Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Adventures of Traveling Feet: Day 7


     My plan was to ride the trolley and head down to Fisherman’s Wharf. The weatherman had said it was going to be a sunny day and the forecast glowed through my window. Fisherman’s Wharf is full of tourist traps, kitsch, kiosks and barkers. I usually disdain such destinations, having been in San Francisco before, but I wanted, no yearned, to smell the ocean. I needed that saltwater smell like an addict needing a fix. It’s been a long, cold summer; this was my last chance for the year to see the ocean. The Pacific has always been my favorite. Standing at Fisherman’s Wharf, I’m only 7,000miles away from an island east of the South China Sea; an island in the sun, the island of my birth.
      They say you can never go home, but they say nothing of leaving it behind.
      I had no plans once I got to Fisherman’s wharf. I bought the $11 trolley passport, it would let me ride on the trolleys all day long, as many times as I wanted. I was planning on taking the trolleys wherever they went, jumping off, jumping on at whim.

      The Powell/Hyde trolley stops in the middle of the street next to this thin sliver of a median. The line was long, but as always, I made friends with the couple at the end of the line. They were from the UK, they told me about the passport. So I ran back into the Westin who told me to go back to the trolley and buy it from the conductor. The passports the UK couple had were something they got through their hotels, my ‘boutique’ hotel didn’t tell me anything about it.
     I wasn’t concerned about it, because I knew where I wanted to go and it was wherever my feet take me. So I walked back to the trolley waiting area and there was still a line. This time the end of the line were two very pretty girls. One was blonde and blue eyed and the other was a dark haired beauty with blue eyes. The blonde was from New Zealand and the brunette was from northern England. I loved their accents. It was a friendly little chat and nothing more.
     I know that when I write, I wax poetically, I adore beauty, what can I say? But I’m not that jerk who follows a beautiful woman around and makes a pest of themselves. When we arrived at the end of the line at Fisherman’s  Wharf, I went one way, they went another.
     I was attracted to the old ships at the end of the dock. This year was the first time I’d been taken to a Jimmy Buffett concert and I dressed appropriately. Hopefully on Hollyween, I will again be dressed as a pirate. Arrrgghhh. So to see the old cargo ships that sailed the high seas, the inner pirate in me was enthralled.

     I walked the entire length of the dock and meant to get a ticket so I could climb aboard the Balclutha. Oddly enough, something else popped into my head and I ended up walking away and strolling down the street. I wasn’t exactly sure where I was going, I just put one foot in front of the other.
     My purpose of the day was to be at Fisherman’s Wharf and now I was there.  Saw the Cannery, I don’t know why it rang a bell in my head, maybe the movie Cannery Row? I don’t know if it was the same cannery. I wanted to find myself a nice place to eat, preferable over the water, but needed to be outdoors. It was only 1130am so it was early for lunch and Cioppino’s  still had some empty tables on the sidewalk.
     But I wasn’t hungry.  I kept walking until I passed a family from Sweden lining up to pick up tickets for a quick harbor tour. It was $15 for a 40min ride to the Golden Gate Bridge, cross under it, turn around, circle Alcatraz and come I went looking for grub.
     My eyes have this tendency to wander, it just goes wherever it feels like and today, my feet followed. I passed by a group of homeless looking teenage Rastafarians, playing guitar and singing. I would have approached and left some money, but seriously, the stench was overpowering even at 10ft away. 
     Further down the sidewalk was a lone figure, in a yellow rain slicker with matching hat, in his hand was a fishing pole attached to a paper cup with loose change. He had a full matted beard, but he had friendly eyes. I placed a dollar in his cup and asked him to pose and thanked him. He told me “You don’t know how many people walk up to take my picture and never leave nothing.” I smiled, what was I going to say? “Hey, I’m sweating like a pig in this thing.” We laughed. “You’re suffering for your art!” I told him.    

      I went away from the crowds and ended up behind all the big restaurants, but I saw a bunch of fishing boats tied up. It was quiet back there, the water was smooth as silk, that’s the photo with the boats.  I ended up walking around the back of some warehouses where the fish smell and saltwater was pungent. I loved it.
     I ended up next to the submarine th USS Pampanito, I went there. I paid my money and was so frantic to get inside that I didn’t wait for the guy to give me my headphones for my audio tour, DOH! But I enjoyed myself anyways. It was fairly self-explanatory, I know what an engine looks like. I recognize the torpedo tubes, bunk bends, toilets, officer’s quarters, etc. It was tight quarters. I kept thinking about all those submarine movies I’ve seen. There’s no way they ever filmed that inside a real sub like this.
     When I came out, I hopped over to Boudin’s Bakery and got myself a black forest ham and cheese sandwich. I had my own 16oz Coke Zero on my back pack, so I asked for a cup of ice, expecting them to give me a regular cup with a cover. No, they gave me a itty bitty flimsy plastic cup full of ice. I took my digital camera out of it’s case, jammed it into my jeans and put the cup of ice in the camera holder, it sat at my hip attached to my belt. I ate the best ham and cheese sandwich I ever ate in my life and drank my Coke Zero out of my new cup holder.


