Yesterday was perhaps the most memorable time I’ve spent in airports since I first moved to Hawaii back in 2001. Back in October of 2001 it was shocking to be in SFO because of the machine gun armed soldiers in the airports and the brand new intensive security…yesterday was different.
Portland and Seattle airports had been closed down on Sunday due to 100 year snowstorms that dropped more than 3 feet on parts of Portland, a city that never sees much more than a dusting of snow in recent memory.
I find it strangely symbolic that I am coming back to Portland after my seven years in Hawaii because I was here on September 11th, 2001 and that was the event that drove me to leave the mainland. I had seen people so filled with rage and hate, mostly white people, and then those damn american flags started popping up everywhere, and everyone calling for revenge, and in bleeding heart Portland, I watched as angry motorists tore up signs I put up that said “Enough have died, drop bread not bombs” and I got the hell out of North America without leaving the United States. Hawaii was a good sanctuary. It gave me a lot…more than just the degree in Anthropology. I return to Portland as much more than I was when I left. And yes, the symbolism of a magical blanket of crunchy white snow isn’t lost on me.
I’m big on symbolism, hence my choice to stay at the hotel next to the hostel I first stayed at in Waikiki. One last note on The Queen Kapiolani Hotel…I think I got eaten by bedbugs while I was there. I’m glad I stayed there for the symbolic reasons, but I would never stay there again, or recommend it to anyone.
And now, here I am in Portland. But back to the crazy airports….yesterday arriving at Honolulu, I found that when Agent 74 dropped me off there were people lined up in the biggest lines I had seen since post 911. I had checked in online and it was impossible to find out what gate I was supposed to go to since my flight wasn’t listed on the boards, every other flight out of Honolulu was canceled or delayed. Flights to Seattle were canceled and there were people lying on the ground in every possible place. I went through the almost invisible checkpoint to the far left and avoided the long lines at the center security checkpoint. Once inside though, I was faced with figuring out where my flight was, since it still wasn’t listed. A passing Hawaiian Airlines employee told me Portland flights were not canceled, but didn’t know more than that. My flight number was 26 and there was a flight 1026 to Portland at a far gate so I decided to head there. It turns out that my flight was delayed until 11 pm (it was almost 2pm) but that the day befores flight (1026) was scheduled to go out at 2 pm. I requested to get on that flight and was put on standby, along with everyone else who was scheduled to be on my flight. There were many grumpy people that had spent the previous day in limbo and were still solidly in it. I was friendly to the desk agent and told him that I knew it wasn’t his fault and that he was doing all that he could. Maybe the suit helped…I was one of about ten people that got on standby.
The flight was delayed, the pilots didn’t know if we would be able to land in Portland or have to divert to San Francisco and everyone on the flight was nervous. As we took off the entire plane erupted in applause. I sat next to a very nice couple from Portland, Darcy and Rob. He’s a contractor and she is an herbalist originally from Hawaii. We had wide ranging conversations about books, religion, politics, and philosophy. We landed around 11 pm and once again the plane erupted in applause. We weren’t applauding the food or entertainment, we were all just happy to have made it safely.
In Portland, it was cold and there is snow everywhere. My buddies Stephan and Dave picked me up in an old blue pickup complete with a cute dog in it and we drove to their fine home. Now it’s morning, it’s light, the snow is covering everything, and suddenly it is starting to feel a whole lot like Christmas.
I’ll be here until the 28th when I begin the Amtrak portion of my adventures….of course, the weather might alter my plans…we will see.
It’s been great hanging out with my friends in Portland. For Christmas we all sang karaoke songs and made a big pot of chili. No presents, no drama, no problems, just good camaraderie, lots of snow, and a few too many cigarettes.
Which reminds me, I used the e-cig in the airport and on the plane from Hawaii. I didn’t go all crazy with it, but I was puffing and blowing out water vapor and got some attention, then I explained what it was and how it wasn’t smoking and damn if I couldn’t have sold a couple of them on the plane.
I picked up my USA rail pass today. 15 days is really not enough time to check out the country, but I’ve got tickets to Sacramento, Salt Lake City, Chicago, Boston, Washington D.C, Philadelphia, and New York City. I’ve got couches lined up in all but the last three. Stops are all fairly brief, but hopefully I can imbibe the essence of all these great cities, at least a little bit.
From New York, my plan is to buy the cheapest flight to Europe I can find. Cost determines my destination. That’s as far as I’ve planned so far. It feels fun to have the future being determined by the wheel of fortune…it’s got me a little nervous, but like the train trip, it will resolve itself and no doubt offer unexpected adventures and excitement.
I’m traveling very light with everything I own. Definitely less than 100 things. That includes all my clothes, toiletries, carry on wheelie bag, shoulder bag, and a couple of books to read. Hell, that even includes the pens. I admit, there are some photos, paperwork etc in my dad’s garage, but nothing I expect to see until I somehow manage to own a home. So this is it.
My budget is ultra low, my expectations are high, my openness to what life has to offer is complete. I’m surfing with friends and family when I can and making new friends where I can and need to.
I am open to sponsorships, donations to help fund my adventures, and introductions, suggestions, or anything else you can send my way. I leave Portland on the 28th and should be in NYC by mid January. I hope you guys can make some suggestions for what I should see or do and where I should go.
Life is rad. For sure.
I’ve been having a great time hanging out with my friends here in Portland and I enjoyed the treat of my first white Christmas in a long time, but I’m glad to be leaving tomorrow. Portland isn’t my kind of town. Went to Powells Books earlier today, it was madness, I’ve never seen it so crowded in there. As I got out of my friend’s car I had to step over a used syringe lying in a dirty snowbank and almost immediately was hit up for change by a guy who looked younger and at least as healthy as I am. In less than a block we passed a half dozen panhandlers. I appreciate the guys playing music, but the sheer numbers of them prevent me from dropping a dollar. That and it’s a little like dripping blood into a shark pool, if you show a moment’s mercy or kindness, the energy vampires start in on you.
