My friend Iva told me about it, and it sounded too good to be true. A $5 Metrolink train ride from Union Station to the ocean at San Clemente, the platform just a few feet from the beach, a pier, and cafes you can walk to. Her enthusiasm was pure and contagious. "It's just like Europe!" she said.
So, it's Labor Day weekend. The perfect time to be at the beach, and the perfect time not to be driving. Saturday morning, we are on the train. And it's nearly empty. I had to ask myself, is this a state secret? We have "system-wide," round-trip tickets that cost $10 and can be used on Sunday as well. The ride is about an hour and twenty, and -- just as advertised -- the beach is directly across from the station platform. The water is blue, and the surf is high, the beaches fairly crowded but not miserably so.
Why was I not told about this sooner? And don't tell me I was out of town.
It's a happy day, with a couple of drawbacks. First, is the schedule. The last train back to L.A. leaves at 4:30, which means no time to eat dinner in a restaurant on the pier. (At 7 p.m. we ate dinner at Mongolian BBQ in Silver Lake, sun-drenched and hungry, and permitted the illusion we were still at the beach.)
The second off-put is the presence of both sheriff's deputies and three bomb-squad uniformed cops with their labrador-retriever bomb dog. Chicken Corner's guess = Labor Day weekend, when train stations across the nation are probably on high alert. Every time a train (Amtrack and Metrolink) arrives, the cops patrol the "platform," which actually is at ground level.
The three lifeguards at our station were on stand-up alert, too, frantic with their binoculars, with the crowds and the busy surf. All this nervous energy, kind of made me think of NYC.
Photos: Top, Union Station, Saturday morning; middle, our train, Saturday morning; bottom, 4:20 p.m., seasoned ticket-holders wait for the train back to L.A.