Archive for August, 2014

A FACE WORTHY OF NORMAN ROCKWELL

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014
Most Reverend John J. Nevins, D.D. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Venice's website.

Most Reverend John J. Nevins, D.D. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Venice’s website.

Last night around 930pm, Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice called to inform me that Bishop John J. Nevins had just gone home to the Father. Bishop Nevins was the first bishop of Venice when the diocese was  established  in October of 1984. He and I lived on the same property in Miami for five years as I succeeded him as Rector of St. John Vianney College Seminary in 1979, but he remained on property as Auxiliary Bishop of Miami till his appointment to Venice in 1984.

An only child of first generation Irish parents, the bishop grew up in New Rochelle, New York where his education was largely in the hands of the Irish Christian brothers. Graduating from Iona College (also run by the Irish Christian Brothers) he entered the seminary for the Fathers of Mercy, a religious order of men, and studied at the Catholic University of America. Just before his ordination to the diaconate, the Fathers of Mercy were disbanded, leaving young John Nevins with no place to go.

A wonderful Sulpician priest recommended that the “homeless” seminarian contact Bishop Coleman F. Carroll who was in his second year as bishop of the new diocese of  Miami and upon doing that he was accepted as a seminarian for Miami and ordained to the priesthood on D-Day the sixth of June 1959. He held many positions in Miami including pastor of several parishes, director of Catholic Charities, and Rector of St. John Vianney College Seminary from 1974 till October 10, 1979. Venice was made a diocese in June of 1984 (along with Palm Beach) and he was installed as the first bishop in October of the same year. He served as active bishop for twenty three years until succeeded in office by Bishop Dewane.

I remember very well the consultation which preceded the decision to erect Venice as a diocese. Many people pointed out that it would be a challenging diocese to administer for a number of reasons, the major being that the population of the expected counties to be included consisted of many seniors and finding enough priests from within the diocese would be unlikely. True to predictions, the diocesan population grew very quickly and the need for priests increased even more exponentially than predicted.

It was also a large diocese. Since Bishop W. Thomas Larkin was a classmate in graduate school of St. John Paul II (he taught the pope his English), he was in the driver’s seat in shaping the size of the new diocese, ninety per cent of which was formerly the Diocese of St. Petersburg. Bishop Nevins, faced with these foreseen challenges and many more unforeseen led the diocese often by sheer force of his wining, loveable, Irish personality. He was always a good priest and a person of the people. He was also at the top his game when a priest was in trouble, caring for them and trying to get them the help they needed. In Miami and in Venice, he will be fondly remembered until we all die off as a “priests’ bishop”. Lay people and religious also responded to him well.

He could occasionally be unpredictable as when presiding at the funeral of Dr. Ben Shepherd, the seminary’s doctor, in the seminary chapel during the homily he walked down placed his hand on the casket and told the grieving widow in these precise words, “you know, the shell is still here but the nut is gone!” She shrieked in grief while the rest of us struggled to control our laughter. On the occasion of his 25th anniversary of his ordination, also in the seminary chapel, he began his homily with this line: “my mother and father were peasants” and I thought his mother, Ann, was going to come right out of the pew and “crown” her son.

John Nevins lived his life for his God and for his mother. He began to change and age and start his own walk to heaven’s gate when his mother died. I accompanied he and the casket on a bitterly cold December 27th to Kilkar, County Donegal, where she is buried. When the two of us climbed in the car to leave for Shannon and the next day’s flight home, it was akin to his spirit dropping like low blood pressure. He was a hoarder, never throwing anything away, but were you to visit his home, you had to be struck by the number of pictures of he and Pope John Paul II and he and his mother. It was like he was in love with both.