Portland is a city with a lot of beards, a lot of women with boy’s haircuts, and a lot of down and out people. At the moment, there is smoking allowed pretty much everywhere and pretty much everyone smokes…and smokes a lot. I’ve decided that I am a fan of smoking bans, odd but true. It seems that much of Portland is devoted to drinking and I feel like I’ve done my share of that, I don’t really like shooting pool all the time or hanging out in bars. I’ve revisited some of my old favorite haunts and found them to be less than appealing. The Triple Nickel in Southeast Portland is one of the skuzziest bars I’ve ever been in, I guess it always was, maybe though, it’s me that has changed.
The nice crisp white snow has been replaced with dirty slush and my shoes need a good shine from the salt that has gotten on them.
There is some incredible food here. I had a very kickass burrito with my friend Autumn earlier at a place called Cha Cha Cha. Salmon burrito. Huge, delicious, and only $5.95! It would have cost $16 in Hawaii. Portland has more restaurants per capita than any other city in the United States.
Looking forward to bailing tomorrow.
These are a couple of my friends in Portland. We’ve been cooped up during the holidays with the snow and are all feeling pretty crazy about now. Seems like it might be wisdom none the less. Today as I look out the window, I see most of the snow is gone and I’m going to be going soon too.
Like a magical birthday surprise last night appeared and exceeded my expectations. I wanted to see a movie and was totally stoked to find that one of my all time favorite movies John Carpenter’s They Live was playing at the Clinton Street Theater.
They Live is a hyper-intelligent commentary on consumption, Hollywood formulaic b.s, and life that plays like a couple of big dumb guys in a completely retarded script. That’s part of what makes it brilliant. My favorite movie quote of all time comes from this film “I’m here to chew bubble gum and kick ass, and I’m all out of bubble gum” and now I should add my second favorite “Life’s a bitch and she’s back in heat”. If you haven’t seen this film, you must. This was the first time I ever got to see it on the big screen and it didn’t disappoint.
The screen it played on was the Clinton Street Theater, one of the oldest movie houses in the United States. It has been in operation since 1915 and has been showing The Rocky Horror Picture Show continuously for 26 years or so. A truly iconic place and I would say, perhaps Portland’s coolest landmark. The theater is connected to the Clinton Street Brewery, the smallest licensed brew pub in the state of Oregon and they encourage you to take your beers into the film. So Stephan, Autumn, Mark and I grabbed some slices of pizza, a couple of crafted porters, and enjoyed the show. It was a great place to see it since there is the whole Rocky Horror vibe there so when police attacked a squatter camp on the screen, a patron ran up and threw cups at the screen, when people applauded in the film, the audience did too, and there were fairly continuous catcalls and commentary throughout as quasi-homo-erotic, mock action, bizarrely framed story progressed.
Totally awesome last night activity followed by some greasy fries across the street at Dot’s.
I got a small amount of video footage on the train from Portland to Sacramento, but it gets dark early. It was already bad light by 4pm, just an hour into the journey. I may post some of it later if it turned out okay. It wasn’t a real social ride. I was pretty content to write in my journal and read my book. The guy I was assigned a seat next to was of a similar mind I think. His name was Brian and he was going from Seattle to LA with his parents who were seated behind us. I sat in the sightseeing car for a while and watched the farm houses go by. Sadly, I dind’t have the video camera out when we passed what looked like a giant sinkhole in the Columbia River. I don’t remember seeing that before. Basically, the water was dropping two to six feet lower than the surface of the water. It was like some kind of unlikely waterfall in the middle of a river. Almost perfectly round. Wish I’d gotten a shot of it, but it was there and gone. Left Portland at 2:30 PM and arrived in Sacramento at around 7 am this morning. I made the mistake of spending some of my hard saved cash to eat a pretty bad meal in the dining car. Trout and bad rice on a plastic plate for $24. The server was a grumpy old man that looked like Wilford Brimley. I was assigned a dining table with an insurance salesman from Tacoma in his 60s and a semi retired psychiatrist and his wife in their 60’s. It was like I was forced to pay to eat with some of the tourists I used to have to show around Hawaii. The psychiatrists wife was interesting and pleasant but the other two didn’t really give her much of a chance to talk. I was Vago the Hawaiian anthropologist, an interesting character that may surface again somewhere else.
An older woman sitting across the aisle from me was talking about routes across the midwest being closed on Amtrak, we will see. I was happy to bypass Redding, California where I attended my junior and senior years of high school and graduated back in 1990. I hate that place, it’s why I joined the Marines…I recognized it’s negative vibe even in the dark. I slept fairly well considering that my seat was broken by putting my legs up on the seat tray in front of me and putting my seat back. Not bad. A sqaulling baby in the cabin woke me and I put in ear plugs which it turns out is a bad idea if you are climbing over the cascade range. I woke with a pretty bad earache that took a while to resolve. With the plugs in I was unable to equalize the pressure (pop the ears) and since I was sleeping, it didn’t occur with my help. The train was late by about a half hour. You would think that trains would always be on time in America like they are in other countries, but every time I have ridden Amtrak it has been late. My new friend MJ met me at the station with a hot cup of coffee.
