Tag Archives: Amtrak

psychopomp

AWP Trek Part 5: Morning out of Montana

Almost everyone in my car has two seats to themselves, and while this might not be ideal for Amtrak’s bottom line, it’s the closest to paradise I’ll come for 39 long hours. Instead of an intimate co-sleeping arrangement with a massive gentlemen en route to North Dakota’s pipelines, I’ve made a sloppy nest of laptop playing Wes Anderson’s entire movie cannon, plastic bag pillow, jar of olives, journals, glasses, hair tie. If the olives are producing a noxious odor, I’m beyond detecting it; there’s too much competition between liquor, exposed feet, and the steady fart trumpets from people all around me. The jar of the lid captures the scent, or so I tell myself, while realizing that I was destined for train travel, with just the right amount of clueless to time the opening of the jar and the loud fork olive extraction and the messy crinkle-crinkle of my plastic bag pillow to keep rhythm with the person sneezing behind me. We are a factory of sleep disruption, and our song goes: sneeze, crinkle, fwop, tinkle tinkle, cough, click, thunk, crinkle. If the entire car hates us with the heat of a thousand suns, we earned it.

Not that we’re the only pair of dedicated sleep disruption artists. That would be disqualifying the man watching a shoot-em-up action film, speakers blaring. It’s like I’m there, in the casino, angry at Al Pacino. After the conductor comes through and kindly points out the error of his ways, the man says, “Oh, I didn’t know anyone else could hear.” It’s then that I notice the dangling cord, and consider that in this headspace, it’s just as likely that his headset had always been plugged in and the rest of us developed supernatural hearing.

The rest of the train ride is a blur. Memories include excitement bordering on hysteria at being awake for the 6:30am breakfast crowd, which was me and three other people stuffed into a single table by someone whose been angry since 1976. Everyone else was freshly hatched from the comforts of their sleeping cars, including the elderly couple arranged across from me and the surly fellow to my right. He explained that he was accused of theft the previous day when he was trying to purchase a sleeping car, and I was never able to make heads or tails of the misunderstanding, though there was nothing he said that sounded untrue. I’m also a sort to be accused of strange things when in the company of people who brag about being normal and can never consider the shifty-eyed disposition might emerge from someone with perfectly clean hair and filed fingernails…so I get it. Still, I can feel his disdain for me developing with every sentence that leaves my mouth, relating my route to a writers’ conference, the joys and perils of traveling alone. Whatever, I probably sound like someone trying too hard to escape semi-colon existence for an exclamation mark inspired life, but it’s 6:30am. His posture and sideways glances communicate what I’m used to hearing from a certain type, notions that I’m this “little girl” one wide-eyed moment away from an axe murder. The usual underestimation of my own tiny knives. I’ve found that the men most likely to assume this about me have never actually been in an urban environment, and underestimate the value of intelligence in navigating strange spots in favor of pure brawn. The ability to talk another person down or fake a level ten crazy is just as useful as going toe to toe. This is not a conversation we have, but the post script of my head that happens when my computer is in front of me again.

The actual conversation is me guessing one part of the pair was once a teacher, based on the steady expression she maintained through the scenery and conversation loop, learning her husband had been raised on farm work and was once a machinist, daydreaming about their lives, their children, and the amazing scenery likely offered through their daily drives. It was the sort of conversation that happens on trains, a combination of detail and restraint, confession and pause. This, alongside the admission that we’ll all leave the train swearing it’s our last time on a train, because it’s slow and hard on the body, all the while knowing we will definitely be on a train again, awkwardly arranged in coach seats. No matter the discomforts, it seems criminal to just fly over Montana like it doesn’t mean to be there, like those mountains and rivers aren’t something to see. If I could take the whole thing by swingset I would, but until that feat of science, there’s Amtrak.

