Thursday, January 28, 2010

Christmas Trip 2002

Cleaning out my bookcase the other day, I found this journal of a trip I took in Christmas of 2002.  I was simply trying to keep a running log of my journey rather than writing a heavily descriptive account, so it may be a little rough at times.  But boy did this bring back some memories of the trip I had completely forgotten about.

Friday, December 20th, 2002
My alarm goes off at 6:45am, and I am decide which to do; to take bus to Hollywood and get Metrorail there, or take bus to Burbank Airport and catch the MetroLink there, or even a taxi.  Any way, I need to get to Union Station by 9am.

I pack up my final items and showered.  Run to bank to deposit last check.  Run into Nan on the way back and give her a hug and kiss goodbye for Merry Christmas.    Grab stuff and hit bus to Hollywood.  But lady driver waits for me, thank Goodness.  

See transient woman on Metrorail, and then get to Union Station.  Wait in Coast Starlight line for 45 minutes, then another 15 minutes on dock of platform.  Porter, per my request, assigns me a West window seat.  I later tip him $5.00 in Santa Barbara for that.  I’m given an older lady with red hair as a seat companion, from Texas going to Seattle, then later to Australia.

I eat lunch in Oxnard in diner car (moving) with woman from Phoenix going to Seattle, man from Bay area (who knows LA well) who’s a train buff named Jim, and a man who barely speaks.  I later eat dinner with Jim, the train buff, again with another guy from Orange County who’s bald (Dave) who looks like a biker, but who’s nice and married, and with an old gray haired woman named Helen.

I read, and watched a little of “Signs” and “Christmas,” the movies, and then read most of “The Matrix” script.  The rest I finished in the morning, Saturday.  No shower, but mostly slept uncomfortable in my seat – butt got sore – good thing was the leg supports came up and seat leaned way back.  Fell asleep around Santa Maria.  Point Conception and the area called, “Surf Beach,” were extremely beautiful with long, parallel, large waves from recent storm. 

Ladies in back of me talked a lot.  Two in front of me are a red haired grandmother and her granddaughter.

Saturday, December 21st, 2002
Had breakfast with Janile and her two daughters. Her kids didn’t want to be at breakfast due to her having just gotten in a snowball fight with a boy she liked and just met at the last rest stop. 

I sat in the lounge car with a kid, Jason who wore a yellow t-shirt, then sat with a woman named Cathy in the lounge car.  She said she works at the L.A. Philharmonic, and also works distributing Hollywood Bowl tickets as well as accounting. 

Cathy joined me for lunch with Hank and his son, Justin; both from Bakersfield.  We had lots to talk about with all of them.  Cathy lives in downtown Los Angeles with her physician and accountant husband; I though that an interesting mix. 

This train is something like three hours late, maybe more.  They have had track-switching problems from the new snow last night between Redding and Klamath Falls.  When I emerged from my seat to the lounge car this morning in Redding, I was faced with a snow-covered river to my right, which was incredibly gorgeous.  Lots of contrast in tones and shapes from the snow. 

I went to the snack car a couple of times and met Marilyn, a mother of a six-year-old girl, who was playing with play dough.  Marilyn later read her a bedtime story.

I am somewhere North of Salem now, headed for Portland, Spokane, and then Seattle.  It will be nice to sleep in a bed tonight and have the amenities of a hotel. 

I had dinner with the nicest people; a Chinese-American man, his American wife, Cathy, and Chelsea, their twenty-something year old daughter.  Really nice people.  We all sat and talked at the table after dinner had ended and exchanged emails. 

Her father teaches fine art at a city college in San Francisco.   Chelsea loves and teaches the Tango and takes a class down to Argentina annually (in March this coming year). 

I retired to my seat to have a gaggle of kids around me.  I made a schedule of each of their daily activities to have some kind of conversation. 

Chelsea came back and talked with me at my seat.  Chelsea and her family are special, and I’d like to keep in touch with them.  My seating companion came back and couldn’t sit down as a result.  I went up and apologized to her and she was understanding; a very nice woman.

We slowly pulled into Tacoma, WA, around the water “sound” which looked very glassy.  It was like quietly sneaking into a city from around a corner.

We got to the train station at 2:30am, and I got a taxi to the Hyatt Hotel.  It was nice to get into a bed.

Sunday, December 22, 2002
Woke up at 11am, watched a Hollywood Access type of show and showered.  I checked out at noon and got onto the Hotel’s Internet to check out the rental car situation in Nashville.  Not worth doing until I get there since there maybe rental places closer to the Greyhound station then the airport. 

I checked my email and then the concierge told me where I could find a great breakfasts house in Bellevue, which was the city I was actually in just outside of Seattle.  The breakfast place was called, Girard’s, located at 10024 Main Street. 

