Through a complicated turn of events, I found myself flying into San Francisco and flying out of Seattle. Seattle was my desired destination. I managed to Planes, Trains and Automobiles on this trip and threw a boat in there for laughs.
After evaluating my options, I decided to take The Starlight Express Amtrak train from San Francisco to Seattle. Given that the trip spanned twenty-two hours, it’s obvious the trip was neither solely by starlight nor express, at least by any definition that I know. I was curious about train travel, and it was half as expensive as a flight. Choo Choo!
When I landed in San Francisco, I took the BART into the city. I was thinking I would grab brunch at Mamma’s. I was thinking that because it was Thursday, Mamma’s wouldn’t be extremely busy. Perhaps by San Franciscans’ standards a line of fifty people out the door isn’t busy. To this Cincinnatian, that was some bullshit.
Breakfast plans thwarted, I settled for a slice of pizza and people watching in Washington Square. There’s a gorgeous church there, and by a freak accident I noticed that I could walk up to Coit Tower. I am fit. But before I whine about climbing up to Coit Tower, let me point out that all personal items that I would need for the next week was strapped to my back, including my delightful but extremely heavy DSLR camera. After some cursing and sweating, I climbed all those steps for some gorgeous WPA sponsored murals and a marvelous view of San Francisco. Winging aside, it was worth the effort.
I stopped in at City Lights Book Store and Vesuvio’s because I love them, and I was close. I enjoy both of those locations mostly because I love Beat Literature. Lawrence Ferlinghetti was a co-founder and was put on trial for obscenity for publishing “Howl”, Alan Ginsburg’s arguably most famous poem. I could blabber for days about how I like inhabiting the spaces that those authors did, but my passion on this topic is obscure to ninety-nine percent of the population. So, reader, I will shut myself up.
Afterward, I settled down to an afternoon coffee. There I learned that San Francisco establishments like to play the greatest hits of the 80’s and 90’s. I had heard this music emanating from nearly every establishment I entered, but I didn’t take full notice of it until I was fueling up with a latte in the afternoon. Turns out, 80’s and 90’s hits could be called the musical theme of my vacation.
I had dinner at Rogue’s Tasting room. In keeping with the reviews, the atmosphere and beer was excellent; the food was mediocre at best. I tried a marionberry brew, that I’ve not seen in bottles. It was nice but only in tasting-sized quantities, as it was very sweet. I found that my bar stool neighbors were also cyclists, and we talked quite a bit about cycling, beer, and the qualitative differences between our cities. They pointed out the very thing that turns me away from San Francisco; the cost of living means that an enormous percentage of one’s income is eaten by housing costs. They were annoyed to find that Ohio gets a great selection of Colorado, Oregon, and Washington beers, topping their own. They were equally jealous of our easy access to some of the Midwest’s best brewers like Founders, Bell’s, Jolly Pumpkin, New Holland, Great Lakes, etc.
After a pleasant couple hours of chatting, I headed to the Amtrak station. The station was just off Jack London Square in Oakland. It was not terribly convenient to get to via public transit. Luckily, I packed light. The station was clean and well equipped with bathrooms and vending machines. The poorly crafted PSA looping on the big screens must have been made to terrify any potential passengers. The highlights include the dubious suggestion that throwing my personal belongings at terrorists is a path to success. If the choice was between bodily harm and throwing my DSLR, I would pick bodily harm. I wondered at the suggestion of throwing things at terrorists as though they were failing comedians, especially when the PSA was showing all train security personnel in riot gear. If the choice is between bodily harm, throwing my DSLR, and letting riot gear dude handle it, I would pick riot gear dude.
The terrifying PSA made more sense when I boarded the train. The security precautions were limited to the attendant validating my ticket. It took three minutes for me to board. There were no riot gear dudes to be seen… for the entire duration of the trip. There was a very nice woman who vacuumed our car.
I really liked the train. I liked that I had more space, freedom to walk around at will, unrestricted use of the bathroom and lounge car. Aside from the fact that traveling by train takes significantly more time than flying, I loved it. I had several nice conversations with my fellow passengers. Talking to your neighbors when flying is fraught with danger. Unlike air travel, if you need to escape your neighbors, you just head to the lounge car. It’s a considerably lower risk that you will get cornered by someone obnoxious, given that you have freedom of movement. Twenty-two hours is a long time to be travelling, but the train was fun.
Upon arrival in Seattle, I was most grateful for a familiar face, a home-cooked meal, and a shower. It was great to catch-up with Stef and David, and I haven’t seen much of them in the last few years. I was also happy for a quiet night in after my sleep deficient train experience.
In the span of four days I (and sometimes we) saw Bainbridge Island, Pike Place Market, a burlesque show, Pioneer Square, Gas Works Park, a short glimpse of Mt Rainier, Ballard Locks, the Fremont Troll, Fremont Brewery, Fran’s, Seattle’s underground, The Mystery Book Store, Cherry Street Coffee, and Goose Ridge winery (and actually at least two other wineries, names escape me and not due to drunkeness). Holy Washington state wines batman. They are in general excellent. Stay away from the pinots though. We went on a hike, and I made excellent use of Seattle’s public transportation.
The most unexpected part of my trip was my impression of the city vs my impression ten years ago. I still love Seattle. But Cincinnati has changed immensely in the last decade. I found that on this trip weather, public transit, and nature aside Cincinnati is approaching Seattle in terms of amenities. In fact, during all my travels of the past year, I find Cincinnati food and beer culture to be on par or better than other major cities’ offerings. Cincinnati’s music scene, although missed in favor of Columbus by many major acts, has a vibrant indie rock scene.
So Seattle, you’re pretty great. And if I get a good career opportunity that requires me to live in you, I wouldn’t say no. But Cincinnati you are changing so fast. I’m content to see and participate in what you will be when you grow up.