Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Train Diaries (The Pacific Coast)


Left Fullerton train station at 11:45 am on the Pacific Surfliner.  There's a comic book shop in the train station.  I wanted to pick up the next couple issues of Y:The Last Man to read on the train, but they were all out, so I picked up Watchmen, which I've never read and always wanted to, so I guess I'll read that on this trip.  Last night, I re-watched The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey to get myself pumped up for "going on an adventure."  I'm ashamed to admit how many times I've watched The Lord of the Rings movies.  I love them so much, and I love The Hobbit too.

Riding alone on a train gives you a lot of time to think.  I've been thinking about how the dwarves of Erebor in The Hobbit are kind of like the ancient Israelites.  They lose their homeland and are dispersed across the world.  They are on a quest to get it back.

As we approach Los Angeles Union Station, the conductor says, in a dryly ironic tone, "On our right is the beautiful Los Angeles River--the wild, untamed Los Angeles River.  Those are class one rapids, folks."  I'm pretty sure I was one of the only ones on the train to laugh.  If you've ever seen the LA River, you know why this is funny.

After we arrive at and depart LA Union station, heading north, a new conductor takes the PA and she is all business.  She sternly lists the "rules" of the train: no smoking, no intoxication, no feet on the seats.  It's funny how different train conductors have different personalities.

Between LA and Glendale, there's some pretty cool graffiti on the backs of warehouses and industrial buildings and concrete walls.

The train ride from Burbank to Van Nuys is pretty ugly.  We pass an enormous tow yard full of beat-up old cars, a car graveyard.  Rest in peace, old cars.  I'm a train man.

The next conductor is a nerd.  She says, "Thanks for reducing your carbon footprint today."  She explains the contents and function of each car of the train, beginning with the locomotive.  

Next stop is Chatsworth.  I've never been there.

The Belle and Sebastian album "Fold Your Hands, Child, You Walk Like a Peasant" is good trainin' music.

There are low mountains on either side of the train.  I have no idea which mountains they are.

Arrived in Santa Barbara around 3.  The train station looked pretty old.  I love old train stations.  I'm going to see a lot of them on this trip.


I had a surprisingly good time in Santa Barbara.  For me, Santa Barbara has always had connotations of really rich people and douchey college bars.  Those things are certainly there, but like anywhere, there are also some really awesome and interesting things in Santa Barbara.  I arrived at the depot with no agenda, no destination really, so I just started wandering.  I wandered down to Stearn's Wharf, which I'd never been to.  I really like fisherman's wharfs (wharves?).  I think it's a bit of nostalgia.  My aunt and uncle used to manage an apartment complex in Marina del Rey (which has a fisherman's wharf), and I used to love visiting them.  There's something enchanting about old boats and piers and salt-eroded things…the smell of fish and the ocean air.  Maybe, in another life, I would have been a fisherman or a boat captain.

Speaking of boats, I got to ride on one!  Near the end of Stearn's Wharf was a water taxi called the "Lil Toot" which takes you from the wharf, past some sea lions, and to the Maritime Museum across the harbor.  At one point on the voyage of the Lil Toot, the captain allowed all the kids on board to help him steer the boat.  I really wanted to take a turn but, seeing that no other adults were lining up, I didn't ask.

The Santa Barbara Maritime Museum is pretty kick-ass.  One good thing about traveling alone is that you are totally free to visit things most people would consider boring and lame, like a Maritime Museum.  I loved it.  There was an old man taking tickets who gave me a map which contained a layout of the museum's various exhibits.  I'm pretty sure this guy was a volunteer, both because of his age and because he seemed really excited that I was visiting.

As I was leaving, the old man suggested I take the elevator to the top floor.  "It's quite a view," he said.

So I took the elevator up, and that dude was right!  From atop the Maritime Museum, you could see the whole harbor, the mountains, and the Channel Islands off the coast.  There was another old man sitting at an information desk, and I asked him about the Channel Islands.  Apparently, they are one big National Park and you can go camping there.  Because of this, they are completely undeveloped.  The old man explained some of the native animals of the Channel Islands, like the bald eagle.  Note to self: go camping on Channel Islands.

