For my money, the best view on any train ride in the Western US is the view from an Amtrak Surfrider (or MetroLink/Oceanside) train between Orange County and Oceanside, when the train runs RIGHT next to the beach. I will say the sunrise view of the Cascades on a snowy morning from the Coast Starlight (along the Natron Cutoff/Pegra Pass) is a very close second.
My friend Neal, when informed of my transportation plan for today, pronounced my dedication to mass transit "quaint." But the simple fact of the matter is, I hate driving, but I like seeing JF, a former colleague from my Windows Magazine days, who achieved a trifecta in his career; he worked for Ziff, CMP, and IDC. He now lives in Escondido.
How do you get to Escondido from Venice if you don't like driving? Well, this is America, so, of course, you have to start by driving. You drive over to 2nd and Broadway at 5:45 am to catch the 6:25 No. 10 Big Blue Bus, an express bus to the LA Union Station. You arrive at 7:10 to catch the 7:25 Amtrak Surfliner to Oceanside. Unless one of the three ticket machines is out of order, one is taking cash only, and there are 10 people in line for the third. In that case, you catch the 8am Metrolink to Oceanside. Takes longer, but still pretty comfortable. Then, the 10:33 Sprinter to Escondido, where JF picks you up. Reverse the process (and add the Red line and the Expo line instead of the Big Blue Bus) and you end up in Culver City for dinner with NV. Door to door, Venice to Culver City is 13 hours in motion for a 3-hour visit, but some people are worth it. JF is a force of nature, a fascinating blogger, and one of the most dynamic human beings I have ever known. He has met my daughters once or twice, and both retain vivid memories of him. He leaned over my daughter, at a "bring your daiugters to work" day, and said simply, "Question Authority."
JF was very calm about my late arrival. As we have for the last few years, we went to a Vietnamese place; he had the noodles, I had the chicken wrap. We talked about his health problems and mine, exchanged news of our daughters, and skipped politics since we know we agree with each other on most things. I met his two new dogs, spent some time in his back yard, toured the house and whiled away a lovely hour exchanging stories of the people we knew when we were both reporters in the computer business.
The trip back to LA was uneventful.
Neal Vitale, arts editor when I was editor-in-chief of The Tech, now lives in LA and is a wheel in the media business. He also says he doesn't care if I use his real name. We have dined at Chez Panisse several times, and we both enjoy a good meal. So it came as no surprise to me that Lukshon, the Korean-American restaurant he took me to was amazing. Spicy? Oh My Yes! But delicious, especially the black rice, the chicken pops and the mango pudding. Actually it was all good, the Tea Leaf Salad and the ceviche-like fish dish with coconut powder and the incredibly spicy szechuan noodles, and the spicy pork dumplings. Really, except for the mango salad, just assume the adjective spicy applies to all the dishes. Except the pink champagne. The food is all small plates and family style. Neal tells me the chef is quite strict; if you hold an event there, you must use his wine; you cannot bring in your own. No substitutions. If you can't eat it his way, don't order it. And best of all? Just two blocks from the Culver City stop on the Expo Line. Which, by next year, will no longer be the end of the line!