Sacramento Dreaming


The kids are with Erin and their grandparents, camping among the sequoias in Kings Canyon east of Fresno. I’m not.

A few weeks ago, when we were planning this California vacation, Erin broached the idea of going out to the Sequoia National Park with Wendell and Judy and the kids camping overnight. She immediately said, “You don’t have to.”

Immediately, mind. She didn’t wait for me to protest, or see the look of horror spread across my face. She assumed, even before she broached the subject, that I would hate camping and be miserable.

Truth to tell, while she is right that camping is not the first thing I would think of when it comes to doing things while on vacation (where are the hotel beds?), I don’t think I would have hated it… Disliked it, maybe. Been a trooper about it…

But excusing me from camping did give me an opportunity to do something that Erin and the kids… well, probably would not have hated, but would certainly have had a lot less fun with than me had they tagged along: take Amtrak to Sacramento and ride its LRT.

Actually, just as I suspect I may have had more fun camping than the people in my family suspect, Erin and the kids might have been pleasantly surprised by Sacramento. Though, to be fair, I haven’t ridden the LRT yet.

Sacramento is also the home of the California State Railroad Museum. Sacramento has a long history with the railways, as it was part of the famous Central Pacific, which paired with the Union Pacific to build America’s first transcontinental railroad. A portion of the Central Pacific’s track and its local depot have been preserved. While excursion trains weren’t running today (weekends only; oh, well), the two-storey tall exhibition building is open seven days a week, and features a lot preserved equipment telling the story of how Pacific railroad built the American nation.

Railroads seem to do that a lot. Canada’s story is tied up with its railroad, and while America isn’t as focused on their own, it’s still a powerful tale, inextricably linked with Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War, and the settlement of the West (though the impact on the First Nations is somewhat downplayed).

It was interesting just walking among the equipment, and hearing experts talk about such things as how the Railway Post Office worked, or how certain exhibits came to be at the museum. For the kids, there was an extensive toy train exhibit. For those who love toy antiques, Lionel Trains were prominently displayed. There was a gallery of salvaged equipment art, and a nice display showing kids how electricity worked, which allowed kids to make circuits without electrocuting themselves.

Better yet, the California State Railway Museum is in the heart of Old Sacramento, a section of the city along the riverfront that features buildings dating from at least the 1850s. The sidewalks are wooden planks. There are a lot of restaurants and souvenir shops (including one that sold Doctor Who memorabilia). The whole thing was cut off from downtown Sacramento by the Interstate, and I get the distinct impression that certain civic leaders of Sacramento had to work very hard to preserve even what was there. The Interstate is still an incredible barrier to the Riverfront (you think Toronto’s got problems with the Gardiner? You ain’t seen Sacramento), but at least they’ve tried to turn the walkways beneath the elevated highways into intriguing gateways. It truly does feel like a portal to another time.

I’m staying at the Holiday Inn in Downtown Sacramento, and it’s an interesting place. Amtrak plunks us right downtown, and I straight down 4th Street just a couple of blocks to get to the hotel. Fourth Street was blocked off and made into a pedestrian mall, like Sparks Street in Ottawa. Along the way, I walked through a block that appeared to be Sacramento’s Chinatown Mall. The skyscrapers had oriental ornamentation. It was interesting, but not well populated.

Fourth Street also linked with the public walkway to Old Sacramento, and that saw a lot more foot traffic. However, at the downtown end of said public walkway was a downtown mall. It’s not doing so good. Though there is a Starbucks, a movie theatre, and an active Macy’s, just about everything else is shut down. I had a devil of a time finding a restaurant somewhere other than my hotel. Beyond the mall, office towers predominate, and I get the distinct impression that the sidewalks roll up after 5 p.m. — or later but only if the Sacramento Kings are playing.

It’s interesting seeing this town that has some real gems in its urban makeup, but is clearly still struggling. I wonder what else I’ll see as I explore on the LRT.

Pictures of my day can be found here


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