State Fair 1998 Trip Report

By Dave Schultheis

Once again, AMTRAK reservations people didn't know how to write tickets for our trip until just a couple weeks before we left, and they failed to ask if we'd like to take advantage of a AAA discount, but all of us managed to have a wonderful time in spite of having to make repeated visits to the ticket counter.

Five people made it to the depot on time for the 6:20 a.m. departure: Dave L., Glenn, Al, Dave C. and Dave S.

AMTRAK's Capitol Train # 722 left the San Jose Cahill Diridon Depot right on time. We headed for breakfast in the lounge car before we even reached the Santa Clara/Great America stop. I was more alert than last time and managed to point out the abandoned community of Drawbridge, between Alviso and Fremont. We noted that while the Fremont/Centerville station has new pavement, striping and lighting, the depot building is still vacant and several sprinkler heads were broken, flooding the parking lot.

We picked up more passengers during stops at Hayward, Oakland/Jack London Square, Emeryville, Berkeley, Richmond, Martinez, Suisun/Fairfield and Davis. There were many kids on the train, including some large groups of ... shall we say ... annoying brats.

The conductor was good about explaining a brief delay while we waited for another passenger train to pass.

We arrived at the Sacramento depot several minutes early. There was even more consternation this year since there was a large group to go to the Fair and no buses marked with the correct route number. No AMTRAK staff person was there to tell anybody where to go. And when they were asked, the didn't seem to know or care what was going to happen, so we tried to wait as patiently as we could.

I should note that the men's room at the Sacramento Depot has been completely rebuilt and modernized, no doubt "for your traveling convenience."

Soon it became clear that at least two of the buses would be pressed into service to take people to the Fair and then on to their normal destinations.

We arrived at the Cal Expo main gate shortly after opening time and made it through the turnstiles with a minimum of delay (but lots of beeping - every ticket machine beeps every time a ticket is scanned - how annoying). As usual, your host escorted everyone on board the State Fair monorail to get the overview of the fairgrounds. We then split into groups and agreed to meet at the exit gate by 4:40 p.m.

The fairgrounds looked pretty much the same as last year, although I know they made a few minor changes here and there. There were plenty of wonderful "County" exhibits but of course, we never found Santa Clara County.

I had a bowl of rice and chicken for lunch and I thought I'd never finish it. I had to keep walking to "make room." I managed to stay away from cotton candy, taffy, ten-pound buns and all the other stuff that's fun to eat.

I enjoyed the University of California at Davis display of sows about to farrow and cows about to calve. One poor old girl had been in labor for 48 hours and finally had her bull calf at mid-morning in a pen surrounded by bleacher seats. You wouldn't think city folks would be interested in farm stuff, but we were.

Although it was * hot * in Sacramento, and there were water rides available, some of the water in the main canal had been drained to make room for a series of skateboard ramps. The lack of water made it seem warmer, but the large fountain surrounded by all 58 county flags was always full of kids and young people cooling off.

I stopped at the DMV booth to see what was exciting but there was nothing new. Oh, there were people looking up personal plates, but that was about it. As in past years, I got my glasses cleaned for free and didn't win anything at the Cal-Neva Club's free slot-machine "pull." And again, the commercial "exhibits" were full of amplified voices hawking products that slice, dice, chop, clean, etc. People wanted to clean your tennis shoes. Machines were available to smash your pennies, but it cost 50˘ to do it.

I enjoyed walking through "Waterworld USA Sacramento," totally inside the Exposition grounds. For about $9 per person, you can spend the day splashing about on various structures and waterways. One is specifically for very small fry, others for small-to-medium kids and then the huge slides that reach way up in the sky! There's a long canal where the whole family can ride inner tubes with the gentle current. And of course, the famous fake beach makes a lot of people happy.

The Parnell Family was there from Auburn (just down the road a few miles) with their Clydesdale horses. I managed to get there in time to see them hitch up and pull the big blue wagon full of Maxwell House coffee cans into the arena to a lot of applause.

Everybody made it to the Exit on time and we waited for the bus, but it was late. The large group of inconsiderate children pushed everyone aside to climb aboard and it didn't look like there would be enough room. Since AMTRAK knew how many people they had taken to the Fair, they wisely had arranged for another bus to take us back, so I made the executive decision that we would wait for the next one. There were some tense moments as time ticked away, but the bus did arrive and did get us to the depot with just a few minutes to spare.

The train left at 5:46 p.m., just one minute late, but then stopped again for some totally confused person who stumbled across the tracks waving her arms. The lounge car attendant was ready to begin service immediately and I was very happy to find out that they had indeed stocked the car with plenty of stuff for a large crowd. Personal-sized pizzas, cold drinks and other snacks were much in evidence as people settled in for the ride home.

The return trip was just fine, although we lost a little time here and there, including having to take a siding again to let the Coast Starlight (about an hour and a half late) go by the other way.

The train arrived at the San Jose depot at 9:19 p.m., only four minutes late, and everyone made it safely to our cars in the parking lot for the drive home.

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See you next year!

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Report posted on August 28, 1998. Last updated at 16:50 PST on March 13, 1999.
David W. Schultheis, San José, Silicon Valley, Santa Clara County, California, USA