Probably as a result of my aforementioned dislike of Redding, I have never bothered to give Sacramento a chance. I always assumed it was just a bigger, shittier version of Redding. I was wrong. This is a fantastic place. I’m sure a part of it is the way my visit here started. MJ, a friend through couchsurfing.com not only agreed to let me crash on her couch, but picked me up and had coffee waiting. I would call that the aloha spirit. So my introduction to this place I’ve only breezed through in the past was pretty good. We grabbed a bite of breakfast and then she set me up with a bike and keys and she went to work.
My first stop was The California Railroad Museum. I figured since I am riding trains all over the USA, I should probably visit this stop. The bike ride through downtown Sacramento showed me great looking restaurants, lots of incredible architecture, plenty of interesting sites, and people that smiled as I passed by. I saw plenty of people that looked like they might be homeless, but couldn’t tell for sure. The sky is blue and the weather is sunny.
At the museum, I was waiting in line when the woman in front of me said “We have an extra ticket, do you want it?” Seriously. I accepted.
Inside, I found this fella that told me about how folks used to travel. ‘Course, it’s how I travel these days too…mostly.
After that I went looking for a restaurant that MJ had recommended for lunch Le Bon Cafe, but instead I accidentally ended up at Cafe Le Bou, which was pretty good, but probably nowhere as good as Le Bon.
Riding a bicycle around Sacramento feels incredibly safe and relaxed after having ridden one on Oahu.
First of all, here are the couch questions with my host, MJ. I think her answers give you an idea of what an extraordinary person she is. To make one little clarification, she works as a videophone interpreter for the deaf. They call in on video phone and she interprets sign language to make calls to the non-deaf.
As I’ve said before, Sacramento was a surprisingly cool and fun place. My only evening there, I had dinner with MJ and her neighbors Liz and Mark. Total generosity and good times. MJ also introduced me to most of the cool kids that live in the former brothel and we spent a good deal of time sitting on their balcony and playing guitars. I remember Stephen and Debbie by name but the rest were great too.
Another look at the former brothel at I and 21st. Filled with cool folks.
In the evening, MJ, Liz, and myself went out to a local watering hole and sang karaoke. This seems to be a recurring theme in my travels but I swear I didn’t suggest it, nor did I put karaoke in the house in Portland or in my brother’s house in Liberty, Utah…it just keeps happening.
California seems to favor the trucker mustache for the men rather than the full scraggily beard of Oregon. Few beards, lots of mustaches. Sacramento essentially reminds me of a micro- San Francisco or a slightly bigger Bellingham, Washington. Lots of hipsters, but not so full of themsleves or preoccupied with their hipsterness as in Portland. Cleaner and less rainy than Portland, at least within the grid.
In the morning, I walked back to the Amtrak Station after saying goodbye to her and her friend’s dog Abby. I got a non-remarkable breakfast along the way and then spent the next few hours waiting in ice cold fog for a very late Amtrak to Salt Lake City. The platform was crowded with lots of people on their way to Reno who were already hitting the booze at a little before noon.
Leaving Sacramento it was foggy and cold. The train was more than an our late. On the platform there were odd travelers going to Denver, Salt Lake City, Reno and everywhere in between. Notable travelers were a confused Russian family, a group of older alcoholics on their way to Reno, and a pretty girl talking on her phone.
One of the older drinkers, who were really pretty nice friendly people about to go on a little vacation, came up to me and told me I had something white on my coat and proceeded to wipe it off. I think it was bird poo. It was nice of her since it was on my back and I couldnâ€™t see it. Who knows though, maybe there was nothing there and she simply wanted to pad over in her little leather moccasins and rub my back. Either way, it was nice.
Boarding the train I found myself in a car almost completely abandoned except for an incredibly beautiful girl in a red coat who I nicknamed Snow White almost at once. Little did I know it was actually Agent 231, code name, Milk Maid and that she was on the train to provide me with further instructions from Big Barry Obama.
After exchanging the codewords and the secret agent handshake, we rode the train through some of the most beautifully rugged country I have ever seen. Her cover story was that she was attending the DLI in Monteray and studying Arabic. Within â€˜the storyâ€™ she is undergoing linguist training, is in the US Navy and has three young daughters in Florida. She had me convinced until she told me about the daughtersâ€¦that just seemed way too hard to believe.
We arrived in Reno about sunset. It got dark quickly on the train and Agent 231 went to sleep. At this point I encountered another operative, codename â€œWoodpeckerâ€ and we proceeded to enjoy the dark train ride together. Finally, fatigue hit me and I retreated to my reclining seat in order to catch a little shut-eye before arriving in Salt Lake City at 5 am or so.
Definitely the best train ride Iâ€™ve had. It will be hard to top, if not impossible.
Arriving in Salt Lake City, I caught the Utah Light Rail to Ogden for $6. It was a very comfortable 45 minute ride. UTA provides free wifi, plugs for laptops (unlike Amtrak so far) and very comfortable seating and tables.
Once arriving in Ogden, I was surprised to see so many bums in such a beautiful area at 6am. Ogden, I am told, is a very seeded out town surrounded by some of the most beautiful places in the United States. Cool old brick buildings, rail cars, and snow covered majestic peaks everywhere you look.
My brother came to pick me up and the next few days were spent with him and his family. The whole reason I came to Utah in the first place rather than going along the southern route was because I wanted to spend time with him, his wife, and his four awesome children. Our mom and step dad were also visiting. I had hoped that they might want to watch the kids one day so that my brother, his wife, and I could catch up and spend some adult time together, but I guess it never occurred to my mom. I also got to hang out with my cousins and their mother. It was just sort of an additional thing that everyone else was here besides my brother, but it was nice to see them after not having done so for ten or twenty years. It will be nice to see them again in another ten or twenty.
