Da Train, Da Train!

Woke in the middle of my last night in Richmond, hours before boarding my next rail car, to the distant whistle of a train skipping through town. Now that made me smile. The #94 north to New York from Richmond has just left the station, only an hour behind schedule And this time, for the first time, I have the opportunity to enjoy the Quiet Car. And it’s quiet. Quiet enough for a nap.

The last few days have been full with Cristy and Kelly time, dear friends since the late 70’s. As Cristy likes to tell her Richmond friends, she knew me before she knew Kelly. I was also lucky enough to catch up with two of their four sons. Tom (who was born a day after my own son Russell), his wife and new baby were over for pizza and Pineapple Cake night, and Barry, his wife and their bouncy one year old were over last night for Australian Meat Pie night.

Heading into Richmond a few days ago, I chatted up a couple of Amtrak employees in the snack car. The ass’t conductor, James, introduced me to the conductor, Meredith. I told them I’m a writer, gave them my card and invited them to share stories with me anytime. A while later, I was still sitting in the snack car (where I can usually be found) when James stopped and said he had his favorite story to share with me. He sat down across the table.

“I’ve got a lot of stories, some you just wouldn’t believe. But this here’s my favorite. I was sitting at a table just like this one and a bunch of women boarded and sat across there.” He nodded across the aisle. He got quite chummy with one of them – who gave him his card. She was a “Businesswoman”. He was impressed; he didn’t think a successful businesswoman would ever be interested in HIM. After some conversation about work and life, he quipped to her, “Well, listen here young lady, when we get married, there’ll be no pre-nup!”

A week or so went by, he took that card out of his pocket, figuring, what the hell, all she could do is say no. She gave him the card. So he called her and they set up a date to meet halfway between both the towns they then lived in. “I arrived right on time at the meet place. She never showed.” He was really, really angry. Really angry. After a bit of tracking her down, he reached her on the phone. Still really angry, he says to me.

No cell phones back then. She told him she’d left a message on his message machine. And yes, indeed, she had. It so happened, it was just minutes after he walked out the door. In the message, she apologized, said she had to wait for the masonry guy who was working on her home remodel. He got over his anger. They set a new time. They started seeing each other and three years later, they were married. Twenty years ago. She’s still in business and he’s still on the train.

Cristy and Kelly and their kids lived in Richmond long ago when I did, when Howie and Russell were little tykes. Mollie was born here. It was fun to be back. Cristy and I tearfully recalled the sad, sad day I left to take my little kids out to California to live. It turned out to be a very, very good choice.

The perfect artsy-fartsy couple, Cristy and Kelly have not only created amazing works of art personally, their home is a gallery of collected pieces and work their sons have done. Cristy let me go with her to her own workshop, and she and Kelly took the time to fill me in on most of their collections. Amazing stuff.

While Kelly worked and had his meetings at VCU and other work places the past few days, Cristy and I made time to visit the Napoleon exhibit “Power and Splendor” at the Richmond Museum of Fine Arts Richmond Museum of Fine Arts – Napoleon. Napoleon and his mates and underlings (I guess they were all his underlings) were all about marketing his perceived good looks, strength and power. Struck a contemporary note as well.

We roamed around the Richmond Institute of Contemporary Art. Thought provoking (and weird) stuff in there. We had a grand time of it before a tasty, tasty lunch at Can Can Restaurant, sitting outside in the warm humidity, followed by a short shopping trip in the Love of Chocolate shop, an amazing candy shop with the nicest candy shop owner, who knows the answer to any question you can ask about candy.

 

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Piece o’ cake

It’s so easy to lose track of time, what day it is, the day of the month, when I’m coming and where I’m going. Somewhere. Check my written itinerary for assurance.

The family and friend visits are the cake, the train is the icing. Put it together, a bite at a time, I’m a happy camper.

I started out on the #4 from Albuquerque to Chicago. My first sleeping night to get into my routine. Wait for the sun to go down, grab my sleeping shirts and leggings, my silk overthrow, brush my teeth and try to settle in for some sleep. That first night was terribly fitful, with my legs resting on the legrest, my feet on the foot rest, and I still couldn’t get comfortable. Since that night, I’ve learned to disregard those so-called helps. Much more comfortable, for me, to just keep my shoes on, untied, feet on the floor, get as warm as possible and relax. Amtrak really does believe in air conditioning.