I then wrote in the café and then went to the benches nearby to call a friend to say hello.  I ate my muffin and orange juice, and then I called A.J., the taxi driver who brought me out last night.  But he didn’t want to come get me.  So I called a new taxi driver who came promptly.

I was taken back to the Amtrak station, where outside I could see the Seahawks playing on the stadium’s big screen.  I waited for the 4:40pm Empire Builder and got to my room. 

I immediately noticed in the train station a blonde woman who was yelling something at her mother and also going to the ticket counter.  When I was boarding the train, I ran into her, and we exchanged smiles. 

I went to find the snack bar, but instead ended up by the baggage car at the beginning of the train.  So I went the other way running into the mother and daughter again, Sylvia and Kenzi.  They were also looking for the snack car, so we all found it together. 

They were from Martino, which was a town I had passed through on the way up the coast.  This town had lots of pretty Christmas lights.  This family was Mormon, which means they didn’t smoke or drink alcohol.  The daughter loved athletics and was studying to be a teacher of the disabled. 

A woman down the hall started bitching and cussing.  I thought she was pissed about something her baby had done, but it turned out that the lady’s belt on her bed had somehow snapped up into face and given her a black eye.  I couldn’t help but be a little amused.

Then, after getting myself another snack, Sylvia and I got into a conversation, and she told me about her political work as commissioner of a nearby county.

A guy seated from me raised his glass of champagne and wished everyone a Merry Christmas.  He’s been playing Christmas carols in his compartment and singing along with them a little.  

We just passed through Ephrata, WA, and I called my mother to check in on her.  I’m going to read more and then go to bed.  I have set my alarm for 7:00am to get myself breakfast on the train. 
Tonight, at midnight, they’ll be hooking up the coach car.  In the mean time, we’ve been buying our snacks from the table in the diner. 

I watched out of my bedroom window as the train moved through the night.  I know we were at maximum speed because we were passing through areas so quickly and the train wobbled when the train went over slight fluctuations in the rails. 

Monday, December 21st, 2002
My alarm went off at 7:00am as planned and I went to breakfast and was joined by Sylvia.  She and Kenzi would be getting off at 7:30am at Whitefish, Montana. 

I then went back to sleep and dreamed I was suspended on the East side of a mountain waiting for our Layout crew picture to be taken, while playing the song, “I Feel the Earth Move Under My Feet,” on a white piano.  Then, I was coming down an elevator when the lights went black a couple of times.  Strange.

I woke up, took a shower in the next car because those in my car were being fixed (I currently had an economy sleeper, not the Deluxe sleeper yet, which would have it’s own bathroom and shower).  By the end of my shower, the shower stall was flooding.

I then went to the lounge car, where the car attendant was named Marsha.  “Stewart Little II” was playing on the television. 

I was seated at lunch with a student from Milwaukee named Christopher, and Dan, an anti-war protestor.  He talked about living in Victoria, Canada for half of the year, and in Phoenix for the other half.  He is going to sell his Phoenix home to purchase some land in Costa Rica.  He says that Victoria is like San Francisco in the 1960’s.  He doesn’t like George Bush’s politics of pressing for a pre-emptive strike in Iraq.

I’m now sitting on the lower level of the lounge car with the snack bar behind me, watching flat, brushy Montana race by.  Being down in the snack lounge, I was writing and a woman asked I what time the snack bar re-opened.  It would be 3:15pm, an hour away.  It got to be 3:30 and the women who had asked me about the snack bar came down and got her food.  Her name was Jackie, and she was from Helena, Montana and moving soon with her boyfriend to Minneapolis to get away from her alcoholic mother and stepfather.

I went to dinner at 5:30pm; there I saw with Dan again, the anti-war protestor, and with another guy from North Dakota, and with Patty Clyne a guy who gets gold doubloons from shipwrecks from the floor of the ocean in the Florida Key area.  I’ve actually seen him on Discovery Channel shows.

I went to the smoking room and found Jackie and sat and talked with her.  I then went and watched the end of E.T. while Jackie did her 7:00pm dining appointment with a military guy.  I got off at Minot, North Dakota (well, I guess that answers that earlier question about where the steam train was….not here), and I looked for a dog that Chelsea had mentioned bops around the train station, but did not find him.  It was friggen cold here!!!

I ended up seeing Jackie in the smoking room from outside, and I grabbed a picture of her there, then got back inside the train.  The cold there is unbearable, and yet the weather was clear and dry.  I sat with Jackie talking for another hour, and then went back to my room.