I love my family, but aside from my brother and sister and their families, I donâ€™t much like to spend a lot of time with them. I felt a little like the rest of the family was a hazard to be navigated so that I could hang out with my brother, his wife, and their kids. Sort of like paying a toll to the guy under the bridge.
My mom left the day before I did and thatâ€™s what gave me and the kids a chance to make Liberty Hole. We did the whole thing from start to finish in about five hours. We sat down, conceptualized the story and characters, wrote the script, scouted locations, found costumes, and shot it. They were a great crew to work with. Iâ€™m awfully proud that they wrote just about every line, every twist, and every act. Pretty cool. We burned a DVD and premiered it for my bro and his wife.
This morning I left Ogden on the UTA and rode into Salt Lake City where I had to search forever to find a coffee shop so I could sit and write all of this. And here I am now, having to pee, but glad to be back on the road. Iâ€™m supposed to surf a couch tonight but I am considering just cruising coffee joints since my train leaves at 4 am tomorrow.
SLC to Chicago via Denver
I canâ€™t believe I almost missed out on an incredible time by considering getting a hotel room in Salt Lake City. My initial experience with SLC was not really that great since I wanted a coffee shop and couldnâ€™t find one for a while. That can be frustrating. In any event, I got a hold of Candice, who I met through couch surfing and she gave me directions to her place. I set out from the lone starbucks I found in downtown and then proceeded towards her place. It was something like 20 blocks, but I figured I would walk since I had been eating so much and not going outside too much at my brotherâ€™s place.
I was heading for the 1700 block but the road dead ended at the 1300 block which put me at the University of Utah. From there I tried to walk around the University but it seemed that I ended up on a parkway of some sort and I was heading out of town in the snow and it was starting to get cold. I usually donâ€™t like to turn around, but this time, I backtracked a mile or so and then gave Candice a call to find out which taxi company I should call for a lift.
Instead, Candice and her friends (now my friends too) Jessica, Mike, and Cameron came and picked me up and we all went bowling. Seriously, straight from the road to the bowling alley. Iâ€™m a totally crap bowler, but I always enjoy throwing my balls in the gutter. When they picked me up, I think I had to pick my jaw up off the floor. Candice and Jessica are both movie star beautiful and they picked me up in Jessieâ€™s borrowed Lexus SUV.
We all had a blast. Jessica had lived in Hawaii for a while and while we didnâ€™t know the same people, we definitely knew some of the same places. Cameron and I had both lived in Raleigh, North Carolina and Mike has traveled by train all over the U.S. Not to mention weâ€™ve all done a fair bit of travel, so there was plenty to talk about and lots to laugh about too.
After bowling we went back to Candiceâ€™s place and met a couple more couch surfers, Meredith and Kevin. Kevin and I are doing a similar kind of train trip across the USA, though his is 45 days long compared to my 15 and I am heading out to Europe in a few days if all goes well. Kevin is from Seattle and plays the hand saw. He and Meredith did a nice duet for us.
Next we all piled into the Lexus and then picked up Steven, a couch surf host down the street. We all went to the Tavernacle, Salt Lake Cityâ€™s oldest dueling piano bar where we met up with Angela and Nareen ( I think). The piano bar was almost like karaoke, just as fun, but different. The people watching was incredible. The most outrageous and out of hand guys there were five guys that werenâ€™t drinking! Mormons I would guess.
We closed the place down and then went to Stevenâ€™s where we chilled out in his green house for a bit before heading to Candice and Cameronâ€™s where he made us all eggs and grits. At 3:15 Angela and I hopped in a cab and we dropped her off at home before I headed to the Amtrak station. I stopped and got some snacks at 7-11 and made it to the station in time to catch the first on-time Amtrak train of this trip so far.
As you might surmise, I was a bit tired and went to sleep pretty quickly at around 4:20 or so. Around 6 am, the guys in the dining car and the snack bar started making annoying announcements about breakfast, coffee, and their breaks. Sleep interrupted repeatedly. The guys names are Johnny and Mr. Curly and while they were funny, I didnâ€™t really want to hear them and since we were going through the mountains, I didnâ€™t want to put in the earplugs.
So there I was, tired, realizing I hadnâ€™t prepared at all for Chicago by contacting my couchsurfing hosts and that I probably wouldnâ€™t get the chance. I felt not too excited about much and that is when Agent 303 showed up. Cordelia was sitting not too far behind me for most of the trip but I didnâ€™t talk to her until after I went to Johnnyâ€™s snack shop and I got sort of chewed out for not wearing any shoes. Johnny went so far as to have the conductor make an announcement to the entire train that shoes are required when walking around.
Anyway, it was an ice breaker and after that we sat near each other and wrapped about wine, school, and the agents of TOIL. Toddlers of Indeterminate Longevity. This name for the evil doers as we had three mini-mes running around the train and pretending to shoot us all. Agent 303 is a freshman at University of Denver and was kind enough to keep me company until we got to Denver. At that point, I went to sleep and it wasnâ€™t until just a few hours ago that I realized there were actually plugs in the car ahead of me, still no wifi though. I did get connected in a small town for long enough to email my hosts asking them to call me, we will see if this works or not. It might end up being a hotel night tonight..
This was just amazing. I never saw a woman this large dancing on a piano before. Expecially in a feather boa!
Jessica and Mike bet two snowballs in the face on who was the better bowler. It was a draw…sort of. I would say Jessica was king.
Candice…she could win pageants and congeniality.
I like the blurriness of this one. That’s Cameron in the front…he makes great grits and has traveled to a lot of the places I hope to visit.
My favorite family in the world.
I like this shot of a Marine wedding in Temple Square. Random passerby.
I think this shot turned out pretty good.