At some time between 9 or 10 pm (I think), the conductor, or conductor assistant, or car attendant walks through, turns down the overhead lights, asks people to use earphones on their devices and keep the noise to a minimum. I’m floored at the conversations some people carry on – health issues, money problems, man problems. Really, the rest of us don’t want to hear that. Unless we’re taking it and writing about it! LIke the conversation this morning with the crew in the snack bar car where I sit most of the days. Big windows, smooth conversation, lots of time to think and while away the hours.

“My wife, she sees these names in my phone and doesn’t know who they are. She asks me about all these women’s names. I tell her, we’re like family here, we’re a big extended family – we have each others’ backs. She doesn’t undertand.”
Nodding and smiles all around.
“We see each other every day. That’s who we are.”
“Does she believe you yet?”
Laughter rings out. And then the singing starts, happy birthday to one of the car attendants!

Last night was my 1st overnight on the train after a few days off visiting my brother Mike and sister-in-law Lynn in Florida. What a great visit we had. Time to sit and catch up with each other, just the three of us. Then an amazing day at Epcot after a brief drive to Orlando. I got to meet some of their hilarious friends, danced with Springsteen Karoake “Dancing in the Dark”, and joined in the singing of David Allan Coe’s You Never Even Call Me By My Name. Look it up. Wait for the last verse!

And on we roll to Richmond Virginia, 9 am until noon (or so – trains do tend to arrive late, but not always) to meet up with Cristy and Kelly, friends since the late 70’s, the wild and crazy political campaign we worked. Or worked around the pinball machines.

Hear the train whistle? the Choo Choo? That’s me.

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I’ve been to Hollywood. I’ve been to Redwood.

But I’ve never been to Canada.

A sweet aroma seeps in through my window with jasmine and honeysuckle blooming in the breeze. My next big adventure is just around the corner – plane, trains, buses and automobiles. I’ve got to fit a boat in there somewhere. I think I know where.

West coast to east coast and return via, mostly, Amtrak and Canada Rail.

The whole thing started with three very special reasons. One daughter. Two brothers. Looking forward (of course!) to my daughter’s BS in Nursing graduation celebration after a short plane hop to Denver, spending a bit of time with Mom’s 93-year old cousin in Gunnison CO, joining up with the famly exploring Estes Rocky Mountain National Park outside Denver, all followed by a brief road trip to the tiny town of Chimayo, New Mexico.

Then it’s “All Aboard!” from Lamy, NM to visit family and friends on the east coast. Seeing Niagara Falls and Canada for the first time. Walking through Butchart Gardens in Victoria. Getting to know new “couchsurfing.com” friends along the way. Having just helped my own family and neighbors put together a big 4th of July block party, I’ll be enjoying the 4th on a train ride in the country to the north of us.

One little easy-peasy trip led to a whole string of things to do and 5-7 weeks of visiting friends and family. Places to go. People to see. Connections to miss.

All I have to do now is make the list. Or lists.

Ten Things to do before I leave the homestead.

  1. Finish reading the last twenty pages of Romancing the Pirate, Michelle Beattie, and take it back to the library. LOL. I know. I do have a wide variety of reading materials.
  2. Upload my grandmother’s journal, written thirty years ago in the summer of 1938 when she was off on her own solo train trip from San Francisco to Alaska. I’m planning on reading it with a drink in one hand in the observation car as the rest of the world rolls by.
  3. Make a list of what I want in that traveling backpack of mine. Laptop, misc. electronics, lotions, potions, sundries and something to wear.
  4. Put a hold on the daily newspaper & provide the new nurse in the family with instructions on how-to-care-for-my-orchids (Raylan & Ava). Yes, they have names.
  5. Do my spring cleaning. It’s not summer yet, but it will be when I return. Cobwebs, be gone.
  6. Settle on my itinerary once and for all. Or not.
  7. Count my blessings.
  8. Sort out what I want in my wallet. Passport.
  9. Finish Writers Club tasks to hand off to the team.
  10. Offer up my cottage to a couple of friends and family to stay in if they wish to visit the valley and need a place to crash.

