A journey of eleven thousand five hundred miles begins with a single step.

When I purchased my Amtrak cross country trip weeks ago, back in May, I was told I could pick up the Rail Pass and boarding tickets at my first boarding, which would be in Lamy NM. OR, I could pick up them up at the San Francisco Transbay Transit (temporary) Terminal. A new (bigger and better?) one will open soon. It seems that just about everything that opens in San Francisco is bigger and better.

Anyway, being aware of just how many things can go wrong in trips like the one I’ve planned, I decided not to wait. I’m flying from SFO to Colorado on Friday. A week later, I’ll be taking a road trip to Chimayo and Lamy NM, before boarding the Southwest Chief, my first “all aboard” of many in the next several weeks.

So yesterday morning, since I was in the City anyway after spending a fun-filled night with my good friends, I made my way to the Transit Terminal.

“Hi, I’d like to pick up my rail pass and tickets.”

The young woman behind the counter smiled. “This isn’t the Amtrak counter. They’re over there.”

I looked behind me, in the direction her head nodded toward. Oh, okay, I was at the Greyhound counter. “All right. Thank you.” A minute later, I was at another counter.

“Hi, I’d like to pick up my rail pass and tickets, please.” Yes, that’s right. I’m usually quite polite.

“I need your I.D.” No chit chat from the young man behind the glass who didn’t bother to look up from his computer screen.

I struggled to yank the damn license out of its plastic sleeve in my wallet before passing it through the little hole under the safety glass. I waited for the guy’s response, looking around the place. Maps on the walls, tiny lego train people and assorted toy train accessories lived on a shelf behind the glass. Racks of tourist come-on brochures and flyers sat along two walls. One or two people straggle in, look around and leave.

“This trip has been canceled.” Michael reports.

“Uh…no. It hasn’t. When I purchased the tickets the charge inadvertantly went through three times and those were canceled, but not the trip,” I said, my stomach beginning to jump up and down in a drum of nerves.

He printed out and passed over to me a bunch of paper showing me the canceled trip. I looked it over and still wasn’t buying it.

“Let me get on this other terminal,” he tells me and moves five feet to his right to another keyboard. I sidestep over to watch and wait.

“I can see what they’ve done,” he says. “They’ve also overcharged you $14.”

“They? I thought you were they. You’re all Amtrak, right?”

“Yeah, but those idiots online are always screwing things up.”

I stood there patiently, thinking back to the time of original purchase, recalling that everything seemed to go so smoothly, and that the guy on the other end of the phone really knew what he was doing. Except for the triple charging of my bank account, of course. But that was blamed on the accounting unit, not the ticket seller. Sure. Yeah. Right then, I could have cared less about the $14. I just wanted the trip to be in my hand.

Many minutes crawl by. A couple more people stroll in and out of the waiting room. I ask my hopefully, savior-to-be, what his name is. It’s Michael.

“Okay,” Michael reports out. “I think I may be able to refund the $14, and restore your trip. But if it doesn’t go through, the whole thing will definitely be canceled and we’ll have to start all over again.”

Visions of no available seats for my trip swarm through my head. “Well, what are the chances you can save it all?”

“I’d say…pretty good,” he slowly drawled out his answer.

“I’ll go with pretty good.” I am a risk-taker, after-all.

Michael did indeed save my day. He figured a way to refund me the $14, print out my Amtrak Rail Pass AND my boarding passes for the next few weeks. He then took it upon himself to happily scrounge around and find each train’s time-table brochure, along with a glossy 8 x 10 inch full color map that he handed over to me. We finished our time together in short order, both of us relieved at the happy ending.

I’ll have to go online and give him a good Yelp. He is obviously not happy about the “temporary” Transbay Terminal closing in the next couple months. He indicated to me that there would be more machines than people working the place. I hope he finds a good spot to continue helping our fellow travelers.

It was after I’d walked out to the car, my hands full of passes, papers and a map that I really don’t plan to drag along with me until mid-July, that I realized I should probably hit the bathroom before my hour and a half drive home.

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It’s paint. Your guess is as good as mine.

 

And then I headed home— to do some laundry, dust the bookshelves and re-pack.

Friday is just two sleeps and a wakey away.

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Happy Birthday, Grandpa Fred

My mother was 66 years old when she died. Her mother, the only grandmother I really knew, died when she was 70. I’m 68 now, and thankfully, a whole lot healthier than either one of them were. Not that I wanted them to be unhealthy. You know what I mean.