Ken came and got me at South Station in Boston and then we went for a midnight drive around Boston where he showed me a lot of the sights. His enthusiasm for Boston was contagious and I was already partially in love with the city anyway. Maybe a part of that was hero syndrome though as I really did feel that Boston had just pulled me off the worst train ride Iâ€™d yet had in the United States.
While we were driving, I noted that just about every person I saw walking on the sidewalks and streets was doing a very similar flat footed glide that I internally named â€˜the Boston Shuffleâ€™. The reason was because of the slick ice that coated just about every flat surface. I had just arrived from Portland with two feet of Snow, Ogden with more, Chicago with bitter cold, but Boston won the prize for slick icy surfaces.
After catching up over Sam Adams and Kung Pao Chicken, I crashed out hard at 2 am or so on Kenâ€™s couch and then woke up the following morning to have bagels and coffee. Iâ€™ve noticed that as I move east, the number of Dunkin Donuts stores goes up exponentially. In Hawaii, Dunkin Donuts became the place where hookers congregated before it closed down, but on the East Coast, they are an institution and I have to admit that their bagels are better than anything Iâ€™ve had in Hawaii.
Ken took the day off work to show me around his city. We visited the USS Constitution at the waterfront and then climbed up Bunker Hill. After that we stopped by The Warren Tavern and had some â€˜chowdaâ€™. It was the best clam chowder Iâ€™ve ever had. The Warren Tavern is where the initial meetings of the Revolutionary War took place and where George Washingtonâ€™s wake was held. The beams inside are the original beams. It was one of Paul Revereâ€™s favorite watering holes.
From there we went to the North End and visited the North Church where Paul Revere hung the lantern to warn that the redcoats were coming. Here are a few pictures from there:
We stopped and picked up some incredible pastries and cannolis from Mikeâ€™s Pastries for dessert that night and wandered around the narrow twisting streets of the North End for a while before heading across the bridge to go to the old custom house and look at more of historic Boston. I met Ben Franklin inside a tourist shopping area and got a picture with him.
One thing about Boston surprised me. I had always been taught that the Boston Tea Party was the point where the colonials had decided enough was enough. I asked Ken about where the Tea Party had taken place and we googled it to see if we could find it, but it turns out that no one is really sure and that there arenâ€™t really any monuments to the event anywhere. Most people think it was Grotten Wharf, but even there, there is no marker.
Site of the Boston Tea Party? Maybe.
With that, we left the city heading north and Ken took me to another meaningful place. Lowell, Massachussets. We entered Lowell and went to the graveyard in the center. It was just past dusk and the graveyard was glowing in a sort of icy halo from about three inches of snow on the ground. We drove to section 94 (I think) and looked for the footprints that would lead to Jack Kerouacâ€™s grave. Ken was certain there would be offerings and that the stone would be uncovered, but perhaps America has changed again without anyone noticing as no one had visited the grave in some time as evidenced by the lack of â€˜offeringsâ€™ and the fact that the marker was not uncovered. In fact, since no one had given him a marker that stood above the ground and instead it was a flat stone that was flush with the surface, it wasnâ€™t visible at all. Ken had been there before and knew the general area and we poked it and kicked the ice and snow off the ground for a while. We were certainly in the right area and were stomping and poking around on top of Kerouacâ€™s remains, but we never did find the marker. At one point I had to step over to the street to piss and I was highly amused to piss â€˜On the Roadâ€™ next to Kerouacâ€™s gravesite. I left a smoke behind when we finally gave up because of our wet feet and the intense cold.
We drove back to Southie and got some of the best pizza Iâ€™ve ever had in my life. It was a sausage and ricotta pie from Salvatoreâ€™s Pizza. I also had a seasonal Boston beer that tasted like cinnamon and nutmeg.
Finally, we went back to Kenâ€™s place and his friend Amy came up. We shot the shit and played guitarâ€™s while walking through USMC memories and hanging out with this cool and crazy Midwest girl. Perhaps the highlight of the memory road was the weekend that â€œLance Corporals Palmer and Damitioâ€ bought and consumed 36 bottles of champagne over a 96 (three day weekend) while constantly listening to Social Distortionâ€™s version of Ball and Chain. Not surprisingly we were able to perform a guitar duet of the song for the lovely Miss Amyâ€¦Ken being a much superior and better practiced musician than I, but me knowing most of the words and at least one of the guitar chords.
During the day, I had realized that I wasnâ€™t particularly enjoying the enforced speed of the Amtrak trip. I also realized that I wanted to see Lena, one of my oldest friends, who lives in Rhode Island. So I called Amtrak and found them to be totally flexible about me changing my tickets. I hadnâ€™t had any luck in finding couches in D.C., Philly, or New York yet so changing plans worked in my favor in that regard too.
I ditched D.C. and got a ticket from Boston to Providence, Rhode Island instead. Later I also switched my last two legs so that I leave Providence on my last day of Amtrak travel, go to Philly for about five hours and then catch the train to New York City. And thus will end my Amtrak cross country adventure, however, this is all just really a small appetizer of what is to come. The real adventure begins when I leave New York heading to an as yet unknown European destination.
The next morning, I left Boston on the train to Providence.
Originally uploaded by chrisdamitio
The trip from Boston to Providence was only about a half hour. The only thing I really noticed from the train was some interesting graffiti with characters from the Bullwinkle and Rocky show on it.