His period of declining health was long and drawn out and very sad. Bishop Dewane and the Chancellor, Dr. Volodymyr Smeryk took great care of the bishop. He had no other family than the Church and the Church cared deeply and lovingly for him. Many of us, bishops of Florida and priests, have missed him the last seven years during his declining health and next Wednesday at 11 a.m. when we gather at Epiphany Cathedral for his funeral Mass, everyone will have their own memories and recollections. I have shared only a slither of what I could say about this good man and I thank God for coming for him last night and ending his confinement.

Norman Rockwell once painted a picture of a very young John Nevins for the cover of THE SATURDAY EVENING POST magazine. Young Johnny was a red-head with freckles looking expectantly for something coming which was not there. Now he has seen the Lord and the same broad smile as in the Rockwell painting must be on his face.

+RNL

DEATH COMES TO CARDINAL SZOKA

Sunday, August 24th, 2014
"Cardinal Edmund C. Szoka takes a moment of prayer in his private chapel. | Photo by Larry A. Peplin". Photo originally in The Michigan Catholic newspaper, August 2011

“Cardinal Edmund C. Szoka takes a moment of prayer in his private chapel. | Photo by Larry A. Peplin”. Photo originally in The Michigan Catholic newspaper, August 2011

Let me begin with a simple declarative sentence. I very much liked Edmund Cardinal Szoka and I lament his passing. As most of my regular readers know, I spent eleven of my early priesthood years in the office of the General Secretary of what was then the National Conference of Catholic Bishops-United States Catholic Conference (from 1984-1995).

Twice during that period of time, Archbishop Szoka of Detroit served as Treasurer and a very good Treasurer at that. He was sharp, incisive, and most of the time fun to serve. He understood the worlds of accounting and investments and he was a great steward of the conference’s resources which ultimately could be tracked back to the offerings of God’s people in many of the dioceses.

He could be intimidating and often would revel in putting someone off guard and in a defensive posture but if you gave it right back to him, he appreciated that and never pulled rank or took offense. If you wish to learn a lot about his life, go to the website of the Archdiocese of Detroit where they have very fine tributes to this Churchman.

I wish to share with you from probably a unique standpoint one of the major moments in my life when dealing with him. Beginning in 1985, the Conferences knew Pope John Paul II wanted to make a second, but this time “pastoral visit”, to the United States of America and my boss, the General Secretary at the time, Monsignor Daniel Hoye remembering that I had organized the first papal visit in 1979 asked me as his Associate to lead the effort in the U.S.

I flew to Rome where I met with now Cardinal Roberto Tucci, S.J., Dr. Alberto Gasbarri who is now still in charge of all arrangements for papal trips, and Monsignor Emil Tscherrig who is now the Apostolic Nuncio to Argentina. The mind of the Holy Father and his collaborators were already fairly clear in that he did not wish to return to any of the places he visited in 1979: Boston, New York, Philadelphia, DesMoines, Chicago and Washington.

Additionally, President Reagan had taken the initiative never before undertaken on behalf of the government of the United States (the 1979 trip was at the invitation of the United Nations and the U.S. government under President Carter simply approved) to invite the Pope to make a pastoral visit.

From as early as 1985, we knew that the trip would focus on the South, Southwest, and West and we would not be traveling to the East or Midwest. There was an additional wrinkle which I was charged to address: in 1983 when making a pastoral visit to Canada, the Pope had to cancel a visit to native-Americans in Yellowknife in the Yukon Territory because fog prevented his plane from landing at Fort Simpson. Saint John Paul II promised the tribe that he would return and come and see them and he and his handlers wished me to make arrangements with the airline which would fly him back to Rome from the U.S. to divert to Fort Simpson prior to flying him on to Rome. It made good sense to end the trip on the West Coast where the flight to Fort Simpson would be only four hours during which the TWA 747 which I had chartered for the Rome trip would wait on the ground for the Pope to return from Yellowknife prior to making the nonstop journey back to Rome. (p.s., the  Canadian bishops wanted no part of paying for a charter plane to fly the Pope from their country home which until that moment was established protocol).

