Showing posts with label Amtrak. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Amtrak. Show all posts

08 April, 2019

From Field Notes, 1 April 2019: Out of The Abiding Place

Somewhere east of Libby, Montana. Woke up to first light in my mountains. Rocks stretch out and up, lifting the sky like I cup Amanda's breasts sometimes when we sleep. -- like holding a jacket open for the sun to wear, with a pattern of clouds and rain drops crystalized in suspended animation.

Thinking about Portland and about the way ahead. All of it. There are two states in which I feel most myself -- like I am living the life I was born to live -- when I am in motion, writing; and when I am still, in Amanda's arms. Every other state of being is the space between that I traverse. Geography is a myth we've believed into reality. States of Being are the only states that matter. And if I had to nail down what to call this, I'd call it a perma-state of transition. Moving between motion and rest. Between travel and her arms. Roads and rail road tracks are the paths we make, all treading in the same direction. 

Montana is an ocean of green -- endless waves of evergreens and white oak, slowly waking grass. The mist and snow offer it a supernatural aura. The place has always been magic to me. Like Menifee. Like the river. All sacred. All dirty. All beauty. All savage.

Lift up old mountain.
The sun needs a coat.
The clouds portend
of beautiful things.

Roll on train, through
this sacred place.
I will wander amongst the mist
some other day.



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26 March, 2019

Field Notes, 24 March 2019: Beautifully Savage

[Indianapolis:]

Part of me wanted to miss the bus, or for something to go wrong in Louisville just so I could have one more minute with her. It's always like this. Even when I'm compelled to go, there is such a desire to stay, to damn the consequences. And indeed, there would be consequences. I've seen that before, too.

Some aspects of every trip are the same. Indy and the buzzing lights. Chicago Union Station and the great, depressive and beautiful vacuum of that city. Longing and loneliness. And the obligation to write it all down, to somehow make it all make sense, if only for myself, but maybe -- just maybe -- for some other poor asshole out there who is equally torn apart by a need to Go and to See. Someone else who is tortured by the desire to stay, to leave the road for someone else.

At the 2:45AM ticket check I was again asked about a confirmation number. I'm starting to feel punked.

Buzzing overhead lights
and a four hour layover.
Thoughts of you make me wonder
why it feels so necessary
to be anywhere you're not.

[Near Chicago Union Station]

Of course the ridiculous worries about the "confirmation number" were unfounded. The desk worker in Louisville was clearly mistaken/misinformed/harried. The security guard at the Indy station was probably just being a dick because he picked up on my displeasure about the ticket check. They always state the same legal caveat "I am not biased and will check anyone regardless of what they look like." This gives them the blankt authority to racially and economically profile anyone they want without fear of the guard or the company being sued. And naturally, there are any number of ways to abuse tacit authority at 3AM in a Midwestern bus station.

Power is so predictable.
Give authority to a beaten man
and he will beat anyone down
with savage impunity --
in particular, whoever he blames.


Canal Street Entrance, Chicago Union Station
[In the Great Hall, Union Station, Chicago]

The Great Hall is gorgeous. The lights, the statues, the columns and marble staircases. A mish-mash of Greco-Roman with Digital Age minimalism forced into the crevices. Ornately wrought columns and digital screens. Nothing is so American as our nostalgia for the past that never was -- the carefully and assiduously reconstructed one we write ourselves into as the denouement.

Beautiful as they are
all our grand monuments
harken back to a past
reconstructed from afar
so it necessarily includes
us, whether we belong or not.




[Harmonee Ave/Glenview, IL]

Loaded for bear
more people than seats
our steel horse barrels westward
breaching the ragged edge
in search of soul, Big Sky and light.

[Flooded plains outside Columbus, Wisconsin]

Downed and drought
are the only cycles
anyone can really count on.
Everything else is Faith.

[All that's left is the thaw]

Snow lingers west of the Wisconsin Dells. Dirty, tired looking stuff. Knee high piles along the outside
St. Paul-Minneapolis, MN - Union Depot (MSP)
edges and corners of muddy unplanted cornfields. Tiny blankets wrapped around the base of young sycamores and trimming along creek beds. It's all over but the melting here. 


The sun broke out for setting
just east of La Crosse --
piles of dirty snow like shrugged off clothes
lay around the edges
of soon-to-be plowed fields.

