Today is kind of a big day in my life as a ‘sailor’, although I am very far away from the sailing scene at the moment. Ten years ago, I spent some time in New Zealand with my best friend Johanna, driving our new to us backpacker car – a Nissan Bluebird – exploring the beauty of New Zealand, camping, hiking, meeting lots of fun people and truly having the time of our life.
Heartless Bastards baby! They are rocking my world right now.
Dane had an ‘afternoon with the White Stripes’ in the gym yesterday. He and I were debating the merits of Black Math, a few days prior, a song, which, I might argue, is about as hard as a rock and roll song can get. I listened to it several times out running with the dogs in the forest this week. Gets the juices flowing.
The train ride was only 15 minutes, so I got into town much earlier than expected, and far earlier than I needed to be. My eye exam is at 1pm, and it's only 10 past 10am at the moment. My search for wireless internet was fruitless, so I'm sitting now in a pub, writing, having already finished my first coffee. I'll save the second for the pub that actually has wireless internet.
The town of Romsey is wonderful. The centre has a very medieval feel to it, and was walkable from Clint's house. A great abbey stands watch over the town from the top of the hill. Surrounding this is countryside, as far as you can see, and in the springtime warmth, it's beautiful. Clint and I ran yesterday, down along the canal on a dirt footpath, over several small wooden bridges, through swampy wooded areas and along flat grassy fields. We only ran for about 30 minutes, but it felt much longer, for there was so much to see, so much to smell. The birds sang louder than my iPod and the warm air require the removal of my shirt. I was at home.
Clint took me to his village in the evening to meet Glenn for a pint. I haven't seen Glenn in two and half years, since leaving Christchurch on that morning the boys never returned from the pub. Nothing has changed, except Glenn has a beard now. It was great to see him, and the three of us relived the old times over a few glasses of beer in the village where they grew up. Clint complains of the village, but to me it was idyllic. The pub was white with wooden beams, and situated at the bottom of a small valley, the center of the small town surrounded by quaint and humble homes. Beside that, it was more farmland and countryside, rolling hills punctuated with brilliant yellow fields of rapeseed. The landscape was more fertile and blossoming than any I can remember. Maybe I'm here at the right time of year with the right weather, but I could have stayed in that village forever.
Southampton is not like any of that. Southampton is a city, but not a big one, and seems to be a large commercial port. Loads of cranes and trains lined the tracks coming into the central station. The city seems hastily put together, lacking the character of Romsey, the countryside of the village, and apparently the technology of wireless internet. But I'm here for a reason, and with luck I'll pass my test and eventually find my way to the waterside where hopefully docks full of sailboats will await my exploration.
1:38 PM: Welcome to the past…I feel delightfully old-school riding the rails, this the longest journey of my US travel history. It's much bumpier than I imagined (though Mia warned me of this – she is, after all, experienced in the ways of the Unites States' railway system). We're already an hour in, which means only 27 more to go! That big bag of pistachios Kaitie got me will be long gone by then.
1:41 PM: I'm sitting in the lounge car, having staked out a two-seater table on the starboard side of the train. It's got a cushioned seat, ample legroom, a panoramic window view and a plug for my computer. My golf clubs are securely checked in the belly of this iron beast of yore, my backpack is filled with books and food, and I just loaded up my iPod with 10 cd's worth of new music. I'm in for the long haul. Travel does not get any better than this.
1:42 PM: The couple to my left just finished eating something that did not look edible. They purchased it from the lounge snack bar, which I can see half a car-length in front of me. In fact, the woman is back at the bar, though for what reason I cannot imagine after smelling their lunch. The man is seated facing backwards, wears smart-looking square, frameless glasses and has a very long ponytail, yet is balding in his forehead region. A stupid grin is plastered on his face, though I imagine that is what I looked like when I first boarded. I love the train.
1:47 PM: There is a woman seated at the table directly in front of me, another two seater on my side of the train. Oddly, she is facing backwards. She's old but not old, and is drinking a glass of orange juice. She's seated alone. Is she traveling alone? She seems much too agreeable to be traveling alone. Maybe she's meeting someone? Her thick-framed glasses suggest that perhaps she is a librarian. Perhaps not.