Archbishop Szoka, then in Detroit, approached the NCCB/USCC and asked for the inclusion of Detroit which he claimed had the highest concentration of Polish American Catholics in the U.S. The Conference’s response to him was negative but I knew in my heart that that would not be the last of it. I then learned that the good Archbishop had made a trip to Rome to personally ask the Holy Father to come and he was given a noncommittal response. When I called my colleagues in Rome, I was told that when they met with the pope after Szoka’s visit, the Pope had somewhat amusingly asked, “how many events did Pope Paul VI schedule in his travels to meet with Italians?” [The answer is zero]. A month or two more passed by before a call from Father Tucci asking me if I would do two things: explore the possibility of including Detroit at the end and then seeing if TWA would agree and could do it? I knew then that we were headed to Detroit come hell or high-water and shared that with my Secret Service head of the papal protection detail, Joseph Petro.

But the story does not end there. In November of 1986, I made my first visit to Detroit with SAIC Petro and my associates to see what we might do and whether or not it could be done logistically. The U.S. portion of the trip was already 9 days long at a cost then to the local Church of about three million dollars a day plus additional cost to the communities, the federal government, the state governments for security and logistical assistance. Some things fell into place almost immediately. The Mass would be at the Pontiac Silverdome. We would not go to SS Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Orchard Lake even though it was the only Polish language seminary in the country. But the Archbishop wanted a pure Polish event in Hamtramck, a largely Polish neighborhood in Detroit.

At dinner at his residence that evening with Agent Petro and his Detroit SAIC Jim Huse, after telling us how much money the crystal stemware and china we were using cost, Archbishop Szoka promised that the next morning we would visit Hamtramack where he, the Archbishop, was a rock star in his own right and could not walk ten feet without being stopped, ring kissed and adored and if that could happen to him, how much more would Poland’s great son be welcomed.

At the far end of the table were to be found the Archbishop’s two priest secretaries: Father (later Bishop) Kevin Britt and, I think, either Father Leonard Blair (now Archbishop of Hartford) or possibly Father John Zenz and they were laughing and joking among themselves. Later Father Britt said to me, “Bob, wait till tomorrow and you’ll see why we were laughing.”

The next day dawned very cold, dreary and rainy. We drove to Hamtramck, got out of the car and started walking and not one person we passed on the sidewalk took any notion to any of us, including the Archbishop. “I don’t understand,” he said, “they are usually falling all over themselves to greet me.” Frustrated he motioned that we should go into a meat market which had Polish sausage hanging from the rafters as well as surrounding a large framed picture of the Archbishop.” A butcher came up and simply asked if he could help us? Archbishop Szoka, now desperate, pointed to the picture of himself surround by the sausage and finally a “connection” was made and the Archbishop recognized. Father Britt was beside himself laughing.

We finished a proposed schedule for the visit which I promptly flew to Rome with, Detroit was included, all went well, and I became a friend of Cardinal Szoka for the rest of his days, including a frequent guest at his table when visiting Rome but only after being reminded of the cost of the table settings which was really something for a “poor boy from Grand Rapids.”

Finally, several years ago I attended the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the Diocese of Gaylord where the Cardinal had been their first bishop. It was a proud, homecoming day for him made more so by the gracious attention showered on him by their fourth bishop, Bishop [now Archbishop] Bernard Hebda. Every time the Cardinal heard his name mentioned he would smile and stand up and the congregation would applaud.

He did very good things in his ministry and please don’t allow my story above to color your sense of what a great churchman he was. I admired him deeply and in my case that is hard to earn too often or easily. He never shied away from anything which he thought was good for the Gospel or the Church and was a real leader and that is what is most important about this once poor son of immigrant parents. May he rest now in the peace of the Kingdom to which he pointed many in his lifetime.