After leaving the Maritime Museum, I'd grown tired and decided to look for lodging.  Santa Barbara was the only stop on my journey where I knew no one and had nowhere I'd planned to stay.

People have different theories about how to find lodging on a vacation.  Some book reservations in advance, some use travel guides.  Me, I prefer to "wing it."  I knew I'd find somewhere to stay, even it it meant sleeping under Stearn's Wharf.  I enquired at one hotel near the waterfront and the price for a room was over $200.  Fuck that, I thought, and walked on, and on, and on, for what felt like miles.  I was looking for the cheapest, shittiest motel in Santa Barbara.  Ultimately, I found it.  It was called Fiesta Inn and, though it was under construction, the sign said, "Vacancy."  The man at the desk said, "I have a room with two queen beds for $109." 

"That's a good deal for Santa Barbara," a man in a tank top said.  He looked to be a handyman.

"Done," I said, and I had lodging.  So I settled into my room for four and rested a while.  The room did not have air conditioning, only a small oscillating fan.  The window was cracked.  The bathroom was dirty-looking.  I wondered if drug dealers would break into my room as I slept and rape/murder me and take my things.

"Please don't let drug dealers rape/murder me as I sleep," I prayed.


Back on the train headed north, I sit in the lounge car and listen to the Rails & Trails guides describe features of the landscape we pass.  The Rails & Trails program is a group of volunteers who ride on stretches of Amtrak trains and educate people about what they are seeing.  That's something I might be interested in when I retire.

Taking the train, the Coast Starlight, from Santa Barbara to San Luis Obispo, you see some very beautiful things--mainly the ocean and the Pacific coast.  It is so lovely.  At some places it feels like you are literally a stone's throw from the ocean.  I am content to sit here silently, staring out the window at the passing landscape.  Pacific means "peaceful" and there is certainly something soothing about this view.

The only somewhat disturbing thing are the distant oil rigs that seem to sit atop the horizon.  They stretch for miles, and there is almost always a hazy oil rig in view.  The oil rigs stand like sentinels of the coast, reminding us of our precarious relationship with nature.  What would happen in the event of an oil spill, like the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill?  It would certainly fuck up this beautiful landscape.  I try to ignore the oil rigs, but they seem omnipresent.  Oh, humanity.  Oh, America.

We pass through the Santa Lucia Mountains, through tunnels bored through rock.  The old stagecoach road is visible from the train.

The town of Templeton.  Jeopardy host Alex Trebec once owned a winery here.

Paso Robles is known for its wineries and hot springs.  The famous El Paso de Robles hotel hosted such celebrities as boxer Jack Dempsey, actor Douglas Fairbanks, William Randolph Hearst's mother Phoebe, and president Teddy Roosevelt.  There are several hundred wineries in the Paso Robles area.

Somewhere between Paso Robles and Salinas is a massive oil field, stretching for what feels like miles, oil derricks beyond counting.  It reminds me of the human fields from The Matrix--dark and ominous and mechanized.  And right beside it, an apple orchard.

In the observation car between Salinas and San Jose, I got talking to a guy from Nepal who is a research doctor at NYU.  He explained that he's been working on treatments for lupus, which is still a relatively mysterious disease with no known cure.

He asked me about the book I'm reading, Watchmen, and he seemed very interested in Dr. Manhattan.  I explained how he is kind of a metaphor for nuclear power.  He has the ability to destroy the world, but instead he is conflicted about how to save it from itself.  The older he gets, the more distant he feels from the world.  It was fun to have a chance to have a serious conversation about Watchmen with a doctor from Nepal.

He also told me some interesting things about Nepal, like how it has both the highest peak and lowest valley on earth.


Got into Oakland late Saturday night.  Christie picked me up from the Jack London Square station and I got to see where she lives--a cool old bait and tackle shop converted into apartments and studios.  She truly lives the life of the artist--playing music, making art.  Her place is flanked on either side by cool artist collectives called Mysterious Creatures and Grease Diner.

