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America, August 25, 2007

California's Capitol Corridor Commuter Connection

A Califronia tranist foamer's Saturday dream vacation

CalTrain in Santa Clara
Buy your CalTrain tickets first
CalTrain in Santa Clara
All Aboard CalTrain
Muni in San Francisco
All Aboard MUNI
Amtrak in Richmond
All Aboard Amtrak
Wayan in Sacramento
My gracious hosts, Tiff & Tom
Wayan in Sacramento
My prize finish
After a week of the Global Social Benefit Incubator, I needed a break. I needed an escape from thinking about sustainable international development and San Francisco called my name. Even better, the Bay Area is served by a great rail network, perfect for my transit foamer fetish.

First up, I called Kristin and Mark, the dynamic duo behind Inveneo and asked them for a lunch date. Ever the gracious hosts, they agreed to meet me at the 22nd Street Station in San Francisco, a short hop north of Santa Clara on the convenient CalTrain that stops at the Santa Clara University front door.

After a relaxing six mile run (and a shower) I bought my $7.50 train ticket and settled in for a wait at the Santa Clara train station. A wait entertained with model railroads and a very interesting but annoyingly noncommercial train museum complete with model trains but no postcards or other purchasable train memorabilia.

Once the Caltrain came, I was pleasantly surprised with my transit accommodations. This was no Maryland Area Regional Commuter, for it was much nicer than MARC. Each double-decker seat was very snooze worthy, much more than MARC.

Though I will admit that MARC is about 2x times as fast as Caltrain between stations, which started to matter when we stopped at every suburb between Santa Clara and San Francisco to pick up or drop off a few plebeians. Still, it's better than driving Highway 101 up the coast.

Once I met Kristin and Mark it was time for a quick lunch at Piccino Café. Quick because on the CalTrain to meet them, I got a call from Tom and Tiff, the duo behind Metroblogging DC who invited me to a baseball game. In Sacramento!

Ever the guy up for adventure, I instantly agreed and planned a 5pm rendezvous at the Davis train station, which required me getting the 3:45pm Capitol Corridor train at Richmond station.

Before all that, I had my great lunch with Mark and Kristin, chatting about all things technology in development, including my current favorite topic, the "$100 laptop". Then it was a quick ride to downtown San Francisco so Mark could work and I could catch the MUNI to Richmond station.

On my second rail transport system of the day, I took a moment to enjoy the people that populate a city's mass transit. Random strangers all, they took the close confines and the mind-bending trip under the bay in stride. Imagine trying to explain the scene to the original 49ers!

I could only imagine two things while on BART. One was my 3pm train leaving without me, as I was now running late, even with a run to the Bay Area Rapid Transit train I was on. The second was a bathroom as the beers for lunch were now pressure in my bladder.

Once the BART train arrived in Richmond, my mad dash to the Amtrak station was lengthened when I learned my ticket should've been $3.80 not $3.50 like I was told. On finally arriving at the Amtrak station, I dashed for the only empty door on a train already rolling out of the station. Luckily, the conductor told me this wasn't my train, that one was headed south, not north.

That's when I realized there were a few people standing around on the platform - my 3:45pm train was running late, and I could relax. Well except for my need of a toilet. Just before I went cross-eyed, because I dared not leave the platform, the Capital Corridor train headed to Sacramento pulled up and took me north.

Now this Amtrak train was nice. Maybe not Acela Express nice, but one of the better trains I've ridden in America. What it may have lacked in design, it made up with in scenery. Out the windows a nation of industry and nature passed by.

From oil refineries, to ghost fleets, to the beautiful Sacramento River watershed, I was in open-mouthed awe the entire train ride. I didn't sleep or read, my usual train-ride pursuits, I just looked out the window for 90 minutes of golden California beauty.

Quickly enough, I arrived at Davis, and Tom, Tiff, and I were headed to an evening of AAA league baseball action. It was the Sacramento River Cats vs. the Fresno Grizzlies, and both teams are in the race for the Pacific Coast League's Pacific Southern Division pennant.

The game was a nail-biter, with Fresno in the lead but Sac-town coming on strong. Balls were pitched, bats were swung, and runs were scored. Amidst all this chaos, a ball flew into the stands and one lucky and quick fan grabbed himself a baseball - his first catch in many years. Also caught were good times with great people, including Tom's parents and the kind citizens of central California.

An all-American finish to a glorious capitol corridor connection made possible through the beauty and functionality of California's railroads.

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