+RNL

SEX AND SACRED HEART ACADEMY

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

I was awakened this morning by the sound of an e-mail being received which was from my former Vicar General, Monsignor Robert Gibbons, pastor of St. Paul parish in St. Petersburg. He called my attention to an article in today’s TAMPA TRIBUNE about an apparently raunchy and sleazy movie filmed on location at the now largely deserted Sacred Heart Academy Building (his grade school Alma Mater). Reading the article quickly led me to believe that Sacred Heart parish and its pastor had been duped by the producer of the film and that proper oversight of any agreement to use church facilities which is in place had not been exercised. I wish to begin by apologizing to all alumni of SHA who like myself are embarrassed and perhaps even mortified by today’s revelations and to assure all it will not happen again. Here are the facts as I can best determine them.

  1. The producer of the film approached the pastor of Sacred Heart and he entered an agreement without reading the script allowing use of the buildings in return for an agreed upon rental fee. While not reading the script, he was shown an outline which he says did not raise any “alarms” and feels he was “used”. He is a very fine pastor.
  2. The diocese requires that any such requests be vetted with my office and with legal counsel for the diocese which has a rental agreement form with requirements (including review of the script) ready for execution. There was no request for assistance from the diocese or its legal counsel and the parish executed the agreement on its own.
  3. Last year an article in the TRIBUNE brought up the matter of the concurrent filming and upon learning of it, the Vicar General, Monsignor Robert Morris called the pastor and then learned that indeed an agreement had been entered into which would return some money on an unused, vacant building that was costing money. Additionally, the offensive scenes had already been filmed and Monsignor Morris learned that it was too late to do anything about it.
  4. Had proper procedures which are in place been followed, this would not have happened and the embarrassment avoided.
  5. In today’s article the producer basically revels in the fact that the pastor and diocese has been duped and I readily admit that we do look bad. But, the old adage, “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice shame on me” is operative in this instance and again I sincerely apologize for this publicly painful moment. It will not happen again.

+RNL

THE CHILDREN OF CENTRAL AMERICA

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

I think my readership is due an update on the matter of the children from Honduras and Guatemala who are being sent north by their parents to escape the savagery of gang violence in their homeland. First, thank you for your amazing generosity in responding to my blog. Catholic Charities has the names of many local families willing to offer temporary residence if and when it is legal to do so. The political situation remains unchanged. On Friday last the government closed the last reception center along the border with Mexico and all children are now housed in detention centers or some have been sent to relatives living legally in the US. Most, however, are just awaiting a decision on what their status is: undocumented or refugee. The Obama Administration has not made a decision thus far. If and when these children are awarded refugee status, then our resources and ability to find them temporary housing until they can  be returned to their parents, families and homes can be utilized. Congress will also have to allow them refugee status and as I mentioned in my earlier blog, the run-up to the election in November makes their probable course of action less and less likely.

On the good side, Mexico is making it harder to use their country for transporting these children north and therefore the number coming into this country is substantially down.  We can’t begin to do what we are very good at, however, until these kids are treated as refugees and not felons. Continue to pray for enlightenment for those who exercise governance and authority over our laws and for those children who in the thousands are cooped up in a detention center awaiting either deportation or some other, more humanitarian solution.

+RNL

TRAVELS WITH TIM – DAY TWO

Monday, August 11th, 2014

If six hours late last night seemed ominous, I woke up in Sacramento this morning and after consulting my watch discovered that we were now nine hours late. During the night, in Oakland, the Union Pacific Railroad lent us another locomotive which attached on to the one AMTRAK engine that couldn’t and the one that could. In addition, in Oakland we added three more cars to the rear of the train which are “Private Cars” chartered by people with more money than God. Sacramento which was scheduled as a twenty-five minute stop took an hour and we just get later and later. Tim’s flight home tomorrow from Seattle is at 830am and we are to arrive in Seattle, if we are lucky which God knows we  have not been so far, at 300am. I am once again more worried about my brother than the ill locomotives.

