Look up!

10:30 AM – migrate to the observation car. More glass, more views. Ranger Clint from the National Park Trails & Rails program  commentates on the natural and cultural sites as we chug past Puget Sound. This is a nice touch – a rolling play-by-play to the widescreen panorama. A bald eagle lifts off and paces the train for a few moments, Shutters click. People oooh and aahh. Ranger Clint has scored. This is an Amtrak Marketing Moment.

I make a reservation for the 11:45 lunch seating, and soon realize my goal to subsist sustainably is doomed early. The special is hot turkey sandwich with gravy & a biscuit. I don’t even bother to introduce the question of free-range or organically-fed as I open a plastic pack of ‘Ranch Lite’ dressing for my salad.

Most people I talk to are enthused about the space, the pace and the style of train travel vs the airline experience, anyhow. (As my lunch-table-mate Sheri said, “When I flew, I took pictures out the window all the time … now when I do that, I can actually tell what they’re pictures of.”) But few bring up the concept of low-carbon travel. When I mention it, people are aware of the issue, but American Idol seems to be more top-of-mind.

Portland Station

2:10 PM Smoke stop at Portland. I get out to investigate the station. Now THIS is a place that makes you feel like traveling by rail. Gleaming polished marble, original bent-neon signage and a huge clock. Amtrak could do a lot worse than to refurbish all of their stations to this level.  It would certainly start the customer experience off right.

4:15 PM – Another cheery conductor toddles by hawking invitations to a wine tasting in the ‘Parlour Car’.  Five bucks gets 4 tasters, cheese and crackers. I follow him into a retro restaurant  car with small hopes of an organic grape choice. It was not to be, but I did engage in some good sustainable dialogue with a gentleman from the California Environmental Protection Administration. As we swirled our Columbia Valley vintages (local wines, at least!) we debate the finer points of grassroots social change at the community level vs sustainable change by dictatorial decree. 

5:45 PM ­– Dinner Reservation: The options are salmon or steak. Both from the farm. I order the cow. 


Lorne with NFL hopeful Greg Lovely7:46 PM – I totter back to the lounge car with the rest of my half-bottle of non-organic cabernet. Here I meet Greg Lovely, (brief NFL starter with the Buffalo Bills and Arena Football star on his way to join the ‘TriCity Fever’ on a trade) and Darrel, a part-time Alaska fisherman and full-time story-topper. The subject wanders from retreating glaciers to advancing offensive tackles. We switch to free-range cocktails from Darrel’s vodka stash and the last vestiges of Pure Sustainable Sustenance are forced out through my pores.
10:30-ish PM – I meet Kate and Mike, a couple of nice students who believe in the cause but not the political process for change. I wax profound, trying to convince them to activate their social networks and get the vote out. As the sky darkens, the glass windows of the observation car turn into black mirrors, focusing distorted reflections back at the fish in the bowl.
12:00 Midnight – I am playing cards with Greg, Darrel, Dave, a gal named Lashay, and a guy named Mitch who sports a shaved head and a well-thumbed issue of Grow-Op Times Magazine. The game breaks up when I go all-in with my $3.75 and win a pocket full of quarters. Fortunately nobody decides to kill me.
1:37 AM –  In a valiant effort to spare the earth the extra carbon I would expel walking to my seat two cars back, I topple neatly onto the bench seats of the lounge car and, sloshing gently to the rhythm of the rails, drift into a semi-pleasant state of altered unconsciousness.


One in a series of articles on Lorne’s Sustainable Journey to the Sustainable Brands 08 Conference in Monterey CA. Click here for the full list of sessions, or here for the ‘Fear & Loathing’ road trip journals.

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