I grew up with Grandma Gertie and Grandpa Willie at my side. I knew at some point in time that Grandpa Willie was my step-grandfather. The step part never mattered to me. I loved him so much and he showered all of us with love and good humor. It was years after Mom died in ’86 that I even began to wonder who my real grandfather really was. Willie was gone by then, too.

Eventually I learned that Fred Shea was the man who cared for my grandmother when she was just 18 and won a train trip to San Francisco from Missouri as the grand prize in her hometown beauty pageant. Grandma’s father had arranged for his brother Fred, who was living in SF and working for the railroad, to look after young Gertie. Love bloomed, and in the way of the world, uncle and niece fell in love. My mom was born in the spring of 1920.

Sometime, somehow, in the next 15 or so years, Fred was out of the picture.

I tracked down his death certificate. He died in a hospital in San Francisco, from cirrhosis of the liver when he was 63 years old. It was December 23, 1945, 6 days before my parents celebrated their marriage in Grandma Gertie and Grandpa Willie’s home across the bay.

I’ll never know if Mom knew where her dad was. It makes me so sad. Maybe no one he loved knew where he was.

While looking through old pictures just a few years ago, I stumbled upon a picture of my very young and beautiful grandmother sitting next to a strikingly handsome man on a blanket on San Francisco’s foggy Ocean Beach. I knew in that instant I was looking at my grandfather. I also knew why my parents named my brother Fred.

Fred and Gertie

I jumped in my car, sped to the office supply store to get the best magnifying glass they had on hand and rushed back home. When I glared through my powerful new lens, I was gazing on the mirror image of my brothers and my sons.

Finally, I got to meet my own Grandpa Fred.

Tomorrow is his birthday. October 1, 1883. Happy Birthday, Grandpa Fred.

 

Is There a Doctor or a Nurse On Board?

“Is there a doctor or a nurse onboard?  Would you be willing to assist with one of our passengers?”

Not what I wanted to hear.

I took a deep breath, deciding if I’d be a nurse today.

We’d been in the air for maybe 30 minutes. I was settled in my comfy bulkhead window seat, sharing the row with a nice family of three – mom, dad, baby girl.  While waiting for our flight, I’d noticed this little 3-month old cradled in her mother’s arms as she sat on the floor in the crowded terminal, surrounded by baby totes.  Calm baby, loving mother, attentive dad.  Still, I hoped they wouldn’t be sitting close to me on the flight.

Well, there you go.

“We’re going to San Francisco for Valentine’s Day,” she told me.

Sweet.  

After a week away from home for a wonderful vacation in Florida, I’d said my goodbyes to my brother and sister-in-law and headed home.   A precious week, it was the first time in our lives that we were able to spend so much time together not surrounded by all of our children and grandchildren. We had a fabulous time playing tourist, hanging out at the golf club, or just doing nothing at all, in their new home town of retirement.

I was on my second plane of the day after changing planes in Atlanta, headed for San Francisco. Settled in, I was looking forward to a little rest after a sleepless last night in Lakeland.  I knew Howie, Heather and Sami were picking me up in the City and we were going out for a late bite to eat.  Get my rest now was my mantra of the day.

Of course I offered my help.  After a long internal debate that lasted at least three seconds.  I pressed the call light as instructed. Evidently there was no doctor on board. Up and out of my seat, I followed the attendant down the tight aisle where I introduced myself as an RN to the assembled crew and passengers.

Another of our throng spoke up, “An RN? Well, she trumps me.”

He chuckled as he headed on back to his own seat.

The attendants report to me that the passenger in question is complaining of numbness and tingling in his feet and hands. I see an anxious looking Indian gentleman, approximately 75 years old, sitting in the middle seat. I move into the vacated aisle seat to establish eye contact and be closer to speak with him. His female companion from the aisle seat now hovers over us in the crowded walkway.

“Hello, my name is Kathleen.  What is your name?”

Furrowed forehead, his eyes question me.  I reach for his hand, press it to my chest, and repeat my name, asking again for his name, and then pressing my hand with his against his chest, repeating myself. I have some difficulty dealing with his strong Indian accent, and I echo his name as best as I can. He nods his head in agreement. Good, step one. Establish rapport. Reduce his anxiety.

“Do you speak English?”

“I speak little bit English,” he replies.

Still holding onto his warm left hand, I ask him a series of questions, one by one, to help me get a feel for what’s going on with this guy.

“What are you feeling right now? Are you having pain in your chest? Any pain at all? Is your head hurting?”