We went to a bar in Oakland called Missouri and I was struck by how un-Fullerton this bar was.  There were black people, hipsters.  It felt pretty chill.  One thing that struck me about Christie's neighborhood was how many black people there are.  Living in Orange County, where the African-American population is around 2 percent, it was a real cultural treat to see large numbers of African-Americans.

On Sunday, we met up with a couple of Christie's friends to go to a "Psychic Fair" in Berkeley.  I kept saying the phrase "That's so Berkeley" to describe the hippie things we did and saw there.  At the Psychic Fair, we all got our auras cleansed.  I'm not sure I believe in auras and chakras and stuff, but it was a fun, "Berkeley" thing to do.

After the Psychic Fair, Christie and I headed to The Castro neighborhood in San Francisco, which is where many of the local gay men live.  Just like it was fun for me to see so many black people in Oakland, it was equally fun to see so many gay people in The Castro--men holding hands with other men walking down the street.  It's not something you see very often in the OC.  

I was telling Christie that, lately, I've had a keen interest in gay culture, because it's something I was so shielded from growing up, and there was always this sinister stigma associated with gay people.  Now that I've freed myself from that stigmatization, I'm really into gay culture.  If you're looking for the center of gay culture in America, The Castro is like Mecca.


Yesterday, Christie and I picked up Mike Spies from Daly City and headed into San Francisco to do touristy things.  Our first stop was Chinatown.  San Francisco's Chinatown is better than LA or New York's Chinatown, aesthetically.  I have mixed feelings about Chinatowns, which are a traditional part of many large American cities.  I associate them with past segregation and racism, but now they are both tourist destinations and (depending on the city) an important hub of the local Chinese-American community.  

We ate at an old Chinese restaurant called House of Nanking.  It was one of those places where the waiter orders for you.  I think our waiter was the owner of the restaurant because there was a photo of him on the wall from a newspaper article.  He kept walking by our table, asking how the food was, and then saying, "Delicious, delicious."  He was right.  It was delicious.  I also had mixed feelings about the name of the restaurant, because it made me think of the horrific events known as The Rape of Nanking.

After Chinatown, we headed to Coit Tower, which is a pretty iconic part of the SF landscape.  As we approached the tower, we all tried to guess what was the original purpose of the tower, since none of us knew.  Was it a WWII lookout tower?  Was it a lighthouse?  What was it for?

It turns out that Coit Tower was built solely for beauty, in 1933, with funds from Lillie Hitchcock.  It's designed in art deco style and the interior is adorned with WPA murals depicting working men and women of San Francisco.  They are all frescoes.  I really love WPA murals.  My hometown of Fullerton has three.  Much WPA art is of a style called "social realism", which is a style I can identify with and appreciate.  It tries to depict things as they are, with all the beauty and problems side-by-side.  Perhaps the most famous example of "social realist" art is Dorothea Lange's photograph "Migrant Mother."  I also like the idea behind WPA art and architecture, which was to give a depressed nation hope and beauty in difficult times.  Art, I believe, has this power.

That night, before my train left, Christie and I met up with Brian and we went to a punk bar in Oakland called, simply, "Saloon."


The train ride from Oakland to Seattle is over 30 hours.  We left at 9:40am on Monday, and will arrive some time Tuesday evening.  Thankfully, I was able to sleep through the night in my coach class seat.  And now I'm riding the train through Oregon, through the lovely Cascade Mountains.  The Rails & Trails guide is talking about an Oregon Trail wagon train from the 1800s, led by a Mr. Barlowe.  She tells her story in installments, each of which ends with a cliffhanger: "Their wagons were caught in a show drift, they lost the wagon trail, they were starving…and I'll continue the story in a few minutes."  C'mon!  Finish the fucking story!  What happens to Mr. Barlowe and his friend Jasper?!

Sitting next to me in the Lounge Car, a man is working on his laptop, making abstract digital "paintings" with the Microsoft Paint program.  They aren't very good, in my opinion, but he keeps showing me then and saying, "It's sick, huh?"

And I respond, "Yeah, it's awesome."

