To consolidate, disseminate, and gather information concerning the 710 expansion into our San Rafael neighborhood and into our surrounding neighborhoods. If you have an item that you would like posted on this blog, please e-mail the item to Peggy Drouet at pdrouet@earthlink.net

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Macy's to face wrecking ball in planned Paseo Colorado project


By Janette Williams, February 28, 2013


 The Macy's building at Paseo Colorado will be demolished and replaced by a hotel as part of a planned multi-million dollar renovation.

 PASADENA - The Macy's building, last remnant of the 1970s-era Plaza Pasadena, will be demolished and replaced by a hotel as part of a planned multi-million dollar revamp of the 12-year-old Paseo Colorado.

"Many people thought, what big box retailers will go in there? But the thought is to bring in a hotel use," Assistant City Manager Steve Mermell said. "We could use more hotel rooms and help out the convention center, which is one of the best in the state."

Plans are still in the "concept stage," and have just gone to the city for preliminary review, Mermell said.

But he called the major rehab necessary to update the $220-million, three-block outdoor "urban village" of stores, restaurants, offices and apartments that replaced the fortress-like Plaza Pasadena demolished in 1999.

"That's the city's main interest - we want to see significant reinvestment," Mermell said. "It's a good project for the city."

The key in rehabbing the mall is "coming up with a good mix" of retailers and restaurants, he said. "And the addition of a hotel, given its proximity to the convention center, is a winner."

A multi-story hotel, which could have between 150 and 160 rooms, would likely be boutique-style rather than full service to take advantage of all the restaurants on its doorstep, Mermell said.

Michael Ross, the Pasadena Convention Center Operating Co.'s chief executive officer, said he had not yet seen the plans, but said there's been a "lot of talk" about the changes coming to the Paseo.

"We're absolutely thrilled - (Paseo Colorado) is the gateway to our convention center," Ross said.

Future visitors to the convention complex on Green Street, which completed a $145-million expansion and renovation in 2009, will be drawn to a hotel right across the street, he said.

"So many of out people eat and shop over there - they love the restaurants and the shops" at the Paseo, Ross said. "But it needs a shot in the arm and it's wonderful for us."

There are also plans to make the two-level Paseo more "walkable," Mermell said, and to add pedestrian entry points on Colorado Boulevard and possibly Los Robles Avenue.

"At this point the drawings show much improved pedestrian access vertically and throughout the center," Mermell said, adding that the present layout makes it "unclear" how to navigate the levels and get from A to B. "You want the whole center to have more than one opening. And where Macy's is right now, that giant wall will open up."

The Paseo Colorado, originally developed by TrizecHahn, is owned and operated by Ohio-based DDR Corp.

In 1999, when the shopping center was in its planning stages, the city agreed to provide $26 million toward the redevelopment project but retained parking revenues to recoup its investment over several years. The arrangement continues, but this time the city will have no financial part in the renovation, Mermell said.

Pasadena attorney Richard McDonald, who is acting for the developer, said DDR hopes to get approval for the project this year, break ground in 2014 and complete construction in a year to 18 months.

Be heard Tuesday

Vote for Trone, Kenne, Hampton, Murga and Phelps


By Kevin Uhrich, February 28, 2013

Much has been written over the past few weeks about Tuesday’s election, in which three City Council seats will be decided, as well as four Board of Education positions in newly created voting districts in the Pasadena Unified School District.

Some of what we’ve seen has been encouraging, with the PUSD’s four of seven new districts doing what they were meant to do when they were drawn by a special task force last year: Attract new people to the political process. In addition to all the fresh faces, three incumbents will be trying to retain their seats as well.

However, much of what’s been reported about the election has not been good news. In the three contests for the council’s District 3, District 5 and District 7 seats, for example, stories have ranged from boring to disappointing to downright shocking, especially in District 3, where longtime Councilman Chris Holden was forced to give up his seat after being elected to the state Assembly in November.

Councilman Terry Tornek is running unopposed for a second four-year term in District 7, and Israel Estrada dropped his challenge of longtime District 5 incumbent Councilman Victor Gordo, so the results of those two contests are virtually foregone certainties.

But then there’s District 3. All three candidates in that race — John J. Kennedy, Ishmael Trone and the Rev. Nicholas Benson — have provided new answers to the question of how low candidates can go to get themselves elected, all while raising new questions about why a person with a checkered past would run for public office.

Such is the case with Benson, who uses a doctor’s title before his name. Deputy Editor André Coleman soon learned that the good reverend did not possess a doctorate. André also found that Benson has a number of aliases, and a few birth dates. But, along with that, André found out that the place where Benson, who owns a home in Altadena, claims he lives in the district is actually home to two convicted sex offenders.

Benson wasn’t the only one in the race to have their residency challenged. Trone, who claims to reside on the second floor of the offices of his bail bonds business on East Orange Grove Boulevard, has been accused by his critics of actually living in a home in Altadena that he owns with his estranged wife, a claim that he emphatically denies. The LA County DA is currently investigating the matter.

Of course, Benson and Trone are certainly not alone in creating controversy. Kennedy, the former head of the NAACP Pasadena Branch back in the late 1980s, was acquitted of attempted murder after accidentally shooting a 20-year-old man he had once mentored while playing around with a gun that neither man realized was loaded.
Not to be outdone, Trone was actually convicted of misdemeanor gun charges after being caught at Bob Hope Airport in 1997 with a loaded handgun that he forgot was in his bag.

The pièce de résistance came last week, when someone tried to smear Kennedy by sending out around the district copies of a newspaper story about the man he shot 20 years ago.

For news people, these three candidates have produced some pretty exciting copy. For voters, however, none of them present much hope for anything getting done if elected.

In the final analysis, Trone appears to make the most sense, especially on the need to hire locals for major projects in order to spread the wealth that’s escaped this district for too long.

Kennedy, too, has some good ideas, but more than anything, what he really represents, mostly by virtue of great bureaucratic polish, is a smooth transition of power in Holden’s former district. In other words, the status quo — perhaps the very last thing people need or want. As for his plans of buying “stealth” helicopters to increase police flyovers while reducing noise, and putting more cops on local campuses, these are ideas that we could not oppose more strenuously.

For these reasons, and the fact that he’s been deeply engaged in community affairs over the past several years, we endorse Trone to take over for Holden. Let’s now hope he makes it through the DA’s investigation without getting arrested.

Following are our picks for the Pasadena Board of Education:

District 1 — Kim Kenne
Kenne wants to further fulfill promises made last election regarding transparency and accountability. She’s also working to increase parental involvement. We like that and think she deserves another term.

District 3 — Tyron Hampton
People say anyone like Tyron Hampton, who actually attended local schools, graduated from a Pasadena public high school, and then went onto a successful life, should have a shot at serving on the school board. We agree.

District 5 — Stella Murga
Over the years, we have seen Stella Murga devote her life to the betterment of local children through the Pasadena Youth Center and a number of other civic organizations. We believe she will continue this tradition of dedication as a board member.

