Wednesday, October 29, 2008

go, go, go. as fast as your legs can take you.

After a full night's sleep, I spent a good day walking up and down hills, looking at colorful homes, checking out caf├ęs, and walking along the bay. At first I just went up any street that was higher than the one I was currently walking along. I soon noticed how many people had well defined legs.

I hadn't arranged my plans for the next few days, so I did that while resting at the top of a hill in the shade of a large cathedral. Since I was just going to be in San Francisco for the day before heading to Santa Barbara overnight, I had nowhere to store anything, so I was carrying everything I had with me. It was exhausting, but felt good at the same time.

The weather was cool, but sunny, and I had a good time exploring the different neighborhoods that seamlessly butted up against eachother. I like the idea of a city that's so completely walkable, but doesn't feel small. The differences in elevation were crazy to me, giving a constantly changing view of the city.

I walked through Chinatown and North Beach and up through Telegraph Hill, then down toward the pier and watched some teenagers do tricks on bikes that would have left me in a crumpled broken heap on the pavement. I relaxed on the pier until the sun finally crept behind the buildings downtown before making my way to the bus station. I still had a couple hours to kill, but I was cold and exhausted and buried myself in a book until the bus came.

* Dinner with Brian last night "—so this old guy's scooting along the wall like a ninja. We get his gun, and he's got a glock. I mean it's nicer than mine. So I'm wrestling him to the ground, and he puts a voodoo curse on me. So now I'm cursed. And the guy was a Jehova's Witness."

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Monday, October 20, 2008

in the middle of the night.

Stopped for one night in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. The train was late getting in, and I didn't have all that much time to look around, but there was plenty of time to meet a weirdo with whom I shared a hostel. Sweet.

The next day was another two day train ride which brought me into Emeryville, California, across from San Francisco. This ride was great, and we went through the Sierras.

I met some great people on this stretch – some musicians, a woman and her daughter visiting family, a guy heading back to school at Berkeley, a Native American named Yellow Horse, and a New Zealander who lived in Ireland and was vacationing in the States.

I spent a lot of time in the observation car talking with people, learning a couple card games, and making my way back and forth through the train cars. This two-day stretch was pretty special, and as we all talked and told stories, we got to know some of the people working on the train. The engineer was L.A. Walker, the conductor's name was D.C. Cannon though he went by Daryl, and the diner car guys nametags said "Curly" and "Johnny Rivers." I swear I couldn't have come up with better names had I written this part into a movie.

Heather and Kendall (the little one) behind me having a good time, and this nervous guy next to me was moving across country to go to school. It was interesting to learn everyone's story, and how they were all very different.

Lots of people just hung out in their regular train car seats, keeping to themselves and watching movies, reading a book, doing crossword puzzles, or just trying to get comfortable while sleeping. I was glad to have hung out in the lounge car instead. The girl in the green shirt was named "Cloud" (Claudia, but called Cloud since she was five,) and was heading home to Berkeley where she had a jewelry and hair wrap stand on Telegraph Ave.

This girl, Lea, was moving from Denver to the west coast. She was a singer/songwriter/guitarist and had a voice that could knock you down flat and pick you right back up again. She was travelling with another guitar player, and they were just sort of enjoying being transient for the moment and deciding where to stay for a while.

I don't remember this little guy's name, but he was a nice sort of fellow, though somewhat reserved.

The guy that was going back to school at Berkeley looked like kind of a jerk at first glance. Collared light pink shirt, strategically tattered jeans, club shoes, and a half frown on his face. Turns out he was exceptionally nice once I started talking with him, and he was in the middle of trying to get Amtrak to utilize a better recycling program. He was an environmental law student and one night after a few drinks it came up that he played accordion pretty well and had one with him.

Turned into a fun late night with him, Lea, and the other musician all trading off playing songs and entertaining about 6 of us on the lounge car. At night, on the train with guitars, and songs, and even one harmonica. It's either cheesy or pretty amazing, and I'm definitely siding with amazing on this one.

Bert, the other musician.

Look at all that country back there. There's just so much of it.

Three-plus days on the train put me into Emeryville five hours late, and I'd missed my transfers by that point. Decided to take a bus into San Francisco with a few others and figure something out, though it was a Friday night, and I soon found that all the hostels were full. Finally found a hotel and a shower, and spent the next day in San Francisco before taking an overnight bus to see Janice.

On the train, there was this girl in one of the back cars who was travelling alone with just a backpack and this oversized panda bear. She never seemed to leave her seat, and when I'd pass by at night, she'd be peacefully resting against his large expressionless head.

After several days on the train we all dragged ourselves onto the bus, a short distance from our final destination. I hadn't slept well since leaving Chicago, and I was exhausted, sore, and delirious. I collapsed into my seat and stared out the window for a while. When I looked up, I saw this silly little grin beaming back at me, and I just started to laugh.

Sunday, October 05, 2008


Trains are a lot of fun. Taking a train out west may be one of the best ways to see the countryside. At least that's what I've heard, and although I've never driven through, seeing as you can't really sail through and the fact that you don't see much from 35,000 feet, I'd say that a train ride is definitely in the top two ways to see the left half of the country.

I've never been on a real train before, so I was a little anxious and excited when I got to the station, wondering where everyone was going, who they were visiting, and what sorts of things might be coming up.

I saw one young woman struggling with two suitcases, a large bag, a backpack, and a bicycle. In fact, many people had ridiculous amounts of luggage. While waiting in line to board, I heard someone say my name, and it turns out that the girl with the bike was Sonia (David Morley's girlfriend,) and she was heading to California to visit family.

We shared the ride until I got to Glenwood Springs, my first stop, roughly 28 hours later. It was fun sharing the experience with someone I knew, and as it was her first time going out by train as well, we had a lot of fun together and spent a lot of time in the lounge car.

We shared snacks and stories, met some fun people, and ate in the diner car. A lot of the time we just spent staring out the windows, watching the scenery go by. We went through Illinois and most of southern Iowa the first night, and slept through most of Nebraska. The scenery wasn't as boring as I expected. It was refreshing to see patches of farmland, old homes and ranches, and small towns that sort of ran themselves.

We went past general stores, and people waved. Some stations looked like they had been there for a hundred years. Some were just slabs of concrete next to the rails. One was completely bare except for an elderly woman and an old yellow lab.

One thing I was drawn to once we were in a rural area was the old telephone poles. They were rickety looking, crooked, and chewed up. The lines were thin, and the crossbars all had the old-style glass insulators on top of them which the wires wrapped around. The insulators were different colors and all seemed to catch the sunlight, spilling out rays of green or red light. I wish I could have gotten a good photo of one of them, but it was tough to catch.

Colorado is incredibly picturesque, and I wish we had slowed down a bit once we got into the mountains along the river. It was more than a little humbling, seeing these massive natural structures jutting out of the ground at dramatic angles, scraping the clouds, with trees and other wildlife barely able to cling to the sides. I just wanted to sit and stare all day.

The town of Glenwood Springs is home to some amazing natural hot springs, and since they're visited by tens of thousands of people each year, periodically they will be closed for maintenance or cleaning. It was one of those days when I was there. At least there was a big red mountain.