Sunday, January 30

Dinner Train

Now this was a real trip, a bonifide cultural experience for this small-town-roots guy. Our company xmas party was perfectly timed for the end of January as we were bused to Oakdale, CA. This little berg only has a few thousand folks but boasts of a great rodeo, a cowboy museum, a Hershey's Chocolate tourist trap, a railroad museum of sorts (tracks go right through the middle of town), and the Sierra Railroad, which still hauls lumber in from the mountains and hosts one of the most popular and best dinner trains in the country.

A number of dining cars and lounge car take you back 60 years or so when this was a bigger part of the American travel tradition. Our car had been completely gutted to the bare metal before it was reconditioned with a somewhat art deco style. Inlaid wood paneling, cool sconces and pretty comfortable seating for a few hours.

Painfully slow and rocky, this ride featured the backyards, fields, then ranches of the locals, all set in the rolling landscape that borders the Sierra foothills. Strangely shaped mounds, green with this season's ample grasses and wildflowers (not blooming yet) and saturated with a recent rain --- these little hills ambled by. Some had lone oaks on them, but most were bare. Cattle roamed here and there. Orchards spread across acres of land. Little streams wandered back and forth and much of the flatland was still pooled from the rain.

California --- What a diverse landscape. What a more diverse history. This agricultural jewel is becoming an asphalt bungle as more and more farmland is covered by all of us who have this territorial mindset. Living above or below someone else is immoral, it seems. And creating cities on the edge of productive land is only a recent political issue. Hopefully, it won't be too little, too late.

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