District 7 — Scott Phelps
Scott Phelps taught in the district, served two terms on the school board and sends his children to PUSD schools, unlike his opponent, who has enrolled his kids in private school. ‘Nuff said. n

Freeway Fighters

South Pasadena has come to be defined by ‘The Fight’ against the 710 

  Try http://www.pasadenaweekly.com/cms/story/detail/past_present_future/11913/

The Freeway Fighters section is part of a longer article on South Pasadena "Past, Present, Future."

By Justin Chapman, February 28, 2013

Past, Present, Future

At the turn of the last century, there were few other places that anyone would rather be than sunny Southern California. And one of the best, if not also one of the most exciting places to be was South Pasadena, home of a widowed first lady, Lucretia Garfield, and visited by diplomats, industrialists, even President Theodore Roosevelt, who stopped here once on his way back from Panama, staying at the luxurious Raymond Hotel.

While Fair Oaks Avenue and Fremont and Mission streets were still dirt roads, the Raymond dominated the landscape for miles in every direction and drew wealthy clientele from the East Coast.

“The Raymond Hotel actually attracted rich visitors to the sunny skies and warm climate of South Pasadena,” said South Pasadena City Librarian Steve Fjeldsted. “It was a world class luxury hotel that attracted well-to-do tourists from back East for the most part and put South Pasadena on the map in the minds of lots of people. It burned down twice and, after the second time, it was never rebuilt. By that time, this area had grown up quite a bit and it had done its job to attract a lot of people and a lot of attention to this area.”

Another major draw to the area in the early part of the last century was Edwin Cawston’s world famous ostrich farm, which at the time was located right next to the Arroyo Seco. According to local historian Rick Thomas, ostrich feathers symbolized wealth and upper-class refinement and remained popular in America for nearly 50 years.

“It really was for the feathers and the fashion,” said Thomas. “Cawston made a whole entertainment element to it. Eventually, it went out of business because women’s fashion changed.”

However, with economic growth came the need for increased mobility. With the area’s population growing, and the advent of the automobile, South Pasadena quickly found itself sandwiched between the Long Beach (710) and Foothill (210) freeways, which the California Department of Transportation, Caltrans, has tried to connect for more than 50 years.

In 1949 the city of South Pasadena passed its first resolution against the proposed route, and by the 1950s Caltrans had begun the seizure of hundreds of homes in South Pasadena, Pasadena and El Sereno through eminent domain and hardship sales.

If any single thing has come to characterize South Pasadena over the past five decades, it has been the dogged resistance of this little city to the state, and ultimately winning … so far.

The struggle to stop the state from connecting the freeways, or, “The Fight,” as Thomas calls it in his Images of America book, “South Pasadena,” has been going on for more than five decades.

“In the ’70s, it got shelved and nothing happened for about 10 years,” said veteran freeway fighter Joanne Nuckols, who has served as chair of the city’s Transportation Commission. “Then, all of a sudden, Caltrans decided to pull it off the shelf in the mid-’80s and everything started up again. That pretty much lit a fire under everybody that we really needed to look at this.”

The cities of Los Angeles, La Cañada-Flintridge, Sierra Madre, Glendale and South Pasadena all have passed formal resolutions against the proposed route, but cities like San Marino and Alhambra continue to support Caltrans’ proposal. Pasadena has expressed strong concerns about the project, but it has stopped short of formally opposing it because they believe their hands are tied by the voter approved Measure A. That proposition called for completing the extension between the two freeways. However, it did not specify how the extension should be completed.

“South Pasadena fiercely protects its small town environment,” said Thomas. “Unfortunately, this town is so uniquely positioned to be the travel point from Los Angeles to the San Gabriel Valley, so it just gets in the way of transportation corridors. The whole city was considered endangered early on. We don’t even need that designation anymore because we have so much clout.”

While The Fight has been the source of much controversy over the years, it has also contributed to defining South Pasadena in other ways.

“The preservation movement and The Fight kept the small-town atmosphere,” said former Mayor Harry Knapp, another longtime freeway opponent. “The freeway fight gave some uncertainty to developers, even now, and preserved that small town feel that we’re really trying to keep.”

Today, even with an overland connector route permanently off the table, The Fight continues, with city leaders now opposed to plans to connect the two freeways with two giant 4.5-mile-long tunnels.

Starting in Canoga Park ending in San Pedro, L.A. mayoral candidate Emanuel Pleitez begins 100-mile city running/biking trip 


 February 27, 2013



  Emanuel Pleitaz is running for mayor of Los Angeles.

 CANOGA PARK -- Emanuel Alberto Pleitez will begin the get-out-the- vote efforts of his campaign for mayor today by starting a six-day, 100-mile running and bicycling trip across Los Angeles.
Pleitez will travel the 15.4 miles from the Canoga Park Community Center to Mestizo Restaurant in Mission Hills today in three hours.

The entire trip will take Pleitez through neighborhoods in the western and eastern San Fernando Valley, Hollywood, Eastside, Mid-City, Venice, and South Los Angeles areas. It will conclude Monday night in San Pedro.

Pleitez was a personal assistant to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa from 2003- 2005, a financial analyst with the Securities Division of the investment bank Goldman, Sachs & Co. and a member of the Obama transition team reviewing potential staff for the Treasury Department.

Pleitez most recently worked as Chief Strategy Officer for Spokeo, a search engine to find information about people using data mined from their public profiles on various social networks.

Pleitez finished third in a 2009 special election in the 32nd Congressional District to succeed Hilda Solis, who had been appointed Secretary of Labor.


Council Candidate Wants Sunset Rail Line, Riverside Streetcar


By Adrian Glick Kudler, February 28, 2013


Prepare to completely lose your shit, North Centralians: former deputy mayor and City Council District 13 candidate Matt Szabo has revealed his transportation vision for the area (Hollywood, Silver Lake, Echo Park, Atwater Village, and Elysian Valley, more or less) and it's everything you've ever dreamed of. Seriously. Everything. Here's the short version, via his campaign website: "The plan, titled 'This Could Be Us: A Public Transit Vision that Works,' calls for a rail line along or under Sunset Boulevard, connecting Hollywood to Silver Lake, Echo Park, Dodger Stadium and Downtown L.A.; a street car connecting Atwater Village to Elysian Valley, Elysian Park and Downtown L.A.; and a subway extension connecting the Red Line in Hollywood to the future Purple Line in Century City, with a subway stop at the Hollywood Bowl." Here are the smelling salts. We'll meet you down below for details.

Here's what Szabo's calling for:

-- A Pink Line running from the Purple Line in Century City, along Santa Monica Boulevard, to the Red Line in Hollywood, with an extension up to the Hollywood Bowl.
-- A Sunset Line connecting Hollywood, Silver Lake, Echo Park, and Downtown--it'd be "a rail line along or under Sunset Boulevard with a stop at Dodger Stadium."
-- A freaking streetcar along Riverside Drive connecting Atwater, Elysian Valley, Elysian Park, Chinatown, and Downtown; it'd hook up to the Downtown streetcar.
-- To "aggressively advance" the Hollywood Central Park, which would cap the 101 Freeway in Hollywood with 44 acres of green space.
-- To take down the wire around the Silver Lake Reservoir and increase its public space, particularly after it goes offline as a drinking water source.
-- To get the concrete out of the LA River and "to create more natural, accessible public green space for pedestrians and cyclists" around it.j

 See website for more photos.