My friend Lena was working all day and I figured this was a chance to do a few things I had been neglecting, like figure out where I was going and where I would stay. This has been a fairly constant problem since leaving Ogden. For some reason, I had thought I would have a day or so to arrange for couch surfing, plan my route, and all that jazz while I was in Utah, but it never really materialized. Iâ€™m glad the time went like it did, with family and new friends, but since catching that 3 am train in Salt Lake, everything has been more seat of the pants than I had expected. Itâ€™s why I arrived in Chicago not knowing where I would stay and why I still have no couches arranged anywhere else. A big part of the problem is that crossing the United States by train takes some time and I have been spending time with friends and family wherever I can. The fourteen day USA Rail Pass simply doesnâ€™t provide enough time for all of that since at least five of those days have been spent on the train. I think my friend Kevin who I met in SLC is on a much better plan with 45 days to complete 16 legs, but then, he paid twice what I paid for my fourteen day, 8 leg pass and thatâ€™s the way it is.
So anyway, I arrived in Providence and began what I considered a bit of a spa/personal day by finding a cafÃ© with wireless internet called â€˜Bendersâ€™. Great vegetarian food, responsible green business, good coffee, and warm.
I uploaded pictures from Boston, updated my blog, and found an old fashioned barbershop online. Having found it, I set out to get my haircut. Bobâ€™s Barbershop. Great haircut, nice guy. A Rhode Islander who has been cutting hair for the entire 37 years Iâ€™ve been alive. Definitely the best haircut Iâ€™ve had in a long while. I attribute that to the fact that it was the first time in a long time that I had a white guy cut my hair, after all, I am a white guy (really!) and it makes sense that a white guy would understand white guy hair better than say a Vietnamese woman or a black man. Anyway, great haircut. My next plan was to do some laundry and go back to Benderâ€™s and arrange my couches and travel plansâ€¦
Lena called and had left work early. Lena is one of my favorite people in the world and I was totally stoked to see her. We used to ride the school bus together. She lived in a little town called Ono in a geodesic dome that she helped her family build. Lena is really like no one else in the world. So we met up at the biggest hotel in Providence. A few words about Providence are necessary here. It is one of the oldest towns in the United States and was essentially founded to provide a haven for those who were suffering religious persecution. It has more coffee shops than just about anywhere I have ever been. There are colleges everywhere you look. The architecture is old and beautiful and it doesnâ€™t seem to have that â€˜tourist restoredâ€™ look. It just is what it is. I like Providence a lot.
Lena picked me up and we went up to the campus district of Brown University where I bought a very necessary scarf and a Rough Guide to Europe. We had tasty little treats from an Italian bakery. After this we proceeded down to the town she lives in, Warwick and spent a little time catching up and drinking some very nice wine. I was able to get my laundry done (thank goodness!) and then it was time for bed. Lenaâ€™s couch was quite comfortable.
In the morning, we had eggs Florentine and I got to meet her boyfriend Ken. Ken is a great guy. In their garage are 5 or maybe 6 motorcycles and the house is well stocked with great beer, wine, and plenty of 12 year scotch. Not to mention Kenâ€™s keyboards, a half dozen guitars, and plenty of amps. We had an impromptu blues jam session where I got to clean out my harmonica and then Lena took me to Newport to see what real mansions look like. Good Gawd! Everything from the mansion where Arnold pops out of the ice in True Lies to The Breakers. We also saw the Tennis Museum. Iâ€™m glad to see Newport in winter since I have the feeling that the rich tourists would be more than a little annoying in the summer months.
We picked up a couple of live lobsters down the road from Lena and Kenâ€™s and for dinner had an incredible surf and turf. Ken generously shucked the lobsters for us and so I was able to eat delicious â€˜lazy manâ€™ New England lobsters. I was just a little shocked that the way you buy lobsters is you poull them out of the water and drop them in a paper sack to take home.
The forecast was for snow overnight and there was some concern that my newly arranged train to Philly and then New York would be cancelled. I had opted to stay an extra day in Rhode Island and so my last day of train travel on my pass, I still had two legs of travel left. So I decided to take a day trip to Philly and see some of the sights and then to go to New York in the evening and stay in one of the Manhattan Hostels for a couple of days while I figure out how and where to go in Europe. Itâ€™s sort of funny that I donâ€™t know yet.
In the morning, I woke up at 5 am so I could catch my train. Lena and I did a little bit of New England snow shoveling in the driveway and she drove me to the station in Providence. The train was on time. Providence with a couple of inches of snow before dawn is one of the prettiest sights I have seen thus far. Now I am on the train on the way to Philly and we will see how this last day of train travel goes.
I still donâ€™t know if I will be able to get a cheap flight to Europe quickly or not. We will see.
As you may have noticed, the Amtrak trip started to not be very fun for me at some point. The combination of trying to fit as much as possible into fourteen days of travel and bad nights sleep was sort of catching up with me.
Here is one problem with couch surfing. When you couch surf, you are sleeping in the community zone of whomever you are couch surfing with, so lets say there are three roommates, this means that if one is an early riser and another is a late night go to bedder, that you are in the position of having to stay awake as late as the one roommate and you will probably wake up with the early riser. Thatâ€™s sort of how it has worked out for me anyway. In addition, since I have quite a bit that I actually am doing on the computer in terms of setting up couches, arranging travel, etc I need to find a bit of time and space to take care of this. In other words, if people want to visit or hang out, it means I canâ€™t do my writing, editing, and planning. So, I need to find a place (like Manhattan Bagels where I am sitting right now) to take care of this stuff.
Iâ€™m trying to express this without sounding like a bitch, but I donâ€™t know if it is possible or not. I think it is hard for people to think of what I do in terms of writing and travel as anything more than playing on the internet and being irresponsible. The truth is, I enjoy it, for the most part but my blog takes a couple of hours every day if it is to be any good. In addition there is a lot of work that goes into twitter and facebook and other social networking sites. Iâ€™m doing everything I can to make this into a career. I just feel like Iâ€™m not putting enough work in lately. I havenâ€™t had the time.