There is a good side of what has happened to us in that we are seeing some of the most spectacular scenery in the West which normally would be traversed at night and in total darkness. As I type this I am looking at gorgeous Mt. Shasta and there is more awesome scenery to come as we journey through Klamath Falls and the Pacific Cascade mountains.

The Second day is spent in the Cascade Mountains.

The second day is spent in the Cascade Mountains.

Tim and I slept well in our respective cubicles, oblivious to anything happening to or on the train. At breakfast we sat with a couple who should have boarded the train in Emeryville (San Francisco but across the Bay Bridge) at 954pm last night but instead boarded at 550am this morning. All night long in a train station in Oakland with little information about when their train would arrive. So I guess Tim and I were lucky and he seems to be feeling better each hour which is something of a relief to me because I am now concerned about putting him on the plane tomorrow with no sleep.

He continues to “shine” in the dining car with his stories about the railroads of the past and he is a great story teller. I think our Dad would be proud of him because of his love of trains. He detests Republicans because they want to eliminate AMTRAK (among other things) so I hold my breath when he begins to venture into politics. Sometimes I have to kick him, under the table, of course. When a tablemate mentioned FOX News and their slogan, “fair and balanced”, Tim retorted “We deceive, you decide!” Such are the risks of traveling with Tim.

From what I can tell, the passengers don’t seem too concerned about the delay. Most people just shrug it off and say something like, “It’s AMTRAK, what do you expect?” A long time ago I purchased a scanner which allows me to eavesdrop on conversations on trains between the crew and between the engineer and the dispatcher. On this trip, I have to say that the host railroad, the Union Pacific, has handled this train very well and we have yet to be delayed by pulling into a passing siding to await a freight. The serious part of the delay on this trip is owing to AMTRAK not maintaining their motive power to reliable standards. Because we were so late last night and arrived at major station stops like San Jose, California, Oakland’s two AMTRAK stops, the car attendants have had little time to sleep but they seem to be maintaining their sense of good cheer and that might translate into passenger behavior being more passive. We will see what happens later tonight when they run out of food and beverage.

This morning I read the editorial in THE TAMPA BAY TIMES which picks up on my recent blog about the children of Central America who are being shipped across the border by their parents. I am grateful to the editorial board of the TIMES for their support of my call for a humanitarian response to this situation.

We arrived in Klamath Falls, Oregon at about 445pm and I made my first decision in consultation with Tim. We are going to “bale” on the Coast Starlight in Tacoma rather than ride it all the way into Seattle. The airport lies half way between the two cities so why go all the way into Seattle at 3am only to backtrack halfway. I called the airport hotel where we had reservations and they gave me the number for Yellow Cab who assured me a driver would be awaiting our arrival. Both of us will try to get four hours of sleep on the train prior to arriving in Tacoma and then his plane to Fort Lauderdale is at 830am – poor guy.

At five-thirty, AMTRAK is feeding all the coach passengers with a free “conscience” meal, apologizing in doing so for the incredible tardiness of the train. I must find out what they gave them. They do have a version of the military’s “Ready to Eat” meals but I hope that is not what they are getting. A refund would be much more appreciated!

The on-board crew is slowly beginning to show some times of too much work and too little rest. Amazingly, if they get into Seattle as predicted around 300am, they report back on duty at 700am and work the southbound train back to Los Angeles which is their home base. Tim and I both have an affection for railroad people, since we were both one of them at sometime in our lives.

We bailed in Tacoma where it was 422am when the Sunset Limited came to a stop. The taxi I had ordered to take us to the airport motel for what should have been a full night’s sleep but for Tim ended up being two hours was waiting and by five we were in our rooms. Tim left the  hotel on the 7am shuttle bus and we parted.

