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Jack Smith

An Afternoon Spent Getting Into Training

February 15, 1989|Jack Smith

My granddaughter and I arrived at San Juan Capistrano aboard Amtrak shortly after noon, and were met on the platform by two members of the San Juan Capistrano Friends of the Library.

I was scheduled to speak to the friends that afternoon. They had sent me two train tickets, but my wife couldn't go, so I had invited my granddaughter, Alison, to take her place.

She had proved to be an excellent traveling companion: amiable, patient, uncomplaining. She had given me a moment of anxiety, though, when she wandered back through the train to talk with another girl. As we neared our stop, I grew uneasy, and sent the conductor to fetch her. She was unhappy with me.

We had lunch at El Adobe, a popular Mexican restaurant near the depot. We were nine adults and one child, seated at a round table. Alison ordered the child's plate, for children under 11.

"You're 11, aren't you?" I said.

"Yes. But I can't eat one of those big dinners."

"It's OK," I said. "If they charge you for an adult plate we'll pay it."

I didn't want her to think it was all right to pretend to be 10. We must teach them honesty and ethics at an early age. As it turned out, I should have ordered the child's plate myself.

After lunch we drove past the old mission to the new library. It is a charming, playful building by Michael Graves. Times architecture critic Sam Hall Kaplan has called it "a Postmodern rendition of Southwestern mythical motif," or, more informally, "Taco Bell with style." I call it "fairy tale modern."

Evidently having nothing better to do with their Sunday afternoon, the friends had turned out in numbers large enough to fill the auditorium. My granddaughter sat in the front row, trying not to look restless.

After the talk, the friends gave me a sack with two bottles of Chardonnay in it, and a woman gave me a vase with orchids in water, for my wife. I put the vase in the sack between the bottles of wine. They took us back to the depot. We had about an hour to wait for the 4:10 train. The depot has a bar and restaurant scattered through a string of dining cars. People were sitting at tables, drinking, or on waiting benches. A jazz trio was entertaining. We sat on a bench and listened to jazz for a while.

"Were you bored by my talk?" I asked her.

"S ome things you said were funny," she allowed. I thought it was a fairly flattering opinion, considering.

We walked through some nearby shops. I thought of buying her some earrings, but the last time I had bought her earrings her mother had regarded them with less than enthusiasm.

Finally we went out by the track and sat on a bench to wait in the sun. At 4 p.m. the train came, but it was going to San Diego. "Your train will be along in 10 minutes," the conductor said. There was only one track. I tried to explain to my granddaughter how two trains, going in opposite directions, could use the same track. But I really didn't know.

The train came. We found our car but had to sit in separate seats. At Santa Ana the man sitting beside me got off and my granddaughter took his seat.

It was a pleasant ride back. Snow covered the San Gabriel Mountains. Voluptuous black and silver storm clouds lay on the foothills and hovered over the ocean to the west. The sky overhead was clear. As we neared Los Angeles the clouds over the mountains turned a soft peach color and the clouds over the ocean turned a fiery red gold. If I had been driving on the freeway I would never have noticed.

We rolled into Union Station and came to a stop without a lurch. We hurried down the ramp and streamed through the station with the other disembarking passengers and found my parked car.

I thought the entire trip was an unqualified success.

Unfortunately the water in the vase had spilled into the sack, and when I was climbing the stairs to my house the sack broke and the bottles fell to the concrete porch with an ominous clink.

Thank God they didn't break. That would have spoiled the trip.

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