The breakfast itself is terrible, wads of reheated eggs looking exhausted on a plate that somehow came to $20. The sun revealing green all around us was everything.

psychopomp

Amtrak PDX to MSP Part 4: No sleep

This is how you know you’re in coach on Amtrak: all the neatly closed and coordinated luggage has been properly stowed in sleeping cars. Coach is not a place of matching sets in modern colors, hard-shelled and adorned with stickers announcing far away cities that might not really exist. We are a tribe of borrowers and Goodwill shoppers, garbage bag packers and shopping bag haulers. There is no one in coach in expensive jeans, no skateboards covered in sponsor labels velcro’d to a brand name backpack. It’s men who shoved their personal possessions in a camping backpack and a bottle into a front pocket for slow sipping at each announced delay. It’s women with so many children they haven’t known a private shower or a hairstyle more complicated than a ponytail in years. It’s people who walk on in pajamas and stay that way, and confuse the courtesy of the kind chap selling coffee for friendship; a friendship that is revoked the moment his lunch break lasts a little too long and all the addicts tighten their line formation and bristle. Coffee. This is about coffee. And beer. Definitely beer. It’s people who are accused of things by other people, people who are a bit more tired at 30 than average, it’s people who Know Better Than You about so many things, if you wouldn’t only take the time to listen.

And in the midst of this is me: borrowed suitcase (check). Uncomplicated hairstyle (check). Personal weirdness to account for (check). Mounting exasperation and an inability to complete a sentence (double check).

There are very few women in coach during the journey from PDX to MSP, though two men in hunting jackets and John Deere trucker’s hats have managed to find one. She’s a Japanese tourist with an east facing seat in the observation car, and both of these men are eager to tell her everything she’s not asking about America. I’m seated behind her, barely remaining upright and thinking about disease. The American men are talking about how their parents can’t retire, early careers in dirt bike racing, and why Americans need to repeatedly renew their drivers’ licenses. The Japanese tourist mentions speaking three languages, and one of them tells this joke:

“Someone who speaks two languages is called bilingual. Someone who speaks three or more languages is called multilingual. What do you call someone who only speaks one language?”

(Pause.)

“An American!”

Lulz all around.

Their conversation is slow and meandering and surprisingly intimate, as each produces a phone full of images of their respective hometowns to best illustrate their explanations of everyday life. I hear her comment that she doesn’t have the same journey that a lot of Americans feel compelled to experience, the journey of identity, because she knows exactly where her parents were born and what place they started from; she knows what village they belong to, what palace resides there, and what it means when the bells toll. Both men are silent at this, out of respect for the truth and the poetic delivery, and I’m thinking about it too, and my own need to inspect my genetics and identify as American plus something else. I wonder if there will be a time in the future with a single identifiable American ethnicity, one that has nothing to do with the Civil War and dates of immigration, and if during this time Americans will be a bit more interested in story, having been freed from the prison of memorized names and dates and graves.

These meandering thoughts sustain me and them until sunset demands retirement to seats for movie watching and pseudo sleeping. There will be no sleeping.

There’s a guy who is sleeping, and every third breath he yells, “whoa!” I got the seat with the light always on. This makes me feel responsible. Somewhere the whole train turned North Dakota, which means it’s occupied by oil men who make Montana snowboarders coy about their drinking habits. Everyone is sick, or at least sick of being on the train, expressed through repeated sighs, stomach clutching, head clutching, groans. We are the unwashed masses, and the smell is real. I steal a fork from the kindly chap peddling coffee to friends that aren’t friends to finish my giant jar of garlic stuffed olives. Everyone doesn’t know they’re jealous, but I’m the least sick and the most delicious. The fork makes clink noises against the glass every time it takes a dive. The light is on. Dive. They know what I’m doing. Dive. I’m responsible. Dive.

Amtrak Hellride for the stripes.

 

 

 

psychopomp

Part 3: Montana has us

Once the woman finished her anecdote about bear shit and the obligatory bear shitting in the woods joke, an elderly man in a bright red hat with long white hair (who had been staring at me for hours) finally saw fit to ask a question. That question was: “Is that Yellowstone?”