Tuesday, December 22, 2002
I woke up on the train via alarm at 6:00am, which I reset to 6:30am when I decided not to shower.  I tipped the car maid and then left the train in the freezing cold of Saint Paul, Minnesota.  I helped Jackie secure her items onto her cart and I helped carry her other belongings.  I handed it off to Luke, her boyfriend, who met her at the station.  

I then got a cab to the Sheraton in Minnetonka and was given a room that was already made up, since I had arrived early.  I had to have a hotel engineer cut the lock off of my suitcase.  I must have lost the keys for it in Seattle.  I got some sleep and then planned to go with my friend, Connie, to see the Mall of America.  Since she lived in the Minneapolis area, she would be my guide there.

We went to see the Mall of America, which was big, and had some rollercoaster’s in it.  Then, we had lunch at the California Café, explored an area where she ran a lot near a frozen lake, and then went back to my hotel and had dinner at the bar.  It was freezing rain outside, and her van’s windshield wipers were broken.  I offered to put new wipers on her windshield, though I didn’t know how much impact they would have on the ice on her window, which was impenetrable.

I read my book about writing in my room and then watched a movie about a blonde girl taking revenge on a famous singer, who the girl blamed for her mother’s death.  I went to sleep and then woke up to take a cab to the Amtrak station, and then I boarded the train.

Wednesday, December 25th, 2002
Merry Christmas!!!  On the train, it was pretty uneventful from Minneapolis to Chicago.  We went through the Wisconsin Dells, and through Milwaukee.  I met a dark haired punk woman on the train named Asia.  I was in coach for this short stint.  There was also a woman sitting in front of me, who first was asleep, then woke up and was joined by a guy who talked really loudly.

I sat at breakfast with an old guy, who didn’t say much, then lunched with two Wisconsinites; a brunette named Elizabeth, and older woman who was Greg Lukomski’s mother (Greg being an associate I worked with at Disney).  The older guy with us said that he was a rabble-rouser, whatever that might have meant fifty years ago.

It was quiet into Chicago.  One thing that I saw really made a visual impact on me.  It was in the train-switching yards where I could see that each of the switching apparatus had blue flames around them to keep them warm.  Each was like a huge pilot light that I suppose always stayed on in the wintertime, for there was snow around the tracks as well.  These flames continued well into the covered station.  It was just one of those things I had never seen before.  

I took the Route 151 bus to the Drake Hotel on Michigan Avenue, and then went to the cinemas at AMC at 322 Illinois Street.  I was tired and didn't want to do much walking this night.

I got a message from my friend, Tanya and called her back from tomorrow’s plans.  She works from 7am to 7pm, and then we’ll go to dinner.  I like my hotel room.  It’s got a view of Lake Michigan.  Room 534.  The woman at the souvenir shop from Kosovo was really nice to me. 

I got onto TV email and sent a message to John, and then watched an episode of “Boy Meets World,” on the Disney Channel, and listened to jazz on my clock radio.  Chicago is a breath of fresh air compared to dead Minneapolis.  (Yet looking back as I transcribe this, my memories of Minneapolis are more poignant than Chicago on this specific trip).

Thursday, December 26, 2002
Busy day!  Woke up and re-registered myself into the hotel.  I got stamps for post cards and mailed a card to a friend.  I then got a map from the concierge of all of the shops around here and then went to the Pottery Barn, Crate and Barrel, Ann Taylor, Faragamo, Neimen Marcus and then to Water Tower Place Mall.  “Melanie” in Ann Taylor gave me a lot of good advice on places to shop at.  That’s how I found out about the candle shop in Water Tower Place called Illuminations.

I stopped at the food court and was behind a tall, red-haired Irish woman named Maureen.  She and her daughter joined me for lunch and we all ate pizza.  Maureen is a physical trainer and is from Chicago, but would like to visit Ireland soon. 

I then went to a book store to look for “The Gift of the Magi,” and then came back to the Drake Hotel, went to the gift shop, went back to Illuminations to get a candle and then came back here again to the hotel.

The second time in Water Tower Place Mall, I met a woman from Lithuania who had a cold personality.  The two women in the Drake hotel gift shop are from Bosnia and Kosovo.  I met a Russian woman at Ann Taylor as well.  Seems like a lot of Eastern Europeans around Chicago. 

I got ready at my hotel and then took a cab to Gioco’s at 1312 S.  Wabash Street.  It was an Italian restaurant recommended to me by the concierge at the Drake.  The cab driver told me about the city’s history and gave me a little tour along the way.  I got to Gioco’s and went to the bar and ordered a glass of Chardonnay, waiting for my friend, Tanya. 

