Caltrain to Palo Alto

Now that I’m working in Palo Alto, Caltrain is my pal. It’s three blocks to the station and three blocks to work, with a 5 minute ride in between. The train timing in the morning, though, means that I have a 5 minute window in which both trains go whooshing by; so if I don’t catch the 8:13 or the 8:18 I’m screwed for another hour. The other trains until 9:13 are express trains that skip Palo Alto! Coming back at night it’s the same.

So I’m getting intimate with the train platform and its surrounding businesses. I can go to the drugstore at Sequoia Station and buy toothpaste or whatever, blow some money on a latte, or get a bagel. What I mostly do, though, is watch people and talk with people. This morning at coffee the most amazing woman in a tight puffy pink jacket with fur trim explained the mechanics of her hairpiece to me. There’s no way to describe the hairpiece without sounding melodramatic. It swirled, cascaded, shone, and made me want to twine my hands in her luscious chestnut tresses. Seriously, that was some pornstarlicious hairpiece! I forgot to brush my own hair this morning or even look at it. The other thing I do at the station in the cold grey morning is whip out my laptop and try to get on the Pizza and Pipes free wireless (like right now.)

No matter what, at the station there are always hunky guys in uniforms doing something. Police, security guards, dudes in orange vests and hard hats with a lot of things hanging from their belts like Harriet the Spy. Then there are smug-looking guys with manicures and nice haircuts with laptops and mountain bikes. There’s a category that I think of as “ladies in nurse shoes” who look like they’re going to work in a hospital or doctor’s office, where they’ll change into scrubs. The upper class looking women clutch their sparkly beaded handbags, lips pursed, brave and resolute, as if thinking “I can’t believe I’m actually taking the train!” Safari time, ladies. Me, I might look like I’m playing hooky from the alternative high school but if you look a bit more closely you will see the analogue to the mountain bike guys: a smug-assed GenX technocrat whose laptop bag cost more than the sum total of all the clothes I’m wearing.

On a recent trip to New York I noticed an odd synchronicity of shoes and bags. On the subway, people’s shoes always perfectly matched the social class of their carrying bags. Sneakers went with backpacks. Leather shoes (whether pointy or sensible) went with leather purses or classy-looking satchelly briefcases. And one category always had fancy square-bottomed twisted canvas-handled department store shopping bags, and the other had plastic bags from the drugstore. It was eerie. Here the rules seems a bit more mixed up.

Caltrain itself is lovely. Clean, bright, quiet, roomy, with comfortable seats. The ride through Redwood City reveals the interestingly squalid back of Cosco, a lot of grey-looking auto body shops in the very sweet neighborhood on the other side of the tracks in back of Target, and then the green, green, gated and walled backyards of people in mysterious Atherton. I think really rich Ents live in Atherton. Menlo Park has apartments, apartments, then a scrubby field, then the train station.

On the way home on Friday people all over the train (I walked from end to end) were drinking beer, kicking back, and talking to strangers. Was that special Friday night mojo? Or is Caltrain in the evening always like that?

I’ll have more to say about Palo Alto later.

5 Comments so far

  1. sw (unregistered) on February 20th, 2007 @ 9:50 am

    I occasionally ride Caltrain and have witnessed the beer drinkers my self once or twice. Apparently its not as unusual as I thought! I would have thought this would be very frowned upon by the conductors but maybe theres a wink wink nudge nudge situation here that we have stumbed upon. Interesting!


  2. Mike (unregistered) on February 20th, 2007 @ 10:40 am

    With some exceptions (mostly times they expect particulary rowdy, crowded trains) drinking is allowed on Caltrain.

    It was the same with the Metra train service back around Chicago where I grew up.


  3. TinMan (unregistered) on February 20th, 2007 @ 10:45 am

    The northbound Friday afternoon cars are often like that, particularly the express trains: many of the Sillycon Valley firms still have beer busts. At least one of the express train cars is full of rowdy gays (sometimes known as the “Ethel Merman car”) and if you’re not up to hearing raunchy conversations, it’s better to move to a different car (or put on the headphones).

    During the heady days preceding Dot-Bomb 1.0, local MSM would occasionally send out a TV crew to capture the shenanigans (e.g., pizza delivery at one of the stations).

    Unlike BART, Caltrain does not prohibit the consumption of food or beverages onboard, so you see lots of folks eating and drinking (including trains to football games, baseball games, hockey matches, etc.).


  4. TinMan (unregistered) on February 20th, 2007 @ 10:47 am

    I really wish BART would do away with the carpet. It’s always has a rather funky smell and the stains are unsightly. I try not to think about what caused those carpet spots. (shudders)


  5. moloko0velocet (unregistered) on February 20th, 2007 @ 11:24 am

    Liz, you’re missing out, expensive bags are so 2006.

    My new favorites:

    $15 army surplus messenger bag (for 15.4″ laptop)
    $18 army surplus M51 engineer bag (awesome but doesn’t fit a macbook pro, smaller should be ok)

    I am so done with computer bags and trendy messenger bags that fixie drivers use.



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