Metro Board approves new contract for Metro CEO Art Leahy


By Steve Hymon, February 28, 2013


Metro CEO Art Leahy.

In closed session, the Metro Board of Directors on Thursday approved a new two-year contract with two one-year options for Metro CEO Art Leahy.

Leahy, 64, has been Metro CEO since April 2009. He thanked Metro directors saying their action reflects confidence in the agency's direction, and he looks forward to working with them in carrying out the Measure R program.
Here's the news release from Metro:
The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) Board of Directors today approved a two-year contract extension with options for two additional one year extensions to Metro CEO Art Leahy following a closed session to discuss Leahy’s employment.

​The two-year contract extension is added to a previous four-year contract entered into in April, 2009 between Metro and the CEO.

​Following approval of the contract extension, Leahy thanked Metro directors saying their actions reflects confidence in the agency’s direction, and he looks forward to working with them in carrying out the Measure R programs.

​Leahy, 64, is considered one of the nation’s leading transportation executives who started out as a bus operator in Los Angeles 42 years ago. In 1971, Leahy began his transit career driving a bus for the Southern California Rapid Transit District, a predecessor of Metro, while attending college. He worked his way up through the ranks to head operations for Metro, overseeing bus operations and activation of the Metro Blue Line and Metro Red/Purple line, before taking a job as Chief Executive for Minneapolis-St. Paul Transit Agency.

​Prior to becoming Metro CEO in April, 2009, Leahy headed the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) from 2001 to 2009 where he oversaw the planning, financing, and coordination for Orange County’s freeway, street and transit development as well as managed the 12th busiest bus system in the country along with commuter rail and paratransit services for the disabled, among other transportation programs.

At Metro, he is charged with leading transportation planning and programming for the county, funding construction of numerous street, highway and transit improvements running the gamut from bike and pedestrian improvements to new busways and rail lines to freeway carpool lanes and sound walls.

Metro is the third largest public transportation agency in the United States. It has a $4.5 billion annual budget and more than 9,200 employees. It operates approximately 183 bus routes serving a 1,433 square mile service area and a host of subway and light rail lines that crisscross Los Angeles County.

710 Freeway tunnel opponents try to rally Crescenta Valley to their side


 February 28, 2013


 710 Freeway extension options

 This map shows alternatives for extending the 710 Freeway. (MTA / February 28, 2013)

This map shows alternatives for extending the 710 Freeway. (MTA / February 28, 2013) - See more at: http://www.glendalenewspress.com/news/tn-818-0228-710-freeway-tunnel-opponents-try-to-rally-crescenta-valley-to-their-side,0,3331208.story#sthash.c9ycoLSj.dpuf
This map shows alternatives for extending the 710 Freeway. (MTA / February 28, 2013) - See more at: http://www.glendalenewspress.com/news/tn-818-0228-710-freeway-tunnel-opponents-try-to-rally-crescenta-valley-to-their-side,0,3331208.story#sthash.c9ycoLSj.dpuf


This map shows alternatives for extending the 710 Freeway. (MTA / February 28, 2013) - See more at: http://www.glendalenewspress.com/news/tn-818-0228-710-freeway-tunnel-opponents-try-to-rally-crescenta-valley-to-their-side,0,3331208.story#sthash.c9ycoLSj.dpuf

Opposition to a potential tunnel connecting the Long Beach (710) and Foothill (210) freeways rang loud and clear among the more than 125 Crescenta Valley residents who turned out for an outreach meeting Wednesday night.

The forum — organized by the advocacy group No 710 Action Committee — came after cities like Pasadena, La Cañada Flintridge and South Pasadena pushed back against the tunnel option at a series of meetings hosted by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority in January.

Jan SooHoo, a La Cañada resident and member of the No 710 Action Committee, said the forum was a success because it could inspire the Crescenta Valley region to get involved in the fight against the tunnel option.

“This is a not a city per se, these people don’t have a strong city hall, so this was a total grass roots effort,” she said. “After tonight, the lines of communication are improved, and awareness was improved.”

The assembled panel of speakers featured longtime tunnel opponents, such as Glendale City Councilman Ara Najarian, La Cañada Councilman Donald Voss and former Assemblyman Anthony Portantino.

The arguments were familiar: a tunnel will increase truck traffic on the 210 Freeway and won’t actually alleviate traffic in the region. Opponents also say the proposal isn’t financially feasible.

Najarian claims his public opposition to the tunnel option has caused a behind-the-scenes political war to unseat him from the MTA Board of Directors at a time when he’s seeking reelection in Glendale.

MTA officials, meanwhile, have maintained that all options — including greater use of light rail, bus transit, optimizing flow on the existing streets and doing nothing at all — need to be studied in order to reach an informed decision.

“If I lived in the foothills community, I would wait for the study to be completed, I would wait for the facts,” said MTA project manager Michelle Smith, who was at the meeting to field questions from the audience.

After the forum, Smith said that the study team would be releasing the draft environmental impact report in spring 2014, but publicizing some “key findings” in the meantime.

After soliciting public input on the draft report, a final option would be presented to the MTA board in April 2015, she added.

La Crescenta resident Kerry Erickson said he arrived at the meeting neutral, but was able to learn about the various alternatives and start to formulate an opinion.

“Obviously, we have a transportation problem, and probably doing nothing is the wrong approach, but I don’t think the tunnel is the right approach,” Erickson said. “We need to do something in between."

Advocates, TransForm, Move L.A. Demand that Cap and Trade Funds Go For Cleaner Transportation


By Damien Newton, February 28, 2013


 California Air Resources Board meets in Downtown Los Angeles.

When California created a “cap and trade” system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions statewide, it was widely agreed the funds raised would be spent on programs that reduce these emissions in their own right. With nearly 40% of the state’s greenhouse gas coming from the transportation sector, it makes sense for a hearty investment in active transportation and transit.

Yet, according to Ryan Wiggins, the cap and trade Director for TransForm, many political figures and car-culture advocacy groups are arguing that cap and trade transportation dollars should go towards improving road conditions. By making it easier for vehicles to go faster, it will reduce the individual emissions of each vehicle. This logic is applied regularly when Caltrans and Metro officials argue about the need to widen freeways such as the 710 Big Dig Project or the never-ending 405 Widening Project in the Sepulveda Pass.

Yet many local advocates agree with Wiggins, that funding active transportation and transit need to be the priority when the state’s Air Resrouces Board (CARB) decides how to allocate its funds. Yesterday, CARB held a hearing in Downtown Los Angeles and advocates attended to make the case for a cleaner transportation network that creates transportation options and reduces emissions and transportation costs.

“ We need investment in transit, especially transit operating budgets, and active transportation infrastructure to support the GHG emission reduction goals of SB 375. Federal and state transportation funding has been stagnant and even declining for years”, said Denny Zane, Executive Director of Move LA.

California’s cap-and-trade program is a primary strategy for reducing the State’s greenhouse gas emissions to meet emissions reduction targets as required by the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act. The largest portion of the state’s emissions comes from the transportation sector.  For California and Los Angeles to achieve long-term emissions reductions, they will need sustained investment in expanding public transit, biking and walking, and ensuring affordable and transit-accessible housing.

