Dean Clough

August 13, 2021

Portico Darwin: Arrival Arizona Biltmore + High Speed Rail

It's Friday, so why not a super long post?

Later today, we fly to the convection oven of Phoenix for 3 nights.  Now, some/many/all may question the wisdom of heading there in August.  To that I say you should see the nice ski jacket I bought for summers here in SF. 

So, yeah, it'll be hot, but that's what the AC, pool, Weissbier and fine rum are for.  Plus, we've really wanted to get back here and see if a recent reno has corrected the travesties we witnessed in 2018

And no matter what, with Ol' Purple Label and the dog-purse Silly joining us, it'll be a party, indoors or out.  We're hoping for a minimum of Killer, but we're fearing Bogus.  Stay tuned - there will be no Phoenix Travel Guide (we'll never leave the hotel) but there will certainly be a complete, unvarnished review of The Arizona Biltmore.   I believe this will be our 6th or 7th visit, dating to the early aughts, so there will be no make-nice.

This might come as a surprise, but most times when I travel, I am disappointed.  Now, no sane person would be disappointed by the travel year I've had since 2020, or before, for that matter.  Rather, I am disappointed at the dearth of options for going.  It's fly or drive.  Why aren't high-speed trains another option, at least for shorter trips?

I'm afraid that we know the answer.  One party, which begins with an "R" and displays an unusual fealty to Tr***, simply refuses to acknowledge high-speed rail works great on most continents. 

Many cite my beloved California and its escapade in building a real, live bullet train from SF to LA as an example of total government disfunction and a general inability to get big things done.   That is true - it has been a mess from its start through now.  People should be held accountable and fired.  As a professional program manager, I am ashamed, despite having zero involvement in any of it.

But did you know that the French national passenger railway company, SNCF - a company that built and operates profitably arguably the best high-speed rail network on Earth - offered to build California's system for a fixed price of $40 billion in 2010?  We'd be dining in LA tonight if we had gotten started then with real experts - like SNCF.  But our national hubris (and corruption) stopped it.  

Worse, did you know that, with our nutty regulations, nutty work rules and nutty activists, that it costs something like TEN TIMES the amount to build a mile of high-speed rail in the US as it does . . . wait for it . . .  in FRANCE!  So maybe it's time to re-think France as overly-unionized, with pampered workers that lay around, sip Bordeaux, and get nothing done between Gauloises breaks?  Because if that were the case, wouldn't it cost 10 times more to build high-speed rail in France than here?

But my friends, instead, the French have beautiful high-speed trains that are a pleasure to ride.  We have Amtrak. 
There's more.  As I wrote on Wednesday, we need to get serious about climate change, now.  We need to get people out of fossil-fuel powered vehicles and into electric ones ASAP.  High-speed rail - which uses electric power exclusively - could replace a heck of a lot of short-haul plane flights, and thus eliminate the carbon those flights put in to the atmosphere.  The airlines are shooting for 2050 for carbon neutrality; high-speed rail is there today.

My plan is massive and simple.  First, let's identify city pairs that are 500 miles or less apart, where the populations are the greatest.  I chose that number because a train traveling at an average speed of 150 mph could carry people about that far in 3 hours.   Here are some:

  • SF - LA
  • Seattle - Portland
  • Miami - Orlando (in progress by a private company)
  • NYC - Boston
  • NYC - Washington DC
  • Dallas - Houston
  • Houston - Austin
  • New Orleans - Houston
  • LA - Las Vegas (in progress by a private company)
  • Chicago to about a jillion places (jeez, shouldn't it be the Silicon Valley of bullet trains?

And there are others.

Next, the cost.  I have two comments on that.  One, reality-based, is that if we could ever get our financial house in order, we'd have the money.  The second, snark-based, is that there's never an issue coming up with trillions for wars and the Department of Defense in general.  OMFG to have those trillions back that we dropped in Iraq for no good reason!

(Actually, I have 3 comments.  There are services governments provide that don't necessarily turn a profit, even beyond the military.  Nobody questions the ROI on a firehouse, public school, airport, or especially, a highway.  How we've let ourselves be sold that high-speed rail is different is beyond me - the manifold intangible benefits have been studied and documented.  It works when done correctly.)

I would then re-visit partnering with SNCF, and/or Deutche Bahn (Germany), Thayls (Belgium), Trenitalia (Italy), or JR East (Japan), for help building out our system in America.  I love this quote from the article above, in regard to California's approach:

 "It's like California is trying to design and build a Boeing 747 instead of (just) going out and buying one."

Why in the world we think we can't learn from other countries and their experiences is beyond me (and not just this - think about health care and labor unions for starters).  Let's do what America does best:  throw massive amounts of  money around and get it done.  Let's have folks that have already successfully built THOUSANDS OF MILES of high-speed rail already, over several decades, take the lead, we'll pay for it, and share in the revenues. 

One can dream, no?

Or can't we ever nice things again in America?  I took this in 2010, in Bologna, Italy.  We rode it, it went 150 miles per hour, emitted no carbon, and the ride was akin to sitting in my living room.  WTF, USA?


I was pleased to hear we aren't the only ones cheering "The White Lotus" on HBO.  Byron Browne IV, viewing with Louise from their sumptuous, fog-shrouded manse in posh Mount Davidson Manor, wrote 

"We are also digging White Lotus!
(And) while I love Clapton’s music, I’ve lost respect for the guy based on his racist rants and anti-vax stance.  Seems like a real D-bag!"

YES and YES!  "White Lotus" is as searing an indictment of America's empty, consumption-driven culture as I've seen in a very long while.  (I believe anyone can watch the first episode for free online.)  And I've broached this subject before, having read Clapton's autobiography.  While I'm glad he didn't die with Stevie Ray Vaughan, Clapton's a complete jackass, and if there was ever a guy who should keep his guitar case open and his mouth shut, it's EC.

Staying on the entertainment front, I want to share with my thousands of subscribers something fellow AARP-avoider Arthur shared with me.  I hope Steven Simon and all the other big Rush fans out there are reading this, because wow.  Thanks, AAA.  Here, from this past Tuesday night (!), is Primus performing side 1 of Rush's "A Farewell to Kings".   

(Super fun fact, which allows me to drop two names in one story.  A former client, husband of one of Nick Pritzker's daughters [Nick was also a client], would often tell me stories of events at his kids' private school here in SF where he'd meet fellow parent, Les Claypool.  He said he was a great guy, and not a bad bass player, either.)

And then there is the clearly unoccupied Hunter Deuce, who is lounging poolside at their apparently quite exclusive vacation home in downtown Sonoma.  Hunter was very excited about two pieces of news.  First, he got all Carl Sagan on us re:  the Perseid Meteor Shower.  And then, on the former (way former) SF Giant hero, Aubrey Huff:

"Aubrey Huff has finally been kicked off of Twitter for being a huge, misogynistic tool. About time."

Oh, Huff Daddy, you've traded the Rally Thong for a Moron Thong one too many times.  We still don't win in 2010 without you, though.  Hunter and I won't soon forget this day, November 3, 2010:


(In fact, I forgot most of it.  The Giants' first SF title in 2010 resulted in a 3 day bender by yours truly, the parade being its culmination.)

Thank you to any one that is reading this blog.

Politically, high-speed rail is the same old story, same old song and dance.  But I do long for a day when the (high-speed) trains are rolling, even at night.  Alas, it is apparently our country's season of wither, so that's highly doubtful. 

Here is some of that put to music, on a sophomore effort for the ages, with Aerosmith and "Get Your Wings". 

About Dean Clough