trip starts dreamy, then turns ugly
By JOHN M. DERBY
November 30, 2017
Many family members will be traveling on Amtrak this holiday
season, and we wanted to take a trip on the train system
in our valley to see what it was like.
We had never traveled from Southern California to Merced
before, and we were interested about what kind of advances
had been made.
A bus stopped to pick us up in San Bernardino, but there
was no station just a sign which was posted outside the
train station. The Amtrak bus driver was very courteous
and helped us with getting our luggage into the storage
area under the bus and then finding a seat.
No tickets were taken at this location and we were told
that the tickets would be obtained in Bakersfield. The driver
wanted our drivers license or other form of ID just to make
sure we purchased a ticket when we arrived.
It was a pleasant drive through a dozen different towns
which took over six hours.
We arrived in Bakersfield at 6 p.m. and transferred to the
train which was waiting for us at the station. Our tickets
were traded for our licenses or other ID and we climbed
the narrow stairs to the observation car where there were
plenty of seats.
All the cars seemed brand new and had cell phone recharging
devices as well as electric plugs so a person could use
their computer. Tickets were placed over each seat showing
where the occupant was to get off.
Then the train started and we were amazed at how smooth
the ride was. We barely felt it was moving at all as the
train picked up speed. We were mentally writing what we
felt would be a wonderful story about Amtrak and the service
it provided for Californians.
We are still uncertain if High Speed Rail is the answer
for California. Medium speed with greater frequency is probably
the answer. But high speed has been approved and funded
so that is what we get, like it or not.
We watched the stations pass, and towns we knew very well
— Visalia, Fresno, and next Merced. We were excited
and the ride had been perfect.
As we got close to our station. The conductor announced
that we should be ready to get off the train. He repeated
his announcement several times.
However when we arrived at the Merced station, we were not
the only ones to get off, and we had several pieces of luggage
and a guitar. The stairs were narrow, and my brother and
I were over 80 years old, and had both served in Korea.
When we started last of all, to carry our luggage down the
narrow staircase, the conductor said: “How come your
luggage is still up stairs, didn’t you hear me call
to have it ready to get off?”
We said we did, however, we are over 80 and this was a very
narrow staircase. We had several pieces of luggage.
He was insistent, and when we tried to return to get the
rest of our luggage and guitar, he barred the staircase
and said it was too late. Not only that, he pulled up the
stairs so we had to jump off the train, and he said, “I
have a lot of 80-year-olds on my train and they have no
Everything we might have thought about Amtrak vanished,
and now we were in a combat mode. We have dealt with people
like this in all parts of the world, and they have no business
in being in the service industry, specially not working
All the benefits of Amtrak and their service to this valley
were erased in one shot as we broke his hold on the staircase,
went back up and got the rest of our luggage and our guitar,
and jumped off the train.
Merced’s train station was lit but there were not
a lot of people around as we called for a taxi.
We both stood waiting with all our luggage, not knowing
what to expect. A young couple asked for a cigarette but
not being a smoker, we had none.
Then one of them asked to see my guitar, saying he played
a little. We always want to encourage young people to play,
so I started to show him my guitar.
Meanwhile, his partner grabbed a couple of pieces of my
luggage, and made off with them. When I turned around, they
both were running away.
The taxi arrived and we told them the story, and the woman
seated beside the taxi cab driver said she had just been
robbed too. She had come in by train, and her computer was
We called the police, and they took a report but said nothing
could be done that night.
We told the taxi to drive around the area, and we asked
some people standing by a store on K Street if they had
seen anyone running off with luggage. They said they had,
and pointed in the direction of Bear Creek.
The cab dropped us off at our house and we insisted on getting
in our car and checking the usual sports for homeless.
The first spot we checked, under Bear Creek Bridge, was
where we found them.
The young man wanted to fight, but his woman wanted to run
In the end, they threw our luggage at us and made off in
the dark. We noted as the young man ran, that he had a computer
under his left arm.
The experience was enough to make us wonder if we wanted
to chance having our relatives take the Amtrak to our own