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Boo Hoo Me

I spent a pleasant hour on Sunday writing up my experiences on the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad, along with a variety of other edits to my column for this week. I am a careful saver; I had saved the file numerous times. So imagine my surprise when I opened my computer Monday morning to find the file gone. Kaput. No trace. I downloaded an "erased file finder," but it was to no avail.

I haven't had this problem in years. I mean, I have been computing long enough to remember having this problem in 1975(!) when I worked for UPI. All our files were kept on a single Sperry mainframe in New York City (as opposed to AP which  has one DEC minicomputer in each regional bureau and one in New York for national and international). We had 9600 baud modem connections(!), but the terminals, and the lines, and the host all crapped out on a regular basis. Not to mention the fact that if you spilled coffee with sugar (not black coffee, mind you, but coffee with sugar) on the keyboard, the terminal would freeze. We kept a hair dryer in the newsroom to dry out the keyboards, but shouts and screams were a regular occurrence as minutes, if not hours, of work (sometimes notes that were irreplaceable) was lost. So, we got in the habit of saving after every paragraph.  Which, of course, dragged the system down with excess traffic. Gradually, over the years, things have gotten better, through my Exidy Sorcerer, my CP/M computers and my Windows computers. I have still had to go chasing a deleted file now and then over the years, but it's now an annual rather than a monthly task.

So I was lulled into a sense of  complacency that will take a while to shake, at least on the portable I am working on now. For example, I have saved this file, several times, under several different names, in the 10 minutes since I started working on it, and will check to make sure the copies are good before I attempt to quickly recreate the carefully wrought and crafted story of my train ride along the Oregon Coast.

Whenever this happens to me or someone I know, I remember the story of Garrison Keilloirs Great American Novel, left by accident in the bathroom at the Portland, Oregon Union Station and never recovered. I can tell from the way he writes about it that he is quite sure he can never recreate it.

I will admit, it does make me feel 23 again, to be starting from scratch to recreate a work I felt I had finished. So, as I said in the title, boo-hoo me. If the next item sounds like it was written by someone who was trying to dredge up the memory of the same thing, already written once, you now know why.

Dinner Train Background

(For some crazy reason, a Google search for the dinner train comes here, instead of the main article. Sometimes the Google algorithm makes me crazy).

I grew up in Portland, Oregon, 50 miles from the sea and 50 miles from the mountains. People from Portland generally went to Seaside on the coast; people from Salem and Eugene tended to go to Tillamook and Rockaway Beach. Grants Pass and Ashland folks went to Coos Bay.

Thus, my dad's family were Seaside people. Although they could have taken the train to Seaside as late as 1952, they always drove. They were solidly middle-class and owned a car; trains, at least on rides of less than a few hours, were for people who couldn't afford a reliable auto. For some reason, Mom's family went for Rockaway Beach, a town where passenger train service stopped in 1932.

I always think of her, and Nana and Grampa, when I drive through Rockaway Beach, which I do with some regularity on my way from Lincoln City to Manzanita, usually during the week between Christmas and New Year's. Although there has been a lot of gentrification, it is still recognizable the cute little beach town it was in the 1940s.

As a rail fan, I have often looked wistfully at the tracks, which run for miles within sight of U.S. 101, and wondered what it would be like to ride a passenger train down them. Last winter, I noticed a sign for the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad. I looked it up on the Internet, and discovered its runs are mostly in the summer and fall. Two times it reliably does not run are spring break and the week between Christmas and New Years, which are the only times I am in Oregon. If I was going to ride this road, I'd have to make a special trip. Last week, I made the special trip.

Sunset Dinner Train, Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad

( Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad Sunset Dinner Train Pictures)

For $30, the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad will take you on a beautiful and unforgettable three-hour trip from Garibaldi, Oregon, just north of Tillamook, to Wheeler, Oregon, in the middle of nowhere, along some of the most beautiful coast scenery in the state. Like the Amtrak Surfliner from LA to San Diego, there are stretches when the tracks are right next to the beach, giving you a view you'll never get from a car. That is especially true because the train is limited to running at 10 miles an hour. When you are doing 10 MPH in your car, you're not generally in a mood to enjoy the scenery.