She arrived after about ten minutes.  We sat and enjoyed the ambience of the restaurant.  We ate, had wine and dessert.  She told me that her sister Susan had made a big mistake during their stay in Denver and had slept with her boyfriend’s roommate when her boyfriend was too sick to go out and celebrate the room mater’s birthday.  They had come back from drinking and turned off their car in the garage and started having sex.

The boyfriend, Mike, heard the car come in, but no one come in the house.  He went to the garage and found his girlfriend and his roommate doing it.  Susan and Tanya’s mother said something silly to Susan like, “Do you think maybe the drinking led to your problem that night?” Susan is now living with her brother, also named Mike.

I had a present for Tanya at the Drake, so she came with me and got it.  She went home and had to get up at 5:40am to get to work by 7:00am.

I watched the salvaging of the World Trade Center on the History Channel and “Seal Training” on the Discovery Channel.

Friday, December 27, 2002
I woke up, checked out of the Drake, and walked all around Chicago all day.  I checked out the following malls:  Water Tower Place, 900 Michigan Ave, and 700 Michigan Ave. 

Water Tower Place is by far the most popular.  I took one last look at the Drake Hotel, got my luggage from them, and took the bus 151 to Union Station, Chicago.

As we rolled out of the station, I saw those track-switchers heated by flames again; such an odd sight.  Once settled on the train to Memphis, Tennessee, I went to dinner and ate with Freddie and his wife from Chicago, and with another woman from Chicago.  Freddie works for the Chicago Transit Authority, or C.T.A. 

Then I went to my room on the train after checking out the lounge for any activity going on.  I later looked out of my window into the forests of Kentucky illuminated only by blue moonlight.

Saturday, December 28th, 2002
I woke up on the train at 6:00am via alarm. We were coming into Memphis.  It was nice to arrive just pre-dawn.  I took a taxi and started for the hotel but then decided to stay downtown since there was a Denny’s there, and the cost of going to the hotel and coming back would be $60.00 round trip. 

I will do my business of picture taking in Nashville and McMinnville quickly so that I can turn around and have a night in Memphis. 

I got on the Greyhound in Memphis and sat with a woman named, Brittney, who I had met in the terminal and was going to see her boyfriend in New York after a stay in Virginia Beach.  She is 19 and doesn’t’ want her mother to know that she was going to New York.  I met her mom back in the station, who and a thick Tennessee accent and who left to go gamble, although she didn’t look like the gambling type.

Brittany was in a home-school program and smoked.  She had already spent her money her mother gave her for the trip on little purchases.  We hung out together for the remainder of our trip to Nashville.  She’ll get to Virginia Beach sometime tomorrow.  She told me that she has gone to juvenile hall once, and that her Puerto Rican boyfriend has been in jail for fighting a bouncer.  Brittany smokes 100’s, is Caucasian and wears cornrows in her hair.  Her father sells woodcutting equipment.

I changed my ticket to Memphis upon arrival at the Nashville Station to 9:45pm, then rented a car and went to McMinnville via routes 24 to 96 to 705 East.  I had rented a car by walking to a Hilton Hotel by way of an enclosed amphitheater that was prepping for a country music concert to be held that evening. 

No rental cars were available there because they were closed already.  I got help from the concierge, who got a Tennessee Van Rental set up for me.

The road to McMinnville was longer, windier, hillier and more beautiful than I had expected.  The question of why Nan and Ashley would leave this place to come to a congested place like L.A. crossed my mind more than once.

I got to McMinnville and took some pictures of an old school near a police station, of the courthouse, the church and the post office.  It was the dead of winter, and it all seemed to be deserted, as if most of the town had gone elsewhere for the winter.

I then looked up Nan and Ashley’s family, Jimmy, Katrina and Laura Kate.  It was easy to find their house, which was in a very residential, newly built area of McMinnville, unlike downtown, which had looked old and more worn to me.  They were a nice family, and when I told them that I was a close friend with Nancy Belle Haley, they invited me in. 
I showed them updated pictures of Nancy and Ashley from Ashley.  The family was very friendly. 

I then found an Applebee’s in the middle of town, which had a lot of activity, warmth and people having fun.  I did something I had been planning to do for a few weeks.  I have to preface this by telling you that Nan had no idea where I was going on my trip, and that McMinnville is her home town that she had not been to since she had moved out to L.A. about four years prior.  I called Nan back in Burbank.  She answered and the conversation went like this:

Nan: Hello?
Fred: Hi Nan, it’s Fred.  How are you doing?
Nan: Good, how is your trip going?
Fred: Good, it’s cold here.
Nan: I’ll bet!  Where is here?
Fred: I’m in McMinnville!
Nan: (silence)
Fred: It’s cold here in McMinnville.
Nan: (silence)
Fred: I just stopped over at Jimmy’s house (her brother)
Nan: You are NOT in McMinnville!!!
Fred: Yes, I am, and it’s cold here!

