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Fromthe Desk of Dora DePaoli: Trying to ride the rails not always easy

May 28, 2002

Recently I was again looking forward to a leisurely trip on Amtrak from San Diego to Orange County to visit my kids and grandkids. As I was tooling up the grade I was so thankful to have a dependable, cool car, even with 86,000 miles on it. The thought had barely left my mind when the steering became sluggish. A couple of dashlights came on and I knew I needed to take the Campo/Boulevard off ramp.

My faithful little van coasted to a stop right under the shady overpass while steam came pouring out from under the hood. The Rev. Mike Myrick of El Centro was in the second car to go by. He quickly assessed the situation — a broken fan belt.

I hopped into the car with his mother while Mike steered the van the half-mile to Benny's Garage in Boulevard. There a bearded, long-haired man in a mechanic's uniform sat eating his lunch. Benny, the owner of the garage, was "in town" for the day, so Gary helped me. After allowing the car to cool dow, Gary replaced three belts and started filling the radiator. The water ran out the bottom as fast as he poured it in.


At this point I decided to have the car towed to El Centro Radiator. I was so glad to have AAA Plus, which pays for towing up to 100 miles. All is well that ends well. I now have a new radiator and am good to go. It was news to me to learn many of the radiators are made of plastic these days.

On my last trip on Amtrak from Orange County to San Diego we had a two-and-a-half-hour delay in San Juan Capistrano.

Passengers weren't given a whole lot of information about the problem. We were frequently told there would be about a "20-minute delay," so we couldn't leave the platform area to explore the picturesque town. When Amtrak works it is a grand way to travel, but Amtrak needs help. In the last 20 years federal highway spending has more than doubled, aviation spending has more than tripled and Amtrak funding has been cut in half.

My delay in getting to San Diego caused a bit of excitement. I finally got there at 6 p.m. The friend who was to pick me up thought she had spotted me on the platform, and then I disappeared. Since she didn't have the phone numbers of any of my children she called my relatives in Holtville. One called my daughter Mary and said, "your mother is lost." After repeated calls my kids were on the verge of calling the San Diego County Sheriff's Department. Three of my kids were most upset with me for not letting them know about the train delay. They thought I might have had some type of medical emergency.

When I think of all the times I waited up for them during their teen years I don't feel too guilty.

A former classmate had a similar experience when her children didn't know where she was. She had awakened early one morning and decided to visit Wal-Mart. When one of her sons came by at 6 a.m. and found his mother gone he was upset because she hadn't left a note. She, too, was chastised by her children. Like me, she didn't feel too bad about it.

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