1:51 PM: We've just emerged from a long stone tunnel and are now passing another train that is going very slow on our right. I'm not sure where we are. The sun is lower now, and the overcast grey of this morning has been replaced by blue sky, puffy clouds and apparently some wind, as the ripples on the river indicated. The train is stopped now, presumably at a station in Delaware, though I cannot be certain. It just occurred to me that I will never be able to keep this writing pace up for 26 ½ hours.
1:56 PM: Holy shit, we're in Baltimore already?! That went fast.
2:33 PM: In DC now. Only two hours outside of Philly? Impressive. They are stopped now, and changing the electric engine over to diesel – which means my computer just lost power – so much for this thought.
3:45 PM: We're rolling on diesel power now. The café is back open, and the train is buzzing with activity. People are up and moving about, drinking coffee, drinking beer, talking with their families. Women discuss whatever women discuss in the booth next to me. The sun is shining through the café windows, and just now were floating over a narrow bridge, surrounded on all sides by water. What a marked difference to the lifeless monotony of an airplane flight. Though I would be in sunny, warm Florida by now, I would have missed the journey. Right now, I'm enjoying it.
4:14 PM: The train is lively, indeed, and it's also assumed a very "colorful" vibe. The café car is full now, and I'm engrossed in Malcolm Gladwell's latest book Outliers, which I can't yet pass judgement on – just the other day I denounced it and thought I'd never read it, yet today I'm again intrigued. There is an elderly gent sitting at a table for four. He's alone, reading the paper.
4:55 PM: We're deep into the South now, literally rolling down mainstreet of an unknown Virginia town. Large white houses with pillared verandas stand tucked in the trees. I cannot emphasize enough the irony of the two black women in front of me gawking at the very houses their ancestors probably toiled for.
5:04 PM: Richmond, Virginia. A designated "smoker's stop." I will not partake.
5:34 PM: The line at the café is growing longer again, after the initial wave of early-diners subsided for a while. I'm increasingly convinced that train travel is something entirely different from air travel, or even traveling in one's own car. Flying or driving somewhere is truly about getting from point A to point B. While I have this romantic notion that train travel actually might be about the journey itself, I get the impression that the others on this trip might just think so as well.
People are talking to one another, meeting one another. Earlier a middle-aged couple sat and chatted for a good hour to a silver-haired elderly man, each party very much enjoying themselves. Just now, a young hippie-type wearing a red and yellow beanie on the top of his wiry framed body snapped a photo for a couple women seated next to me of foreign origins. There is a communal atmosphere aboard the train, like were riding along in one big hostel, and I'm at the center of the action, the lounge car, soaking it up.
5:44 PM: The silver-haired elderly gent has attracted another middle-aged couple, and just like the last, the man is the only one doing the talking, because the old dude is quite deaf. Inadvertently, the entire lounge car is now involved in the conversation, at least passively. It would make an interesting social experiment, to sit at a large table in a crowded, public place, just to see who sits next to you.
5:50 PM: My train-bound community theory has taken root in the table to my left. The aforementioned foreign women (now confirmed to be Brazilian), have accepted a slim black man as their tablemate who reminds me of Shorty, wearing an Obama inauguration t-shirt. They speak, the women in thick Portugese accents, and are very jovial.
5:52 PM: It's nearly dark outside, but out my window in the lounge car, I can see the last orange glow of daylight melding into the deep blue of a clear night on the western horizon.
5:53 PM: The black guy ("Boogie") with the Obama t-shirt on is sipping a Heineken and has just popped the top of a mini-bottle of Tanqueray.
5:54 PM: Holy moly. "Boogie" is apparently the base-player of Parliament Funkadelic. This is a strange train ride.
6:13 PM: I'm much more comfortable now, with my half-bottle of merlot from the lounge car snack bar. Listening to Boogie trying to talk with these Brazilian women is an indescribable exercise in unintentional comedy.
6:41 PM: "George Clinton & The P-Funk Allstars Paint the Whitehouse Black 2009." The back of "Boogies" t-shirt. More on my lengthy, bizarre conversation with the man will come later.
7:43 PM: 20 hours to go…Boogie is still in the lounge car, now enjoying a Bud Lite and another Tanqueray. Amazing. I'm back in my windowless bulkhead seat with the fat family pushing on my seatback. After that half-bottle of merlot, these things are starting to irritate me. Braveheart is now showing on a laptop near me.