“My hands, my feet, they are tingly and numb.  No, I have no pain. No, I am not cold, I’m not feeling hot.  I had this feeling only one time before, this morning on the plane from Orlando.”

Same one I was on.

“Do you travel often? Is this something that has happened before?” I ask.

“Yes, I travel. No, no, just this morning – and now,” he replies, as he repeatedly opens and closes his fingers, grasping them or clapping them together to get a feel for them.

Shaking his head, he indicates that he hasn’t had any water to drink today, or much to eat, either.

I take his pulse.  Regular, a bit on the fast side, not out of the ordinary.  Normal respirations.  The woman with him says repeatedly, ‘my son, my son.’  She looks a heck of a lot older than he does.  I wonder if she has her personal pronouns confused.  Maybe she’s his daughter. She dotes on him and doesn’t speak or understand English.

I figure he’s somewhat dehydrated, with some sort of circulatory challenge and a bit of anxiety thrown in. I advise the attendants that he ought to have some water, as well as sit somewhere he could elevate his legs. He needs to relax.

The crew reports that there are 12 empty seats.  I remember seeing a few vacant seats in my area of the plane.  Okay, let’s get some people moved around.

“ Mr. ____, do you think you can walk to another place in the plane so that you can put your feet up and rest?” I ask.

He nods in agreement, “Yes, yes, I can do that.  I can walk.”

With two flight attendants in the lead, Mr. ___ follows, firmly gripping each seatback as he slowly makes his way, almost in a standing crawl. Smart guy. I walk behind him, ready to reach out and grab him if he falters. The third crewmember brings up the rear. Other passengers are craning their necks, peeking around, watching and wondering what’s going on.

Up near the front of the plane now, I offer my bulkhead seat to a woman sitting in the window seat behind mine, if she’d like to move, explaining to her that this gentleman  needs to lie down.  She readily agrees.  There’s an empty middle seat and the guy on the aisle has offered to move to another seat as well.  Before two minutes have gone by, our gentleman has a full three seats to himself.

As he sits to relax after that brief walk, the crew bring him a plastic glass of water which he quickly empties. They set up an oxygen tank for him. He sits there, his companion at his side, his head leaned back, calmly breathing O2 with an oxygen mask. Soon enough, he dispatches with the O2, and his female companion.  He lies down to nap with a pillow and blanket provided by the crew.

His daughter/mother was now sitting behind him, thanks to another volunteer seat-mover. She would get up every now and then to gently rest her hand on his shoulder.

My new place was in the aisle seat across from Mr. ___, ostensibly to keep an eye on him.  My new seatmate had earlier upgraded his boarding pass in Atlanta to get the aisle seat I was now seated in.

He’d quickly offered it up to me.

“You have enough on your plate. Why don’t you sit here?”

“Thank you,” I answered,  “I know you had other plans for this seat.”

He slid over into the empty center seat and we had a good laugh at our mislaid seating plans.

Soon enough, I was called to the crew’s staging area where I agreed to provide my name, address, phone number.  If I’d had my RN license on me, or remembered the number, I could have given that as well.  No worries.  Sure, I told them, you can call me if need be for follow-up.

Somewhat later, I walked to the back of the plane to the bathroom.   There was a professional looking guy loitering there, playing with his phone. He looked up at me.

“Save a life!” he quipped, smiling. I laughed. Well, not quite.

He asked me what hospital I worked. I answered that I’d recently retired from Napa State. Turns out, he’d been a sales rep peddling psych meds at various hospitals and clinics in the area. Small world.

On arrival, a wheelchair was on hand to get our guy through the airport. All was well. After we’d settled him in a row of his own, there were no further complaints.

And the baby? Not a peep.

I like to think that at an altitude thousands of feet above the earth, the positive attitude in this plane full of ‘Californians’, and travelers to California, was at least partially responsible for the calm, helpful and concerned manner in which each person played their part.

We didn’t really save a life, we just showed some compassion for our fellow travelers in need.

Here’s to you, Flight Crew and passengers on Southwest Flight 3745, Atlanta to San Francisco.  Good job, well done.

 

 

Mexico City Meets San Rafael? San Francisco CA?

It’s amazing to me how my day, the day that I had planned, can change in the blink of an eye.  When I awoke this morning, I had no idea I’d be writing about strangers I haven’t even met.  To you.  Readers and writers all, we’re open to new experiences.  We have to be.

Travel and travelers are a rich and tasty source of stories and poetry, surprising delights in all the five senses.  It’s always been that way, for travelers and writers everywhere.  I know it certainly rocks my boat.