Outside Eugene, there are a lot of lumber mills and old-looking factories that probably have something to do with processing lumber.  There is farmland and really old houses, cars, and trucks.  It reminds me of Wisconsin (with more trees).

Bob Dylan's "Bootleg Series" is good train music.  I listen to Dylan's cover of "No More Auction Block" which is an old "negro spiritual" which Odetta did a a memorable cover of, and I get thinking about what it means for a white guy to sing an old song about slavery.  It's a risky business.  It could be taken the wrong way somehow.

It gets me thinking about a conversation I had with Christie about the documentary I'm working on in which I (a "straight" guy) attempt to document art, activism, and Orange County's LGBTQ community.  It's the same question my friends Baxter and Valerie faced when curating an art show in support of marriage equality and OC's LGBTQ community.  The question is: What does a straight person know about what it means to be gay?  What does a white person know about what it means to be black?

Here's my answer, as a straight/white dude who is interested in social justice: You don't have to be a  member of a persecuted minority to advocate for that group.  It wasn't just black people who marched for civil rights in the 1960s.  Even Harvey Milk said that a group that only seeks to advocate for its own narrow interests is a shallow movement doomed to fail.  

What this world needs more of, I think, are people advocating for groups they are NOT a part of, because this requires a good deal of selflessness, compassion and (most of all) empathy.  Maybe sometimes I'll fuck up and advocate in a way that's ineffective.  But you have to keep trying.  There is only the trying.  Bob Dylan was not black, but he wrote some of the most powerful anti-racism songs ever.  Maybe people questioned him about this at the time, but he never gave up and kept writing songs, and the world is the better for it, so I won't give up either.

We pass some old ship yards where lots of WWII boats were made, and the Rails & Trails guide informs us that the majority of the workforce was women: Rosie the Riveter, Rosie the welder, Rosie the boilermaker, Rosie the pipe fitter, etc.

Met a guy named Chris at the depot in Eugene who was on his way to Seattle to start a master's program in digital mapmaking at UW.  I asked him how he got into maps, and he told me a story about a Native American man he met on a train to Chicago who was trying to create a map of all the original tribal territories, pre-European colonization.  Chris said he thought map-making could be used to do something real and good.  It reminded me of a paper I'd written in graduate school, the only paper I was really proud of, which I presented at a conference.  It was called "The Sadness of Geography: Maps and Mapmaking in The English Patient and Waiting for the Barbarians."  It's a long and unwieldy title, but hey, I was a grad student.

The paper was about two post-colonial novels that explore how maps were used by colonizing powers in Africa (Holland and Great Britain) to impose their own structure onto a native landscape.  He who makes the maps has the power.  Chris explained how our current grid system places London at the "center of the world" because Great Britain used to be a great naval power.  

Many of the mountains in the Pacific Northwest (Mt. Baker, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Ranier) are active volcanoes.  This doesn't mean they will likely erupt any time soon.  They will probably not erupt for hundreds (or thousands) of years.  In geologic time, a hundred years is nothing, a blink of an eye.  But, in human years, a hundred years is a very long time.

The world's largest egg is located in Winlock, Washington.  Every year they have a 3-day Egg Festival with all the egg salad sandwiches you can eat.

Trains are dispatched just like airplanes, from a large control room in another part of the country.

I eavesdrop on a conversation between a Jesuit priest and the Rails & Trails guide.  They are discussing the best railroad museums in the world.  Apparently, the best one on the west coast is in Sacramento.

We pass through Centralia and I think of the Woody Guthrie song "Talkin' Centralia Blues."

There are lots of tree farms in Washington.

Out the window, we pass several "mima mounds."  Researchers are still uncertain how or why these mounds formed.

I eavesdrop on a table of people in the Lounge Car who just returned from Comic-Con in San Diego.  This guy is trying to explain how no one knows how to make a complete iPad.  Modern industrialized manufacturing of electronics is such a fragmented affair that everyone knows how to make their part, but no one knows how it all works.  I guess maybe the designer knows, but the point is that, generally speaking, the things we consume have become so complex that most of us have no idea how to make things for ourselves.  In the event of a major calamity, this fragmentation of knowledge could be disastrous for us.  It's best, I think, to be a generalist, to try to understand the big picture how things fit together, how to make things ourselves.  DIY.