Well, the conversation went on for a while like this, and she finally came to believe me that I was actually in her hometown.  Ashley got on the phone for a quick hello. It was a lot of fun and went just as I had planned it to unfold.

I then had a burger since I was already at Applebee’s in McMinnville, and then started my drive back to Nashville.  It was totally dark by now, and I was tired.  So when I got to the rental car place, I forgot to put the keys to the van inside the night drop slot and just over-nighted them to the rental car place the following day from Memphis.

The bus ride back to Memphis was boring, and I was sleepy.  I went and sat in the only seat left which was the front seat next to an old lady.  Back in Memphis, I took a taxi to a Taco Bell, then to my hotel.

Sunday, December 29th, 2002
I went down to Graceland and took the “Big Package” tour of Elvis’ property.  It was interesting to see all of his rooms, but to be honest, after year of hearing about the Graceland Estate, I was a bit crestfallen.  I expected for the grounds alone to be absolutely huge, like a southern plantation on steroids.  But instead, the property was right on a main street, with its visitor’s center directly across from it.  

The gates to Graceland were smaller than some of the gates I've seen in Beverly Hills, and definitely miniature to those of Holmby Hills.  I had one of those tour-phones in my hand from which I could hear the description of the house as I walked through its various parts.  The first room of note was Elvis’ lounge with three black and white televisions on the wall in front of a couch.  At this point, I consciously told myself that I was looking at a museum of someone’s life from the 1960’s, and everything would be outdated.

This helped me a little to cope with the continuing 1950’s and 1960’s décor throughout his home.  I saw the jungle room.  Again, it was cool to see since I had heard of it, but I felt like I was looking at the room of an adolescent with some cash to spend on making his room look exotic.

I met a couple of people in line.  Molly and Kateland; both of which I repeatedly ran into on the tour.  I saw museums of his record collections (that was the coolest), his customized airplanes including a small jet plane (small???) for his daughter.

I saw the back yard.  Again, not a small back yard, but not the kind of acreage I would have expected the King to have owned in a semi-rural area.  I saw his pool, and lastly, I saw his grave sight in a side yard.  This was more interesting to be cause of the clustering of family members in this burial plot.  I felt respectful of this site. 

I got a couple of photos done.  One of me in front of a picture of his gate (I don’t know why they do it this way when his actual gate is right out there), and a composite of Elvis and me.  I posed in such a way to really make it look like I was getting his autograph. (I must note how interesting this opportunity was just a few years ago, and how easy it would be to do this in PhotoShop myself now…but still, I enjoyed it).

I took the shuttle back to the hotel.  Here, to my surprise, were 200 college cheerleaders were staying here to perform at the Liberty Bowl.  Apparently, they are going to be part of the parade first tomorrow morning on Beale Street.

I then went to the bar to get a drink and to write a bit.  While I was setting at the bar, a young woman named Linda sat down two stools away and started talking with me.  She was visiting her boyfriend, the bartender, Eric.  She was an accountant, formerly with Arthur Anderson.  I could tell that he got uncomfortable with her talking to me.

I finished up a couple of drinks, tipped the bartender a little extra since his girlfriend was obviously giving him a hard time, and sat in the main lobby of the hotel. 

Two cheerleaders struck up a conversation with me and said that they were taking a break from the rehearsals.  They were very sweet and were interested in the work that I do in LA; my life probably seemed pretty foreign to them. 

I went downtown to see the Platinum Plus Arboreum, and then walked to Wendy’s, where there was a very polite bum eating in the dining room (reading this, I wish I knew how I determined him to be very cordial).  I then took a cab back to the hotel. 

I saw Tom, the hotel driver on the way back into the hotel, who was apologetic that he was on an airport run.  I said, “No problem.”  I then went to the bar and get a Guinness.  The bartender wasn't in a great mood because he had been dealing with some customers had apparently been giving him trouble, and he had to close down the bar at 11:00pm.  His last few customers were an ESPN news team, and a couple of other guys who were just kickin' it. 

I finished writing a bit of my outline and then sat in the lobby for a time.  I saw a lot of cheerleaders and band members entering and exiting; mostly returning to the hotel for the night.  

Monday, December 30, 2002
Woke up, passed by some kind of cheer leading practice going on in the ballroom, and went to the lobby.  I spoke with one of the organizers named Landon who told me that the cheer leading leagues.
When I’ve seen cheer leading stuff on ESPN, he said I’ve probably seen the “Nationals” from Orlando Florida.  The whole thing is a lot more organized than I could have ever thought, and everyone is worked really hard.