[Black River, WI]

Broken up ice islands
The waters are high.
We're coming upon the Mississippi
to breach the great boundary
into Minnesota.

Every time I travel I'm awe struck by how beautiful and how beautifully savage the landscape is.


[First 'Air Break'/ Flood Fight]

Chatted with a woman name Kristy and a man named Dean, both from Fargo. They were strangers to each other but both going home. When they found out they were both from the same place, they started talking about the 'Flood Fight.' Every year when the snow melts, people volunteer to make sandbags to stave off the inevitable flooding of the North River. Dean is volunteering for the first time in several years. Kristy volunteers every year, but her job allows her to volunteer and get paid for it. Dean said they are calling for 1 million sand bags this year. Kristy said they are expecting floods about 41 feet, worse than 1997.

All I said was that water always runs down river eventually. All I thought about was how much we don't need the water to rise anymore at home. But that's life -- it's all connected and everything runs downstream eventually.

-MKP
~

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01 January, 2019

from Record of a Pair of Well-Worn Traveling Boots - On (Not) Finding Los Angeles

[16 December 2018: Eastbound, somewhere home side of Winslow]

The train passed into mountain time overnight. Now we're in the high desert part of Arizona, rolling towards New Mexico, closer to home. 

People are starting to wake up and file into the observation car. The view is gorgeous; the sun started to just peak out, a little west of Winslow. I've been awake off and on since about 3:30, which means I slept pretty well for train travel. I travel coach because while the idea of a sleeper car appeals, the cost ends up being the same as flying and is more difficult to justify. The cheapskate in my skull gets in my way more and more as I age, but it's really only for large amounts. He's perfectly willing to nickel and dime all day, especially when it involves books. And since I stopped drinking, the cheap bastard in my skull is willing to embrace the odd and more than occasional cappuccino. But I can't seem to get the idea of a sleeper car, even though my primary argument for train travel is that it's more civilized than air and more genteel than the grey dog over long distances.

I qualify that, of course.  I take the bus from Louisville to Cincinnati on the regular. But if there was a train, I'd probably take that, even if it costs a bit more and tell the cheap bastard in my head to go to hell.

Although I made my goal of being more open and social during my time in LA, I did not really get to find the bones of Los Angeles. I understand that this ontological distinction probably marks me as a rube, or, at the very least, an provincial hack. But it does seem to be a city where there is so much of everything that finding the real Los Angeles is a bit challenging. 

All great cities operate on a philosophy like 3 Card Monte. It's not about finding what's real; it's about never really finding it. Louisville isn't any different. The basic idea of a Tourist Economy is a simple one: distract them with glitter so no one sees the gloom. GPS makes this easier, as entire neighborhoods can be erased without having to start one bulldozer. After all, the powers-that-be don't want total strangers to go and see where the old bones show through.

But that's not what I want to see when I'm out in LA. I want to see the old bones of Los Angeles. I think I catch glimpses of it, in the same way you catch glimpses of nipple during a burlesque show. It's difficult to tell, though, if what I see are the bones or the statistically acceptable brutality of a city that is so expensive to live in that it's losing 100 people a week.

I stopped trying to count the number of homeless folks and camps I saw, just riding around between class and my motel in Culver City. In most cases, they are tucked away, or on public land that has no other use -- which is a good thing, because if it did have use, those people would be pushed off. The camps one block from the train station right on the sidewalk, are probably the most brazen. An entire litle corner just on Alameda had a small community of three tents, and a man was flying nearby. Just far enough away from Union Station not to make it in any of the brochures or website or prime time television show. The homeless in LA are like the palm trees. They're like the excessive number of cars on the 405. They're like random movie star sightings at restaurants that are all ambience and with no street parking.  They're like these small towns rolling outside the windows of the observation car -- a passing curiosity quickly forgotten when the next scene is pulled in our vision.

Barreling through the sunrise
desert dust perma-frost in all directions
like the rolling empty corn fields
stretched ahead on the other side of the river.





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28 June, 2018

All along the multiverse/Traversing the Big Empty, Part 3 ( Consequences of a Nation)

[continued from Part 2]

[Somewhere in Satan's Taint, NM]

The absence of etiquette and the abandonment of common sense is what has placed The United States in the position it's in.