King Street Station in Seattle is astonishingly beautiful.

Took the ferry to Bainbridge Island from Seattle.  Stood on the bow as the sun set, casting an orange glow across the horizon and the water, and I remembered how the guy at the Psychic Fair said my aura was orange.  I stood on the bow, with my orange aura, and felt one with the horizon.  I'm looking forward to seeing my brother Seth.


Got into Seattle late Tuesday night and it was like a mini family reunion because my parents and grandma Sally were also visiting.  Seth and his family live in a cool house in Poulsbo, outside of Seattle.

My brother and I went to a German pub in downtown Poulsbo called Tisley's.  They had a great local craft brew selection on tap.  We also got a big, fresh, hot German-style pretzel with mustard to share.  We sat on the balcony and caught up.  I'm not sure how, but we ended up talking about religion, which I'm realizing is an inescapable narrative thread through my life, for better or worse.

My brother knows that I'm kind of an agnostic, but I told him about a book I recently read called Who Wrote the Bible? that has given me a newfound appreciation for and interest in the Bible.  Seth is a creative director for a marketing company called Masterworks, which does a lot of direct-mail campaigns for Christian non-profits.  His newest client is The American Bible Society and he told me some crazy stories about people in developing countries who have dreams where they are told to meet a certain person at a certain place and time and then someone arrives with a Bible.

I'm naturally skeptical about these things, but Seth has heard so many stories that he is a believer in powerful, unseen spiritual forces that are happening all around us, all the time.  "In the west, most people are too distracted to notice," he said.

I told him about how I went to a psychic fair in Berkeley and had my aura cleansed and got a "reading" from a man who apparently could see my aura and energy.  The guy talked about my "male energy" and how I'm still struggling to find ways to release it.  He said I'm trying to do it through my hands (I took this to mean writing, taking pictures, making things) but I still haven't found peace with it.  I've never been too good at externalizing my stronger emotions, like anger.  I think my old punk band was a good outlet.  Maybe I need to play music again.  There is an undeniable relief and release when you create something like that.  Maybe that's why I blog so much.  I guess it's better than screaming all time.

I told my brother that, while I don't deny the existence of unseen spiritual forces, they are a mystery to me, as I'm sure they are also for him, more or less.

On Wednesday, I took the ferry into the city to do some sight-seeing.  Ever since college, Seattle has held a strange place in my heart.  In one sense, it's a beautiful and cool city that I like visiting (especially in the non-rainy season, which is pretty much just the summer), but in another sense, Seattle is the city where I had my first major mental breakdown.  For a whie, I was kind of afraid to go back, afraid that the city would somehow trigger all those painful memories.  But time brings healing, and as I rode the ferry and watched the familiar skyline approach, I thought, "The city is smaller than I remember."  When we are young, I think, our memory of things is expanded and amplified.  As we get older, maybe, it's the opposite.  Anyway, as I approached the city I had a profound sense of the fact that I'm older now, I'm okay, and I'm not afraid.

I stood on the bow of the ferry and, next to me, two girls were peering down into the passing water.  Whenever we passed a jellyfish, they would say, "Jellyfish," sort of like "Slugbug."  There are quite a few whitish-yellow-orange jellyfish in Puget Sound.

Got dropped at the waterfront and walked to Pike Place Market, the year-round public market that is a huge, three-story labyrinth of food vendors, shops, and other odd places, like the giant shoe museum.  Across the street from the market is the first Starbucks location ever.  It's weird how a relatively small, local coffee shop managed to dominate the global retail coffee market.  When I'm traveling, I sometimes like to joke that I'm "taking in some local culture" when I visit Starbucks.  But there is one Starbucks in the world where this is not a joke, and that is the Pike Place Market Starbucks in Seattle.

