This is the Bakersfield Train Station at 4:30AM. Pretty quiet and empty. You can't see her but there's one Amtrak employee behind the counter and a security guard wandering around outside. The luggage on the left belong's to a women who asked me to watch it while she used the restrooms. It sort of made me feel good that a stranger would ask that of me. I guess I look like a normal honest person. There is a reason why I catch the first train out in the morning. I'll get to that shortly. The 4:55AM leaving time is the reason I use the Best Western Hill House Hotel just across the street. Schedule an early wake up call and a short walk and I'm at the train station. I had some extra luggage with me this time. My mother's fall in early December had prevented her from mailing Christmas presents to us. I was carrying them home.
The reason for the early train is just logistics and expense. The Amtrak Train and Bus gets me to Ukiah at 12:50PM. After a layover of about two hours (lunch time) I can then catch MTA's Route 75 through Boonville and Navarro to meet-up with MTA's Coaster at the Navarro River Junction which will take me to Little River for a pick up at the store. If I take the later train (10:05AM) it gets me to Ukiah at 5:50PM which is too late to catch any MTA bus over to the coast. I would have to check into another hotel and spend most of the next day in Ukiah.
I boarded the 4:55AM train and after finding a seat went to the cafe and got the first cup of coffee made that morning. Another reason to take the early train is that it's not crowded and most of the passengers just try to sleep. It's dark and foggy for the first two plus hours of the train trip so it's a good time to read or snooze if you can. It can be dangerous to sleep. I remember one trip where a guy slept pass his destination. On this trip the guy in back of me was sleeping. When we were leaving Modesto he woke with a start when he heard Jack London Square in Oakland as the final destination. This is something that the conductor does as a welcome to the new passengers boarding the train. I heard him say wait and was scrabbling to collect his luggage. He thought he had missed his stop which was Emeryville. I had to calm him down and told him we were only in Modesto. I spent the last hours of the train trip trying to identify ducks and shorebirds as we went by the many water and marsh areas. Shovelers, Buffleheads, Mallards and Scaups were the ducks I could pick out. Coots were everywhere. Avocets and Yellowlegs were the shorebirds. Lots of Snowy and Great Egrets. The train was 25 minutes late getting into Martinez. That was actually a good thing. It would cut my wait time in Ukiah.
I always try to pick a seat on the way back so I can see a different view of where I've been. That's just a little traveling tip. The following pictures are from the return Amtrak Bus trip. The first one is of the Carquinez Strait from the George Miller Jr. memorial Bridge. The second is the fairgrounds in Petaluma and the third is some of the countryside outside of Ukiah.
So we were about 25 minutes late getting to Ukiah. Had lunch at Denny's (don't judge, it was within walking distance and better then McDonald's) and then waited for MTA's Route 75 at the Pear Tree Center bus stop.
What can I said about Route 75 that wouldn't give you a bad impression of public transportation. Route 75 is easily the most interesting route that I've used. I have traveled with a cage load of cockatiels in the back of the bus. The county jail in Ukiah has a habit of releasing prisoners so that they catch Route 75 for those that live on the coast. I remember one smaller man complaining about the bigger prisoners stealing his food. This trip was no different.
A young girl boarded after me and dropped some condoms out of her wallet when she went to pay the fare. Ed, the bus driver didn't bat an eye. Said she might need them later. She sat down near me and said she was in Ukiah to buy uniforms for a new job and it was the start of her new “adult” life. At the library several people got on. One was an older gentleman who seemed to know the young girl. Another man immediately announced that he needed a phone to call his “shrink” because he was running out of meds. Valium was mentioned in the call after a girl loaned him her phone. It turned out that the older gentleman was a reporter for the Anderson Valley Advertiser. Part of his beat was the courthouses in Mendocino. His name is Malcolm. The young girl's name is Jazz and the “meds” man is Benjamin. It turns out that they had some connection by way of the court system. Malcolm was homeless five years ago and had a serious dislike for Fort Bragg Police because they kept busting him for smoking weed. Writing about the court system he knew all the police, lawyers and judges in Mendocino County. The three of them talked about who had arrested whom, who their lawyers were, and who their judges that heard their cases were. Jazz was a juvey arrested for selling drugs and spent some time at juvenile hall. Benjamin had spent some time in prison for what sounded like spousal abuse and was on probation. That conversation went on for some time and then Benjamin decided we wanted to hear his poetry. Who's going to say no? He read one and Jazz said it was awesome, Malcolm said it was excellent but needed a better reading. I said it was pretty good and got this glare. I thought I was in some trouble from the “meds” guy. Malcolm got off at Boonville and Benjamin moved over to try to hustle Jazz. I heard them both declare themselves clean and sober while they smoked and he had a beer during the break stop at the Navarro Store. At Navarro River Junction Jazz continued south on the Route 75 bus while Benjamin went north on the Coaster to visit his son in Little River. I got off at the Little River Store where my wife picked me up and drove me home safe and sound.
It didn't turn out to be the trip I was expecting but it worked. If you've read all the posts you might think that taking public transportation can be a pain in the ass. You might think that the negatives out weigh the positives. Riding public transportation in a rural area like Mendocino County is harder then if you lived in a big city. Major transportation hubs are hard to get to from Mendocino but it can be done.
What are the advantages? When traveling you realize there are lots of cars and trucks out there on the highways and city streets. I didn't have to worry about them. My vehicle wasn't one of them. I could set back and let someone else do the worrying. On the train I could have lunch and drink a beer or go to the restroom without needing to make any decisions on where to stop. With low gas prices it might be cheaper to drive especially if you don't qualify for a senior discount or have a AAA membership but you do put that wear and tear on your car and also yourself.
My major reason for using public transportation is to get my truck off the streets as much as possible. At around 852 miles round trip from Little River to Bakersfield I saved 766.8 pounds of climate changing pollution from going into the air.
Transportation is one of the single largest sources of air pollution in the state. That includes the smog and other ground-level pollution that damages hearts and lungs, as well as the greenhouse gas emissions that disrupt the climate. There are 33 million cars and light- and medium-duty trucks registered in California, more than in any other state in the U.S. And that number doesn’t include the big heavy duty trucks that carry freight around the state.
Road congestion in many parts of the state has become nearly unbearable… Californians annually waste nearly $19 billion in time and fuel while stuck in traffic. The average San Diego traveler can expect to spend 67 hours a year waiting in traffic, while the average San Francisco traveler can expect to spend 80 hours stuck in traffic.
We need to change our ways if we are to save this planet. You need to do it for your kids and grandkids. I do it for the birds.