My plan is to go to the 3pm parade in downtown Memphis, which will have all sorts of bands, horses, cheer leading, and local stuff, then take off of Saint Louis tomorrow.

I tried to get a ride on the hotel van, then on a bus to downtown, but everything was full because of how many people happened to be leaving the hotel to go to the city.

I saw one of the bus drivers for the bands and asked her if I could get on.  She said something about liability, but that I check with the bus directors.  I walked into the circle of the college band and cheerleader organizers, who then asked one of the police.  The police said yes, I could get a ride, but that I should jump into the media truck right behind the police escort.  It was then that I realized how large a group of people they were moving, and that I had somehow squeezed my way into the front of this whole thing.

The police blocked off all of the streets leading to Memphis, and my two media truck drives, who were from Fort Worth, Texas, drove behind a line of police cars with lights flashing all the way into downtown Memphis.  The whole freeway was shut down.  I snapped a picture from the truck (if I ever find this actual photo, I will post it).  I was let off at the start of the parade on Beale Street.

Now I am sitting at a diner about to eat.  I found out that if you are going to stay in downtown Memphis, the Peabody Hotel is the best place to stay on Beale Street.  It’s a high quality hotel nearest where all of the action is.

I watched the parade, which had some classic cars, lots of bands, some inner city groups, and lots of cheer squads.  CSU is playing TSU (Texas Christian University). 

I walked up and down Beale Street and ran into a couple of friends I had met at a frozen drink place.  I sat with them for a while and then went and found a Southwestern type bar down the street and met up with Abby and her friends from Colorado.  She and one of the friends, Andrea, had originally come from Iowa, while the rest were from Colorado. We drank together and we took a couple of photos together, and then I wandered to the other end of Beale Street.  

I saw an Elvis impersonator in a restaurant along the way.  He first performed inside, and then came out onto the sidewalk. 

I finally took a cab back to the Memphis Marriott, got myself a ticket for the Liberty Bowl for the next day, and then sat with Landon, the cheerleading coach, at the bar of the hotel.  He told me more about college cheerleading, and about student and residential life at the school he taught at.  He said with his coaching, he ends up paying $4 rent each month once everything is said and done, which didn’t seem to be too bad.  His loan pays for the other $246.00 per month.

Landon told me that tomorrow night on Beale Street was expected to be great with all of the activity of New Years Eve.  Too bad I will miss it, but I want to be able to go to the places I planned on this trip. 

Tuesday, December 31st, 2002
I decided not to stay for the Liberty Bowl game.  That morning, the weather looked too drab and I didn’t want to wait around until 10:00pm to leave and try to sleep on the bus.  And what a New Years Eve that would be, on a bus!  I must go back to Beale Street during the next break I get.  It’s really a fun town.

I am now in Saint Louis.  I took a taxi this morning at 6:45pm to the Greyhound station in Memphis, and then went a second Greyhound station (for reasons I don’t recall now and was not diligent enough to write down at the time…I suspect it had to do with the second station having a bus that would leave sooner).  I got to the second station via another cab after having to wait for the drivers to juggle me around since neither of them wanted the short fare.

I arrived in Saint Louis’ Union Station to find that it had been pleasantly converted into a mall, which included the Hyatt, the hotel for my stay.   I asked some people where I should go for New Years Eve fun, and there was a consensus by locals that there would be some activity at “The Landing.”  This is the area around the banks of the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers.  But so far, this town doesn’t feel “full” of people.

I have been reading the script, “Natural Born Killers,” and I am feeling extremely lonely right now.  I think it’s because of the contrast of being in places already on this trip where I was with so many people.  Should I have stayed in Memphis for tonight?

I made it down to The Landing here in Saint Louis.  I took the MetroLink, which is an almost exact copy of the Los Angeles Metrorail, from Union Station to the Landing stop.  When I got there, it seemed cold and bleak to me.  I asked someone which way the bars and restaurants were, and he pointed me to the Riverboat Casino.  I looked around, and then I started toward the supposedly “fun” areas, which were currently lifeless.

I then met a New Zealander who advised me to go to a neighborhood bar.  They were indeed friendly there.  It was a woman handling the bar at first, and then a couple of guys joined in on their shift.  There was a pool table, and a television, but not much else.  I now wondered if I would ever find life in Saint Louis.  I stayed for about an hour, then strolled past a bar that I had seen earlier that I had an inkling would be more trendy (no notes on this place, sorry).

My next stop was Planet Hollywood for something to eat.  I sat at a table next to six attractive young women.  Everyone was watching a specially prepared Planet Hollywood program on the television monitors. 