Walking through the market, I started having memories of hanging out here in college, when I was going through a really rough time.  I wrote about that in my memoir.  It's funny how my memories today are shaped by these writings.  I remember very specific things I wrote about: an old hot dog stand, a homeless guy vomiting into a trash can, a vendor selling honey, the crowd gathered around the fish market where men in overalls throw fish to each other.

It gets me thinking about the power of writing to shape and solidify memory.  The things I remember best are the things I've written about.  I'm sure there's psychology and science to back this up.  Maybe that's why I like to write so much.  I want to remember these important things, to see how they fit together, to learn from them.

Being a regular writer is an ongoing struggle because life is so full of important events.  You can't record them all, but you can record the most important things.  In this way, writing can be a path to understanding.  

Walked from Pike Place Market to the monorail station downtown.  Yes, Seattle has a monorail, and it goes from downtown to the Seattle Center, where the Space Needle and other things are.  Riding the monorail made me think of that episode of The Simpsons which is a musical patterned after The Music Man, about a charlatan who promises to build Springfield a world class monorail, but it breaks down and Homer saves the day.  I think Leonard Nimoy is in that episode.

Anyway, I took the monorail to the Seattle Center and check out the Space Needle, which is pretty impressive.  I buy a ticket and check out the Chihuly Museum.  Dale Chihuly is a world famous glass artist from the Pacific Northwest.  Typically, I don't really like the kind of ornate glass-work Chihuly does.  It reminds me of something middle-aged women from Laguna Beach would spend way too much money on to decorate their gaudy houses.  However, because of the sheer size of Chihuly's pieces, they transcend the Laguna thing and become something special, even astonishing.

In one of the rooms of the Chihuly Museum are, inexplicably, several photographs by Edward Curtis of Native Americans.  I was really excited to see these in person because I'd just read an amazing book about Edward Curtis called Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis.  Basically, Curtis was a badass who pretty much single-handedly created a 20-volume series of books documenting Native North American tribes.  It took him 30 years and cost him everything.  But he got to hang out with people like Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir.

After the Chihuly Museum, I checked out the Experience Music Project Museum.  They began building the EMP Museum when I was in college here in 1998 or 99 and finished it after I left Seattle.  I'd never been there before, so I decided to check it out.  First off, the architecture is astonishing.  It was designed by architect Frank Gehry (who designed the iconic Disney Music Hall in Los Angeles).  The EMP Museum represents the kind of creative expressionism that I wish more architects and builders used--rounded, undulating, multi-colored metal plates.  It's fantastic.  I thought the EMP was just about music, but they also have rotating exhibits on science fiction and pop culture.

Had homemade pizza with my whole family on Wednesday night, and watched the movie Rocky IV, which is a long-time family favorite.  This is the one where Rocky fights a boxer from the Soviet Union.


Back on the train, heading south, people-watching, writing in my journal.  I'm struck by the fact that almost no one writes by hand in journals anymore.  People today read and write on iPads and other electronic devices.  As for me, I prefer my old school Mead composition book and a pen.  Here's what I think: iPads and iPhones have destroyed the attention spans of a generation.  People want to access and post things instantly.  But some things cannot be enjoyed or created instantly, like a novel, or writing a lengthy train diary.  Some of the most important things you can do and make and read take a long time and require disciplined patience.  Pretty much all of the things I'm most proud of in my life took a long time and required focus and hard work.  This is why I prefer reading real books and writing by hand in my journal and (hopefully) always will.

George Washington, the son of a black slave, settled and founded the city of Centralia, Washington.  George W. Bush (also black) founded Olympia.  Washington state tended to be more open to diverse populations, even in the days of slavery.

Taking the train is a mode of travel that requires great, Buddha-like patience.

On the way to Portland, listening to Nirvana's "Unplugged in New York" record.  This is my favorite Nirvana album because it shows that Kurt Cobain wasn't just an angry punk.  He was a sensitive, knowledgable, even soulful musician who was inspired by people like David Bowie and Leadbelly.