8:51 AM: Sunday. We're in Florida now, which means I successfully slept through two entire states. Which is a shame, because I was looking forward to Savannah, though it was probably 2AM when we rolled in, and I was oblivious. I sacked out in the lounge car, able to fully stretch out on a too-narrow vinyl seat. This after altering the alignment of my spine while trying to snooze in my actual seat. I was amazed that no one else had thought to stretch out in that ideal little spot that I found – when I woke up though, 2 others had joined me. And I woke up often – always to the bright "mood" lights on the ceiling of what appeared to be, in older times, the smokers lounge on Amtrak #91, but which now might reasonably be dubbed the loungers lounge. After the fifth or sixth wakeup call, I felt reasonably rested, and reached for my phone pleading with it to be past 6AM – it was, so I rose. And found a seat at the table with that aforementioned old deaf dude, and we enjoyed a coffee together, the first early risers enjoying the empty café.
9:50 AM: Winter Park, Florida. I know nothing of the place…
10:00 AM: "Ten minutes to Orlando, ten minutes!" Unfortunately, we're heading west to Tampa after this stop, not south to where I need to go. I'm sleepy, my head hurts and bit. 20 hours down, 7 to go.
1:04 PM: Lunch of more leftovers and another avocado. I stepped off the train in Orlando at the "Designated Smoking Stop" to stretch my legs for the first time in over 24 hours. Orlando's station is old, white, and reminiscent of a Spanish villa circa 1880. Napped for a while, which is a good thing, because I needed it badly.
2:26 PM: An elderly gent (another one) has joined me in the lounge car to charge his iPod on my computer, which I'm more than happy to do. I'm busy editing the latest Spinsheet article for the March issue. I think it's good. 2 ½ hours and counting.
I'm riding the rails baby! Bound for Exton en route from NYC, the Big
Apple, Gotham City, The City That Never Sleeps. This is the first time
I've enjoyed travel by train in the good ole USA, and it's a dose of
relief for the ills of the soul...
Clickety-clack, clickety-clack. Though I hear this sound, the ride is
surprisingly smooth. Sitting near the rear of the train, the sound of
the horn is distant...the horn of a train, the loneliest sound in the
Why am I on this train? Because I had to save my soul. Or because I
sold my car to a Haitian dude named Johnny, while parked in the middle
of W 39th St., about 5 blocks from the Garden and the Empire State
Building. But I needed an adventure, I wanted to sell my car anyway,
and I've accomplished both today in the span of about 3 hours.
Johnny from Haiti first called me last week, responding to an ad on
Craig's List. I will never understand people who buy vehicles off of
this website. This is the second car I've sold via The List of Craig,
and both times the buyers lived quite far from where the car was
listed. Yet both deals went through without a hitch, despite the
distinct feeling I was a drug dealer. ANYWAY, I drove the 3 hours to
NY today after hastily unloading the beast into my childhood bedroom
at home. Originally it was Johnny's idea...I immediately said "no way,
you can come get the damned thing yourself." I reconsidered.
I crave adventure right? Crave the unknown? Suddenly I had the perfect
opportunity to experience both. So fuck it. I went.
It began snowing while I unloaded the last of the crap off my boat
into the basement. A sudden and intense fear struck my gullet, the
fear of wondering "what the hell am I getting myself into?" I've
experienced this fear before...before leaping 450' off a cable car
with a rubberband strapped to my ankles; before hurling myself out the
door of a wonderful airplane, 15,000 feet above New Zealand; before
setting sail in a blizzard last week attempting to leave Oxford; and
before my first big triathlon two summers ago. The outcome? Those were
some of the best experiences of my life, and the sense of dread at the
outset only made the outcome that much better. "Without the bitter,
baby, the sweet ain't as sweet."