In any event, when I reached Philadelphia I was already on my last scheduled day of travel. I hadnâ€™t heard a positive response back from any couchsurfing hosts in Philly and I wanted to be in New York.
My main purpose in going to Philadelphia was to see the places where the United States began and to put myself in the closest proximity to Benjamin Franklin as possible and hopefully soak up some of what made him one of the greatest men to ever live. Franklin started the public library and the post office, invented the wood stove and put into words some of the most powerful aphorisms not attributed to God.
So I was in Philly to pay homage. I took a quick trip to the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence was signed.
I visited Franklin Court and was actually pretty disappointed with what the United States Park Service has done to honor Franklin. It was an underground, cold, and not very interesting museum.
Iâ€™m already a bit museumed out so I opted to skip seeing the Rocky Steps or dozens of other things. I did however find Ben Franklinâ€™s grave and paid my respects.
Then I went back to the train station and got an earlier train back to New York City which I had had to go through in order to get from Providence to Philly. Iâ€™d opted to stay at the Chelsea International Hostel on West 20th because of the combination of price, location, and online ratings. I got to New York at around 5:30 pm and walked from Penn Station to the hostel. The girl that checked me in was very nice and I had this sense as I walked through New York of being someplace that is safe, warm, and very familiar.
New York should be the capital of the United States. There is no doubt about it. It is the best of the best of the best that America has to offer. There are people of every shape, color, sexuality, religion, and nationality and they all live side by side. I have this sense day and night of security here that I would have never expected.
After checking in I took a walk up to Times Square and just sort of checked things out. I got a slice of pizza and a cup of coffee and just tried to take things in. Times Square is interesting but overdone I think. Maybe its from living in Hawaii and having so much access to Waikiki, but Iâ€™m not impressed by Planet Hollywoods, Hard Rock CafÃ©â€™s, Ripleyâ€™s, or any of the other big corporate boardwalk shows. The lit up screens and signs light up Times Square like it is daytime at any time of the day. It is sort of a disgusting tribute to capitalism and American waste, but it is cool. What I love more than anything are the throngs of people.
Back at the hostel, I met one of my dormmates, a Canadian named Russ. He was almost likable but not really. Abrasive, rude, loud, and obnoxious. I watched him single handedly destroy the stereotype of Canadians being nice, cool people with just about everyone he met. And yet, like I said there was something almost likable about him, a charisma that he used to pull a cute English girl named Kate into his bed within about 45 minutes of meeting her.
Russ told me he was going to see Letterman the next day and gave me the number of the lady to call to get a ticket. I figured what the hell, called and left a message. It never hurts to try. Then I went to bed. Russ set up his laptop and speakers on his bunk to watch a movie and the other guy in the room snored loudly. I was glad to have the earplugs that John Buck gave me back in Honolulu.
In the morning, I woke and showered and did a 100 block walk.
I fall in love with this place no matter what direction I go. I walked along the Hudson River, through
Wall Street, visited Ground Zero,
went to Chinatown and Little Italy, and visited the National Museum of the American Indian.
The NMAI was a lot less than I was expecting. They had a nice display of Native American womenâ€™s clothing from about 1860 to the present and a gallery with some of the contemporary art of Fritz Sholder who is 1/4 Native American. That was it though. I really thought there would be more.
At this point, the lady from the Letterman show called and gave me a ticket. I headed back to the hostel through Greenwich Village. At the room, I woke up Russ to see if he wanted to head up to the show together. Almost immediately I regretted not going by myself. He rubbed me so completely the wrong way with his every word since most of them were in relation to all the â€˜bitchesâ€™ he has â€˜fuckedâ€™ and trying to sound urban and cool. He had no regard for who was nearby whether they were older women or young kids and he had no conception of other peopleâ€™s space in any way. I would have preferred to have gone by myself for sure.
The Letterman Show was odd. They rammed us all into a very tiny lobby and a guy told us how important it is to laugh even if Dave isnâ€™t funny, they warned us not to call out, no hooting, and then made us practice our fake laughter again and again. The guy outside had said that seating was based on enthusiasm, so I tried to look positive and enthusiastic, but Russ and I were cast over to the far side of the stage. I think it was because of him.
Letterman wasnâ€™t very funny and then Billy Crystal came out and he wasnâ€™t very funny either. An attractive woman that is the new judge on American Idol came out next and she didnâ€™t have much to say, and then it was over. Paul Schaeffer and the CBS Orchestra were pretty solid and then it was over and we were shuffled out the door.
I tried to use a little tact to ditch Russ, but he was unflushable. He was wearing a light coat so I said I was going to walk and he should take the subway, but he decided to walk with me instead. I thought of just ditching him, but there was a part of me that felt bad abandoning this little prick in the city by himself, odd I know. So anyway the walk back was annoying and then we met up with eight beautiful Swedish girls, English Kate, a guy from California and a sodden old Australian woman.
Russ decided he wanted one of the Swedes (any of them) and began to ignore Kate and she proceeded to get hammered. The guy from California took a trip up to Harlem to score some weed and then came back and Kate, the Aussie lad, and he proceeded to get bloody eye stoned.
I ducked out to grab a sandwich from a Cuban place down the street and met an incredible Venezuelan waitress with a face full of perfect freckles. Later I dropped back by the hostel and led the entire entourage minus the weed man and the Aussie chick down the road to an old Irish Pub that is rumored to be where the cast of SNL goes for drinks. I didnâ€™t see anyone famous but made friends with a guy named Tony and stoked him out by inviting him to join me, Russ, and the Swedish shopping team.