The long train ride south is proving to be quite a test for my patience.  The total hours for the trip from Seattle to Solvang (my next destination) is over 30 hours.  On a train.  Fuck this.  I only have a few things to do, and I've done them A LOT: read, write, listen to music, take pictures, eat train food.  I'm somewhere in Oregon and these pine trees are really starting to piss me off.  I think I'm getting "train fever."  I'm so antsy.  I know that another thing I can do is talk to people, but I'm shy about striking up conversations with random strangers.

I glance across the aisle at an elderly man who is doing absolutely nothing.  Not reading, writing, listening to music, or talking.  He's just, like, occasionally glancing out the window, Buddha-like.  I envy him.

I head down to the cafe car and order my first train booze, a Jack Daniels and ginger ale.  I think I'm going to need more of these before this train ride is finished.

Somewhere outside Chico, CA around 6:30am.  I'm in the observation car looking at the most glorious sunrise.

Eavesdropping on people's conversations in the lounge car, people talking about their lives, their jobs.  It seems to be very rare that people really like their jobs.  Why is this?  Why don't people do what they like?  Because people need money to survive, and things people like to do often don't make them money--creative things like making music, art, photography, etc.  All in all, I feel fortunate to have a job that I like (college English teacher), and to have lots of things in my life that give it purpose and meaning: the gallery, the book store, my blog, all the weird little community-based projects I do, my friends and family.

In one sense, I feel lucky.  But, in another sense, I know that I worked hard and sacrificed to be able to teach college Engish and to own an art gallery and book store.  These things did not just "fall in my lap."  I spent nine years in college.  I spent thousands of dollars on the gallery and book store.  I think this is the secret to having a job you like: hard work and sacrifice.  If you really want to do something, you will find a way to do it, even it if takes nine years and lots of money.

Here's some good career advice I've learned: Never sacrifice your long-term dreams for short-term comfort or convenience.  

We are entering the town of Martinez, just north of Oakland, and there are acres and acres of oil refineries.  God, our poor country is addicted to oil.  

Heading out of Martinez, we pass some of the most depressing/apocalyptic beaches I've ever seen: dark water, tires strewn about, black/green rocks, rotten/broken down piers no longer in use.  I don't think it's a coincidence that these horrible beaches are near massive oil refineries.

Had a 2-hour delay at Jack London Square in Oakland, so I used the time to stretch my legs and explore a little.  I'm learning many interesting things on this trip.  For example, I didn't know Jack London was from Oakland, nor did I know he was a socialist.  It seems like a lot of artists are writers of the early 20th century were either communists or socialists (don't ask me to explain the difference).  I think this is because these artists and writers saw the terrible gaps of wealth, saw human misery and injustice, and wanted humans in America to be equal and have equal opportunities.

Speaking of huge gaps in wealth, nowhere in America is this better illustrated than in Oakland.  On the waterfront, around Jack London Square, are all these posh, expensive lofts and condos, many of them quite new.  A few blocks away, both west and east, are run-down housing and an apocalyptic post-industrial landscape.  I guess a lot of American cities are like this: Detroit, Cleveland, Chicago, even LA.  Skid Row in LA is only a few blocks from expensive downtown lofts.  I suppose this has always, in one way or another, been a texture of the American landscape.  It makes sense that artists and writers who were trying to understand America tended to side with the underdog, which in the early 20th century often meant being a communist or socialist.  It's too bad that dictators like Stalin and Mussolini co-opted the label "socialist" and fucked things up for everyone.

As I wait for the train in San Jose, a one-footed pigeon comes hobbling by.  How does a bird survive in the wild with only one foot?  How does it perch on things?  Maybe it just hangs around the station, surviving on the crumbs of sympathetic travelers, hobbling about and never flying.  I guess we all do what we have to do to survive.  Just before the train arrives, I notice an Amtrak employee feeding the pigeon some cracker crumbs.

Maybe it's because I've been traveling for a day and a half straight, but the city of Santa Clara looks like an awful place to live.

From San Jose, I catch an Amtrak bus to Solvang, where I'll attend Chuck and Lauren's wedding.  Riding on the bus to Solvang, I read an incredibly well-written and well-researched zine called "Scam" that I picked up at City Lights Books in San Francisco.  It's about the Black Flag album "Damaged," and it really inspires me to "up my game" with my little book and zine store, and to make more zines.