My brain said, “It’s Glacier National Park” and then followed with “that’s too much work” and so I had no choice but to answer: “Okay.”

“Maybe Middlefort or Middle Fork River?” he pressed. Wait, does that mean he thinks the river is Yellowstone and not the park, or are there two places with the same name?

I try to formulate a word but my chin just rotates in a circle, possibly off my face, and I think about reasons to cry. Some alert young man in the official outfit of snowboarders everywhere explained that the river branches from Yellowstone and runs into Coochie River. (Note to reader: in other circumstances I might see fit to harness the powers of the Google and learn what the proper river names were, but for the sake of this story I think we should all remain on the same confused, sleep-deprived, and desperate level. Remember: there is none of the internets!)

It seemed like I should compliment this young fellow for his knowledge, and so I said, “You know Geography!” Then I decided I shouldn’t talk anymore.

Still, Montana: giant trees and snow and great gorgeous mountain tops. The sky filled with hawks and eagles and blue. Great green stained rivers running a track that defies time. The land seemed strong in a way it isn’t in most other places in America, like it knows it’s going to outlast you and won’t kneel to the demands of industry. If it needs to, it will make the bear shit smell permanent to keep you at bay.

Throughout the train people kept telling me it’s going to get boring eventually, but I couldn’t hear it. Montana let us through, but just barely, and only because we kept to our track even more tightly than the river.

 

psychopomp

Day 2: Closer to White Fish

Finally on the train, everyone around me immediately fell asleep, informing a suspicion that Amtrak avoided further confrontation by stuffing those free sandwiches with sedatives. Another way being gluten-free = torture. They thanked me for my services with a seat directly below a light that was always on. Even the observation car was empty, which made it look like a scene in an 80s movie right before a red leather jacket dance battle takes place that tears the whole place apart. The only people to trickle in were teenagers, the sort that buy Nirvana t-shirts from Target. Both sleeves of crackers were history, which left avocados, and I cut the first one down the middle and began eating little slivers with my knife. The teens looked at me, and tittered. Whatever. I was laughing at them the whole time, too. At some point I fell asleep and snapped awake when my glasses hit the floor. This is why I purchase pairs that cost less than $100.

 

Light of dawn meant Montana, and I hurried to the observation car to take in Glacier National Park without even wearing a jacket. Every seat was cameras and conversation. There was a woman of about 40 with hair the color of sand and a face shocked red who was giving an on the fly science lesson about grizzly bears in Montana. She reported that 40% of the grizzly population lived in Glacier National Park, and then went on to describe a fault line you can actually see. Amtrak’s absence of reliable wi-fi services makes trains the perfect place to compulsively lie without a smart phone interruption. If it wasn’t for the olives I would have feared I was contributing nothing to the Amtrak community, especially since I only just then noticed that I’d failed to seize an opportunity to create an elaborate nature story that would shock the German tourists to the core. And just when my jealousy couldn’t get any thicker, the 40ish lady said, “you know, the smell of bear shit never goes away. There’s areas all over where you smell nothing but that. Nothing.”

 

Please, do go on.

 

Note from Amanda: super exhausted today, so this is short so i can sleep. More tomorrow!

psychopomp

Report on AWP Experiment, Day 1

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.

psychopomp

Amtrek, Part 1

The Portland resident in me is better off in motion away from Portland during the dreary and too long winter months where nothing happens: not between my ears, and not anywhere else. Netflix feels like a relationship that’s a constant source of disappointment, and baristas feel like personal friends unable to escape my grim confession.

Weeks ago when my partner and I first discussed the idea of escape by rail, the plan was to take Amtrak from PDX to LAX and back, nodding off into mountain sunsets and waking up to redwoods. We ended up flying in. The week before our scheduled departure I made an unexpected detour to Cleveland, where my sisters and I were occupied with practical, terrible things like attending my father’s funeral.