     The Golden Gate Bridge was draped with cotton candy fog. 
     All I could do was stare in admiration.  The chill in the air was bracing, but I love the rolling of a boat cutting through the waves. We went under the bridge. The boat operators told us that when you go under the bridge for the first time, you make a wish. But what wish could I make? I had found an adventure I could not have imagined. Everything in my trip was working out beyond my expectations.



     The closed off the bow of the boat so passengers wouldn’t get wet from the waves, I hadn’t expected the front row seats to be taken up so quickly, so I stood during the entire boat ride. But I finagled my way to the front so I could sprawl on the deck and get my photos of Traveling Feet in.

     We went around Alcatraz, we had taken the tour before and even though I was only 16yrs old at the time. I still remember the cold reality of that rock. I can still recall standing in on of the isolation cells with my family and strangers as they closed the door. I wondered how someone doesn’t lose their minds sitting in that darkness.  I didn’t need to return, one visit was enough for me.

When we rounded Alcatraz, we got a nice view of the Bay Bridge and Treasure Island, then downtown with the iconic Transamerica and Coit Tower. The story goes that a Coit daughter was rescued from a fire by the SF Fire Department and developed a keen appreciation for the firefighters eventually even marrying one. There was a giggle when he said it is supposedly an homage to a firefighters ”…um equipment…”.
     When we docked the captain had said that Brian who was doing the trip commentary would gladly accept tips since that was the only way he was getting paid. As I waited for my turn to clamber up the ladder to take me to street level, Brian held out his hand to steady each passenger as the stepped from the bobbing boat to the steady dock. Yet, of all the people who preceded me, only one guy slipped money into Brian’s hand. I pulled out a $5 to give Brian, hoping it would make up for the others who stiffed him.
     I wandered down the street finding myself meandering down to Pier 39. Along the way I stopped and handed some cash to the steel drum band playing Bob Marley’s “Jamming”. Then I stopped with a large crowd who was being primed for a group of young men about to do some street break dancing. There was some amazing feats of strength, tumbling and the final act was one guy who flipped over the outstretched arms of two of the tallest men picked out from the crowd.

    I followed the noise of the harbor seals. Until I was hit by the wall of overpowering harbor seal scent. It was a very strong fishy smell. They nap on docks and they bark at each other.
I found little souvenirs, keychains, magnets, etc. to bring back home. It was now 3pm and I had forgotten about my ham & cheese sandwich and was looking for a place outside where I could sit down and write a letter in the beautiful, bright sunshine that warmed my heart and my head that day. 
     I was thinking of the Franciscan Crab Restaurant, since it sat on the dock and had seats by large picture windows overlooking the bay. But after looking at the menu placed outside for review, I just didn’t want to spend the money. So I walked back towards Salty’s Famous Fishwich. The regular size was approximately 12ins long smothered in a bed of coleslaw and jammed into a torpedo roll. As big as my appetite CAN be, it balked at this. So I got the ½ size. I watched them make my fishwich freshly in front of my through the large picture window. I even had a fresh batch of coleslaw that the cook had just whipped up.

  They had picnic tables to the side of the building so I sat there. Facing the sun, fending off the pigeons that hovered waiting for droppings, I enjoyed a moments respite from wandering. I needed to eat the coleslaw with a fork because it seemed like they piled a pound of it on the sandwich.
     I wrote a letter, scribbled from my heart, at times rambling, scratched out, a bit of coleslaw might have hit it, but(thinking on it now), painfully sincere. It was a spontaneous moment that if I thought of it, my bravery would abandon me. So after I ate, I made sure I had time to run to the post office so I could mail it directly. Which meant  that after I ate the fishwich, a concoction of fat breading deep fried to crispy perfection, I might be able to burn some of it off by a long walk through the hills of San Francisco.
     I watched hopeful as the UPS store carefully wrapped my package after I had tucked my scribbled letter carefully so only the intended reader would see it. I always wonder if such mailings ever make it to the intended receiver. I wrote it and mailed it out, much in the same way we pen a letter in bottle and send it adrift. I hope to receive a response, but don’t really expect one.
     I wandered back down towards the wharf again, not minding too much where I was, I was a bit lost. I was looking at a rental bike store, I’d seen quite a number of people renting bikes, but I seriously thought it would be more of a bother to stop, lock up the bike and worry about doing something stupid.; like cracking my head as I caromed downhill uncontrollably. I’m really not that big of a klutz, I just know my luck.