We want this money to be invested in long-term investments to reduce dependency on the automobile,” argues Wiggins. “These funds come from cap and trade from greenhouse gases, so they should go to pay for programs that  reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in our air.”

The “cap” in “cap and trade” sets a limit on emissions, which is lowered over time to reduce the amount of pollutants released into the atmosphere. The “trade” creates a market for carbon allowances, helping companies innovate in order to meet, or come in under, their allocated limit. The less they emit, the less they pay. Cap and trade theoretically  creates an economic incentive to pollute less.
Measure R Funds to Join the 710 Coalition? Metro Says Its Fine 


By Damien Newton, February 28, 2013

Last week, a mini-furor was passed around by opponents of the 710 Big Dig project. The Pasadena Independent reported that the City of Rosemead is using a portion of the over $500,000 it receives annually in Measure R Local Return funds to pay its membership dues in the 710 Coalition. From the Independent:
Paid for with Measure R dollars?
According to the staff report, the Coalition is requesting membership dues in the amount of $6,000 a year to be paid through Measure R monies…

…The 710 Coalition’s proposal, submitted for the Rosemead City Council’s consideration, states that funding for participation in the 710 Coalition would be paid through Measure R monies – revenue generated by the sales tax initiative approved by Los Angeles County voters in 2008.

Measure R established a one-half cent sales tax to be used for public transportation purposes, ending in 2039.

Among the benefits from joining the Coalition, the City of Rosemead will be able to work closely with other members to determine and develop public messaging in support of the I-710 Extension project, according to the staff report.
The idea that Measure R funds are being used to advocate for one of the most controversial and expensive projects in the state doesn’t sit well with many. However, according to Metro spokesperson Dave Sotero, this use of funds is well within Metro funding guidelines.

“The Measure R Local Return Fund Guidelines allow for the planning, coordination, engineering and design costs incurred toward implementing projects for traffic congestion relief,” Sotero writes. “The City of Rosemead made the request to use their Measure R Local Return apportionment for the 710 Coalition and it was approved.”

Sotero also stated that no community other than Rosemead has requested to use their Measure R Local Return dollars for membership dues to the 710 Coalition.

So what does the 710 Coalition actually do?

According to their website, they are a “The 710 Freeway Coalition is a grassroots collection of interests united in their desire to see the 710 Freeway completed as soon as possible.” According to the Independent and the City of Rosemead, they “work closely with other members to determine and develop public messaging in support of the I-710 Extension project.” According to the Sierra Madre Tattler, they pay push polling firms to confuse and obfuscate the issue.
Pasadena and Glendale area residents have been receiving a lengthy telephone survey that asks where they live, their opinion about traffic in the area, their opinion about the proposed 710 Tunnel, and then provides many positive statements about the benefits of a tunnel. Those of us who oppose the tunnel have not commissioned or requested a telephone survey, nor can we afford such an effort…

…Name of the Polling Company: If you go to 800notes.com you find that 1-231-224-2033 is assigned to Mountain West Research. Their site: http://mwrcenter.com. Some folks called by them – according to 800notes – are asked questions relating to sensitive political issues…

So there you are. We here in Sierra Madre are quite familiar withMountain West Research. Back in early 2011 they were brought in to do a push polling operation to manufacture support here for the kinds of SCAG Housing the Buchanan/Mosca/Downtown Investor’s Club crowd were hoping to bring in.

Millennials Say They'd Give Up Their Cars Before Their Computers or Cell Phones


By Emily Badger, February 28, 2013


Once a week or so we come across yet another sign that Millennials care much less about car ownership than previous generations. They're less likely to drive than their parents. They've got less debt tied up in cars. They'd rather hang out with their friends on Twitter than get in a car to go see them.

And here's yet another: Ask Millennials which piece of technology they could least live without, and it turns out they'd more happily part with their cars than their computers or cell phones. That question, graphed below, comes from the third installment of Zipcar's annual Millennial survey.

According to those results, which are based on a national online survey of 1,015 adults, cars are the most prized piece of technology (at least among those offered here) among every age group but the under-35s. Our other big takeaway from this report: No one cares about the lonely TV any more.

Here's Exactly How Bad Beijing's Smog Crisis Is, In One Photo


By Zachary M. Seward, February 28, 2013

 Here's Exactly How Bad Beijing's Smog Crisis Is, In One Photo


On the left, a photo that Sinocism’s Bill Bishop snapped today in Beijing. On the right, the exact same vantage on a clearer day, revealing that the smog in Beijing right now is dense enough to obscure a thousand-foot-tall skyscraper.

The air quality index maintained by the US embassy in Beijing was off the charts today, Feb. 28. State-run media called it a “sand storm,” but high levels of pollutants in the air pointed to smog, instead.

A bigger tax break for those who take public transit


By Herb Weisbaum,  February 28, 2013

About 2.7 million families will benefit from the tax break for taking mass transit.

Transit riders will get a bigger tax break this year, thanks to a provision tucked into the legislation that averted a fall off the fiscal cliff.

As part of the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2013, Congress decided that for 2013 people who take mass transit to work will get the same pretax benefits as those who drive and pay to park their car. Both can set aside up to $245 a month to cover these expenses, if their employer offers such a plan.

That’s a big change from last year, when employees could set aside up to $240 a month to park, but only $125 a month for transit expenses. In 2011, the tax savings had been the same for parking or public transportation.

Now parity is back and that could mean more savings for transit commuters.

“Someone in the highest federal tax bracket – 30 to 39.6 percent – could save about $570 a year. Someone in the 15 percent tax bracket could save about $260 a year,” explained Lisa Greene-Lewis, lead CPA at the American Tax and Financial Center at TurboTax.

According to Bloomberg News, about 2.7 million families will benefit from this tax break.

“It’s not so much the dollar value; it’s the parity,” said Jon Martz, a vice president at vRide, which provides vanpool services in about 60 different urban areas in the country. “Why give people an incentive to commute in single occupancy cars? Give them a benefit of equal value for choosing to take public transportation, if they can do it.”

And there’s more good news. Congress made the change retroactive. It’s as if the higher limit of $240 had been in effect for transit riders all last year. The IRS already gave employers guidance on how to put that money back into their employees’ paychecks.

If you used this program last year and didn’t see an adjustment in your paycheck to cover the reimbursement, talk to your employer. If you haven’t been told about the higher limits for 2013 and want to put more aside, contact human resources.

Moving forward

The fiscal cliff deal only guaranteed an equal tax break for commuters who drive and those who take public transit for 2013. Those who support public transportation want this provision to be permanent.

“We need Congress to act to finally make the transit and the parking benefits equal so that all commuters are on a level playing field,” said Steven Higashide, a senior planner at the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a non-profit watchdog group that serves New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. “This will create an incentive for transit riders and take more cars off the road.”

Frank Linkchorst, an aerospace engineer in California, agrees. He rides a vanpool weekdays from his home in El Segundo to work in Los Angeles 38 miles away. It’s cheaper and faster than being in a car.

