Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Amtrak for Dummies

This past weekend was a bit of a vacation for me. I had Friday off, and Monday also, which gave me a spectacular 4-day weekend. So, I decided the most productive use of this mini-vacation would be to get out of town, and visit some of my favorite drinking spots in Sacramento. For those who have never experienced Sacramento through the bottom of a bucket glass, you are missing out. There is a whole booze culture up there. Remember, the place has been around since the gold rush and was founded on saloons and brothels. Plus, it’s the state capital and I found that most capital cities are great drinking destinations. Don’t know why, it just seems to be so.

But the real story here is not a warm-hearted tale of a personal mecca to boozing nirvana. Not exactly.

On Wednesday, I logged on to Amtrak’s website and purchased round trip tickets between Fresno and Sacramento. On Thursday, evening, I arrived at the newly remodelled Santa Fe station in marvellous downtown Fresno. I had about 40 minutes to kill, so I stopped in at the Sheepherder's Inn for a few pints of Guinness. And yes, those fuckers hit the spot!

I went back to the Amtrak station, and proceeded to wait on the bench for my train, 713. I was informed the 713 would be about 20 minutes late by a courteous Amtrak employee. Fuck it. I didn’t mind the wait. After all, I was on vacation.

Within five minutes, my train came in. I proceeded to ask the same Amtrak guy what the story was with this train. Again, he stressed – in no uncertain terms - that MY train was to be 20 minutes late. The gentleman informed me that THIS train was bound for Bakersfield, and he would let me know when the Sacramento train arrived. Feeling quite comforted about this information from a qualified professional, I sat back down, and continued to wait.

Sure enough, 20 minutes later came a train, oddly from the north. The Amtrak employee scurried out from his office and let me know that my train had arrived. I boarded, sat down, and the train departed.

“JESUS H. CHRIST, MARY AND JOSEPH HANGING OFF A CROSS, GOD DAMNED SHIT. MOTHERFUCKER!” was the only thing I could think of to say at that point as the train slowly began to roll south.

The conductor came by to collect my ticket, and smirked at me a bit as I shamefully turned it over to him.

"Next stop, Hanford." He chuckled.

The next 20 minutes were stretched out infinitely. I knew the train I was supposed to be on was the last northbound train in the Central Valley, but Hanford isn’t far from Fresno. It was getting late on Thursday, and I could have probably had someone just drive down, and pick me up. Alas, a vicious combination of stubbornness and pride prevented me from doing so. Besides, I was on vacation, and had no intention of going home.

When I finally arrived in Hanford, I thought I might still have a chance of getting to Sacramento somehow, or perhaps Fresno at the very least. I didn't think Hanford really held anything for me that evening, and I was anxious to depart as soon as possible. I went into the train station to rustle up some alternatives, still hoping perhaps a late night train would still be coming through.

A freight train passed the station before I reached the counter, and for a brief moment, I considered jumping on it like a depression-era hobo.

The Hanford station attendant found my situation to be pretty funny and told me he was getting ready to close up and that I should come back at 6:30 AM, 15-minutes before the first train north. He would not refund or exchange my ticket, and kept saying just to come back tomorrow, the station was closed. I couldn't help but notice the hours of operation listed on the window that separated my and the attendant. They were supposed to be open for another half hour. He was clearly sick of my questions.

I asked him about other transportation alternatives. I was shit out of luck. Where there any cabs? Nope. Busses? Nope. Thinking about hitching or walking, I finally asked how far it was from Hanford to Fresno.

"78 Miles" He replied.

Now, I took some advanced math in high school, and a little in college. I was never any Will Hunting, but I could figure out the area of a parabola. I was tired and annoyed with the whole situation and asked the attendant how in the fuck a 20-minute train ride from Fresno could cover 78 miles? Well, I learned. Hanford east to Goshen, east to Visalia, west back to Goshen and then north to Fresno is 78 miles. I asked again, recognizing that I was dealing with a retard.

Any guesses?

"78 Miles."

Ahhh fuck it! I gave up. I decided to stay in Hanford for the night.

I set out on foot and discovered an amazing little town. I saw the Fox Theatre, and saw Willie Nelson is playing there next month. I saw a permanent outdoor carousel and a real town square. The place reminded me of the town in Back to the Future.

I checked into a Comfort Suites, showered, and decided to make the most of my stay.

Heading out, I stopped at the front desk and asked if there were any decent bars within walking distance. I was directed to Simon's.

It turned out to be a place I never would have expected in small town Hanford. Simon's was a surf-themed bar with about 20 beers on draft, and Surf videos playing on large screen TV's. They had a pool table and Guinness. What more could you ask for? Well, since I was a stranger in a strange town, I decided to veer off course and sample some of the other beers on tap. Then, I decided to make it my mission to try them all. I succeeded.

By 10:00 I was shit-faced and ready for a change of scenery. So I walked down the street and ended up at a cool bar called The Bastille. Great place with a great bartender and fun regulars. I ended up playing dice with a guy that couldn't win a roll and walked away with about twenty extra dollars.

On my way back to the Comfort Suites, I found another little bar and decided to have a few more "nightcaps." At this point, I can't remember the name of the place or what I drank, or how many I had. As a matter of fact, I can't even remember if I even paid for my drinks. I do, however, remember walking the half block between the bar and the hotel, because a local cop pulled up to me and started asking questions. Apparently, I was so drunk, that anyone driving by would say "that guy is so drunk!"

I explained to the cop that I was not planning to drive and that I was a visitor staying in the Comfort Suites and dug around in my pocket until I was able to find my room key. Then, the strangest thing happened. The cop walked me to my room, opened the door for me, and told me to enjoy my stay in Hanford. Stranger yet, about ten minutes later, there was a knock at my door. I opened it to find the cop with a Taco Bell bag in his hand. He handed it to me and said "you should probably eat something." I think I tried to give him a tip but he didn't accept it. I ate and passed out within a few minutes.

I know I got a little long winded on this one. Thanks for hanging in there if you have gotten this far. I guess the whole point of the story is this: Make do with what you have. I turned a miserable night into a whole mess of fun by realizing my glass was half full. I was on vacation after all. And, if you ever plan on getting super-loaded in a small town. Choose Hanford. They know how to treat their drunks.

Colin Deal spends his free time exploring the bar culture of cities throughout North America and believes the unique culture of any region in the world can be discovered over a few drinks with the locals. His drunken musings can be found on Twitter here.