Today I bring to you an opportunity to meet someone new, to learn something new. Perhaps, gain a new perspective about my world.   Perhaps about yourself.

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I’ve been part of an international travelers organization for many years.

https://www.couchsurfing.org/

Because of this partnership, my life has changed in more ways than I ever imagined.  In 2013, I spent a spring week, sleeping evenings in a small home outside Paris, thanks to the generosity of a couchsurfer I met online.  A quaint place with windows overlooking a quiet little road, a brief and leisurely train ride from the City, a walk meandering through the Farmer’s Market and in and around several little shops along the road, through a public park full of children laughing, flowers blooming, trees of green and the aroma of French pastries on my tongue.

IMG_0077 (1)I spent a week in Morocco.  We walked through the hot sun during the day, into the shaded and cool medina full of music, food and trained snakes at night.  After which we traveled over the High Atlas Peak Mountains in a rickety bus to visit 3 days in the Berber desert in Mimoune’s family home.  Mimoune’s family communicated with me through Mimoune, the one English speaking family member to translate for all of us.  By the end of my visit, having savored fresh bread baked daily in a clay, fruit and vegetables that grow on their spring fed and irrigated land, they invited me to stay and be a special guest in Mimoune’s sister’s wedding.  Sweet Moroccan tea lingers on my lips.

In Coventry, I learned all about Snooker and ‘Bowls’.  I sipped tea each morning from 100_4177dainty china cups and wandered along the countryside with my friend Tim who had visited  Napa years before.

Yucatan Eco Resort

Yucatan Eco Resort

In the Yucatan, I net Carmen’s young daughter, stayed in their beautiful home, armed myself with travel tips for the best local places to visit, to eat and linger and I learned that folks who need care can go to the medical clinic in the evening, after work, any working day.

In Belgium, along the Meuse River, I was treated to Belgian waffles and thousand of beers in one place, not to mention new friends who have now come to visit me here in U.S. bringing with them even more of that delicious Belgium chocolate.

Belgian Breakfast

Belgian Breakfast

None of what I experience when I travel with couchsurfers can be found in a guide book.

I received a message this morning and am hoping someone out there might see an opportunity to help out a couple of folks from Mexico City.  I don’t have a space to do so right now.  Life for me is people, travel, writing, sharing, fun, helping.  So I thought I’d pass this along. If you want to know more, please contact me.

From Rick Schmidt in Mexico City:
Here’s my situation: my wife will be studying at Dominican University for the month of December … she’s got room/board provided by the school. I will accompany her but need a room for a month. We tried airbnb and craigslist but no luck: either too expensive or too far away from San Rafael. I don’t need anything fancy, but need safe place to park car. I am quiet, clean and interesting conversationalist … having travelled to many parts of the world all my life, including the recent 12 years of attending conferences; my host would not regret having met me, I’m sure. If you have friends, acquaintances or just a suggestion, I would be very appreciative. We live in Mexico City and have enjoyed hosting CSers a few times in the past ten years. We have references and are homeowners ourselves so we know how to treat our environment. Thank you so much for any suggestion. Cheers….Rick Schmidt, Ana Cazares
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Just One More Look

 

It was in the last few days of 1945, when Mr. Frank Shea was found cold and shivering one morning outside City Hospital. Pastor Dayton noticed Frank, helped him to his feet, and with the help of a nurse on her way in, they carried Frank off the sidewalk and into the hospital. 60 years old, skinny as a rail, Frank had a thin smile baring his broken soul, a deep strong voice, deep dark circles masking his jaundiced yellow eyes, and stringy dark hair hung over his forehead.

Cirrhosis, a result of years in alcoholism, take a lot of men like Frank, living hard. He’d moved to San Francisco long ago, soon after the big Quake. Work was aplenty then and he bit off a piece of everything ‘til he hired on to the Railroad.

“Frank, are you awake?” asked his nurse, smiling, “here’s a sip of water.”

Frank was dying. Difficulty swallowing, not eating, fragile, shallow breathing. Nurse Ginny knew it wouldn’t be long. No family noted in his chart, he was all alone. His head turned toward Ginny.

“That you, Nurse? Did I doze off again? You’re a blessing, you are, sitting here with me. Why in hell don’t you marry me, Ginny?”

The nurse chuckled, “If you and I were going anywhere at all, Frank, I’d jump at the chance. Talk with me a bit. About Gertie, you were talking Gertie.”

Nurse Ginny was about the same age as her patient. Short hair, curious hazel eyes, pretty, a few wrinkles here and there. She sat on a cold metal chair, leaning over to catch Frank’s hushed words.