I looked up only to find myself standing on the sidewalk of the Joseph Conrad Square. Conrad is my favorite author. A Polish impoverished nobleman, English was his third language. Yet his prose resounds like the voice inside my head. I haven’t done research on him, I only know bits and pieces. I just know that I love his ‘voice’ as he writes. To find myself suddenly standing there staring at his name mind-boggling.
     In a year of unexpected joys, coalesced into this vacation adventure , to me it was a sign to keep a promise I made to myself. I would attempt the 50,000 words on NaNoWriMo. I’ve had too many people tell me that I should be a writer. I have shrugged off their compliments. Just when I thought I was confident in my writing, I’d read someone else’s works and become chagrined to think I could call myself a writer. I’ve had a few discussions about the term, but if you write, you are a writer; if you are published, then you are an author.

     After I shook myself back to reality, I wandered down to the Cannery and something just caught my eye and I wandered into the courtyard. It was there I found Norman’s Ice Cream & Freezes. My eye caught the words ‘Halo Halo’. That is the national ice cream dessert of the Philippines. It’s made of shaved ice, sweet beans, coconut strings, coconut jello, milk and ice cream. There are variations on the theme, but the aforementioned ingredients make up the majority. I had to stop and eat.
     I sat outside and listened to a guitar player playing in the courtyard. Then a Filipina older lady and her three small dogs came strolling by. She tied the leases to a chair that was next to me, but the minute she walked away, the dogs attempted to follow and dragged the chair with them. I offered to sit on the light chair to keep the dogs from following her into the ice cream shop.
     When I finished, I wandered back down towards the trolley yard to make my way back to the hotel. I wandered unto a small beach, part of the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. I heard the shriek of excited children playing on the surf. It was like heaven to me.

I made it the trolley yard only to find a long winding line along the wrought iron fence. But unbelievable, there was a magic act, the same guy my nephew and I had seen during our road trip to the Keys last year. I had taken my nephew to Mallory Square at sunset and he enjoyed recording the various street acts. His favorite was the guy with the straight jacket. I looked him up, Michael Patrick is his name. In Mallory Square he is in a straightjacket and gets tied up in thick chains and gets out of it. At Mallory Square he had audience interaction, so the audience tied him up, but he was performing inside the trolley turn so he only had the straight jacket at Fishermans’ Wharf. It was so strange to see him. How many coincidences could I possibly get on this trip?
     I know the skeptical will smile at me condescendingly, but those who really know me know that I don’t make this stuff up. I just had to add that because I know people who I call friends who still don’t believe me. And it makes me sad to think they can’t open up their souls and feel all that the universe has to offer.
     As I said earlier, I had bought an unlimited riding pass, so I had to wait it out, or I’d lose out on $6, taking the ride back, I only lose out on $1. It was close to 90mins waiting in line. But there was a guitar player serenading the line. I watched the sun set behind the line.

     But my patience was amply rewarded. When my trolley started to board, I ended up hanging from the left side of the trolley on the first front pole! When we first came here with my family, we had ridden on the inside. In the morning my first ride was from inside as well. I boarded in the back and was peremptorily shoved inside to make room for other to board. So to find myself finally dangling proudly on that pole was perfect. Perhaps it was the unspoken wish I’d made under the bridge?
     It was a perfect ending to a perfect day.












Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Adventures of Traveling Feet: Day 6

San Francisco

     I got in an early flight, ugly early flight. I woke up in the morning at 3am left the hotel at 4am to make sure I caught my 6am flight. I can blow a train early in my trip, but I can't miss a flight towards the end of my trip. The flight was full and luckily, fairly quick, a tad over 2hrs.
     I had only 4-5hours of sleep last night so when I went directly to the hotel arriving around 930am, of course there were no rooms ready yet. So I left my bags and went strolling through San Franciso. Random walking, no rain, so it was great. I wandered out past Union Square, not knowing that later in the afternoon, this place would be mobbed by crowds waiting to glimpse Pres. Obama's arrival. I almost stayed at that Westin Hotel that he was staying at. But I chose a boutique hotel a mere 2 blocks down. No regrets.
     Then it started to rain and I ducked into a super cuts where a little Asian lady talked me into a trim. Some Asians take an "American" name, her real name was Hong, but when she answered the phone "...this is Holly." Go figure.
     While I was getting the hair cut two firetrucks stopped right in front of the store, earthquake preparedness drills. Of course.I was there on the 20th Anniversary of the Loma Linda earthquake. Lovely.
     By the time I wandered back to my hotel, they had a room for me. Corner room, facing a brick wall and the building next door. No problem, I wasn't here for the view in my room.
     But when I came in, I turned on the TV and Falcon Heene's story was unfolding live. I once watched my 3yr old niece cry over the balloon that got away from her, my brother was traumatize (he says) when he lost his balloon, all I could think about was a frightened little boy. Thank God he was fine.
      I watched it, riveted to the coverage, then I fell asleep. My meanderings through Seattle and my early morning flight took their revenge on me in the form of a crazy migraine headache, the kind only sleep can cure.
     I had The Ruse gig I said I would go to. So I got up from my nap and went out around 7pm. It was a Thursday night but there was a lot of activity because of the President’s presence. So I stopped to talk to the doorman, ask how safe tonight would be if I walked back to the hotel. Well, he said it should be ok, lots of people around and it should be a good 20min walk. He didn't think I'd be able to find a cab. He didn’t understand; I was asthmatic recovering from knee therapy and you want me to walk all over San Francisco at night? I was being a baby, so I marched up the alley and proceeded to walk.
    The street was still full of car traffic, but pedestrian traffic was very sparse. I thought to myself, if it’s this empty at 7pm how is it going to be around 11 or 12? I shrugged, I've walked through darker alleys, been through deeper dramas and survived, I wasn’t about to let a little thing like walking in a strange city alone deter me would I?

