I got off Amtrak today wearing 39 hours of train haze and a body odor generally reserved for detox diets, checked into my hotel, babbled at my partner, hung up on him, showered, and then collapsed for two hours. Two fitful hours of frantic arm itching as each hair follicle threw a tantrum, I thrashed the blankets all over while mumbling about how my hair is red, my skin is red. Then I wrote this in my dream journal with a certainty that this will make deep psychic sense later. Much later.
When I stood up I thought bedbugs, hives, eczema, dry skin, autoimmune issues. Then I looked down at ankles that had assumed the curvature of a redwood, with just as much spongy resistance. To the Internets! After reading about blood clots and kidney disease and liver failure and poking my ankles to measure resistance, I called my mother. She was babysitting my nieces, which is something I learned after I called her house phone, then called my sister, and then called her cell phone.
“HELLO!” my mother said. Her cell phone is a friend from another country who only understands English with exclamation marks.
I was trying not to cry. My cell phone is a therapist with opinions. “My ankles are swollen.”
“I’m with your nieces. We’re playing Sorry!” That was a good response, because my next thought was holy hell that’s a boring game, even more boring than the game where I’m dying of ankle swell on the 10th floor of a hotel. Then she said, “Have you been eating a lot of salt?” That’s when I remembered all those olives.
Let me back up:
Yesterday I got up late because I went to bed late, and ran around stuffing too many t-shirts and not enough anything else into compression bags I didn’t close properly. Then I shoved all these bloated plastic bags spun into knots that rendered them more cumbersome than folding would have been into a tiny suitcase, and then I said oh no, and flapped my hands until a friend came by with a bag designed to handle a whole lot of suits. Apparently this is perfect for 9,000 t-shirts and air-filled bags.
While I was flapping, my partner was doing things like depositing checks and dropping off rent and picking up prescriptions and not saying too much about the too many clothes I was definitely going to take. He also managed to not say anything about the number of books I was taking to sell at a conference where people notoriously scoff at self-published authors, and did not say a word about the giant bag of Trader Joe’s food that made no sense for any living being. Items included four watery avocados, two sleeves of rice crackers, two Stumptown Cold Brews, two snobby German mineral waters, chickpeas trapped in an oil stew, carrot sticks, and a giant jar of garlic stuffed olives. Green was well represented.
Now that you have a clear image of the slapstick in progress boarding the train: I did not get on the train. At the Amtrak station I was ignored by one woman busy wishing she worked elsewhere, and then was handed a ticket by a pasty man who announced I was bound for Pasco. Huh? Someone was handing out boxed lunches.
“Where’s Pasco?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” was his response. I took the box labeled Turkey, because yeah.
The bus was all the things bus dreams are made of: fart smell and windows that don’t open and rotten food and babies with the lungs to scream for four hours and confusion. No one knew why the hell we were on the bus, and after a few shouted questions we learned an entire fleet of buses were headed to Pasco, because the train was not coming into Portland at all. Since none of us were new to this transportation experience we got over it in favor of trading cookies and chips with an efficiency that would put a playground to shame. As someone gluten-free I was an instant celebrity, as the entire contents of my box save for the apple were rationed out to people who like eating. The bus pendulumed my stomach, and I shoved crackers into it to keep it quiet.
At the Pasco station the Amtrak employees had a mutiny on their hands. Four hours on a bus is tolerable with a food bribe; we were now stuck waiting in a tiny lobby with no indication of when this would end. There was a great thunderous volley of complaint, as people jockeyed for status as Alpha Complainer, angry eyes encouraging the crowd to hoot their support for one of three Silver Backs. My favorite was a woman in her mid fifties with brown hair curled for battle, a hands-on-hips, this-is-bullshit strut that announced she was born to do this. There would be letters. There would be calls. There would be a sleeper car, and it would be clean! Not like last time!
Meanwhile, I was Tweeting to Amtrak, since I learned during a previous trip that this is the only real way to get a response. Fair enough; I don’t answer my phone, either. The Twitter exchange told me how far behind the train was and was quite apologetic, and I was quite apologetic too, because it’s not her fault that her time control device need new batteries and physically present Amtrak employees eat anger as a delicacy. Like any good coyote I kept this new information for myself, because I eat hilarious, and one of the would-be Alphas had just declared, “This is CRAZY!” A girl in newsprint pants glanced up, then unplugged her headphones and turned Snoop Dog way up. The complaints now had a beat. This was amazing. This was for everyone.
Then they made us get in line.
A theory: there are pressure points on the bottom of my flat, flat feet that trigger misery when I have to stand without moving for too long. Too long = five minutes. Standing in line, my brain said: what am I doing with my life? I don’t think I was happy enough my 36th year. Do I say that every year of my life? What year do I look back on as my happy year? What was happening then? I probably wrote about it as miserable at the time. Maybe this has something to do with the transition from hair metal bands to grunge bands in the early 90s. Went from ridiculous-spandex- high-kick girls-girls-girls nothing-but-a-good-time to I’m-still-alive and I-think-I’m-dumb in 18 months time. Maybe I should listen to more Motley Crue.
She took my ticket just in time, but didn’t direct me anywhere. So I stood there, five hours older, three bags heavier, 34 hours to go, before finally picking car 15 because an Alpha Complainer stood in front of it yelling, “Is this it? IS THIS IT?”
Amanda will be writing one thing or the other about this adventure every day this week for #AWP15.