Both of us are certain that our long-distance train ride days ended early this morning and neither of us are sad about that. As two brothers who seemed to have grown in love for one another much too late in  life and with Jim who faces back surgery next Friday, we are aware that our final journey looms closer and closer. For that there will be no broken down locomotive, but only our sins and virtues to determine speed and final stop. I did not think Tim and I would ever try a long trip again after the last one and today we are both certain that there will indeed be no more. It’s not AMTRAK’s doing, it is our advancing years and infirmities.

Most of you who read this do not need my advice but don’t take those you love the most for granted. Even a long life is limited. Blessings and thanks, Tim.

+RNL

P.S.  On Monday afternoon, Tim went to see his primary VA physician who promptly placed him in an ambulance and sent him to Hollywood Memorial Regional Hospital where he is presently in the Emergency Room undergoing tests focusing on his heart. They will likely keep him tonight for observation. It is reported that his spirits are good, the earlier CAT scan revealed non return of the previous lung cancer but his EKG is off the charts. What a week that was, has been and hopefully will be! Prayers, please, for both Tim and Jim.

TRAVELS WITH TIM AGAIN

Monday, August 11th, 2014

When last we left my brother Tim in this space, a few years ago he and I had just completed a transcontinental train trip from Seattle to Chicago to Charlottesville, Virginia, to Hollywood, Florida, spanning five days and nights with one overnight in Chicago. Both of us thought that would mark the end of our train travel, likely for the rest of our lives. Recently, Tim’s medical condition worsened and someone our diversionary conversation switched to trains which we wished we had ridden but had not. I should have known better.

As I write this the two brothers are back on the rails again, having left Los Angeles at 1115am this morning [Thursday] bound for Seattle and hoping beyond hope to arrive there sometime tomorrow night, in time for a good night’s sleep before flying back home on Saturday.

Tim is not feeling at all well this afternoon, but he is so excited by the train trip that it is hard to get him to concentrate on how poorly he is feeling. He had a CAT scan on Tuesday prior to flying to Los Angeles yesterday and thinks the injection may have something to do with his general condition. I am worried as I pen these lines and thinking of alternatives. But I probably should be more worried about a “sick” locomotive.

Back to the train trip, however. We are aboard AMTRAK’s train number 14 which is called the “Coast Starlight”. it is a 1377 mile trip from LA to Sleeplessville and if everything works like it should, it will take thirty-four hours. But this is AMTRAK and not everything is working like it should, or maybe I should say it is working exactly like it does (not should). After flying into LA and meeting at the airport yesterday, we overnighted near Union Station in LA to position ourselves well for our 1010am departure this morning.

LA’s Union Station is now one of the nation’s treasures. After years of desuetude, this monument to the days of the great transcontinental trains like the Santa Fe’s Super Chief, El Capitan and Union Pacific’s City of Los Angeles has come back to life with trains departing at all hours of the day and evening to San Diego, Santa Barbara, myriad LA suburbs and a few AMTRAK name trains to the Bay Area and Seattle, Chicago, and New Orleans. This morning it was full of life and has been magnificently restored. It even has its own Starbucks for heaven’s sake.

The adventure began at LA's majestic Union Station.

The adventure began at LA’s majestic Union Station.

The main concourse at Union Station.

The main concourse at Union Station.

Arriving at 900am for our 1010am departure,we found the special lounge for sleeping car passengers totally full. Tim and I were the youngest people in the assembly by far at 73 and 71. If you are old and want to feel young, just ride an AMTRAK sleeping car!

Anyway, 1010am arrived and there was no train in the station. “We’re having a mechanical issue in the yard and the train has not been cleared yet to back into the station” we were told nicely. At 1035am, good news. “The train has been released and is backing into the station and so please leave for platform 10 and have a nice trip” A delightful Redcap took our luggage, piled us into a golf cart and away we drove to the platform just as the train was arriving. We left LA one hour and five minutes late without moving a wheel – an augur of things to come I suspect.