“Anything that encourages people to rideshare is helpful,” he told me. “With 10 of us in that van, that’s nine fewer cars on the road at any given time – and that helps everybody.”

More Information:

How to Spend 47 Hours on a Train and Not Go Crazy


 By Nathaniel Rich, February 28, 2013

 Lynn Douglas, left, lives in a German Baptist community in Ohio. Steve King (in green shirt) is a train buff who has written books about train history. Matthew Carr (in front of King) is a military veteran returning home to Tucson. Mark, far right, was also traveling to Tucson to, as he said, start over in the desert.


Vickie, Alice, Lisa, Debbie, Barbara, Chris, Clair and Cootz boarded the Los Angeles-bound Sunset Limited in Schriever, La., and immediately took residence in the glass-sheathed Sightseer Lounge car. The eight women squeezed into two booths on either side of the aisle and began to scream with laughter. 

 With a quiet, pneumatic exhalation, the Sunset Limited left the station; it was 90 minutes into its journey, with 45 hours and 5 minutes to go. After leaving New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal, its point of departure, the seven-car train had rumbled first alongside the New Orleans Arena, where the Hornets play basketball, and then alongside the empty open-air courts, separated from the tracks by chain-link fence and concertina wire, where inmates at Orleans Parish Prison play basketball. It climbed steadily for two miles before passing over the dizzyingly narrow span of the Huey P. Long Bridge. From up there, 145 feet above the Mississippi River, the river’s full double turn, like a lowercase m written in a lazy cursive, was visible; you could see why they called New Orleans the Crescent City.

Wheezing out of Schriever, the train rattled and jerked, and when I entered the lounge car, I had to grab onto the back of a booth to prevent myself from falling facedown in Clair’s lap.

“Woo!” screamed the eight ladies, as if cheering on a toreador. “Hey-ey!” “Choo-choo!” They dissolved into hysterics. It was a little past 10 a.m. They had told each other that they wouldn’t dip into their vodka until noon.

Cootz was 52 years and 364 days old, and they were celebrating. “We wanted to take a long train ride together,” she said, “but we weren’t sure how long we could last. This is a trial run.” They left their husbands at home in Thibodaux (“They’re happy to let us go,” Lisa said) and were traveling to Lake Charles, a five-hour ride, where they would check into L’Auberge Casino Resort. After gambling for two days, they would return. If everything went well, they might make it an annual trip. Why, they could go to Memphis (8 hours, 15 minutes), Houston (9 hours, 18 minutes), even San Antonio (15 hours, 5 minutes). They were dressed smartly in pearls, dark sunglasses, shawls, silver bracelets, silver watches and silver medallions with lapis lazuli. Most of the women appeared to have styled their hair especially for the excursion. Alice possessed a vaporous cloud of wavy brown hair — her husband called it “big, sexy hair.” Barbara had what she described as a gray dome. She said that when the eight of them got together, it was only so long before someone started catching the wall.

“Someone show that boy how to catch the wall!”

Barbara pulled out her phone and showed videos of friends catching the wall. There are three steps to catching the wall. First, you go down on your hands and knees on the floor, facing away from a wall. Then you jog your legs up the wall, one at a time, until you’re halfway to a headstand. Finally, with your palms planted on the ground, your feet planted on the wall and your butt sticking up in the air, you jiggle. “My stomach hurts because we laugh so much,” Barbara said between laughing fits. “It’s like an aerobic exercise. We’ll all have six-packs by the time we get off the train.”

The women were playing Pedro (“PEE-dro”), a card game popular in Cajun country, something of a cross between bridge and spades. For their trip, Cootz printed out special scorecards on which she had typed her friends’ names. They had played Pedro as long as they could remember; it was not uncommon for them to play for 12 hours at a time. While they played, they sang. Lisa led the group in a round of “Gas-Food-Lodging,” a song she wrote when she was 7. Her friends knew all the words.
Six of the women had been teachers; Clair is an office manager; and Barbara was a secretary — a “sexy-tery,” she clarified. Four were the exact same age. Debbie’s and Chris’s husbands worked together. Alice, Vickie and Cootz taught together at St. Joseph Catholic Elementary School. Chris had been Alice’s second-grade teacher. (“She was extremely stylish, with her brown suede boots,” Alice said. “She’s the reason I wear boots today.”) Vickie, Lisa, Clair and Cootz attended E. D. White high school. All eight women attended Nicholls State University in Thibodaux. Vickie, Debbie and Chris were sorority sisters. Lisa Ford Ray and Clair Ford Lee were cousins.

Half the women were a Toups or related to one. Debbie was Debbie Toups. Chris, who married a twin Toups brother, was Chris Toups. Vickie, who was born a Toups and married the other Toups brother, was Vickie Toups Toups. The most reliable way to tell the twin Toups brothers apart was by counting their nipples. Charlie had three. (Technically, one was a birthmark.) Alice grew up in the same town as the twins, “but I have only two nipples,” she said.

“Yes,” Cootz said, “but are they same size?”



Long-distance-train passengers tend to belong to one of four categories. The first, perhaps most obvious category is occupied by people who refuse to fly, whether because of religious beliefs, fear or health reasons, but there are fewer of these than you might expect. The second category belongs to train buffs, known less commonly as rail fans, GERFs (glassy-eyed rail fans), or foamers, a term coined by railroad employees to refer to people who became so excited by trains that they seem to foam at the mouth like rabies victims.

In the United States, there are more than 100,000 train watchers, according to one estimate, a number that includes a 70-year-old retiree from Germantown, Md., named Steve King, whose first job, in 1959, was to serve as an operator for B & O Railroad. Though King identifies himself as a “transportation geek,” he doesn’t look the part: he has the crew cut, hulking build and piercing gaze of a former military man, the type of fellow who doesn’t suffer fools or Amtrak disparagers gladly. But he turns avuncular and garrulous whenever his favorite subject comes up in conversation. His train obsession has expanded his world, leading him to develop complementary interests in photography, American history and a field he calls “industrial archaeology.”

King wrote two books for publishers that specialize in train literature, including “19 East, Copy Three,” about the timetable system used to govern train traffic before computers. He collects Official Railway Guides, large, bound volumes, published between 1868 and 1995, that contain passenger-railroad schedules in the United States and Canada; his oldest edition dates from 1910. In 2002 he traveled with seven friends to Manchuria and Inner Mongolia to photograph one of the last fleet of steam locomotives still being used on major rail lines. He went in January because “the steam exhausted by the locomotives in the cold air is more photogenic.”

It was now 11 a.m. on Wednesday. King had traveled roughly 72 hours of a 120-hour trip. He began by boarding the Cardinal, which runs from Washington’s Union Station to Chicago’s Union Station in approximately 24 hours. Upon arrival, he took a suburban Metra train to Schaumburg, where he visited his daughter for lunch — his nominal excuse for stopping in Chicago — and then took a Metra to Big Timber Road station and visited a friend for lemon meringue pie. He returned to Union Station in time to board the 8 p.m. City of New Orleans, which arrived at its destination the following afternoon. After spending the night in a New Orleans hotel, he boarded the Sunset Limited on Wednesday, at 9 a.m. In Los Angeles, he would hop the Pacific Surfliner to San Diego. He was planning to visit the San Diego Model Railroad Museum.

