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From the desk of Dora DePaoli: The best kept secret

October 26, 2001

I recently had a delightful, relaxing trip to Orange County to visit kids and grandkids. The reason for all this joy was AMTRAK, the best kept secret in transportation. After boarding the train at the beautiful Santa Fe Station in San Diego, I sat back and enjoyed the view. Much different from when I drive the dreaded 405 Freeway, I look forward to a longer trip on AMTRAK.

We passed through canyons and wetlands, and rode the rails next to the beautiful Pacific Ocean. For just a few dollars more I upgraded my coach seat to business class. This included snacks, spacious seats with acres of leg room, a footrest, and slide-out tray. Passengers interested in working on laptops had a power source available at each seat.

On my way to Orange County, I met an attractive widow named Rose. She was on her way to a wedding in Irvine. Nineteen-year-old Jodi was my seat mate on the return trip. A student at the University of San Diego, she was quite a contrast to Rose. Rose was an ultra feminine, beautifully coifed, stylish-looking woman covered with jewelry. Jodi, in sweats and New Balance running shoes, was into fitness and health foods. A former national kayak champion, she enjoys being dropped in the Canadian wilds and kayaking for a month at a time with friends. I learned that her father, an instructor at the Air Force Academy, regularly took her into the woods for survival camping trips.

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The two women couldn't have been more opposite. After meeting them, I was reminded of a book I used to read to my children. It was about different kinds of cats. Rose was definitely a "cushion and cream cat," while Jodi possessed all the resourcefulness of an "alley cat."

Besides being with family, the highlight of my trip was a church-sponsored scavenger hunt on Saturday night. The hunt was the result of three months of planning by the committee. Instructions for the hunt took about 20 minutes. As the hundred or so people left in groups of four and five, the competitive juices were flowing. Several cars headed out of the parking lot with tires squealing, ours included.

Armed with a large numbered map of Huntington Beach and Fountain Valley, a Bible, cell phone and flashlights, and a box of clues, we headed off into the unknown to look for things that were "out of the ordinary." Our stops during the night included a Starbuck's Coffee shop where the clue was on the bottom of a coffee cup. Other stops included Mile Square Park in Fountain Valley, the cheese department of a Von's Market, a jewelry store, a Methodist Church and a Mexican restaurant with the clue on the bottom of a plate of chips. Loud barking from a large-sounding dog discouraged us from approaching a private residence on our list.

Although police in the two cities had been notified of the scavenger hunt, we were eyed suspiciously by some patrolmen a couple of times. One concerned motorist stopped to ask if we were rescuing kittens from the shrubbery. The only clue I helped with was at a kitchen and bathroom appliance store. The huge jack-'o-lantern sitting on a shiny toilet seemed out of place. One of our group cleverly came up with the scripture from Rev. 20:11, "Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it …" Turns out our next clue was found on the map at number 2011. Our final instructions included directions to a pizza shop.

All hunting was to end at 10 p.m. A team of experienced scavenger hunt participants took first place. We were just happy not to be in last place. I can't believe I slept like a baby that night after stuffing myself with pizza at 11 o'clock.

For some reason there was a poor turnout at church the next day. A member of the congregation suggested some of the participants were still out looking for clues.

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