Best Escape From L.A. 

The Amtrak Pacific Surfliner

Wednesday, Oct 3 2007

As the Plutons’ fireballs begin to rain down on Los Angeles, I plop into my train seat filled with a mixture of sadness at the loss of my beloved city and relief over the fact that I’m heading south to the safer environs of San Diego. See, the Plutons are concentrating their wrath on the freeways and LAX, and have neglected the train tracks. It’s no wonder: Relatively few people take the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner.*

I silently congratulate myself for getting to Union Station well ahead of departure. Even when extraterrestrials aren’t laying waste to the City of Angels, skittish passengers take forever and a day at the electronic ticket kiosk, which is mystifying — the thing is as easy to use as an ATM. Being the paranoid type, I had reserved my ticket online the night before — about $30 for a one-way to S.D. — and retrieved the ducat with an easy swipe of the old debit card and a few key punches. A sharp pang hits me when I think about the poor suckers standing in line for the ticket window. That thing is so slow, I’m sure they’re being forced onto Plutonian flying slave-galley saucers right now. (Who knew those guys would be so sensitive over losing planetary status?)

But those thoughts fade as the train smoothly embarks. I’ve secured a seat on the L.A. River side of the car, thus treating myself to a scrolling art show. Brash, monumental graffiti covers every inch of the river’s concrete banks, filling my window with Krylon colors and the kinds of techno-bop fonts graphic designers dream of. After a few minutes, the river melts away, and I’m traveling through blue-collar neighborhoods (the Surfliner affords many Angelenos the only reminder that such areas still exist here). The voyeuristic route allows me to peep in on backyards and dingy apartments.

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At the Anaheim stop, I note that Angel Stadium is still standing. (“Those little blue bastards,” I think. “Of course they’d attack Chavez Ravine first.”) After that, the train rocks me to sleep, and wakes me when we hit the terminus. When my buddy meets me at the quaint Spanish Mission station downtown, he says, “You can crash with me as long as you want. I think the aliens might have forgotten about San Diego too.”

Catch the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner at Union Station, 800 N. Alameda St., dwntwn., http://tickets.amtrak.com.

*Pluto’s generals have access to the same Amtrak and Caltrans intelligence I do: Slightly more than 317,000 people took the L.A.-to–San Diego Surfliner route last year, while an average of 237,000 people per day drive through the 5 freeway junction with the 10.

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