Shortly after boarding the train in New Orleans, King found a forward-facing seat several booths ahead of the Thibodaux 8. He looked out of the window, train schedule in hand, and in that position he remained for much of the next 46 hours and 35 minutes. He paused only for sleep — he had reserved a roomette — and for meals in the dining car, during which he spoke with great passion about how unfairly the federal government treated trains. “Sure,” he said gruffly, “Amtrak is subsidized by taxpayers. It wouldn’t exist otherwise. But Amtrak gets maligned because its subsidy is a line item in the annual budget. Airlines and highways are subsidized even more heavily and in hundreds of different ways — it’s just that those subsidies are buried.”

This, in part, is why it is often cheaper to fly than to take the train, especially over longer distances. (A round-trip ticket from New Orleans to Los Angeles can be had for $320. A plane ticket can cost slightly more but saves about 85 hours.) The financial calculus can shift if you have to buy a one-way ticket at the last minute, which is why a surprisingly high percentage of long-distance-train passengers are escaping something.

Belonging to this, the third category of train passengers, was Michelle Love, who was a week shy of her 21st birthday. She had never taken a train before and was paralyzed with terror. “Trains scare me way more than airplanes,” she said. She was thinking about the “Final Destination” horror movies, in which trains kill characters by derailing, colliding with automobiles, running into each other, smacking into walls, tumbling over and splitting apart. In a scene from the first “Final Destination,” a train runs over a piece of metal, causing it to spin like a boomerang and decapitate a young Seann William Scott. “I’m having terrible acid reflux,” Michelle said, adding that death by train “was one of the worst ways to die.”

She calmed herself down by looking out the window. Trains often go through land that is rarely seen by anyone except passengers on trains. Approaching the Texas border, the Sunset Limited passed beside, or perhaps within, a petrochemical plant that looked like an alien settlement, with smokestacks coughing white smoke, platforms of intricate latticed scaffolding, blue silos and complex networks of pipes orange from rust. The ground was black sand.

Michelle’s terror of trains had one consolation — it distracted her from thinking about the reason she was on the train in the first place. A year ago, she moved from Ocean Springs, Miss., to Hollygrove, the New Orleans neighborhood where Lil Wayne grew up. Since then, she said, four people on her block had been shot to death, most recently a neighbor named Booger. Michelle was sitting on her couch one weekday afternoon when she heard the sound of fireworks. She ran outside to witness the celebration, she said, only to find a man lying face down in the street. Another man was screaming: “Booger’s dead! Booger’s dead!” Michelle said that she bought a pet rat and named it Booger.

She didn’t decide to leave, however, until several months later, after she discovered that one of her roommates had a crack problem. He stole the rent at the end of the month, and they were evicted. In a stroke of good fortune, a childhood friend invited Michelle to move to Houston. The friend’s parents owned a furniture store; Michelle could make $400 for every three days of work. “It sounded too good to be true,” Michelle said, but she didn’t really have an alternative. She bought an Amtrak ticket, which did not please her boyfriend of more than a year.

“He’s very opposed to this,” said Michelle, whose real last name is Davis. Her friends started calling her Love because she reminded them of Courtney Love. She is stuck between vampy and childish, with dyed dark-red hair and eyebrows, black cat’s-eye makeup and 10 tattoos, including a gramophone on her right bicep and an image on her hip that says “Fragile.” “Life is for yourself,” she said. “Not for your friends, for yourself. I have to do this for myself.”

She planned to spend a month in Houston; if it went well, she would stay for good. She wouldn’t cheat on her boyfriend, unless she met the “love of my life,” in which case she would drop him without hesitation. But the main reason she was moving to Houston was to achieve her dream: “To become successful without doing college.”

“How do you define success?”

She laughed as if it were the dumbest question she ever heard. “Happiness,” she said. “As in, having money.”
Houston was a “trial run,” she said. Even if the furniture store was a bust, she figured that she could 
find work elsewhere, because she had one highly marketable skill: airbrushing. You could airbrush T-shirts, tattoos and wood. “Airbrush,” she said, “is never going to go out of style.”

Three rows behind Michelle sat Scott Dupree, an artist from Atlanta, and his live-in muse, model and marketing agent, Suzy Lanza, who were on their way to visit Scott’s parents in Houston. Several days earlier, within three hours, each learned of a death. A friend of Scott’s in Charlotte died unexpectedly of liver failure at 36. Suzy’s friend, Adam Griffiths, 46, was on a vacation with his fiancée and several friends in Kauai. While hiking along the rocky coastline, a rogue wave dragged Griffiths’s best friend, Brian Baker, into the sea. Griffiths jumped in after him. Griffiths’s fiancée, standing on the shore, watched as they drowned. Suzy hoped the train ride would allow herself and Scott to “decompress.”

Suzy and Scott first met at Burning Man festival, where they were introduced by a man called Chicken John. Suzy worked at various nonprofit organizations, but upon meeting Scott and seeing his work — he specializes in paintings of men wearing old-fashioned costumes, standing in figurines of antiquated gondolas, racecars and dirigibles — Suzy moved to Atlanta and became Scott’s promoter, personal assistant and girlfriend. While Scott, bearded and dour, sat in silence, Suzy spoke enthusiastically about his work and her plans for it. (Later Scott chastised her, in a sulky whisper, for telling her “life story” to strangers.) “It’s the life I’ve wanted for a while,” she said.

“How long do you plan on living it?”

“I don’t have a backup plan right now,” Suzy said. “You could say I’m impulsive.”

On the platform in Beaumont, Tex., where the train stopped for 10 minutes, Michelle Love hungrily smoked her last two cigarettes. She lifted her shirt to show an upside-down leopard-print cross that was tattooed on her ribs. It was a St. Peter’s cross, and it signified that “we’re not as worthy as God.”

“I’m not the crazy chick I look like I am,” she said. “I just don’t want to be like those older people who didn’t do anything with their lives. I want to have stories.” By the time the train left Houston, after having sat in the station for an hour, Michelle was still waiting on the curb next to her luggage.
Traveling coach on Amtrak is not exactly luxurious, but amenities are superior to business class on many American airlines. A person seated in coach on a Superliner — the double-decker train used on the Sunset Limited route — has access to a dining room with white tablecloths and waiter service and to seats with 15 inches or so more legroom than those in some first-class airplane cabins, as well as access to electrical outlets. But playing video games or watching movies on a phone or computer tends only to distract for several hours, and there is no Wi-Fi, so most passengers turn to a more traditional form of entertainment: conversation.

The cliché, familiar to air travel, of the nosy passenger who makes pestering conversation with his seat partners does not exist on the long-distance train. On the Sunset Limited, everybody is nosy, and no one seems to mind. There are several reasons for this. While it might be socially uncomfortable to speak with a stranger during a short trip, the scale seems to tip for trips longer than six hours, at which point it becomes significantly more awkward not to speak to your fellow passengers. Besides, if you’re taking a 47-hour train ride in 2013, you probably have an unusual reason for doing so. Train stories are much richer, more emotionally pitched, than airplane stories. And the train offers the possibility of cheap therapy: there’s ample time to relate your entire life story to a stranger, and you can do so in confidentiality, because you’ll never see the stranger again.

