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December 1997 - Page 32

ABOVE: Consider this an Amtrak Christmas card: a parking permit complete with holiday colors.


m ent to see if the fun of taking a train, and the plea sure of avoiding Bay Area freeways busy with holiday traffic , made u p for t h e inconvenience of hauling Christmas p ackages around on p u b l i c transit and sticking to someone else's schedule. I t did. Our daughter, Megan, was thrilled by the Capitols, w hich are new, clean, bi-level, and easy to use. ("I like to have cinnamon rolls and orange j uice on the train and go on the bridges," she told me later that day. A l i felong tradition might have begun on that tri p . ) On our trip down, my wife and I used the time to plan which stores to visit, and on our return she was able to doze. Megan colored, p layed, looked out the window, and decorated Christmas cards as I wrote them at our table (the Capitols t houghtfully include dining-car l i ke seating in part of their coaches ) . We were able to talk face to face about the day we'd had, or what we were seeing outside the window. We arrived home feeling as i f we'd done some thing more with one of our few pre-Christmas days together than just fight crowds and traffic. It's the trip we're most l i kely to repeat in later years. The cross-country trip was obviously more ambitious. We p lanned i t a year in advance and saved enough money to afford a bedroom. We boarded the Zephyr i n Davis, California, pre pared to turn our bedroom into a small outpost of Christmas (careful, of course, not to harm the room ) . We put u p a couple o f cardboard decorations and had Christmas carols ready to play on a small cassette player. We even bought a string of 20 battery-pow ered Christmas lights, which we taped to the inside frame of our window and turned on after dark. We got off at Sparks, Nevada, that evening to see how they looked from the outside and thought they looked pretty special against the silver car and night sky. I n a n a n t i q u e s t o r e , m y w i fe h a d fou n d a n abridged copy of A C HRISTMAS CAROL t hat Western Pacific had given to its holi day p assengers many decades ago. We read from it each night at bedtime, with all the lights out except one, but with the cur tains open so that we could still see the winter scene outside. We looked for the Christmas decorations i n the cities and towns we passed, and got off at more than

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