Not (just) Republicans. Not (just) Democrats. Something more fundamental in human nature is at work in all of these goings on -- children placed in cages, used as pawns to justify putting their parents in cages, too. The Supreme Court upholds Trumps travel ban and upholds the manipulation tactics of a California-based "pregnancy clinic" that doesn't have to pony up to the truth that they are anti-abortion. Regardless of your stance on abortion, the fact is that the Supreme Court has legalized the absence of transparency... and so has the Trump administration, as a matter of fact. We're being told we're going to be more free... free from those pesky regulations that protect (sort of) public water, help protect (sort of) public wild lands, and help protect the citizens of the United States (sort of) from being the targets of usury and economic piracy.  We're going to be so free because we won't know any difference. We're going to be so free because that's the only information that we will be told. 

And we will eat it up like a quart of Ben & Jerry's.

We'll eat it up because it rings "true" based on all the Neoliberal propaganda we've grown up with. Staunch individualism + capitalism - NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard). We are such a large country, and there's still a lot about it that's beautiful. But we're a large country and as much as we say we're all Americans or whatever, the fact is we are basically clannish, provincial and paranoid. 

One of the things people learn in AA is that alcoholism is, in part, a response to unaddressed fears. My sponsor harps on this all the time. "We're afraid of either losing what we have or not getting what we want."  I want to suggest that this isn't just part of what drives alcoholics, or addicts of any stripe.
This is what has driven our foreign policy since World War II and driven our domestic policy (at least) since the Nixon Administration. And certainly the argument could be made that it was a causal factor in the American Revolution (though it was about taxes, not freedom), the Civil War, and every folly dating back to the crucifixion of Christ. We're scared that someone's going to take away something or we're scared we won't get what we want. 

Don't worry. We're not unique. It's an essentially human condition. We're biologically hardwired for fight or flight. The good news is we are capable of doing better. 

On a related note: 

Remember that toilet problem I mentioned in Part 2? Remember how I said they spent time trying to fix it and put us an hour behind schedule? 

Well the Assistant Conductor just announced that the toilets in Coach 11 are out of commission... because someone put something down there that wasn't supposed to go. Again.

The good news is I'm in coach 13. The bad news is, it could still cause the entire septic system go offline.

Progress is sometimes slower than I would prefer.

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27 June, 2018

All along the multiverse/Traversing the Big Empty, Part 2 ("Foreign Objects" and the San Bernardino Jerk)

[continued from Part 1]

[Northeast of Albuquerque NM, 26 June 2018]

So the thing about traveling by train is that there is at least one other inevitability you must embrace: you will (probably) not be on time. it's not that it can't happen. it's just that the odds are against it. Other than the near guarantee that I'll be within earshot of a crying child on an overnight trip (This is true on buses, trains, and planes. I always carry gun range quality ear plugs, just in case.), the only other thing I can promise is that, at least ONCE on any leg of a train trip, I will overhear someone complain about the train running late.

It's also not uncommon for the same person who complains about the train running late to be a smoker who also complains about not getting enough time to smoke.

The lesson here? If you're contributing to a problem, you're in a good position to be a part of the solution. In the case, shut up and be grateful for what smoke breaks  you get because, seriously, they don't have to. THEY DON'T HAVE TO. They cut a fresh air stop at San Bernardino because someone jerk thought the All Aboard call meant he had time to take his time and finish his cigarette and apparently didn't like it when the train left without him.

What's the take away there, Dear Friends and Readers? It only takes ONE jerk to ruin it for everyone.
Being part of a community -- even a temporary one created because everyone is on the same train -- means there are larger concerns. For example, when some person or persons unknown puts paper towels or other ... to quote Conductor Justin ... "Foreign Objects" down one of the vacuum toilets, it can cause the ALL THE TOILETS ON THE TRAIN NOT TO WORK. That happening can really affect the air quality in an enclosed coach. Larger concerns define -- or impact -- every aspect of travel, from the rule against "foreign objects" to the prohibition of pocket knives on air planes and Greyhound buses, to the limits on baggage size and weight, to [fill in the blank.] Yes, everyone wants to get where they're going. But that means EVERYONE WANTS TO GET WHERE THEY'RE GOING. EVERY ONE.

Contradicting or impeding common purposes -- those things that are bigger than any one of us -- naturally has consequences. The San Bernardino Jerk (as he is forever named) caused the cancellation of a fresh air break. Who ever the person or persons were who tried to flush "foreign objects" down one of the toilets caused a delay in Albuquerque (of all places) for repairs that has put the train a about an hour behind. 