This kind of encounter is further encouraged by the tendency of Amtrak conductors to seat long-distance passengers next to each other, even if the next car contains 20 rows of empty seats. This policy is designed to keep rows open for passengers who board at later stops, but sometimes those anticipated passengers never materialize. The two communal cars also tend to encourage interaction: the Sightseer Lounge has open seating and is especially busy after lunch, and in the dining car, the host will combine any groups smaller than four people with strangers in order to fill every booth. Groups also coalesce at stations like Beaumont and El Paso in Texas and Tucson and Maricopa in Arizona, where the train stops for cigarette breaks. And at longer stops, like the nearly three-hour wait in San Antonio, passengers often venture out into the city together, heading to Denny’s for a midnight meal or to Alibis’ Sports and Spirits bar. Nobody on a long-distance train is ever really alone.

And so it was that Matthew Carr, who limped down the aisle to the seat that had been vacated by Suzy Lanza, found himself amid people in similar circumstances. Carr, 32, was a striking figure; a Marine veteran with strong shoulders, wary eyes and a sweep of whitish blond hair that fell across his forehead. Sitting in front of him were a 2-year-old boy, Sincere Prince Hernandez, and Sincere’s 28-year-old mother, Selena Hernandez, a large, attractive woman, six feet tall, with a round beaming smile and a royal blue kerchief tied around her head. Like Carr, Selena and Sincere were headed home, and like Carr, Selena knew that when she arrived, her home would no longer feel like home. Carr and Selena therefore belonged to the fourth, most fragile category of long-distance traveler: people who are starting over.

The previous week, Selena kicked her husband out of her house; she suspected that he was unfaithful and demanded a divorce. She feared that he would take their three children. He would stand outside on the street at odd hours, she said, watching the house. Selena decided to drop her older children with relatives and drove with Sincere and her grandmother to New Orleans to stay with family there. “Don’t mess with nobody from Belize,” said Selena, whose husband was Belizean. “For that matter no Haitians, no Panamanians, no Africans, no Dominicans. Puerto Ricans, you can work with.”

But soon after she arrived in New Orleans, Selena realized she couldn’t stay — her aunt had little patience for a 2-year-old’s antics. Then Selena’s grandmother, without warning, drove off with the car. There was nothing to do but take the train back to Los Angeles, even though Serena worried that her husband would be waiting for her. “My house might well be trashed,” she said, watching her son as he explored the darkened train car, racing up and down the aisle. Sincere, trusting and curious, was adopted by his fellow passengers, including Carr. He occupied himself for long stretches of time by serving as the train’s janitor, collecting gum wrappers, empty plastic cups and crumpled tinfoil and depositing them in the garbage basket.

At the San Antonio station, the train was connected to the newly arrived Texas Eagle, which originated in Chicago. Two passengers got off the train and went to a bar; when they returned, one was bleeding from the face. San Antonio Police arrived and escorted the men to jail.

After 2 a.m., the Rodriguez and Escamilla families boarded. There were eight of them — aunts, uncles, cousins and great-grandparents of a boy who was celebrating his 1st birthday in Phoenix. After the child’s party, they planned to head straight to Las Vegas to gamble. They chatted loudly, laughing, oblivious or indifferent to the fact that Sincere was writhing exhaustedly in his mother’s lap and Matthew Carr was trying to find the position in which he could sleep with minimal pain.
The Sunset Limited was inaugurated in 1894, but its name comes from a pre-Civil War route: a train that departed Harrisburg, Tex., at sunrise would arrive at the route’s terminus in Columbus, 80 miles away, at sunset. Today it takes two sunsets, and two sunrises, for the Sunset Limited to reach its destination — provided there aren’t delays. When the sun set in Houston, the train was still in the South; by sunrise it had unmistakably entered the West. The bayous and flooded forests of southern Louisiana were replaced by a vast, sandy expanse interrupted by the occasional exclamation of a yucca plant, its pinkish flowers rising from an asterisk of spiky leaves. Rough dirt roads led to stables with horses dappled the same colors as the landscape: dark brown, cream, chestnut. In the distance marched a succession of flat-topped, sloped and nippled buttes. A canoe lay overturned in the dirt next to the track. The Sunset Limited had been in Texas for 16 hours; the New Mexican border was still more than 6 hours away.

The Rio Grande, which marks the border with Mexico, was now less than a mile from the train’s south-facing windows, and it was to Mexico that Carr had planned to move shortly after he returned home to Tucson. He was a mechanic by training and had made preparations to open a hydraulic shop in Agua Prieta, right across the border from Douglas, Ariz., where he planned to repair mining equipment. “The E.P.A.,” he said, “is not big down there.” But in Houston, where he spent the previous week at the V.A. Medical Center, he received bad news. A doctor told him that the femur bones in both of his legs were “dead” and beginning to “collapse.”

A year ago, while trying to lift a giant block of wood, Carr tore a disc in his back. Doctors at the Houston veterans hospital gave him a prescription for steroids, but the pain intensified, and one morning several months later, he awoke unable to walk. Three Tucson hospitals were mystified. It was not until he saw a doctor in Houston that Carr’s condition was diagnosed as avascular necrosis, a condition caused when blood is unable to reach bone tissue, which he suspected was related to the steroids. The day before he boarded the Sunset Limited, his doctor informed him that his femurs were beyond salvaging. He needed double hip surgery and, he was told, 20 to 30 years from now, both of his legs might need to be amputated. The longer he put off the surgery, the longer he would have use of his legs, but meanwhile the pain was constant and nearly unbearable.

“There’s nothing they can do,” he said, in a tone of disbelief. “My life’s over as I knew it.”
Sincere, staring up at Carr from the aisle, addressed him unintelligibly, with great feeling. Carr shook his head. He doubted whether he could start his new business. He had horrific visions of a legless future.

“You can get prosthetics,” Selena said. “They make really good ones now.”

Carr shrugged. He doubted any woman would want to have kids with a double amputee.

“Psh,” Selena said, laughing. “Doesn’t matter to me. I don’t mind a stump.”

They were interrupted by the sight of two pretty, pale-faced young women and one much older woman advancing down the aisle. The three women wore nearly identical full-length, hand-stitched cotton dresses, buttoned from neck to waist, in checkered patterns of blue and white, with matching aprons and capes that hung over their shoulders. Each woman kept her hair up in a bun, which she covered with a sheer white cap that tied in a bow beneath her chin with a ribbon. The only pieces of clothing they had not made themselves were their black sneakers. The two younger women blushed pink when they noticed the stares. “People talk to us because we look different,” said Sharon Douglas, who at 31 was the older of the two sisters. “And we do look different.”

In the lounge car they claimed the booth in front of Steve King, who was still gazing out the window, train schedule in hand. On the other side of them was a somewhat menacing-looking lone male traveler, in a black tank top, with an athletic build, shaved head and tattoos on his arms, chest and face. He called himself Mark and said that he was 37 and that he had fit all of his worldly possessions into a single carry-on bag. Mark was starting over: upon arriving in Tucson, he would walk into the desert, where nobody would bother him, and make camp. He was reading a copy of the Bible, which he raised in the direction of the caped women; they nodded and blushed. A middle-aged couple asked the women whether they were Amish or Mennonite.