 

What did I forget? What ten things would be on your list?

 

 

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Sunday Morning

I’m sleeping. Sort of. I was tossing and turning all night. Stresses of the day added to a damn head cold.

DING. Cell phone message alert. I think about rolling over to check it. It takes me a minute.

Mom, could you come stay with Micah? He’s still sleeping and the rest of us are leaving to go get Rachel.

I think about saying something smart-ass about the fact that I was still sleeping. But it doesn’t really matter.

Yes. Be right there. I mess around a bit, making the bed, getting dressed until I hear their car rumbling awake.

I walk the 20 steps over to their place, say goodbye to the wide-awake-gang, grab some coffee and sit down for SNL – smiles and laughter, good. I read through the local paper: American Canyon (Inc. city in Napa County) researches becoming a sanctuary city. Great. I was actually wondering about Napa City/sanctuary sometime during my sleepless laying awake bothered and bewildered hours.

Micah’s up now. He’s 4, walking around looking for the family. He lays on the couch, plays with my phone a brief few minutes. He looks a little funky to me, more laid back than the real Micah. “When will they be home?” he asks. “When will Nana be here?”

“In a while, I’m not sure.”

“Wha what..’s…Daddy’s er, Daddy’s daddy’s name?” he asks, the words stumbling from his lips.

“You mean Lowell? Pop Pop? The guy in the picture there? With the beard?”

“Yeah… he …not coming today?”

“No honey. I’m sorry. He’s not, he died. He’s gone now.”

“No, he not!”

“I know it’s sad. He’s in our hearts now, where he’ll always be.”

“NO! HE! NOT!” He rolls away from me, looking up at the picture of his Pop Pop.

This is our first Thanksgiving without Lowell. We are so happy to have Rachel here with us this week. We all need all the love we can get. We miss him so very much.

Micah watches some TV, and asks for a bowl of cereal. “I want it mixed. Honey Nut Cheerios mixed with Honey Oat Crunch.”

Okay.

I go take a shower and go sit down with Micah again, checking my email and Facebook.

“When they be here?” he asks, his little fingers twirling my hair.

“In just a few minutes, they’re right around the corner.”

Mollie just texted me to say so.

Everyone arrives, excitement in the air. The two grandmas hug and check in with each other. She’s had a long day already, having left Arizona to arrive in Oakland at 8 a.m.

I love Sundays. Mollie brought me a donut.

 

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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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The Bruce of It

Getting older has just made me dance a bit faster. I’m always ready for one more taste, a new touch, a new smell, a good mystery, a little more rock ‘n roll, a smear of bright paint or the sound of a fresh tongue. It’s part of why I travel, usually solo, meeting up with good friends or finding new ones who were strangers somewhere.

Early spring of ‘13, I boarded a plane headed to Asia Africa and Europe. That trip, all one hundred and ten days and nights of it, was just one more twinkle in a string of bright lights that started – with Bruce.

After years of living or traveling most of the U.S., it was time for me to cross that international line. But where? Canada? Too close. Mexico? Not yet.

I was looking for travel inspiration when I landed on an announcement of Bruce Springsteen’s upcoming tour. I’m a huge Springsteen fan. I could feel my heart buzzing, looking down the list of cities and then landing on Bilbao. Bilbao, Spain. Well, that’s where I was going.

I arranged for time off the job, told everyone I knew where I was going and what I was doing. I was excited.

So, two nights before Thanksgiving, 2007, I left for Spain’s Basque country. Late night flight, dinner at midnight flying over who knows where. We had turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. A nice Chardonnay, a few walks up and down the aisle, a little nap and, voila! Just after breakfast, we were landing at l’Aeropuerto de Bilbao.

Stepping through immigration and security, returning locals and international lines were separated by red velvet ropes. A few folks just couldn’t get through fast enough, though, as I thought, would you like a little wine with that whine?

