Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Coast Starlight Train Trip: Birth of Starlight Salon? Retreat on Rails?!

Isn't this wild? Looks like the train is glowing! After flying up to Sacramento to drive out to Cool, California, in the heart of the Gold Country, to participate in some northern Cali book events for Love Junkie and to visit my close friend, the stunning writer and fiery-haired Samantha Dunn, I boarded the Coast Starlight back to Los Angeles. I couldn't wait. I hadn't had the chance to take the train for ages. And this was a scenic, leisurely ride down the spectacular California coast in a retro pleasure train. I don't know about you, but I romanticize trains. I'm an avid traveler, and trains are one of my favorite forms of transportation -- transportation of the spirit as well as the body.

However, I was clueless. I booked coach because I was only riding the rails from 6:35AM to 9PM when we would pull into the gorgeously renovated Union Station. Mistake. For the first four hours or so of the trip, I was on a crazy hunt for an outlet so I could work. Amtrak had promised me outlets and Wi-Fi, but neither was to be had. Luckily I had my iPhone. For outlets, I finally found one in the Arcade Room in the bowels of the train. There I sat, juicing my Mac laptop, while hyperactive kids and sullen teens slammed joysticks, pounded consoles, screamed. Finally I figured out there was a cafe car -- also in what felt like the bowels of the train. Okay, entrails. I settled in, staking my claim on the one outlet as if I'd discovered a vein of gold. I didn't move from the blue vinyl booth for the next three hours. Until I heard the announcement about a Wine Tasting event in the parlour car. Whut?

Without another thought, I packed up my laptop, books and notes and high-tailed it to the upper part of the train, shimmied my way through the swaying cars and entered -- Paradise. Now this was what I'd imagined when I booked the Coast Starlight. I walked into a stylish livingroom on rails, with breathtaking scenery whizzing by outside. I bought my Wine Tasting ticket, settled into a comfy swiveling armchair with its own wall outlet, and vowed not to move. It was as if I'd risen through the socio-economic ranks of the world in a matter of hours -- from the video game room and claustrophobed cafe hell of coach, to the lofty upper deck, and first class travel. I'd made it!

Then the Wine Tasting commenced.

Bliss! Before long, I'd worked my way through Taz Pinot Gris 2006 out of Santa Barbara, Estancia Pinot Noir 2006 out of Pinnacles Ranches in Monterey County, Greg Norman Petite Sirah 2005 out of Paso Robles (my favorite!), and Jekel Riesling 2006, also out of Monterey County. I also nibbled on Purple Moon cheese (mouth-watering) and crackers. All California wines. I can recount these details because I consulted the retro menu, whose graphics induced a delicious "Mad Men" moment.

My chosen state was doing me proud, and the wine was working its veritas wonders. Now the scenery was looking really good.

I don't know about you, but one reason I love writing is because you can do it anywhere. On a plane, in a foreign land, in a cafe, in a diner, at a truck stop. On a train. Wait. What about readings on a train? Next to me, an elegant man concentrated on a crossword. A sophisticated grandma sat reading My Life In France by Julia Child while burnished hillsides streaked gold out her window.
Another sat reading the newspaper -- the newspaper! Well if this wasn't a salon waiting to happen. A perfect audience for a reading! Then the popcorn brain commenced. I imagined a Starlight Salon. I had just spent time up north with amazing writers like Sam Dunn, Alice Anderson, Rebecca K. O'Connor. Further up the coast, along the route of this same amazing train, were Susie Bright, Cheryl Strayed, Kerry Cohen...the list went on and on. What If we were all to band together, board together, and create a moveable feast, a moving salon -- could this be the birth of the Starlight Salon?!

Wine. Trains. Narrative In Motion. The signs were blinking madly:  did I not perform at a fabulous, intimate book event one day ago at a vineyard! Venezio Vineyards. Right outside of Cool. Plus, I'd just gotten the great news that WHSmith's Travel had placed an enormous order of the soon-to-be-released Jan. 2010 UK mass market paperback. And where do they stock books? All the major airports and train stations. I picked up the dinner menu, eager to feed my dreaming.
Because I am a recovering love junkie, I did not fantasize Don Draper entering the parlour car for dinner, then dropping wearily yet suavely into the empty swivel armchair nearby.
Nor did I think about how his gaze might slowly turn my way, as I recrossed my legs and fluffed my ridiculous white fur scarf (see the Love Junkie blog http://www.lovejunkie-thejourney.blogspot.com for pic of said scarf.) Instead, visions of a Retreat on Rails -- the parlour car packed with ardent writers scribbling and typing, sipping wine, every so often gazing out the windows as the sun splashed gold onto the passing hills -- lit my brain with arcade fire.

I would love to know if you have any memorable train rides you'd like to share. I got amazing responses from a post about itching for a road trip. How about a rail trip? Have you ever written on the train? Fallen in love on the train? Gone the wrong way on a train? Do you like those in-between places -- like train stations? Tell us a story, a memory. Funny in Rick Moody's current experimental story written for Twitter that's posting right now, he has a series of tweets that open "On the train..." Almost replicates that rhythmic chuffing with those staccato tweets. Does motion or travel stimulate your imagination? Distract? What If you were to retell a scene setting it in the confines of a train car. How would that heighten drama? Tension? What are some favorite books involving trains, train trips, or stories? What of Updike, Cheever, Patricia Highsmith? How do commuter trains differ from travel trains, and what of subways? What of the recent book, Lowboy by John Wray, written entirely while riding NY subways? I can't wait to hear your train tales, and anything else.
Yours on creative fire,

1 comment:

  1. What an inspiring train extravaganza! Every travel, food and wine fiber inside of me hollered "Me too, me too!" Love the idea of The Starlight Writing Salon. Where do I sign up?