     I had a nice dinner at a little restaurant, Chai Yo Thai Noodle, a few doors down from Kimo’s, the bar The Ruse was going to play at. Yummy salmon wrapped in banana leaves served with veggies and a green chili dipping sauce. To top it off I had Singha beer, nom nom.
     Next door to the restaurant, attached to it actually, was an ice cream parlor. It had halo-halo ice cream. I asked for just one scoop, it was the biggest friggin scoop of ice cream I’d ever gotten for $3! I chewed it because it was melting too fast. There is all kinds of stuff in halo-halo ice cream, strings of young coconut, sweet red beans, as well as the strange sort of purplish tinge. The purple was from the ube (a purple yam).
     After I finished shoving that down my throat, I walked out and there was the band just coming out of their short bus. It looks like a short bus, but it was all white, a private little touring bus. It was nice, from the outside.
     I asked if Jason was there because he was the one responding to me on Twitter and I got introduced to him. Next thing I know, I met the rest of the band and John, the lead singer and I are standing on the corner just hanging out and chatting.
     It was the coolest thing, me and the rocker.
     Kimo’s is a neighborhood corner bar, dark, dingy, hole-in-the-wall where everyone one knows your name. Except mine.
     It was an older crowd, not the kind you think would be going to a gig with 4 rock bands. One guy came up to John and I. He was nattily dressed. He had on light colored pants(I didn’t see the shoes, but it should have been white saddle shoes to match his outfit), he had on a dark blazer and a stripped button down shirt neating tucked into his pants. He said he was 72yrs old, he looked older to me. He was as bald as a melon, with a neat grey moustached. I’m sure in his time he was a dashing young man.
     Another rich story, he came back to San Francisco after living in New Orleans, but after the Katrina storm and resulting flood, where he watched all his belongings in his house float away, he left New Orleans and came to San Francisco. I asked about the neighborhood and John remarked how he’d been here before a long time ago and it seemed to have cleaned up.
     The old timer was telling us about how the neighborhood used to be full of street hustlers, young men propositioning people as they walked down the street. I couldn’t be sure, but I did a little investigating on the internet and I thought I saw that Kimo’s used to be a drag bar. But upon arrival, I did see a small sign “New Management”. But you can’t lose the clientele you have, so I had this suspicion about the old timer. But it doesn’t make any difference to me; I thought he was a riot. He told me that if I saw people on the sidewalk, don’t worry, they won’t do anything to me because they’ll be afraid their friends will snitch them out!
     He was out there standing, talking to us telling us his story; which took much longer than it needed because he would inadvertently stop talking in the middle of his sentences. At first, I thought it was because he was old and forgetful. Until he finally admitted as he snapped out of one moment:
    “I am so stoned.” Yes.
    I was right, he was definitely an old time hippie.

    The bands were playing in the second floor. The room was small, crowded and hot. The music was rocking, good and loud. What more could I ask for? Oh yeah, a shout out from the band to the crowd declaring how I came flying down from Seattle to see them. I kept trying to tell them, I came from Chicago, but well, after a few beers, who cares?
     I left right after The Ruse played, but not before I met the president of the longshoreman’s union in Canada. I swear, I met so many people from all walks of life, for a minute I forgot who I was and was going to start calling myself Jack Kerouac. I still have his business card, Tom, president of a union, pretty much a big shot right? Yup, I met him in dark bar and traded stories about the trains. He said he used to jump on until they got kicked out. He said he road the rails as a younger man. It was so odd to see this guy, probably 50+ in this out of the way place and he finds me to talk to!
     I took my leave and quickly made my way back to the hotel. Yes, there were spots that were dark and too quiet, but I’m from Chicago, what do I have to fear? There were a lot of panhandlers and street people in the area. But I wove my way though up and down the hills. There was one spot that was dark because there was a large tree next to the side walk, and I could see at least 4 people loitering in the dark. I crossed the street and walked in the light.
     On the corner, by my hotel, there is a Walgreens drug store, the same panhandler always stands there, it’s like his territory. I would see him push his paper cup up to anyone passing by. I saw him as I walked towards him, he saw me, he gave me the once up and down, but when I passed, he left me alone. In the streets, that’s respect. I felt so proud of myself. I got respect from a homeless man.
    I know it sounds strange, but think about it. This man stands on that street day in day out, he sees all kinds of people, that he’s still standing there also tells of his ability to survive. He can tell a sucker when he sees one. And he can tell who he can’t mess with. I was one of the latter. You can’t imagine, after the keen look he gave me, how assuring that was to me.

