no way I would want to trade places with any of them.

This was not the worst day for fires in California. I’ve already mentioned the fires in Central California that burned more than 5,000 homes. There was also the 2007 fire season, That’s when I received my baptism in the real disasters of California.Before I moved here from the Midwest people asked if I was worried about earthquakes and tsunamis. However, earthquakes have been a minor concern. I’ve felt three 4.5 earthquakes in the time I’ve been here, but in 2007 there were 20 major fires in California. On one day in Southern California, there were 17 separate major fires burning. One Sunday morning, I got a call from a friend who said she was packing because one of those fires was burning across the street from where she was living in Moorpark, CA. Two days later I watched from my workplace in Simi Valley as the flames of one of those fires raced across the mountains on the south side of the town. The next morning as I walked my dogs I marveled at the glow of another fire that was burning the same hills in Ventura that were burned today but with much less damage back then. Later I wiped about a quarter inch of ash from all those fires off my car. It was faintly reminiscent of the snow I used to scrape off my car during the winter back in the Midwest. 203 people were injured in those fires of 2007, 17 others died. About a million people had to evacuate their homes and thousands of them saw their homes destroyed.

Nevertheless any day someone loses the place they live, is a sad day. While it’s good they are still alive and the place and things they lost may in some way be replaceable, they are still lost. They were pictures, mementos, toys, and other things that were important enough just to have; to hang on a wall; to place on a table, desk, or shelf; to put in a container, box, or drawer. They are the things we attach our lives to and represent some bit, some part, some moment of our life. When they are taken away find ourselves unattached like boats in a storm, floating aimlessly across a body of water until somehow we scrabble back to shore where we can start over again, aware of our loss, but also know we have survived and can begin again.



Halloween – or The Trick That Should Have Been Left in the Trash

Halloween, sixth grade, two classmates, both guys more than a teaspoon short of a full bowl are talking about their plans for the night.

They figure they’re too old to go trick or treating so they’re just going to go tricking. They’re going to tie garbage cans together. They’ll find neighbors whose cans are close together and tie the handles together with some kite string. They’ve got lots of kite string.

They figure it’ll be hilarious when one neighbor moves his trash cans and tips over somebody else’s trash can. They picture all the garbage scattered and the neighbors cursing each other as they pick the stuff up.

“So, when was the last time you saw anybody around here moving their garbage cans around?” I ask. In our neighborhood, all the trash cans are out in the alley and the only people who move them are the garbage collectors. I point out to my two imaginative classmates how they’ll have to walk or ride their bikes more than a mile away to a neighborhood without alleys, then they’ll have to stumble around backyards till they find two where the trash cans aren’t so far away that the string is easily noticeable.

Of course, that didn’t occur to them, but they still think it’s a good idea because the garbage man will be the one knocking over somebody’s garbage. Which they think is pretty ironic.

“So, you’re telling me you think the garbage man is so stupid he’s going to go from house to house tipping over trash cans and isn’t going to notice they’re all tied up?”

“Well maybe one or two, but there’s gonna be garbage all over the alley’s and that’s gonna look funny, right?”

“So you’ll be sitting here tomorrow trying to keep from laughing while you picture the garbage man tipping over trash cans?” I asked.

They both nodded.

“Maybe you should take a camera so you can take some pictures of all the trash tomorrow,” another classmate suggested.

“Yeah, that’s a great idea.”

I left it at that, thinking it was actually a good idea because it would keep them from getting into real trouble, at least that’s what I thought.

That night they headed out with their ball of kite string, tied up a few trash cans. Then one of them noticed a ladder leaning against the roof of a two-story building. The house was dark. The owners weren’t home. They didn’t want to see any trick or treaters. For some reason, that upset him and one part of his brain somehow clicked against another part as he concocted a plan to seek revenge.

Two minutes later those two kids were dragging a trash can up the ladder. It was hard work, one pulling up on a handle, the other underneath, pushing up on the trash can. Eventually, they got it to the top and just as they were working it onto the roof, the owner came home. The kid on the bottom scurried down the ladder, jumping the last five or six steps, leaving his friend balanced precariously on the roof with his arms wrapped around the trash can.

The owner hadn’t seen them on the ladder, but he did see the kid running out of the yard, so he looked around. He didn’t see the kid on the roof, but he did see the ladder and decided to take it down.

“No, no, no,” the kid on the roof screamed.

It was dark so all the homeowner could see was the shadow on the roof.

“What the hell are you doing up there,” the man shouted.

“Nothing,” the kid answered.

“Well, get down here right now,”

“I can’t,” the kid said.

“You can’t? Afraid you’ll fall?”

“No, I’ve got your garbage can up here.”

“What?” the homeowner said as he turned and went into his garage.

As if the kid wasn’t terrified enough, now he thought the man was going to get a gun. Instead, the man came out with a flashlight.

With his feet propped against the gutter, he was sitting there hugging a trash can.

