Day 1, San Francisco into Utah

When my train set out, just before 9 am, I was too late for breakfast but my cabin attendant, Pistol Pete, shaven headed, goateed, and with manic energy, brought me a bag of blueberry cobbler and granola, and a fruit cup, all wrapped in festive holiday paper with gold stars on it and everything wrapped in gold ribbon, which I savored in my narrow little economy room.

If I had flown coach, instead, and had wanted something to eat I would have received a rifle butt to the face by some TSA thug, followed by a nice misting of Mace from the flight attendant. Then, like some Bizarro World Oliver Twist I would have been made to say, "Please sir, may I have some more?"

Around Davis, CA, I thought I saw a cactus farm.

In Roseville, at the JR Davis freight yard, I saw some of the most fantastic graffiti artwork on the boxcars, including an absolutely perfect Brian and Stewie of Family Guy fame, produced with masterful spray paint technique. The christian Nazis had been at work as well, crudely spray painting swastikas and the word HATE with the T in the shape of a cross and rays of light radiating from it. Because, you know, Jesus was a Nazi.

Once we began our climb into the Sierra Nevadas the snow appeared. At Switch 9, just before the tunnel and Donner Lake, we had to wait for the Flanger to clear the tracks of snow before we could continue. First the Flanger cleared the way for the west bound train, then came back and led the way for us, over the mountains.

Certainly, snow can be beautiful, but I have never liked it. It is a symbol of death and endings; its quiet, eerie and full of foreboding. And, for me, the mountains make it worse. Of course, I had a much better time of it, munching on quiche in the dining car, than the Donner party did once upon a time in the same area.

At lunch I met Paul Morris, a self-professed world traveler from Canada. Paul said that he had a country house in Canada but spent his summers in Thailand and the Far East. He said that he had been traveling non-stop since the early 1960s and was 60 years old now. He rolled around the country on trains, back and forth, and would usually stay in hostels in between. It was virtually impossible to pin Paul down on his source of income. All I could get out of him was that he painted interiors, and did a lot of house sitting for friends all over the world.

Paul exclaimed several times about how cheap it was to live in Thailand, and that it was madness to slave 80 hours a week one's whole life only to eke out a retirement from social security and meager savings and live in a freezing shit hole like Nova Scotia (his example) in some miserable small room.

When I look at all the 20 something Europeans traveling on the train and around the US, some for weeks at a time, often on full pay, and at the moment buying up everything in our shops because the dollar is in the toilet, I wonder why we Americans do allow ourselves to be treated the way we are by our government and our corporations. Thailand sounds really good right now.

My next door neighbor in the sleeper car was Rita, a professor of modern and African dance at the University of Oregon. Rita was on her way to Denver to visit her 48 year old sister, who had just had twins with the help of an egg donation from her younger sister. I found it interesting to note, later, that Rita had chosen a picture of a nest full of sky blue robin eggs for her login icon on her Macbook Pro.

At dinner, Rita and I met Bill and Nan, a lovely couple in their 80s who had been married for 60 years. Bill and Nan lived in the mountains somewhere around Truckee. They were constantly laughing and joking with each other and their eyes would light up when they looked at each other. They were absolutely chock full of stories, like the one about the snow storm of 1953 in which they were snowed in and Bill trudged three miles through the snow and shot deer for them to eat, and how a neighbor boy rode an old nag through the snow to their house with venison in a saddlebag because he was concerned that Bill and Nan were trapped and had no food.

They also told the story of a Halloween on which their cat had recently birthed a batch of kittens. As you have likely already guessed, Bill gave out kittens to trick-or-treaters instead of candy. The next day the kids came back, crying that they couldn't keep the kittens. Nan said she could have killed Bill for that one.

Other players on the train included a group of about a half dozen, all wearing Santa hats, and all drunk as lords every minute. Sandy, the lounge car attendant pointed out that they had drunk up most of the booze by the time we got to Reno, and the conductors had their hands full trying to keep the Santa gang from opening the emergency windows and sticking their heads out of the train to smoke. Threats of ejection eventually halted the rebellion.

There was also a very large and burly mad man ranting to all who would listen at every meal, and sitting silently in his room, eschewing his festive reindeer sweater, leaving just his wife beater shirt, between times.

The mad man stated that he was the illegitimate son of Howard Hughes. To inherit the Hughes fortune he had to marry Jenna Bush, W's daughter. The mad man mentioned that he could stretch his body to seven foot five and shrink it to five foot four. He also got in our face and asked us "Did we know that Jesus would part all the heavens and galaxies even if there was only one soul left to save?"

Before dinner, the train stopped in Winnemucca, NV. The name of the town is bigger than the train station, which consisted of a single bus stop like shelter, illuminated by a short string of street lights in the midst of a resounding, vast, and empty darkness. It was a smoking stop and the poor addicts avalanched out of the train to stomp about in the chill air, sucking up the tobacco as fast as possible in the few, short minutes before the train set off again, headed for Utah.

Rita had brought a bottle of red wine, that she had been gifted, aboard the train and after dinner, the first night, she opened it and we carried our chocolate mud cake dinner desserts to my room, drank the entire bottle, and talked about foreign culture, evolution, and genetic memory and how it tied in with quantum physics.

After that it was bed time for both of us and the first day on the train was over.

A turning in the Sierra Nevadas Winnemucca, NV Winnemucca, NV 2
  • Current Mood: relaxed
You make me want to go through my Flickr, clean up and add new shots. But I have no time! I am a bad photographer! Fired! :(
yay, travelogue!
i didn't think it was still possible to travel by rail in north america in this manner. the best train account i ever read was by capote -The Muses are Heard* when he accompanied the cast and crew of Porgy and Bessin the 50's from east germany to leningrad for a cultural exchange. not to place any pressure on you, but i'm quite looking forward to more.

*the title came from one of the russians keeping watch of them on the train. he oft repeated "when the cannons are silent, the muses are heard."
Re: yay, travelogue!
i didn't think it was still possible to travel by rail in north america in this manner
Fortunately, it is still possible and I hope gas prices and the sensibility of state governments overcome the stupidity and greed of the federal government and expand the whole thing. It is wonderful.

I'll have to read that book.