     I went in to my room, safe and sound and I slept like a baby. I left the windows open and heard the sounds of the city and strangely enough, on that night, it was a comfort.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Adventures of Traveling Feet: Day 5


     I was awakened before I wanted to wake by the rude chirp of a text. I couldn't be mad, it was a relative texting from the Philippines, what could I do? I rolled out of bed, literally, it was maddeningly quiet last night. I was used to the noise on the train. I sort of felt like that puppy who could only fall asleep when there was a clock ticking in it's blanket.

     I strolled out and it was a quick 3-5min walk to the Space Center. It rained throughout the evening and unfortunately, I could hear the water flowing down the gutter along side one of the corners in my room. But by the time I strolled out, the sidewalk glistened with spent rain but the sun was out and the clouds were light and breezy.
     I went for the monorail first, having been told by the desk clerk that Pike Place Market opened early and closed early. So I wanted to jump on the monorail, check out the market, walk the waterfront and take the ferry to Alki Beach. But when I saw how beautiful the morning was with the crisp sunlight, I knew I had to go to the Space Needle while I had the advantage of this morning sun.
     I am terribly afflicted with a fear of heights. I've had the fear since I was a child. I still remember the time during a family vacation when we stopped to climb a ranger tower. It was one miserable flight yet I couldn't take two steps up. I could see the space between the steps and my legs trembled and my blood coagulated at the soles of my feet and I couldn't move.
     I've been up to Sears Tower and the Hancock Building in Chicago. When relatives or friends come to town, you have to take them to one or the other if not both. I have had instances when the wind was so whipped up I swear I felt the Sears tower weave. Those were the times when I literally could only stand by the elevator, not daring to go near the windows.

     Then there are other times when I'm absolutely fine, I stand by the glass, pressing my camera to get an angle, the light, etc. I went up Baiyoke Tower in Bangkok and it was an outdoor observation deck and I wasn't in the least bit afraid. But I knew there was a possibility the fear would arise and there would be nothing for me to do but stand and wait for the elevator to come back down.
     But this is my first time in Seattle and I can't NOT go to the Space Needle. The elevator is open as it climbs up to the top. As we started up at 10mph, the guide telling us some facts about the tower. As the door closed and we rose all I heard was "The tower is 47yrs old...." Then I saw Puget sound and my feet started to melt. I looked over my shoulder only to find that the others had pushed themselves to the back of the elevator and had created room for me in the center. I stepped back away from the view wishing the ride would end quickly.

     When we got to the top, that's when I noticed it was open. I had tweeted this and I wasn't about to back down. So I walked out and a blast of wind hit me in the face. I practically clung to the wall. I got a few stares. But I didn't care, I'm scared, bite me.

     Instead I walked around the tower to get a glimpse of the entire city. I found a few benches and sat when I didn't think I could go on. The sunny side that faced downtown Seattle had the strongest winds and truly tested my resolve. But I sat on the bench then realized I needed to take a picture of Traveling Feet. It was an absurdity of being so afraid of the edge but wondering if I could somehow get one foot up on the hand rail! Instead I opted for sitting on a bench and propping my feet on a waste basket. It was perfectly place and once I took the photo, I was good. It was just so silly, but it was what I needed.
     Then I took the monorail downtown. I entered the mall and someone placed a real fresh flower lei around my neck. As I rode down the elevator, I joked with a couple about being lei'd in Seattle.
     By the time I made it out of the Westlake Mall, there was a soft but slowly building drizzle. For some reason, the hills and the odd angled streets seem to twist me around. Chicago is built in a grid system, it is easy to navigate, with the exception of a few diagonal streets, you go north, south, east & west in a straight line.
     I walked two blocks in the wrong direction. When I discovered I was going the wrong direction did I do an about face and walk back? No, I stopped, checked my map, checked the GPS on the phone, scratched my head, adjusted my baseball hat, checked the compass on the phone, looked at the street and walked down another street before I crossed back over; all the time, marching with a decided purpose, which is really the trick to avoid panhandlers and such.

     By the time I saw the sign “Public Market”, the drizzle was growing to showers and the street was steep and slick. No wonder my thighs burned that night. You get this strange gait when you walk down hill. It’s like you crab walk down. I have on sneakers yet, I wondered if I was going to go flying down the sidewalk.

     The market is this lively, organically smelly, assault on all your senses. The multi-colored fruits and vegetables, the angry reds, bright oranges or livid yellow peppers hanging from the ceiling like chili chandeliers. Best of all, the market was covered. I was tempted by the peppers, then drawn in by a fish counter that had what looked like a salmon ladder going around their area. I wandered in deeper into the “alley” as the signs said, I think Dog Alley or something.

     I found a rummage sale, found a nicely broken in smooth leather bag that I can use as my 2nd check in bag. I will take advantage of my “premium” status for as long as I can, so I don’t have to pay for my luggage.