Tony was a great guy and it was nice to have another guy that wasnâ€™t a complete ass amongst us. The night went long and Russ became more and more pathetic begging one of the Swedes for â€œa kiss, a hug, anythingâ€ and still calling them bitches, whores, and telling me and Tony how he was going to fuck them all etc etc. We tried to tell him what an incredible ass he was being, but it was hopeless. I finally ditched them and sat with a New York girl that cussed like a sailor and looked like a princess.
When I got back to the Hostel, I found Russ trying to use his key to get into the Swedish girls dorm. Unsuccessfully, thank god he is Canadian and not Americanâ€¦.what a fucking embarrassment. We went up to our dorm and even though it was around 4am, he flipped on the light without any thought to the two guys sleeping. He talked loudly, annoyed them, and finally I got up from bed and shut off the light when he began annoying me. Then he said he was going to go get Kate and bring her back up and fuck her. I figured he had blown his chances with her when he started chasing the Swedes, but much to my surprise, a few minutes later he brought the very drunk English girl up and proceeded to fuck her in the bunk bed. The Australian trying to sleep above him was not happy with the situation since he had just got in from a sleepless 16 hour flight. I just put in my earplugs and went to sleep.
I canâ€™t imagine how any woman would fuck this guy. Just goes to show that I still donâ€™t know shit about women. Iâ€™m just glad that Iâ€™m not a rude annoying fucker.
This morning, I got up at about 8am thanks to Russâ€™s alarm, which didnâ€™t wake him up and I showered and headed out of the room. Russ is supposed to check out at noon and fly to Europeâ€¦hopefully our paths wonâ€™t cross again.
Now, with all of my adventure so far updated, itâ€™s time to go see if I can get a ticket to somewhere or other. Wish me luck.
The Amtrak portion of my trip is now complete. This was the appetizer. Now let’s move on to the main course.
I just booked my ticket to Spain. It was about twice what I wanted to pay but cheaper than any travel agents in New York were able to quote me. The thing is that most airlines want you to book at least a week in advance. Keep that in mind. I didn’t want to do that. Anyway, leaving the 17th sounds good as it gives me a little more time to explore New York City.
Here are my top ten things I learned on my cross country amtrak trip or amtrek!
1. On the two story trains there are ‘dressing rooms’ that can be used for sex.
2. Sacramento is a lot cooler than I thought it would be.
3. Utah is an incredible place and there are some very cool folks in Salt Lake City.
4. I have no desire to go anywhere between Denver and the East Coast with the exception of Austin, Texas and Detroit, Nashville, and New Orleans. I’ve still never been to those cities.
5. I love New York and Boston. People in these cities rock.
6. Philly and Chicago….not so much, but the people I met in them were pretty great.
7. It’s better not to hurry, a 14 day rail pass might be too short.
8. Too many museums in too short a time can’t be appreciated.
9. Libraries are havens of free wifi and peaceful places to work.
10. Making the wrong friend can suck out part of your enjoyment of life.
And one more since it is a top ten list:
Letterman is Lame.
I forgot to put this picture up of one of my favorite attractions in Newport, Rhode Island. Thanks Lena!
coming soon: Lena and Ken’s couch questions.
Last night I bailed on the hostel and went to Queens where I met my cousin Chris Evans for the first time. We met up at his restaurant Press 195 and ate incredible food and drank some delicious brews. We ate a Chicken Finger Ciabatta Press and some Belgian Fries with chipotle dipping sauce and then I had my first Knish, which Chris and his partner Brian use as a kind of bread to make a totally scrumptious sandwich. My first beer of the night was an Outrage IPA and it turned out that the brewer was sitting right next to me! Later I had some Three Philosophers Belgian 9.6% that sort of rocked my world. The place was filled with beautiful chicks and while this time I was spending some time getting to know my cousin, next time… anyway.
Chris is a great guy with a fantastic wife Robin and two sweet kids (Christopher and Cathryn) . It’s kind of funny, we’re the same age, height, and probably temperment but he’s an east coast Chris and I’m a west coast one. We have very different lives, but each appreciate the others. He almost instantly became one of my favorite relatives. Here’s the couch questions which I did with the camera sideways and then couldn’t figure out how to fix.
And here is a bonus video from MOMA I forgot to upload before.
I spent the day at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. It was awesome and inspiring. I finally learned why Jackson Pollock is great and how a giant red canvas with four narrow vertical bands on it by Barnett Newman can be amazing.
The piece of art in question is more than just a red canvas. It is many many layers of red paint that create a texture that comes to life when viewed in person. The bands (called zips) actually fool the eye into a sense of movement and energy. Here is the picture of the art, but you won’t be able to understand until you spend a half hour sitting in front of it. You can see all the pictures that most impressed me on my flickr stream here, but below are the shots that I took that perhaps capture more of the feeling of new york and modern art.
The piece of art here is actually a mirror with a “Man in Yellow Pants” on it. It incorporates the people looking at the art into the art.
I liked the way this blond Spanish woman had put herself in the corner here.
The windows had fogged up and these people were more interested in what other museum goers had written on the window than in the displayed works. I like how they and the window worked with the sculpture shadow on the wall.
The man in the picture is arranged so that he seems part of a study on men with the two statues and the painting behind him. His stance is similar to the painted mans.The woman to the left seems to be studying all of them.
This audio video display turned the viewers into part of the art. I like the geometry from this particular spot.
Sure the art is nice. But look at the woman working in the office on the right side of the window. Below is a zoom in of her.
This series shows diners in a restaurant increasing in a Fibonocci sequence.
I’d left the museum but still felt artistic when I saw this tank with graffiti and the oldster walking by.
I looked down and saw lots of butts under the grate and under my shoes. I liked the way it looked.
Just follow the Vagobunny Alice and you will have adventures beyond belief!