“I don’t believe it. I don’t believe it.” the homeowner mumbled over and over as he climbed the ladder.

The next morning the two kids who always showed up at school together, arrived separately. They didn’t talk to each other and they wouldn’t talk to anybody else. It was months before they got over whatever it was, but by that time we knew.

Both of them had been severely punished. Nobody knew exactly what that meant, maybe some beatings or spankings, the loss of privileges, groundings, and maybe even no more Halloween’s.

The one who was left on the roof was mad at the other because he ran away, and the one who ran away was mad because the other had ratted on him, even blaming him for the whole thing.

A couple of my classmates thought tying the trash cans to the chimney was a great idea, but most of us thought it was pretty stupid, but we wondered if anyone would try it next year.

Ezra Pound’s Birthday

Poet. essayist, and radio broadcaster, Ezra Loomis Pound was born in Hailey, Idaho on this day in 1885.

In 1907, Pound became a professor of Romance languages at Wabash Presbyterian College, Crawfordsville, Indiana. However a few months later, in February 1908 he packed his bags and went to Europe where he lived the majority of the rest of his life.

In England, he published his first book of poems, Personae in 1909. A few years later in 1912 Pound was hired by Poetry, a small literary magazine at the time, to be its London correspondent. He enhanced the magazine’s stature and quickly became a major force in Anglo-American verse. He not only wrote his own poetry, but he also discovered, mentored, edited, reviewed or first published many of the early 20th century’s best known English language writers. Among those whose careers he influenced:

  • D.H. Lawrence
  • William Carlos Williams
  • Robert Frost
  • Hilda Doolittle
  • James Joyce
  • T.S. Eliott
    Ezra Pound said, “The real trouble with war (modern war) is that it gives no one a chance to kill the right people.”

In 1939 he returned to the United States, hoping to keep the peace between the U.S. and Italy. Disappointed he returned to Italy and beginning in 1941 he made several hundred broadcasts over Rome radio on a variety of topics. However, a number of his broadcasts condemned the U.S. war effort. Because of this he was arrested by U.S. forces in 1945 and imprisoned. He was sent back to the United States to face trial for treason but was pronounced “insane and mentally unfit for trial” by a panel of doctors Pound spent the next 12 years (1946–58) in Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital for the criminally insane in Washington, D.C. He remained productive during that time, writing numerous poems, translating ancient Chinese poetry, and Sophocles Trachiniai (Women of Trachis). However, two years after he was released Pound went silent, never to write again. He died in 1972 in Venice.

During his 60 years of writing and publishing activity, he wrote 70 books of his own, contributed to about 70 others, and wrote more than 1500 articles.


A Girl – Poem by Ezra Pound

The tree has entered my hands,
The sap has ascended my arms,
The tree has grown in my breast –
The branches grow out of me, like arms.

Tree you are,
Moss you are,
You are violets with wind above them.
A child – so high – you are,
And all this is folly to the world.


The Chicago Bears Should Be Better Than Many Sportswriters Think They Will Be

With the first game of the season just a few days away, most Chicago Bears fans are again hoping for a winning season, but not expecting any miracles.
After looking at the various power rankings that have the Bears ranked pretty much where they finished last year (29th, tied for 28th) I thought most of the Sports writers were short-changing the team. The Bears should be ranked higher, at least 24th, maybe even 20th, but I’m guessing the uncertainty of the QB and WR positions (a new starting QB with little experience and both of last year’s best receivers gone – one to another team, the other injured) has sportswriters thinking the Monsters of the Midway won’t be scaring any more teams than they did last year.
Most true Bears fans believe the team was better than its 3 – 13 record last year.
To prove it I offer some simple stats from last year: the Offense, Defense, Passing, and Rushing rankings of the NFL’s 32 teams. I know a lot more goes into a game than Offense, Defense, Passing, and Rushing. There are things such as turnover ratio, third down conversions, third down stops, red zone defense, and field goal accuracy. That’s why a team that should be good sometimes isn’t and a team that shouldn’t be especially good sometimes is.
Nevertheless, looking at the Offense, Defense, Passing, and Rushing ranks tells a bit of a story. The Super Bowl teams were about the best in those categories. The Falcons with an 11-5 record: Offense – 2, Defense – 25, Passing – 3, and running – 5. The Patriots with their 14-2 record O 4, D 8, P 4, and R 7.
The Bears had the both the 15th ranked Offense and Defense, the 14th ranked passing attack, and the team rushing ranked 17th. With the most similar rankings (O 13, D 17, P 15, and R 13), the Bengals finished  6-9-1. So it could be argued the Bears were at least a six win team. However, both the Bears and Bengals might have been better.
Also in the North Division where the Lions who went 9-7 (O 21, D 18, P 11, and R 30). Most shocking of all, though, was Kansas City. The Chiefs finished first in their division with a 12-4 record but ranked worse than the Bears in three of the four categories: O 20, D 24, P 19, and only a little better rushing at 15th.
Looking at those numbers tells me the Bears could have been a playoff team last year. With a team that is at least equal to last year’s (and in some areas, better), they could be a playoff team this year. I’m not betting on it, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Again, though, there’s much more to the game than just the teams overall play on defense, offense, passing and rushing.
Finally, you might be wondering how the two teams that picked ahead of the Bears in the NFL draft did with those four stats last year? The Browns (O 30, D 31, P 28, and R – 19) who picked first were one of the two worst teams. The 49rs who picked second were the other terrible team (O 31, D 32, P 32, and R 4).