“We’re German Baptist,” Sharon said, looking up from an old hardcover novel. “We have similar values but different beliefs.” Her community values self-sufficiency and eschews most conveniences of modern life, including electricity. Sharon, her sister Lynn and their grandmother lived outside of Dayton, in a small community of German Baptists. The women of the community all wore similar handmade dresses; the men wore broadfall pants, suspenders and straw hats. Sharon operated a rug loom and sewed caps and bonnets; during the summer she worked on a farm, harvesting sweet corn and melon. They use horses and buggies for transportation, though a dispensation has been made for tractors, buses and trains. They are permitted to ride in an automobile if necessary, provided that they do not themselves drive; the Douglases had paid a boy they knew in town to drive them to the train station in Indianapolis.

“German Baptist — that mean you’re of German descent?” I asked.

Sharon smiled uncertainly. “We feel,” she said at last, “that we’re descended from Jesus.”

In some sense, the German Baptists overlapped with each of the four dominant categories of long-distance train passengers. They didn’t fly for religious reasons; they were not quite obsessed with trains, but they were fascinated by sights of a country otherwise invisible to them; like the Thibodaux 8, they were escaping home while knowing that they would soon return to their looms and their sweet corn. Like everyone else on a long-distance train, they were in-betweeners — in transit, in other words.

The train left the El Paso station, skirting the chain-link fence that traced the Mexican border; to the right were glass office buildings and parking lots; to the left, sloping downward, were Juarez’s sandy roads and its orange, lime green and white shacks with laundry hanging from clotheslines over dirt yards. Lynn and her grandmother played the card game Set, which has its own set of cards — they forswore standard decks in order to avoid the temptation of gambling. At the end of the car, the Rodriguezes and Escamillas were betting on hands of poker — five-card stud, Follow the Queen, No Peek — in the same two booths where, 24 hours earlier, the Thibodaux Toups played Pedro.

The German Baptist sisters were visiting relatives in Benson, Ariz. Their grandmother would stay there, but they would return to Ohio, taking the long route in order to see more of the country: the Sunset Limited to Los Angeles, the Coast Starlight to Seattle, the Empire Builder to Chicago and the Cardinal back to Indianapolis. Lynn, six years Sharon’s junior, was engaged. Upon returning to Ohio, she would be married. Sharon was single.

“It must be difficult to find a suitable match in such a small community,” I said.

“Not really,” Sharon said. “There are 40 other young people in our community. More than half of those are male.”

She returned, blushing, to her book. It was a first-edition hardcover copy of a 1951 novel, Argye M. Briggs’s “Hem of His Garment.” Sharon’s mother gave it to her for the journey. Sharon didn’t find the novel particularly exciting. It was about a young woman whose religious devotion was tested by a difficult marriage and the tribulations of rural life. The heroine’s name was Sharon.

Sharon was soon distracted by the scenery outside the train. The Sunset Limited was approaching its second sunset; it had traversed the Continental Divide and the Arizona border. The desert was reddish and brown; the Dragoon Mountains scraped the underbelly of gray clouds. Sharon didn’t want to miss anything — train travel was her only opportunity to see the country, after all, and when the sun rose, the train would be in Union Station.

Sharon and Lynn had a four-hour layover in Los Angeles, and they already knew how they were going to use it. They would catch the Big Blue Bus’s Rapid 10 line, which ran express to Santa Monica. They would debark at the last stop and walk together to the end of the Santa Monica pier so that they could see the Pacific Ocean. And there they would remain, standing at the edge of the continent, staring at the sea, until it was time to get back on the Big Blue Bus, which would take them to the Coastal Starlight, which would take them to the Empire Builder, which would take them to the Cardinal, which would take them to Indianapolis, where a boy with a car would be waiting to take them home.

L.A. port issues final environmental report for BNSF's proposed intermodal facility




 February 28, 2013

The Port of Los Angeles has released a Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for BNSF Railway Co.'s proposed Southern California International Gateway (SCIG) project.

The project involves the construction of an intermodal facility on outer port property. The $500 million SCIG is designed to be the greenest U.S. intermodal terminal and will feature wide-span electric cranes, ultra-low-emission switchers and low-emission yard equipment.

The terminal will enable containers to be loaded onto rail cars four miles from docks at the ports of L.A. and Long Beach, Calif., instead of being transported 24 miles on local roads and a freeway to downtown rail facilities. About 1.5 million more containers will move through the Alameda Corridor each year because of the SCIG, significantly reducing truck traffic congestion in the area, according to BNSF.

The Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners will consider certifying the Final EIR at a March 7 meeting.




Final EIR - Southern California International Gateway (SCIG) Project



The Los Angeles Harbor Department has released the Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the following project in the Port of Los Angeles:

Southern California International Gateway (SCIG) Project

The Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners is scheduled to consider certification of the Final EIR and approval of the SCIG Project at its Board meeting at 8:30 a.m. on March 7, 2013 at the Cruise Terminal Annex Building located at 390 N. Harbor Blvd, San Pedro, CA 90731. Parking entrances are located Harbor Blvd and Swinford St and at Harbor Blvd and 1st St.
A copy of the document is available here on the Port of Los Angeles website (see table below) and at each of the following locations:
      • Port of Los Angeles Environmental Management Division, 222 W. 6th Street, Suite 1080, San Pedro, CA 90731
      • Los Angeles Public Library, San Pedro Branch, 931 S. Gaffey Street, San Pedro, CA 90731
      • Los Angeles Public Library, Wilmington Branch, 1300 N. Avalon, Wilmington, CA 90744
      • Carson Regional Library, 151 E. Carson Street, Carson, CA 90745
      • Martin Luther King Library, 17906 S. Avalon Blvd., Carson, CA 90746
      • Los Angeles Public Library, Central Branch, 630 W. 5th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90071
      • Long Beach Main Library, 101 Pacific Ave., Long Beach, CA 90822
      • Bret Harte Neighborhood Library, 1595 Willow St., Long Beach, CA 90810

For additional information, please contact the Port of Los Angeles Environmental Management Division at (310) 732-3675.

Southern California International Gateway Project
Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR)

Cover Letter Mitigation Monitoring and Reporting Program (MMRP)
Meeting Location Notice  
Chapter 1: Introduction Chapter 2: Response to Comments (Volume II)
Chapter 2: Response to Comments (Volume I) Chapter 3 Modifications to the EIR
Modified Appendices
Appendix C1:  Criteria Pollutant and GHG Emission Calculations Appendix G1: Intersection Calculation Sheets
Appendix C2: Dispersion Modeling of Criteria Pollutants Appendix G4: Intermodal Rail Analysis
Appendix C3: Health Risk Assessment Appendix I: Compilation of Attachments from Comment Letters on the Recirculated Draft EIR and Draft EIR (Volume I)
Appendix F: Noise Technial Study Appendix I: Compilation of Attachments from Comment Letters on the Recirculated Draft EIR and Draft EIR (Volume II)