I went to the trendy-looking bar and sat down.  Two girls named April and Amber sat next to me; both from Southern Illinois.  We three managed to find an upstairs dance area and shook it up a bit to the music.  I left them at about 11:30pm to go around myself and meet some other people.


When New Years’ stroke of Midnight came, I was in this upstairs dance area and danced for a while on, then headed back to the MetroLink stop to catch the train to the Union Station’s Hyatt.  This, by the way, was definitely the best place to stay in the city.
(I believe the hotel has changed names since that time and may or may not be the place to stay anymore…I don’t know).

I then walked around the mall and saw where the hotel party had been for $99.00 and was glad I had found places and people on my own down by the water.  I felt like I mixed in better that way.  The hotel party atmosphere looked like it had been stodgier.

I went to the pizza place to get a late snack, and then to my room.  A couple of the girls I had met came into my hotel room to use my phone, and then another girl and an overweight guy came in, lit cigarettes and sat and talked with me for a while.  I enjoyed the variety of people I had met in one night.

Wednesday, January 1, 2003
I am in my hotel lobby now writing and ready to take the Greyhound to Kansas City in order to catch the train to Los Angeles.  I took a taxi to the Saint Louis Greyhound station.  There was a big line in the waiting area.  I’m not crazy about Greyhound stations.  Actually, who is???   But there was a time during college when my buddy and I took a bus trip around the US, and it felt exciting then.  Now, it feels like I’m waiting in line to get onto a third world, run-down mode of transportation with goats and chickens alongside me.  They’re dirty, not well organized, and have clientele who apparently don’t bath or wash their clothes for days on end.  But during a train trip, they are sometimes necessary to link points that do not have train routes.

I waited and boarded the bus and was lucky enough to get a guy who had all of the characteristics described above sitting next to me, and he was sick to boot.  His daughter or girlfriend sat in front of us.  Ah, switch please!  I noticed that his jeans were thick with dirt and grease.  After some time with him, I found out that he drives a Peterbuilt out of New York and takes loads to Albuquerque and back.

The bus driver from Saint Louis was crazy, as in mentally ill.  Seriously.  She thought that someone on the bus was making a cracking sound with chewing gum, and she pulled the bus over a few times to yell at all of us.  She was a heavy-set African American woman of about 35 years of age who had eyes as wild as fire. She even offered a $50.00 free Greyhound voucher to anyone who would turn in the gum cracker.

I got off the bus in a relieved state of not having been held hostage by the driver, and I took a cab to Tanners Bar and Grille in Kansas City, Missouri to get a good burger and chips.  I then got a taxi to yet another Union Station (how many are there anyways?).  It was also renovated like the one in Saint Louis. 

I was sitting in the waiting chairs when a girl named Sarah started talking with me.  She was in her final stage of school in The Groundlings Improvisation program in Hollywood (which I know now is very impressive).  She wants to act and write for entertainment.

Sarah grew up in Saint Louis and went to a small college there studying theater.  She lives in Altadena, California.  Her father is a psychologist (apparently unable to talk her out of entertainment), and her mother is a computer programmer.  She has two older brothers.  She was just visiting her parents in Saint Louis and wishes she had gotten a sleeper car.  We talked and then I went back to reading as she went off somewhere

I am now in my economy-sleeping compartment with a fussy old couple across from me, who apparently thought they were getting a larger sleeping compartment, such as a deluxe sleeping car. 

Thursday, January 2, 2003
I woke up, tried to shower, but everything was off because we were at a service stop.  So I waited a while and went and showered in the next sleeping car, which had hot water available.  Once the power was back on, I finished getting myself cleaned up and then went to the lounge car. 

It was about 10:30am as the train was traveling through the Southwest.  I went and said hello to Sarah.  She had slept ok, and I told her that since she had shorter legs than I, she had an easier time of it then I had during the first part of my journey up the California coast. 

I did some more reading of the Pulp Fiction script, and then had lunch with an old farming couple from Colorado.  The were retired and their part of the country was pretty dry these days.  They had raised cattle and now had two grown daughters in Colorado; one still in school, and one who is a financial planner.  They also have a son who is in Costa Rica working in real estate.

I finished Pulp Fiction and then went to dinner and sat alone until a divorced Mexican couple (traveling together, strange) sat with me towards the end of my meal.  I found out that they were from Chino, California.  Their four kids were living with cousins in Colorado.

I then went to the lounge car where Sarah was sitting and writing, and I read some more.  I watched “Mr. Deeds” (I don’t like Adam Sandler), but it was nice to see Winona Ryder.  Some of the scenery we went through in New Mexico was gorgeous!  I feel like the excitement of my trip is behind me in Chicago and Memphis.  Saint Louis ended up being pretty good as well once that evening went on.  But none were as good as Memphis.