“Gertie came to me just the right time when I was tired, lonely and in the bottle. My sister Susan wrote, wanting to know if I could put up her girl. I remembered her girl Gertie, from before I moved on out here. She was a cute little sprout then, when she first come to Susan after Gertie’s own Mama died. When Susan wrote me, Gertie was 19, she’d won a Beauty Contest, got herself a train trip out here.

“She sure wasn’t the little girl I remembered. All grown up, little spitfire with a golden heart. Some ‘o that gold rubbed off on me, ‘n I quit drinkin’, we fell in love and we got hitched up. I had a few years on her, ‘didn’t seem to matter,” Frank said, blinking his eyes, “’til I ruined it all, couldn’t stay off the bottle,” he went on, his eyes tearing up.

“One day, though, I never forgot. We were out to Ocean Beach. Gertie all snuggled in fur, pretty green chapeau over her dark wavy hair, hair so soft I could run my fingers through it like a breeze. Her eyes were just like yours, yes they were,” he said, peering into Ginny’s eyes.

“That was the day she told me we were having a baby. Oh, if I could only get those days back. Just one more look at that picture.”

Ginny smiled, “So Frank, you’re a father. Well, well,” she sighed, “What picture?”

“A stranger on the beach snapped it, with Gertie’s fancy camera. It was a day. Gertie carried that picture in her handbag every day from then on. Every day. Our picture.”

Frank sniffled, turned his head and he just dozed off.

Ginny sat there a minute, thinking over what Frank had said, wondering about his family.

She walked up the hall to check on her other patients. Twenty five year old Charlie had been a prisoner of war, captured at Wake Island, she heard, back to the U.S. only a few weeks now. He’d come in dehydrated, skin and bones, shattered left arm, likely from the rickets. He had rusty brown hair, bright blue lonely, searching eyes, it seemed, after long being lost in the camps. His sadness slowly melted away, though, as the Red Cross girls came in every day to cheer the troops. Maggie, he was sure sweet on her.

Maggie was sitting on the edge of Charlie’s bed when the nurse walked in.

“Nurse Ginny! We have news for you!” Charlie quipped, trying to raise himself to sit, impossible with his casted arm hanging from a rope and a chain.

“We’re getting married, aren’t we, Honey?” he piped up, looking up at Maggie, his hand around her waist, “I knew it the first day she walked in here, ‘kept coming back every day. It’s a happy day, Nurse! Soon enough she’ll be Mrs. Thomas and she can toss that Shea moniker right out the window.”

“Well, that’s wonderful news, you two. Maggie Shea, that’s a nice Irish name. You sure you want to give it up?” the nurse asked, laughing.

“Yes, Ma’am, I’ll always be a Shea at heart, my grand parents all came here from Ireland.”

“Well, lucky for Charlie they did. Have your parents met this young man yet?” Ginny asked, looking at Maggie’s hazel eyes, her dark wavy hair, pretty face, wondering about her last name.

“She was here yesterday. Mother thinks Charlie’s wonderful. Father, I haven’t seen him in such a long time. He was a drinker when I was little, my mother worried so, we moved across the bay. I know he’d be happy for me, want to walk me down the aisle.”

Ginny replied, “Of course he would. I’m looking forward to meeting your mother when she’s here again, before you go home, Charlie. Maggie, what’s your mother’s name?”

Happiness on Ocean Beach

Happiness on Ocean Beach

“Gertie,” Maggie said, reaching into her handbag, “Here, I have a picture, would you like to see it? My mother gave it to me on my 18th birthday from her handbag to mine. She never stopped loving him, she told me she just couldn’t sit and watch him killing himself.”

Ginny held that picture in her hand, looking into Maggie’s eyes, like her own, seeing again her beautiful wavy dark hair. She could feel her heart racing.

“Maggie, this is Ocean Beach, isn’t it? This picture looks a tiny bit older than you are.”

She was fingering the photo, a lump in her throat.

“Maggie, come with me a minute. There’s someone you need to see. Just for a moment.”

Charlie stared at the nurse.

“What’s going on?”

“We’ll be right back,” Ginny replied.

Ginny took Maggie’s hand in hers, gripping the picture in the other. Walking quickly and quietly, she pulled a confused and silent Maggie down the hall.

Frank’s door was pulled shut when they got there.

“Just a minute,” Ginny whispered to Maggie.

The nurse walked quietly into Frank’s room. She realized it was too late for Maggie, and too late for Frank.

That ‘one last look’ wasn’t meant to be.