Even When It’s Painful, I Love Taking the Train

Oh God, no! He’s not going to talk about Amtrak again!

Yes, I am, but it’s good. Trust me, it’s good.

Back from three weeks in Chicago visiting family. I had hoped to visit with a couple friends, too – ran out of time.

Overall the trip was wonderful. Tomorrow I’ll write about some of the things I saw and did.

Two of my last three posts were about the rigors of the Amtrak train trip out there. The trip back was much more pleasant though, mostly because the train was never terribly late and arrived on time.

After stepping off the train in Chicago more than six hours late I sent an email to Amtrak’s CEO, Charles Wickliffe “Wick” Moorman IV, suggesting Amtrak do a better job communicating the timeliness of its trains, especially when it was common knowledge to Amtrak that a train would likely be late (on the trip to Chicago I overheard one of the conductor’s mention talk about a 13 mile stretch coming up where the train was going to lose an hour).

In the days just before my return train was to leave I got a couple emails from Amtrak telling me about an area that could cause the train to lose 1 – 2 hours because of track repaired. There was also a notice on the website about the possible loss of time. I thought that was a good effort. Also, while on the train there were a few times the conductor announced a likely delay and why it would occur.

For the most part, the train stayed close to schedule until Albuquerque where we sat for almost an hour. As the train made its way across New Mexico and into Arizona it fell further and further behind schedule so that by the time we reached Needles California we were 90 minutes late. From there on the engineer did a nice job picking up time, but we were still an hour late when we reached San Bernardino.

I had a connecting train to take me from L.A. to Ventura, that I was hoping to catch, but at the current pace I figured we roll into L.A. at 9:13 a.m. and my train to Ventura would leave at 9:14. You can see my dilemma. The next train for me would be at 12:30 p.m. To my delight the engineer managed to cut large chunks off that 60-minute deficit at the next three stops so that we rolled into LA’s Union Station just 20 minutes late and I had more than enough time to catch my connecting train.

All-in-all, the trip restored my faith in Amtrak. However, I will never sit on a train for two days again. Being confined that long in a limited space with a train-full of strangers became painful. It’s also too hard to sleep comfortably in a chair, even if the chair is relatively comfortable. There are only two ways I will ever make such a trip again. I might do it if I could afford a sleeping car (right now $150 or so for the coach, about $700 for the sleeper with a senior discount). Or I might plan a trip three or four stop train trip, go 1/4 – 1/3 of the way each day and spend some time being a tourist at each stop. Otherwise, I’ll fly.

A few things I learned:

  • Always bring an extra layer of clothing (sweatshirt or jacket and sweatpants) and maybe a blanket. Also, bring a pillow or at least a towel to roll and use as a pillow. Sometimes the air conditioning is left on and it can get colder than a you-know-what.Amtrak Southwest Chief Lounge Car
  • Bring a couple books and/or a Kindle, Nook, or Tablet and headphones or earphones (to while away the time you can read, listen to music, or watch videos, but you’ll need to listen privately.
  • You might find a set of earplugs useful, especially if someone nearby is having a conversation you don’t want to overhear or if the person in the aisle seat next to you snores.
  • If you can’t sleep in your seat or you become uncomfortable sitting you can walk the train, which I did often, and sit in the lounge car which has a sunny and pleasant view of the passing scenery. At night you might be able to find a place to stretch out a bit more than you can in your seat. The lounge car was my second home on the train.
  • Pack some food – sandwiches, bagels, muffins, salads, fruit, snacks, etc. Nothing that needs heating, though. Microwaves are not available for passenger use. Meals on the train, while often fairly good, are expensive. Snacks are also expensive. I bought a six-ounce container of donut holes and a small bag of M & M’s for six dollars. I could have gotten both for $4 or less in a grocery store.
  • Take advantage of any opportunity to get off the train. The few minutes of fresh air will do you good and you might see a use for your cell phone camera.

Right now I’m planning one long train trip and a couple shorter ones. First I’ll be spending some time in San Francisco, in January I think I’ll go to Albuquerque. Then in April the long one up to Seattle. Driving up there would take a minimum of 20 hours non-stop, but the train trip is 33 hours. Right now I’m trying to decide the most convenient and interesting place or places somewhere in the middle to stop and spend a day both going up and coming back.