It’s 9:20pm here in New Mexico.  I’m going to read more of my book, “Shooting to Kill.” 

Here are the fifteen states I went through on this trip:

Washington State
North Dakota
New Mexico

Friday, January 3, 2002
The trip home was pretty easy.  I got off of the train in Los Angeles’ Union Station.  I was going to take the Metrorail subway home and even paid for a ticket when I discovered that taking the MetroLink would be faster.  This is what I did, and finally took the Metrobus to my home from my local station.

Looking back:
After transcribing this trip over the past few days, it’s brought up a large assortment of feelings.  I thought of inserting my thoughts into the transcription, but realized that since they would be written eight years apart, I would save them for the end.

As I read about going up the California Coast, into Oregon, and into Washington State, starting off on my trip and meeting Chelsea and her family, I realized how much I have missed being able to take off on a whim and go on a journey like this.  I remember the morning outside of Seattle, getting some breakfast and walking around the city in the cold before my departure onto the Empire Builder train.  I was a little bewildered at where I had ended up that morning in a suburb of Seattle, wondering how my trip would go.

The ride East from there really set the trip into motion.  Going across the Cascades and into Montana was beautiful.  And it seemed that I was arriving in Saint Paul sooner than I expected.  One thing that struck me in Minneapolis was when I was walking in literally freezing cold around a large frozen lake.  There were several groups of people ice fishing through holes in the ice.  Connie and I walked to one of the holes so I could see what their process was exactly.  They had a tent where they could warm themselves with a hole in the middle.  They had used tools to make their holes and were just sitting there in their thick hooded jackets fishing and talking.

I also remember Connie telling me that this was one of the places she would run early weekday mornings, like at 6:00am.  She was a native of the city, and yet she said that it got so cold most winter mornings that she often felt like her lungs would freeze.  I have always remembered this when I am cold and running in Manhattan Beach or wherever.  There’s just no comparison, and I’m obviously a wimp when it comes to real cold.  I couldn’t imagine how she could get herself to wake up in the dark and face that bone-chilling cold.

My time in Chicago was fun as I wrote.  It started off quiet the first night there when I saw the movie on those non-updated theaters.  But I found more things and people of interest in the next day or so when I visited the Water Tower Place Mall.  Something about that place on this specific trip was magical to me.  I think it was partially because I was there the day after Christmas, and people were friendly and probably relieved of all of the stress of Christmas shopping being over.  I loved the many levels of that mall that you could see via a central open column vertically through the middle of the mall.  And the mother and daughter that I met were so sweet.  It was fun talking and eating with them.

But after reading this, I had almost completely forgotten what a good time I had had in Memphis.  It was slow and a little lonely doing that trip to McMinnville, but after that, my time in the hotel and in the city with the parade was absolutely fabulous.  In my journal, I had mentioned coming back the next time I had more vacation again.  I never did.  But I will after reading this.  It was such a fun town, and because the Liberty Bowl was happening there, it was full of more energy than I experienced anywhere else on my trip.

This made my going to Saint Louis a bit of a let down at first. And though I did manage to find a great bar with a lot of partying and fun people, all of which I am glad I didn’t miss, it was just hard to have this city fall after Memphis.  I think any city would have stood in the shadow like this.  The thing is too, that I had originally planned to visit one other city either before or after Saint Louis, but I don’t recall what that was now.  I has written, “I guess I will have to miss that city,” in my journal, but I didn’t identify it’s name unfortunately.  If I look at a map, I might be able to figure out what I had intended to do. 

But given that my days were now counting down to needing to be back at work, I must have had to exclude that plan.  I think this is because I had extended a day or two somewhere else.  Maybe Memphis and Chicago, or something like that.  I’ll never know.

After Saint Louis, the trip definitely became less magical.  I think by then I had done my fair share of bus-riding too, which added to the grind of getting a lot of miles under me. 

I did one other big train trip like this a few years later, which I will transcribe sometime soon.  But, other than a jaunt up the California Coast, or a quick run from Chicago to wherever, I doubt I will plan a huge cross-country train trip again, having done it twice.  It gets monotonous after a while, and repetitive in the meals, which alternate between like three different dishes every night.

For me now, I would prefer to mix up the modes of transportation (and eliminate buses altogether); take a flight here and there, then take a train for a day, then drive elsewhere.  The lesson I take from this 2002 Christmas trip is the value in finding really fun, exciting people and parts of cities. 

And the most fun I had was during my stay at the Memphis hotel, jumping on the media truck with a police escort and just finding myself in a situation that I would never have imagined when I first left on the journey.  That’s the fun of traveling.