You pass marshes, forests, what passes for industrial areas along the Oregon coast, bays, inlets, ponds full of water lilys, and crowds of people along the side of the track waving and taking pictures. Be ready to wave. The trains only run a few times a month, so it is still a novelty, rather than an annoyance, to residents. And since it is summertime at the coast, a lot of the crowds are, no doubt, tourists.

I did a lot of research in advance to learn about this stretch of track, once owned by the Southern Pacific and the Port of Tillamook Bay. If you are a railfan like me, you can look up the details yourself. Suffice it to say it is now a tourist railroad, run by volunteers with big hopes for extending the ride, and a very small chance of extending it all the way to Hillsboro (near Portland), where it once terminated, before fierce winter storms knocked out bridges and track.

There were 57 of us on the July 27 train. The Garibaldi station is really just a bus shelter (there's a shack that was once the train station, but it is closed up). If you're at the right address, you're at the right place. The Lions' Club park is right next door. We were loaded quickly by the affable, knowledgeable and pleasant crew. There are tables on both sides of the train, and seats are pre-assigned. The crowd this night was small enough that we all got oceanside seats. The train simply reverses direction at the end of the line, so you are facing the view in both directions. The car we were on, the Explorer, can seat about 120. It was fortunate there were empty seats. Although the fog eventually rolled in (you don't see many sunsets on the Oregon Coast), until it did the sun was hot, and the windows have no shades. We retreated a few times to the empty table on the far side of the car to cool off. I say we, because my older daughter joined me on this excursion.

The appetizer was sausage and crackers, Tillamook cheese (of course) and salmon dip. The catering manger, who prepares the food and loads it onto the train, rolls down the aisle with great Oregon wines for $6 a glass (water and soft drinks are free). The service is leisurely, so the meal fills nearly the entire trip. A salad came next, followed by our entree, which was prime rib (salmon was also available). The food was not amazing, but the ride is not about the food. It wasn't perfect, but it was perfectly good. The dessert (Tillamook Ice Cream), was particularly enjoyable. We both chose Udderly Chocolate, a mix of chocolate, vanilla and chocolate chips.

The trip itself was perfect. Three hours of watching some of the most beautiful scenery in God's creation roll by our large,  well-cleaned window was the real pleasure. The right of way was well maintained; we swayed a little, but not much. I love a train ride which is, in part, hemmed in on both sides by lush vegetation, as this ride is hemmed in  for a fair portion of its length. You return to Garibaldi at about 9pm. And you're really nice to the conductor, you may get to blow the horn (two longs, a short and a long). I have been listening to trains for 50 years, and had never noticed there was a pattern to the whistle blown at grade crossings. You learn something new every day if you are paying attention.

Deceptive Practice

3.5 stars out of 5
A documentary look at the life of magician Ricky Jay and his mentors. It ends up being an in-depth look at a complicated figure we've all been watching on television and in films for more than 30 years--and whom a luck few of you (not me) got to see on Broadway. His tricks are amazing, his life has clearly been tumultuous, and while he's described as cranky and irascible, maybe you would be too if you  practiced eight hours a day. A must-see if you're interested in close-up magic, or the history of magic in the 20th century. As a piece of art, it ain't much, but as a piece of history, it is interesting.

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World War Z

3.5 stars out of 5
Sorry. I promised this review in last week's journal of my trip to LA, the forgot to actually deliver it.

Mel Brooks' son Max. A successful book. Brad Pitt. What could go wrong? Well, something apparently. This is a perfectly pleasant zombie movie, competently executed to the point that it had me, by turns, scared, gasping with surprise, and rooting for the good guys. It was a perfect piece of Hollywood manipulation, but the third act was a joke, and I felt no emotional resonance. By comparison, Independence Day  was War and Peace, by which I mean  it is possible to have plot as well as spectacle. I ended up caring about Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith. I never cared about Pitt. So, I ended up thinking the film was pretty good, not great. It hit all the right buttons, and with the exception of being at least a half-hour too long (if not an hour too long), it was competently put together. As a rule, I don't go to see zombie movies. I am not sorry I went to see this one, but I am not going to the sequel, if there is one. The CGI in the zombie crowd scenes is, as reported everywhere else on earth, amazing. Fast zombies are scarier than regular zombies.


3 stars out of 5
Cute animation. Nice voice work by Ryan Reynolds and Paul Giamatti and an all-star voice cast. But the plot--a turbo-charged snail running the Indy 500--strains credulity, even for a kids' film. OK, not awful, but not worth a lot of discussion.