The very first stop on the journey was twenty minutes outside of Union Station at “Bob Hope Amtrak Station, Burbank where we sat and sat and sat. Eventually the lady conductor came on the PA to announce they hd to summon the police to remove a recalcitrant passenger who was a stow-away without a ticket but still refused to leave the train on his own power. Turns out a night in the Burbank jail might have been better than a night on the Coast Starlight. We are now 95 minutes late and only twenty miles from where we started.

We have two rooms this time because between us we weigh 445 pounds and can generate enough heat in a small space to be comfortable in Fairbanks in the dead of winter. Also, I need to make sure, that one room was on each side of the train because this is the second most scenic train trip in the US (AMTRAK’S “California Zephyr” between the Bay Area and Denver is, in my opinion the most beautiful).

Brother Tim happy in his sleeping compartment.

Brother Tim happy in his sleeping compartment.

Ninety minutes after leaving Union Station travelling north, the train hugs the Pacific Coast for about 145 miles, and I do mean “hugs”. There are moments when you can see the fish in the crystal clear water and when not looking at fish, today we saw one in ten Californians enjoying a  magnificent beach day.

By the sea, by the sea by the beautiful sea.

By the sea, by the sea by the beautiful sea.

At Gaviota, California, our lead locomotive died. Kerplopp!! Would not start, would not work, would not run the air conditioning system or electrical system. Another forty minute delay but it was decided that we could at least get to San Luis Obispo with the one good engine. Now two and one half hours late and 90 miles from where we started.

The most beautiful part is between Mission Santa Barbara and Mission San Luis Obispo, two of Father Junipero Serra’s magnificent California mission churches. The rails are right along the seaside and the beach is sometimes less than thirty feet away. Tim is excited and has his HD videocam and his new Canon Sureshot working hard. Someone is going to have to sit through a long showing of ocean pictures taken from a moving train when we get home.

You and me, you and me by the beautiful sea.

You and me, you and me by the beautiful sea.

Lunch was in the Dining Car at noon. There are a lot of people on this train and it is one of AMTRAK’s most profitable long-distance routes. Some will get off tonight when we arrive in Oakland and others will take their place because we are full all the way – four sleeping cars, four coaches, a diner, a lounge and something unique to this train called therr “Pacific Parlor Car” about which I will write tomorrow. Each sleeping car has 43 individual beds and each coach holds 60 people so this journey will find a possible 420 people on board during these very popular summer months.

The regular Dining Car ready for lunch the first day out.

The regular Dining Car ready for lunch the first day out.

This is one of four remaining 1950's era "Pacific Parlour" cars which AMTRAK has retained.

This is one of four remaining 1950’s era cars which AMTRAK has retained.

Outside of San Luis Obispo we pass the southbound Coast Starlight also running two hours and a half late. It seems they ran out of green beans and asked if we would stop and lend them some from our larder (I am not kidding – it was akin to passing Grey Poupon from one train to another.

We leave San Luis Obispo two hours and forty minutes late but we borrow a freight engine from the Union Pacific Railroad to help us climb a steep grade leaving town. It worked, we got to the summit of the spectacular climb, said good-bye to the borrowed engine and proceeded about one half mile when the only good AMTRAK engine we had left konked out. Kerploop. Two additional hours of hard work by the engineer and conductor got it fixed but now we were six hours late and we had only just begun.

AMTRAK's Coast Starlight at San Luis Obispo, California. Engine 23 is dead!!!!

AMTRAK’s Coast Starlight at San Luis Obispo, California. Engine 23 is dead!!!!

Off we finally rush to Paso Robles, our next stop, which we should have arrived at 437pm but it was now 1037pm when we pulled in. I counted eight stalwart citizens on the platform but then we are told that there has been a medical emergency on board and an ambulance needed to be called. Lost another thirty minutes. That was enough for Tim and I and we went to bed with almost a full moon illuminating the Salinas Valley, breadbasket of California and home to John Steinbeck’s OF MICE AND MEN and Cesar Chavez.

The Lynches looked at day one and said “it was good!”

+RNL