I grabbed some local currency from the airport ATM, and camera in hand, I walked out the revolving glass door into the sunny crisp air of Bilbao straight into a cab to the City Centre. I was a kid in a candy store. My Spanish/English dictionary was my new best friend.

“Perdone, por favor, dos ‘batteries?’” I asked the clerk, smiling politely.

“Miss, I speak English. What would you like?”

Exploring courtyards, plazas, alleyways, shops with their doors wide open, waterfronts in Bilbao and Donostia, San Sebastian, the second city I visited, grinning like a Cheshire cat.

I’d just boarded a train one morning from Bilbao to Donostia, I watched a young man, about my oldest son’s age, get up from his seat to come sit across from me.

“Excuse me, Miss, do you speak English?” Ferdinand asked.

“Si, I speak English, me llamo Kathleen,” I answered, nodding and smiling.

“You are American! My premier English conversation with American,” he replied enthusiastically.

Ferdinand announced he was ‘pleased to enjoy practicing English’ with me. We talked about Spain, the booming economy, giant construction cranes everywhere. He worked as a caregiver in an ‘Old Folks Residence’, plays piano, is an artist. We discovered that not only did he resemble my son, they

drawn by Ferdinand...

drawn by Ferdinand…

share the same birthdate. Sadly, he shared that he’d just left his parents’ home, ‘I’m gay, Kathleen, and my parents cannot accept me, even after five years.’

We truly enjoyed our brief 2 1/2 hours together on the Euskotren, our adióses a mix of good fortune and sadness when we reached the end of the line.

My soul soared through Donostia and Bilbao. Historic stone churches, cathedrals reaching to the clouds. Mass sung in Latin by a priest with the voice of an angel. Sunshine warmed my shoulders as I meandered along wide boulevards beneath bare trees stretching up from earth, fur-wrapped women chatting and window shopping, their leather high-heel boots clacking on the cobblestones.

Sweet, fresh pastries in what turned out to be the same bakery my good friend visited 30 years earlier. Porcelain cup & saucer, café sitting atop a tiny marble table as I scanned the local newspaper.

Scrumptious tapas, so many flavors and sizes and textures, in a wide assortment of bars, cafés and restaurants. Ordering from menu la Español, I was often laughingly surprised at what appeared on my plate.

One beautifully clear evening, rambling along the Donostia pier, I walked into a quaint seaside restaurant. It was early, no other diners at the time, the owner at the front was cheerful, talkative, welcoming.

Soon enough I was seated in a window seat, watching folks here and there in the small working marina across from me. Relaxing with a fine Cabernet, dinner arrived. Black ink squid resting on a bright ball of white rice, served by my own private English speaking waitress courtesy of the owner who had engaged me in conversation about, what else? San Francisco.

B R U C E !!!!

B R U C E !!!!

Oh, and I went to a concert. After ten days of warm and comfy hostels, a bit of rain, trams, trains, buses, jamón, pescado, cheese, vino, bread, bookstores, benches and museums. Yes, the Guggenheim, with a timely Special Exhibition of ‘American artists’. Ha ha. It was time to see the Boss.

The train to the concert was awfully quiet. Too quiet. I soon realized I was on the wrong side of the Nervión River, on the wrong train. Fortunately for me, two locals, a bit of English, and a little Español

put me on the right train. Jam-packed, fans of all ages, laughing, raucous, music blaring on a boom box. And I was right there with ‘em.

Cigarette smoke filled the arena. First stop, the bar. Excitement filled the air in voices from everywhere.

I met Kasa when I got to my seat, a quiet mid-40’s English speaking Japanese businessman sitting to the right of me. Several young and wild Spaniards in the seats front of me, an empty seat to my left. Perfect.

Kasa owns several Eric Clapton guitars he’s picked up in charity auctions, he’d attended every Springsteen show on the tour so far. We were so thrilled!

The show opened with ‘Radio Nowhere’, the Boss covered the stage. Kids in front, and me, jumping, screaming with delight. I turned to Kasa, who was grinning ear to ear, standing and tapping his fingers to the rhythm, wrists bouncing at the base of his thumbs, his brown

eyes twinkling

with delight as

the crowd ROARED

…………….… B R U C E !!!