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California, Denver, and back

I caught my first train early Friday morning in Ann Arbor; it arrived on time in Chicago, where I found power and network and hung out for a while until it was time to catch the Southwest Chief to LA. There was about an hour delay leaving Chicago, but it made up the time overnight, and it was on time or early for the rest of the trip.

The trip across the country was nice. I'm not much of a scenery watcher, but the mountain crossing was dramatic. I passed the time reading magazines (I like to stockpile New Yorkers and National Geographics for travel, discarding them as I go), writing patches (mainly some cleanup of our nfs lock manager code), and watching some Buffy episodes dubbed in French. Like most of the Superliners Amtrak uses on their long-distance routes (but unlike the trains on the local route to Chicago), there are only 2 or 3 outlets, all in the café/observation car. So when my laptop's running low I camp out in the observation car in the one seat from which a power cable can reach an outlet without crossing the aisle and creating an obvious tripping hazard.

I got breakfast Saturday and Sunday morning in the dining car--it's a little overpriced, but pretty good--and ate the rest of the time from the café car. The food there isn't much more than what you'd get out of a high-end vending machine, but they have a few things I like.

Sunday we arrived in LA. Their train station is (like Chicago's, unlike Ann Arbor's) an interesting relic of a time when train travel was a much bigger deal. After a couple hours sitting in their awesome waiting room, it was time to board the Coast Starlight to San José. Another trip with big scenery: at times the train seems about to fall into the ocean. We got to San José on time, after dark, and I walked to my hotel. (One of the cool things about train stations is that they're almost always right downtown, so it's quite common to be able to walk out on either end.) I was pretty tired at this point, and as I had some vague idea that my reservation was at the same hotel as last year, I didn't learn my mistake until the receptionist caught sight of my handwritten note with the reservation information. She sent me on my way with a helpful map to my real hotel (just a couple blocks away), and after a few more formalities I got to take a dearly needed shower. Next time I do this maybe I should book one night in a sleeper if only to get access to the showers.

The Linux storage and filesystem summit started the next day, Monday. It went OK--I had some useful conversations, and got to meet some people I'd previously only emailed or known by name. I was very poorly prepared for my talk Tuesday. I'm not sure if it really mattered much--we got to talk about what we needed to, I think--but I was a little embarassed.

I once again had less patience for FAST; it's partly a deficiency on my part, but I find slide-driven presentations to big groups a really hard way to learn anything. So I went to a few presentations, but mostly sat outside and hacked and talked to Linux folks, which was way more fun.

Friday night I had a pleasant dinner with recent citi graduate Dean and his wife, and got to see their baby, still much too new to interact with.

Saturday morning I took Caltrain to San Francisco. I really didn't feel like doing anything more than just sitting around, eating a little, and maybe catching up on some email, but I was assuming it would be a simple matter to just walk until I found some pleasant place to sit with easy access to food, power, and some kind of decent network. That didn't really work out--I spent entirely too much time just wandering around aimlessly.

So I eventually just hopped on the BART to my next destination, Berkeley, where I planned to meet Marc, who I was staying with that night. Marc has these periods of a couple times a year where he has access to whatever expensive equipment his experiments depend on, and he and his collaborators seem to work till they drop every day for a couple weeks at a time. As he was in the middle of one of these big experimental binges, I wasn't sure whether I'd get to see much of him at all; but he managed to take a quick break for a nice meal of Dosas a few blocks from the train station before handing me some keys and directions to his apartment. I was still up when he came stumbling in from work around 11 or midnight, so we talked for a while before I went to bed.

The next morning I left while it was still dark and caught a bus for the Emeryville Amtrak station, where I caught the California Zephyr. Also a nice trip, with some impressive scenery, but it ran into some delays and arrived a couple hours late into Denver. My parents were there waiting, and drove me up to the place they're house-sitting in Boulder. The next morning we drove back down to Denver to pick up Sara, arriving on the train from Chicago. It was also late, but the estimate they had online was accurate enough that we were able to show up just a few minutes before she arrived.

Sara and I both had low-grade colds, so I wasn't sure how the visit in general, and the skiing in particular, was going to work out. But it was OK. Wednesday and Friday we went up to the nearby Eldora ski resort and puttered around on their easiest cross-country trails. I was in better shape than I expected.

I enjoy the slightly-out-of-control downhill bits more than the climbing, so next time I do something like this maybe I should go over to the dark side and just try downhill. Though I would probably be just as bad at it as the last time I tried that, some 20 years ago.

We also visited the local public library (a really neat building), toured the Celestial Seasonings factory, saw about half of the 1999 film "Temps Retrouvé" (very confusing, but possibly worth another try some day), and ate plenty of good food (the food at Boulder's Dushanbe Tea House, in particular, was fantastic).

On the way to catch the California Zephyr back to Chicago, we had just enough time to stop by REI's impressive Denver flagship store for me to pick up some new shoes (exactly the same model and size as the shoes I picked up at an REI in Tempe just over a year ago, and the only shoes I've been wearing for that time).

The train arrived on time, and we had a (second!) late dinner in the dining car before going to sleep in our roomette--we decided we should try a sleeper for once. The roomettes are tiny--just enough room for two seats, facing each other, which convert into a bed at night (a second bunk swivels down from above). It was comfortable enough, but I had trouble sleeping anyway. And it's awkward climbing in and out if you need to use the bathroom at night. But I might do it again if only for the access to a shower.

The roomette fare included dining car meals for both of us, so we also had a big breakfast and lunch the next day. The food wasn't anything out of the ordinary, but I enjoyed it all. (The service seemed a little odd; the person who brought me my order of polenta seemed to regard it as a great novelty. But the polenta turned out to be pretty good, so who cares?)

Our train was late coming into Chicago Sunday afternoon, partly I think thanks to the fact that their schedule, bizarrely, doesn't seem to take into account daylight savings time. But we caught the train to Ann Arbor with time to spare. It was crowded, mainly with college students, and again arrived a little late (mainly due to having to stop to transfer a patient to an ambulance--no idea why). Our apartment is a reasonable walk from the train station, but it was after midnight, we were tired, and we had some luggage to carry, so we splurged on six dollars for a taxi.

By this morning, unfortunately, I seemed to have developed a full-blown cold, so my first day at work was spent in sort of a pleasant haze. Hopefully I'll be able to get some real work done tommorow.