Assuming half-orphan status isn’t something I’d recommend, regardless of whether childhood stories recall Harry Potter’s cupboard or Beaver Cleaver. In the aftermath of all the death events I was left glaring at my reflection like Ed Norton in every movie, wondering why I couldn’t be one of those collapsible people who inflates and deflates at the right occasions and is easily stored when not of use. Stupid flesh and bones. Why couldn’t I be a bouncy castle?

My nieces Rayne and Simone thought I should perhaps consider the strange fate of a banana marooned in a poisoned pumpkin patch instead of brooding so much. Clever girls.

After I returned we went south to Ventura, CA for my partner’s grandfather’s 90th birthday party. I never had the chance to meet either of my grandfathers, as the men on both sides of my family often choose professions and habits the inform early death. I didn’t want to lose the chance to meet my version of a unicorn. California taught me that everything such unicorns say is amazing, as is a steady influx of naturally produced vitamin D absorbed through head and hands. It’s also impractical to stay in a jacuzzi forever, tempting though it may be.

The return: 27 hours on Amtrak, Oxnard to PDX. An unexpected price spike in the tickets after the website went down (then back up again) = bitter grumbling, particularly since it was only our selected date that reflected the increase. Attempts to contact Amtrak by phone were a fail, as was attempting to contact them by email. Note to future travelers: you cannot contact Amtrak unless you go down to a station in person.

Still, last minute train tickets are cheaper than last minute airfare. Oxnard Train Station was irritability balm, with its comfortable classic train station aesthetic, grand wooden benches recalling church pews. People were mellow. One of the things that distinguishes train travel from air is the absence of an interior pelvic ultrasound prior to boarding. With trains you check in, get on, put your bag in the communal storage area, trust your fellow passengers, go to your assigned seat and stay there until a man in a funny outfit comes by to give the ticket an official scan. Then you get up and take several wobbly steps and apologies to the observation car, where travelers sit armed with awful and amazing stories begging for participation or ears. You might even play cards.

The outside waiting zone invited us to get in touch with our inner cattle, and likely informed a mini stampede when the train rolled in twenty minutes late to collect our bodies and bags and head northward.

Oxnard Train Station Hogwarts Invisible Entrance

Every observation car is loaded with interesting human specimens, and no one is going to convince me otherwise. I’ve never ridden a train and found myself bored by my fellow passengers, and the longer the trip the greater the likelihood of it evolving into a Breakfast Club edition of group therapy. The scene: to my right, an Arabic woman seated across from a soldier. They’re playing cards. They exchange a few awkward sentences about politics. She’s trying to be careful; he’s 21 years old and already convinced. The first smoke break allows him to locate another uniformed sort to trade fart jokes and tattoo ideas with. I’m relieved to return to my regularly scheduled stereotype; she’s already decided to move elsewhere in observation anyway.

Later the soldier talks to my partner about Americans being especially nervous about bombs, his Bud Lite breath hitting my neck, and I can only assume this is because he’s never been overseas or watched the news. Then I consider that he’s in a position where his own relationship with bombs and fear is about to be tested, and this is coping, so I say nothing and dodge living up to a stereotype all my own.

view from the observation car. Insert happy sigh.

There’s also a pair of newlyweds, still careful in the way they touch and smile at each other, having circular conversations about the past and future. As the day winds into evening she slowly divulges details about a stint in prison to the room. Meanwhile, a chick with a moleskine notebook and laptop much like my own operates with the same spy-and-tally gaze that leaves me wondering what she’s recording about my own disastrous presentation. I’m holding myself together with socks and scarves, and she could be on to me. She falls into conversation with a tattoo artist on his way to a convention, and I’m distant and distracted.

A camera I claimed from my father’s abandoned objects is capturing images out the window, and in each instance the lens steals something from the scenery and something of the train. I spend a second wondering if my camera is ghost locked.

