jackass

Day 2, Utah to Colorado

Utah Butte 1

Utah Butte 2
I snapped awake after four in the morning to see us pulling into Salt Lake City. After a brief stop the train pulled out again and I dozed off. At six Pistol Pete knocked on my door, giving me the wake up call I had asked for. I didn't want to sleep through breakfast.

I crawled out of my bunk and headed for the shower, downstairs. Frankly, I had not expected that there would be soap and towels available and I had packed my own, but there they were in plenty. Yet another pleasant surprise about train travel.

Since starting out, train life had been reminding me more and more of how things had been back when I was on a destroyer in the Navy. The same limited living space, requiring compromise and efficiency, the exact same kind of constant rocking and jouncing motion, often comforting, sometimes annoying, always requiring preparation in case you got sling-shotted in a direction you didn't expect.

The shower, with its 30 second time limit on each burst of water (though there was no lack of hot water and no limit, ultimately, on how much water I could use), and the bouncing around, suggesting that after the shower there would be a tumble dry cycle, were exactly the same as showers I had taken at sea. It was weird how it took me back 20 years. Still, I was able to get clean relatively painlessly.

At breakfast I met 6' 7" tall Joshua. He was a network administrator, working for a school district in Alaska. In the 80s he had played basketball for some youth group and his team had traveled to Russia. Joshua talked about a train trip he had taken from St. Petersburg to Moscow; how ornate and beautiful the fixtures and construction of the train cars were.

Joshua told a story of having met a 16 year old girl named Natalia, and of experiencing his very first kiss with her while on a ferris wheel in Gorky Park. He said that, recently, while on an Alaska Airways flight, quite by chance he had encountered Natalia again, for the first time in 16 years, because she was a flight attendant on the plane. Joshua had been married twice and had four kids since that trip to Russia and all that seemed to make him quite wistful about old Natalia.

As Joshua talked I noticed certain behaviors: a lot of sidelong, appraising glances, a simpering quality to his speech, that suggested to me that he was either fabricating or embellishing his stories. Later, at lunch, my neighbor, Rita, and another passenger, Ian from Devon, England, caught Joshua in a mathematical error. Joshua had said he was 19 years old when he was in Russia 16 years ago. But he had also said he was now 32 years old. That didn't add up and when they pointed it out to him he had no answer.

I think, maybe, Joshua was looking at a landmark event in his youth with rose colored glasses, particularly because he was now going though custody and making child support payments out the wazoo.

During lunch Rita, Joshua, Ian and I talked about the the crazy person on the train who had been accosting people at every meal time and telling his stories of being the illegitimate son of Howard Hughes, how he could change his size, and proselytizing until his table mates ran in fear. The conversation drifted around to crazy people in general, like the crowd of drunks that had mysteriously disappeared the previous day, and then, as it always does, the conversation turned to sex. Specifically sex on a train, and if anyone had had any. Ian from Devon related some short tale about some couple going at it in a sleeper. I couldn't make out most of what he was saying, unfortunately, because he spoke softly. Not to be left out, however, I quipped that Ian's story had given a whole new meaning to the term Trainspotting. I also suggested that people who had sex on trains should belong to the Mile Long Club. I'm certain I'm not the first person to come up with that one.

Meanwhile, outside the train the tiny town of Helper, Utah was drifting by. One of a series of old fashioned, brick fronted, dying small towns, with one main street, found all along our route. In one backyard a St. Bernard mix had carved a semi-circle in the snow the length of its leash. The dog was looking plaintively toward its owner's house, obviously cold.

On the outskirts of town, with a garish lighted sign half the size of the building, was the Halfway Club. Halfway to what, I wondered, half-heartedly. No one was at the Halfway Club or at the bowling alley just down the way. The truck stop, however, was surrounded by pickups. Breakfast time for the denizens of Helper.

We left civilization behind for a time. In the distance, mountains and buttes. We passed Green River, Utah. The Green River empties into the Colorado River, which we began to follow, entering precipitous and confined canyons on the borderlands between Utah and Colorado.

In the middle of seeming nowhere, just off a winding dirt road, someone had placed a picnic table alongside the river. The vantage point had a wide open view where a body could enjoy a meal and see what was coming along the Colorado or the tracks.

Glenwood Springs 1

Glenwood Springs 2
Outside Glenwood Springs, a resort town where we had stopped for passengers, and still surrounded by steep cliffs at the bottom of narrow canyons, a herd of mule deer - a buck and several does - stood in the snow and watched us pass, so still that, at first, I thought they were a set of those fiberglass replicas you often see on people's lawns.

As it got dark I could see the lights of the engine shining off the sheer rock faces ahead, though I couldn't often see the engine itself. It was eerily beautiful.

At dinner I sat with Rita and the delightful little octogenarian couple, Bill and Nan, again. Bill and Nan talked about how they had, from time to time, eaten goat meat and that Bill could cook it very well. Nan mentioned with real regret that only some Serbians living in their area now kept goats.

During dinner we stopped to wait for a freight train in the Moffat Tunnel. The conductor asked the passengers to pick a spot and plant themselves while we passed through the tunnel, though I'm still not sure why. We were already planted at our dinner table so we were good to go. Because it was dark outside and because we were all chatting away we never noticed when we entered the tunnel and it was over before we knew it. We were through the Rockies and on our way to Denver.

It was snowing in Denver when we arrived. Everyone I had met so far, on the train, had Denver as their final stop. I stepped out to stretch my legs and to try and get some pictures. My camera was too slow for action shots from train windows and, for some reason, it was giving me crappy results even when I could frame a shot. So shots of the really interesting things are lacking.

Bill and Nan, the tiny couple, rode off in a golf cart and I waved goodbye to everyone else. I rushed back aboard as the train left and then watched a passing parade of garish, neon lit no-tell motels, liquor stores, and trailer parks along Route 2.

I read for awhile in the darkened, empty and silent observation car and then I went to bed. My second day on the train was over.

Denver 1 Denver 2 Denver 3
  • Current Mood: awesome
This post makes me want to take a train trip... perhaps I will soon.
Yeah, the only long one I ever took was when I was 7 or 8. My family went from Indy to Chicago, then from Chicago to NYC. We came back the same way. It was really fun at the time, although we didn't get a cabin- we just slept in the seats, and I think my parents were less-than-comfortable. I was so young I didn't care. I remember running from one end of the train to another with my sister and some other little girls we befriended. It was kind of scary to go between cars!