I forced myself to get on the highway, put some distance between
myself and my out, before calling anyone to tell them of my plans. By
the time I reached Allentown I was committed, and upon hearing the
news, Dad responded as I expected: "Are you nuts?" Well, yes, I
When I emerged from the darkness of the Lincoln Tunnel, I burst smack
into the center of fucking New York City, with all the lights, tall
buildings, people and traffic wreaking havoc on my driving skills
while filling my senses with awe. I'm a kid in a candy store when you
put me in a big city, especially behind the wheel. It's rather
ridiculous, actually. In the city, I am so far removed from my element
that it's almost a wonder I don't just stand and stare like a
dumbfounded idiot, paralyzed. I drove the Rover around town for a bit,
joyriding for one last go in the last vehicle I hope to own for a very
long time. Actually I was simply trying to find Penn Station, naively
thinking it'd be a nice big train station with a gloriously empty
parking lot in which I would have my choice of wide, cozy spaces in
which to complete this wild deal of mine. Poor country boy I am.
All of the streets in NYC are one-way, of course, and I happened to be
driving on them at precisely 5pm. Perfect. Finally, with a little help
from Nate, who is a much more savvy city-goer, I found Penn Station at
the corner of W 33rd & 8th Ave, which unbeknownst to me, is also the
location of Madison Square Garden. And of course, parking was nowhere
to be found.
I ended up pulled off the side of 8th Ave, in an apparent "commercial
vehicles only" zone, which the not-so-friendly police officer angrily
informed me of, but not before issuing me a $115.00 ticket. We'll see
if I pay that...Me and the beast then made our way to 39th St, which
felt like a seedy back alley, enhancing the feeling that I was here to
deal in the deeds of the ill-willed. I waited in the car for Johnny
from Haiti, regretting that I was alone and didn't have someone like
Dane at my side to protect me from the unsavory characters that roamed
the streets of NYC.
Not long after I parked, making sure I was legally allowed to be
there, a white sedan pulled up behind me, and two dark-skinned,
well-dressed men emerged, followed by a knee-high little boy. His
presence simultaneously made me feel at ease and like I was about to
be shot. Half of me assumed they had brought him along precisely to
make it easier to kill me. "He'll never suspect anything with this
little boy here!"
I had already prepared a hand-written (in pencil!) bill of sale,
signed away the title, and packed up all my things to be ready for a
hasty departure as soon as I saw that $1200.00. For one, it was nigh
on 5:15, and my train was scheduled to leave at 6:30, the last one out
for the day. Moreso, however, I just wanted to take the money and run,
scared of getting stabbed on the way to the station. I got out of the
car and greeted Johnny from Haiti and his incredibly brawny
driver-friend whose name I could not understand, and both men were
very pleasant. Johnny very briefly inspected the car in the waning
daylight (for $1200.00 I'd hoped he wouldn't utter a peep of protest,
and he didn't). I gave him the title, the three keys, retrieved my
cd's from out of the back, and walked as fast as I could toward the
train station. My jacket was now worth $1200.00, for I'd stuffed a
massive wad of twenties in it's inside pocket. The deal was done.
The further I got from W 39th St, the slower my gait became. My
confidence soared after a successful adventure. Almost. I still had to
get home, yet the hard part (the scary part) was over. I descended the
escalator into Penn Station, sauntered over to the Amtrak counter and
picked up my ticket which I'd so thoughtfully reserved in the car on
the way up (I was determined to leave NYC by train. If it came to it,
I was prepared to leave the hulking beast on the side of the road,
remove the plates and leave a nice little note offering the car to
anyone who wished to have it). Ticket in hand, I had an hour to spare,
so I hit the city.
Mia and I made a pact on the way back from Lake Placid to never again
buy a coffee from Starbucks. This will be an easy pact to adhere to.
Of course, as is the case nearly everywhere else, there is a Starbucks
on every street corner in NYC, but I resisted, wandering further
downtown in search of the local cafe, or at least a charismatic Irish
Pub. That I did find, but passed up in favor of some fancy looking
coffee house that was not a Starbucks, and I sat down and enjoyed a
latte that was finally hot enough for me. The barista certainly earned
his 50 cent tip.
Back on the train now. It's raining outside, but I don't have to worry
about that, because I'm not driving the train. I'm not driving at all.
I'm traveling via my favorite method, enjoying the conclusion of my
adventure, and savoring the notion that I'm now free from the burden
of the automobile. Free from the financial burden, yes, but also free
from the burden it places on my soul. While my life may not be as
convenient after today, it will certainly be more interesting, and
that's exactly what I crave.
Again, copyright issues are tricky, so look for this article in an upcoming issue of Lats & Atts sometime this summer, 2008.