And how will they make this time up? That's right. THEY WILL CUT THE FRESH AIR BREAKS.
It's not rocket science. It's just common sense and... etiquette.



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26 June, 2018

All along the multiverse /Traversing the Big Empty, Part 1 (A Nation of Consequences)

[East of Gallup, NM/ 26 June 2018]  
Unless you travel America along the ground, you don't really get a sense of how large a place it is.  Hopping airport to airport does give you a certain view of the size of things. People in transit make for some of the best people watching you can find -- and people watching is very nearly the best free entertainment there is. But crawling over the thin shell of the earth is really the only way to get a sense of size. People who have driven cross country will attest to this. Geography looks a lot less imposing on a map -- or on GPS to use the parlance of these digital times -- than it does in person.
I'm certain I've written somewhere, sometime before... probably on the old American Re:Visionary blog... about how our mode of transportation alters our perception of geography and changes how we look things. If you've ever tried to follow (what used to be) those blue lines on the map -- those two lane state routes that will take you everywhere the interstate does and more -- you begin to get a sense of how the interstate system forever altered not only how we look at this wide country we label The United States., but changed the actual geography... not only because of the landscape that was demolished, altered, or sliced up to make room for interstates, but the towns that cropped up or shriveled up and died because of the shift in traffic patterns.  And if you think this is only a byproduct of the modern transportation age, I would encourage you to look at the long and storied history of the dirty, sacred river the title of this blog refers to: The Ohio River.
Traveling by train (I'm pretty sure I've written before, too) is still by far the most genteel way to travel. What I tend to observe when people have difficulty traveling by train … or mass transit in general, including the old grey dog... is that they bring faulty expectations to the experience. You end up cramped together with people from different backgrounds, different cultures, different biases, different languages. You have to share bathroom facilities. You have to share common areas like the cafĂ© car, the dining car, the observation car, and the aisle. The rules are mostly etiquette and common sense -- though I have traveled enough back and forth across this turtle of a continent that I honestly question whether both etiquette and common sense have become so unfashionable as to be as mythical a concept as "truth, justice, and the American Way."
If you know me moderately well you know my thoughts on the use of laws. If you don't know me that well (and welcome, by the way!) then I will explain by paraphrasing Ammon Hennacy*:
Good people don't need them and bad people don't follow them, so what good are they?
I'll go one step further by quoting myself*:
Etiquette and Fine Art run the world.
One of the things you learn traveling is that laws and statutes mean far less in maintaining a civilized community than simple etiquette. While there are people in world who are consequence driven, I find that eventually people who exist in a consequence-driven frame of mind buckle under the yoke and bit.  On this particular train trip, for example, a guy is about to get tossed off the train in Albuquerque because in spite of all the signage and multiple warnings given, he simply can't wait for a fresh air break to smoke. I mean, I get it. As a smoker, I'm sympathetic to the nicotine urge. And yes, I'm sure it would be healthier to quit, but honestly people who tend to say that 1. have never smoked and  2. have never read any 12 step literature or understand the nature of addiction. In other words... yes, we're addicts.  Move on.
That being said... I also understand there are reasons why smoking is prohibited on trains and buses.  I also understand that the schedule takes priority over my nicotine addiction. This is something I signed on for when I bought my train ticket. It's part of the social contract. That's why, when we do get a fresh air break, I TAKE IT. Even in New Mexico, a state that has never been kind to me. Never. Ever.
We tend to overlook the importance of social contracts because we have decided that it is better to live in a country of prescribed laws than a community of shared understanding. That's because laws are easier. We mark our participation by whether we vote for the yahoos who are supposed to have our interests at heart, not really understanding the fact that the system, by its very nature, either burns out any evidence of actual altruism... if, in fact, politicians can feel something like altruism. We want laws to keep things fair... which is to say, we want laws to ensure that we keep whatever stuff we thing is ours. We want laws to maintain the peace while we stockpile guns for our own personal protection. We want law. But law is consequence driven. Which means, at some point, even the most law abiding citizen will break under the yoke and bit, causing those consequences to kick in.
Which is to say: if all we are is a nation of consequences and not conscious, it's no wonder we're in such trouble.
And we are in trouble. It doesn't take a long train ride to figure that one out.
[Continued in Part 2]