     I crossed over when I heard the chanting at the Pike Place Fish Market. The fish are gaily arranged propped up in voluminous hills of shaved ice and when someone buys an entire fish, the workers start a chant and one of the two guys who are standing watch over the fish will hoist the fish, cradling it in their hands before they take a massive swing and fling the fish over and into the arms of a waiting worker behind the counter, who will wrap the fish. It’s a great act. I was too slow to catch any of it. The chant is the hint, but it’s quick and if you aren’t ready, you won’t capture it on camera.
     I wandered around since the rains continued to build into a torrent. There were so many little stores to see that I didn’t eat lunch until 2pm. I was distracted by the elderly Chinese man playing ditties on a traditional on stringed Chinese musical instrument. It looks like a 1 string guitar but played with a bow.

     I dropped him a dollar and asked permission to take his picture, he nodded sagely and he started playing Yankee Doodle Dandy! I preferred the traditional Chinese tunes, they are discordant to my western ear but my eastern heart understood it and found it calming.

     I wandered about until I found myself in a sea of flower sellers. This part of the market consisted of seafood stalls, flower stalls and hand made artisans. I am fascinated by bamboo, if someone hadn’t taken the moniker on Twitter, I would have been bamboo. It is a strong wood that bends in the wind to keep from snapping. It is resilient, flexible and so very strong. It defines the difference between hard and strong; hard breaks, strong bends.
     I found a small Chinese man selling beautifully framed traditional Chinese watercolors and I saw a bamboo tree. The next thing I see; he’s got 4 different paintings laid out in front of me. I came here without any preconceived notions of buying anything like this. Instead, after futile attempts to choose just one, I bought two, he gave me a discount. They always give a discount when you buy multiple items.
     Besides, support the arts.
     He ran in the rain to get more cardboard so he could really pack them well. His wife painted the canvas and he made the frames, simple clean lines along the edges on a glass cover. It was beautiful. He also wrapped it so well, I resisted the temptation to open it at my hotel to see them. I’ll wait until I find a place for them before I unwrap them.
     I wandered further down resisting all the great looking things that were on sale. Until my eye snagged a table of leather bound diaries. I have this fascination for writing implements, specialty paper/stationary and blank journals. The woman made the journals from hand made paper, sewn into the leather by her own hand. The journals were either closed with a leather thong(traditional) but she also had placed semi-precious stones on the cover to use as a closure. My eye went to this bright white journal, my hands slipped forward before I could help myself and it caressed the soft leather.
     “That’s elk, that’s why it’s so smooth.” She told me. It is also the most expensive of all the other leathers. Of course it is.
     But it called to me and I knew of someone who I thought would really like it. The artist didn’t even know the name of the semi-precious stone, it just was. It added to the almost mystical call of this beautiful leather journal.
     Journals are entrusted with the wishes of our lives, the worries and the cares, the joys and the sorrows. They are the record of what we’ve done, how we felt and where we were in that brilliant moment in time when we set pen to paper and open our hearts.

     I guess again, it was what I was looking for. Because as soon as I decided to buy the journal and pick on up for myself, I immediately felt an ease in my tummy and the next stop was lunch. It was a surprise to me when I saw the time was 2pm.

     I’d been moaning about getting pho soup in Chicago and I was marching off to Emmett Watson’s to eat seafood when I happened upon Saigon Restaurant. It was inside this courtyard space, just a little hole in the wall and it was just right for me. I got my seafood pho soup! Compromise and timing!
     When I finished lunch I was going to head back to get some more donuts from Daily Donuts, but the sugar content on those things caused my sugar to surge so I went to get some toffee covered peanuts and caramel covered cashews instead. They are nuts and will be good for me(denial!).

     On my walk back I passed Beecher’s Homemade Cheese and they were cooking up a batch in the corner window. It was fascinating and a crowd had started to gather. One vat had the liquid starting material and another had curds being stirred. So of course I bought some curds, they were the biggest cheese curds I’ve ever seen in my life and the texture was absolutely perfect.

     I walked through the rain, back to the monorail and headed back to my hotel in the Queene Anne district. It is a nice quiet neighborhood, I got lucky when I picked this place out. By the time I got back the rain had stopped and the sun was out again, I dropped my things off in my room and took a long walk. I enjoyed ever minute, even the huffing and puffing up the inclined streets.
     By the time I got back in my room, get ready for my 3am wake up call for my 4am car service for my 6am flight, I was exhausted.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Adventures of the Traveling Feet: Day 4






I woke up at 5am expecting to see a spectacular sight, Mt. Shasta. It was too dark to see anything, so I went back to sleep.

Last night was rough I was jerked back into consciousness by two episodes of panic attacks. I was startled out of sleep by this horrid sensation that the train was going sideways and was on the verge of tipping over. It was a sensation more towards my tipping over my head rather than rolling sideways off the bed. Once the bed is pulled down, the danger was more from banging my shins on the bed and falling into it rather than falling out.