Not bored, drinking in the California Coast
Scene from California’s coast
Farmland, desert dry

The memory card came preloaded with pictures detailing all of Cleveland Metroparks’ fauna. He mentioned in an email that animals were practically crawling into his lap of late, and now that I’m familiar with the zoom capabilities (and limitations) of this particular Nikon I can measure the accuracy of that statement. Many of the photos are gorgeous, intimate portraits revealing subtle coloring and patterns pressed into natural adornments. The only pictures that appear awkward are the ones of people, which is an honest reflection of someone who struggled in the company of others — an issue I experience in my own way as I adjust to sharing a train for 27 hours with strangers.

At each stop up the California coast people get on and off. Santa Barbara, San Luis Obespo, Paso Robles, Salinas, San Jose, Oakland, Emeryville. After my third “I thought there was supposed to be wireless on this train?” conversation with an angry mouse clicking guy in a tie, it becomes clear that those searching for a signal will never, ever stop, and will simply load and reload their browsers, ever more desperate to log in to something for affirmation of ongoing technical existence.

Can’t download music software = butthurt.

When all else fails, and even when it doesn’t, there is the bar car.

It takes no time at all for the lower level to light up like a bowling alley. Imagine a pod of shitfaced men in jeans and women in tube tops and too much hairspray somewhere between fist fight and free hugs, en route to a Poison concert. It’s that awesome. If you’re suffering a flirtation deficiency, a casual stroll down to this level will likely rectify the situation, and fear of being ejected from a moving rail inspires a degree of respect. If I were four notches less exhausted I’d join them in their loud binge-fired confessions, but I’m not ready to release my truth. And sometime in the next three hours they’re either going to be crying into their coat sleeves or trading blows during the next smoke stop over which branch of the military is superior, regardless of whether or not any of them actually served. I can’t believe I’m going to miss it. I won’t miss the sunset.

As meals are distributed to those who opened their wallets, sighed, and surrendered, it occurs to me that there’s no entitlement on the train, just a lot of laughter about what it might be like to travel in a car that allows for wine and cheese  before the evening meal. There’s debate about whether to call this first class or sleeping cars, or just perceive it as a safety net that ensures our leg of the train won’t be the one robbed first. This is also radically unlike a plane, where after being frisked and fondled by a security force paid to be overzealous about things like lotion bottles and fingernail clippers you damn well better get your free plastic cup of cranberry juice. Every announcement is met with laughter or cheers, and reminders regarding the prevalence of booze in tiny bottles that we’ll later stuff ourselves back into, just to smell something different. The faithful attendant of this slobbering bunch takes occasional meal breaks, to the nail biting chagrin of his new best friends, and I join the league of fanboys and girls when he promises me that when I come down for my third coffee refill it will be free.

War of the Worlds Sunset. California lasts almost as long as Kansas.

After sunset offers a fog heavy alien landscape, I abandon my observation station and collapse into my assigned seat, welcoming the dawn of a murderous rage that makes me understand what a complex housing situation prison must be. First, a couple propping up their sleep with a Spanish horror movie, live and without headphones at 3AM. Absence of English would make even my most bitch face comment useless, and I’m trying hard not to be the token temper tantrum. I am a bouncy castle. I am a bouncy castle. This sound is chased by my very own partner’s decision to go mining in a snack bag for the loudest bag of cheetos ever produced by Trader Joe’s. CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE, chomp chomp chomp, screams and pleas for mercy in Spanish. Then, the negotiation of various cords and wires to ensure that every electronic gadget is sufficiently charged, should the non existent wireless connection suddenly surface and threaten all of the coach passengers with a whisper of first world mopey civilization. CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE. Snap. I ask him to chill out with the cheetos and he shakes the bag in my face, and I realize we’re both train crazy.