Passing through Pismo Beach, through a lot of tract housing.  Man, I really don't understand the appeal of tract housing where every house looks the same.  It's like you're proclaiming to the world, "I love to conform!"  I guess, in past generations, conformity was a strong cultural value in America.  I suppose it still is.  To me, conformity is stupid, boring, and soul-crushing.  It must be resisted at all costs.


Arrived in Solvang late last night.  Chuck's wedding party was hanging out in the spa area of a fancy hotel called Hadsten House.  I felt like a real hobo, arriving all disheveled off a bus with all my stuff.

"Where are you staying?" Lauren asked.

"I don't know," I replied, and everyone laughed.  But it was true.  I asked in the office if they had any rooms available and the guy said "No."

"There's another hotel on the other side of town with a few rooms open for $325."

Three hundred and twenty-five dollars!? I thought.  My response was to walk to the liquor store next door, buy a bottle of Jameson, return to the spa, and get drunk.

I ended up sleeping in Phil's bed.  In the morning, Phil said I was making weird noises in my sleep that sounded like sleep apnea.  This got me worried a little.  I think, when I get home, I'll get that checked out.

I got a really nice (free) breakfast at the Hadsten House bistro.  The place seemed really upscale and I felt like I was getting weird glances from the other patrons, like I didn't belong here.  It got me thinking about the zine I'd read about Black Flag, about how punks in Orange County and LA were looked down upon and socially ostracized because of how they looked.  I wasn't dressed like a punk, though.  I was wearing my new Amtrak shirt, green shorts, black socks, and bright green shades.  I guess maybe those shades are pretty punk.

We walked around downtown Solvang, which is a cool Danish little town.  I suspect this place was settled by Danish people.  Either that, or it's a really elaborate tourism campaign.

Around 4, we headed to a small winery outside town where the wedding was to take place.  It was the most beautiful setting for a wedding I'd been to: vineyards, a windmill, an old barn house.  It felt like something out of a movie.

Chuck's friend Mark performed the ceremony.  Mark is not a professional minister, but he did a good job.  Chuck and Lauren read their own vows and it got me a little choked up.  There was such sincerity.  The setting, the people, the vows, all gave me hope that true love is possible.

Mark quoted a line from Chuck's favorite movie Amelie that got me thinking about the value of having a spouse, or at least a companion.  I tend to fear the responsibilities and obligations of relationships and marriage, but if it's with the right person, it can be a beautiful thing, and maybe even liberating.  I still haven't found that.  I'm cool for now, though.

After the wedding, we went to this local country & western bar called The Maverick.  The marquee outside said that a band called Teddy Spanke and the Tex Pistols would be playing, but I guess we missed them, because it was all Top 40 club music, all night.  The bar was packed like a Fullerton bar on a Saturday night.

One hilight of The Maverick experience was that the actor Jason Segal was there!  Everyone was so star-struck.  It must be weird to be a movie star, where everywhere you go people stare at you and strangers want to take pictures with you.  I imagine it would get annoying after a while.  The cost of fame.

It was nice catching up with old friends like Sarah Babbitt, who is getting her Ph.D at Loyola University in Chicago in philosophy.  Sarah and I were English majors together at Cal State Fullerton, so we tend to "nerd out" on books and academic things when we see each other.  She told me about an event she goes to called "The Ethics Bowl" which is a philosophy debate event.  I asked if The Ethics Bowl gets the same turnout and publicity as The Rose Bowl.  She said "no."

As I head back south, I begin to actually miss Fullerton--my friends and the bars and streets and coffee shops and the art colony.  I miss it.  Before leaving on this trip, I was feeling so cooped up, like I had to get away.  And now, after a week of wandering, I am ready to come home.  I think this is why vacations are important.  People need a break from their home for a while, a chance to get some perspective, rest, and adventure.

1 comment:

  1. Don't know if I ever told you, Jesse, but your uncle Jim Stevenson was a train conductor most of his working life.--Dad