I can’t imagine two adults comfortable in this deluxe sleeper once the bed is pulled down. The folding mini desk would have to be put away. The top bunk is only for the smaller of the two adults. They never pulled it down for me; I pulled it down myself just to be nosy. There is a heavy metal ladder that you can use to get up, but I didn’t want to try that in a moving train. There are straps that you attach to the ceiling that they recommend you use to keep you from falling off.

Last night had freezing rain because another rider told me she had seen icicles. That was probably snow I saw last night. The rain was only an issue when it created ice on the tracks, which explained some of the slow moving. But we escaped the big rain storms that struck California. I just hope it clears up by the time I arrive on Thursday morning!

Morning was strange. I went to the dining car and another elderly woman sat in front of me, she forgot her dental bridge so I had to talk fast to divert myself from the gaping hole in her mouth. Just as she had started to thaw out towards me, the train stopped and she looked up and realized it was her stop! Lost my breakfast buddy.

Then I met Maggie, she used to work for the state’s attorney office, retired now. Then I met the Canadian ladies again, they have been friends since they were 12yrs old! How wonderful for them! How many people can say they stayed friends with anyone who wasn’t related to them? They were 63yrs old!

Again it was a great conversation. Maggie told us about her aunt who was learning to arrange flowers when one of her closest friends died. So Maggie’s aunt created a beautiful cross made from some pieces of wood she had found and had put flowers on it to make a floral cross. So during the burial, the cross was at the foot of the casket, except it was raining heavily. Well, the flowers started to come off and soon all that was left was the wooden cross with “Packed by Heinz” stamped across it.

Valery told us about her two dogs, one she inherited, a chow chow and her other dog, Jim who was a Lab/Beagle mix. She told us how when she walks the dogs, they have bells on their collar and she carries bear spray. She gets bears in her front yard, in the neighbor’s yard, moose wandering about and it’s normal for her.

After breakfast I spent time in the parlour car and I met George, John and Juanita, two friends traveling with 4 other friends on a cross-country train ride. They were going to Portland as their final destination before they went home. Juanita came from Atlanta, while George and John came from Cincinnati. Juanita told me how she had gotten the chance to fly a student plane where she flew with the joystick for 45min. Only to land and find that her 12yr old grandson who was in the ROTC, had, that same week, flown a Cessna!

"Talk about stealing my thunder!" She laughed.

Then the train entered the Cascades and most conversations stopped because we all stared out the window to watch the tremendous mountain passes. The informational brochure said we went through 22 tunnels as it wove in and out of the mountains. Just as the tree line cleared and we got a good look at the valley below us, we ran into a tunnel. We all sat with out digital cameras and recorders trying to capture the moment. Unfortunately, I knew that it would take a full camera crew to capture what I saw, experienced and translate it to film. My frantic attempts to capture the moment most often fell flat. But I still tried desperately to chronicle the landscape, with a few notable results.

Please go to http://twitpic.com/photos/fatal_romantic to see the photos I've taken today of the Willamette National Forest

I think what I find more amazing is that each photo was taken by my cell phone, balancing against a jostling train and eeking a moment through the treeline to get just a glimpse of the majesty of mother nature.

All too soon it was lunch time. I ended up sitting with John, the retired railroad engineer who told us that when he used to work, “…you weren’t allowed in the cab without a six-pack!” and George a retired teacher. Across the aisle in another booth, sat Juanita who had recommended I try the tropical chicken salad, which I did and it was good.

I went on vacation alone and yet it seemed like I was suddenly adopted by strangers.

John and George both discussed everything under the sun. Both were well informed and kept up with current topics. Our discussion included politicians who were caught in scandals. In referring to a politico who was caught in a men’s room, both gentlemen openly mentioned that they thought anyone who protests too much has something to hide. The discussion began when the conversation turned to the openly gay mayor of Portland embroiled in a scandal. Then it turned to health care reform. Neither one could understand why anyone would be opposed to it. Bonnie and Valerie spoke of how well the national health care worked for them.

We had a 20min stop in Portland, OR. I stepped out to see what kind of Amtrak souvenirs I could come up with. And at that little shop, I ran into Valery who gave me a warm hug goodbye. She and Bonnie would transfer from the train at Seattle and proceed on the bus service up to Vancouver, another 3hr trip.

Dinner was early since the train would be coming into the station and ending its trip. So I went ahead and reserved for 430pm. Of course, I was the only one to eat that early. Oh well.

But after a while I was joined by a great-grandmother of 14 who was going to visit her granddaughter at Fort Lewis. She was traveling alone! She was born in 1930, 79yrs old and still vibrant, engaging and sweet. I met another John who seemed to have spent his youth traveling. At 18, he was on a motorbike going through East Germany and told us how he needed a special permit to sleep in a hotel in East Germany, despite having his visas, passports and various other documents showing that he was allowed into the country.

John also spoke up for health care reform. Then another elderly woman across the aisle from us was finished with her dinner and tapped John on the shoulder.