The mood sinks further when we brush city limits and phones materialize out of no where for rapid facebook examination, and I’m still thinking about the fact that my father died and my best bet for communicating to as many distracted sorts as possible the insanity that immediately follows is a thoughtful status update that summons clicking of the “like” button. It’s not that the world is a terrible place, or that we are flanked by terrible people. It’s that we’ve gotten lazy, and don’t know how to talk anymore. I don’t know how to talk anymore. I need to work on this.

I pacify all of this this by relocating to the seat closest to exit.

When dawn hits I drag myself up in enough time to witness this:

Good morning, Mt. Shasta!

Oh, and also this:

Gasp!

This is what I took the train for. It’s the ultimate road trip without the pressures of changing lanes and keeping eyes on the road. Early morning fog creates an eerie entryway to the mountain, and it assumes the shape of hobbit homes.

Near Klamath Falls we pick up a couple of tour guides and I pick up the promised cup of coffee. The super power of this duo is announcing things they consider photograph worthy too early or too late, but overall their presence is pretty adorable.

Mount McLoughlin
Hello, Oregon

Somewhere around Eugene my brain came alive again with daydreams of home, and I thought about what it would be like to do this again when the days are longer and you can swallow every drop of sun and scenery from LA to PDX.

Not tired. Nope.

A woman with a collection of O magazines attempts to hater-bond with me when she notices me taking a photograph of a graffiti artist in action and suggests that I get an upclose shot of his face. From there she transitions to a discussion of Shirley Jackson inspired by the book on my table, questioning whether kids today can grasp the message. I confess that I’m fairly certain that anyone who can digest an episode of True Detective or Breaking Bad can perform the simple linguistic mathematics required to grok “The Lottery” and then I want to wish her away. I’m not up to being cynical and hater bonding anymore. It’s too much work to buzz kill every conversation with a dark eyeroll. I’m trying to be a bouncy castle here.

I’m afraid to be back at home. I don’t know what will swim up and slap me, and I haven’t even chronicled every awful notion of a visit such as this. It’s like I’m there, waiting for myself, demanding inspecting and isolation and a transition from another winter wrapped in Netflix and little else. Anywhere else I could be a new me that’s far less predictable, that lays  new tracks for trains headed to abandoned stations to collect ghosts and all their ornaments.

They’re around me all the time anyway. Might as well assist them with travel.

 

 

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Thinking about the train again

All along the railway webs of wire cover cliffs and hold back boulders. We pass through Hood River with all its windsurfers and kiteboarders and white people, and in the observation car everyone sits in plastic chairs and takes turns hating the people on cell phones: “Can you hear me? Now? Can you hear me? Hello?”

The train stops in White Salmon, where no one ever gets on except children boarding without their parents. Smokers abandon their seats for the ten minute break. I join them for air and a better look at the wire net. I’m staring and counting the octagons trapping the mountain when I strike up a conversation with an elderly man who looks like an emaciated Santa Claus, all beard and holly-jolly and knee-slaps. He’s talking about how Oregon used to be, in some lost long ago where people were few and far between and every backyard was an apple orchard and every street was a baseball field and no one ever overdosed on Valium. It sounds like Big Rock Candy Mountain and I don’t believe a word. He says “It’s nice to see you off the train,” and I wonder if he means standing but instead I tell him I’ll be on his porch next Friday, just so he doesn’t miss me. Laugh. Knee slap. Then he spots my tattoo and asks if I’m one of those 2012 weirdos, always fretting about the end of the world. I tell him the world has already ended, and it was all his fault. He laughs again but this one is different (no knee slap) and he looks around and he says excuse me and bums a cigarette from someone else and launches into a conversation about how Oregon used to be, sometime long ago, before conversations of 2012 and the end of the world, and things that are all his fault.

essays

Recalling Summer, 2009

Amish kids are eating sandwiches that taste better than mine, wrapped in wax paper and pulled from metal lunch pails they carried on to the Amtrak. They don’t have luggage, just the sandwiches on thick slices of bread, adorned with slabs of meat and cheese that smell curiously clean.