“I have to disagree with you. I’ve had breast cancer for 3yrs and I’ve paid zero. Medicare took care of everything, I broke my knee; a $8700 surgery and I paid $60. We have great insurance.”

So John said, “And where’s the catch?”

“Nothing, we have a great system.” She nodded at me condescendingly. I was the youngest person at the moment and thus I must be stupid.

John asked her. “You have medicare?”

“Yes.” She nodded.

John politely corrected his stance. “Then, let me say we need health care reform for younger people who don’t qualify for medicare. God bless you.”

John knew courtesy, something I hadn’t seen in a long time. He and I stayed and talked for a bit longer after we had finished our meal and the great-grandmother(I’ve forgotten her name) left.

I told John the reason why I had to miss my original train ride. He gave me his full name and I gave him mine. He explained what my name meant and we talked about certain things. I had told him that I was so happy to see all the rivers we had passed and it was at this point that we had a bit of sun. I had said that this was only the 2nd time in 4days that I had seen the sun. Then he suddenly said:

“You have all four elements, you have earth and water. You just need sun and air. “

I looked at him; slowly and sadly realized. “Yes, that’s what I’ve been looking for.” He turned to me and said “Talk about synchronicity; that just made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.”

I just needed to get away, I didn’t think I would find such kind consideration and generous hearts.

Perhaps it was because we were trapped in a moving vehicle and thus thrown together. It made rudeness that much more of an offense. Perhaps that’s why people were pleasant. But not everyone was so open and talkative. There were two people I met that were just not in the same plane. I think one was a shyness and awkwardness that she still hadn’t overcome. The other was a man who even John and George noticed, just wasn’t a nice guy. I hadn’t said it but the minute he left our table at lunch, John and George who were obviously good friends commented on it and the conversation flowed again.

After dinner I went back to my cabin, the walk back through the train was tinged with melancholy. I was going to miss my cabin, my train and yes, the conversation. People who I met for the first time, shared moments of laughter, profound thought; hopefully we all made each other’s lives just a bit brighter for that moment of shared community. I was moody and cranky, I hate good byes and I had anthropomorphized the train and would miss it as an extension of myself.

But when the train stopped in Seattle, I left my cabin, walked out of the station, leapt into the next available cab and was driven away. I didn’t take look back. I had one moment when I thought to take a picture of the station, I had taken pictures of as many of the stations that we had stopped. But I didn’t take a picture of the Chicago Union Station, where the train ride began and I didn’t take a picture of the Seattle station where it ended. I guess like every good story “in medias res” was the best part.

I sit in my hotel room now, missing the chuga-chuga, wondering where the whistle went and feeling like I’m still rocking. But then again, it’s another adventure tomorrow. Tomorrow I stretch my legs and move.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Adventures of the Traveling Feet: Day 3





     It started out dark but not dreary. I woke up early to make sure I ate breakfast between 5-6am. Since we expected to arrive in LA at 815am, the crew needed time to serve us and to clean up.
     The term they use is "community seating", you are seated at a booth with whomever choses to eat at the same time you eat. So breakfast was another table of 4 strangers, who for a time chatted like old friends.
     We exchanged names, but to my chagrin, I forgot their names the minute they told me. But the woman sitting next to me immediately asked:
     "The table you were at last night, there was one woman who looked so sad. What was wrong?"
     I was taken aback by the question, I haven't been paying as much attention as I guess I should have been. I never noticed her, but she noticed us.. I didn't mention names, we are all just passing ships, so I told her the truth.
     After I did so this new woman I just met simply nodded and said:
     "I'm on year three of colon cancer. Doing good."
     I assumed that meant she was 3yrs into remission. Again, I was taken aback by the candidness of our conversation. I don't know what it means, but I'll file it away like I always do. There are things we can share with a stranger because that we can't share with our close friends and family. Maybe because we are more considerate of their feelings than a strangers?
     I can't tell my family just how badly I'm feeling because they would worry. A co-worker isn't as emotionally invested in you and will tell you to just suck it up, but will worry about you as well. A stranger will be sincerely concerned, but they won't worry, they will say a prayer and then their moment in your life is passed, their purpose fulfilled. They let go, you let go.
     This morning as we arrived in LA, I looked for my friend from the night before. Perhaps she rode on the red caps' trolley, I walked. But I didn't see her again. I'd like to think one day I'll hear from her telling me she's doing well. I also like to think, maybe I didn't need to see her because I had given my message already. I have had so many angels drop into my life, saying something casual and random, I would hope that this once, I was an angel for her.
     Wherever you are, my friend, I say a prayer and only wish you the best.


•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••
-Behold! The Pacific Ocean! 1228pm





  
     Today I switched trains; I am on the "Coast Starlight" that will take me on my final leg to Seattle. It literally hugs the coast; I watched the waves tumble endlessly. It was magnificent to see the coast, north of Santa Barbara to just south of San Luis Obispo. There were parts that weren't accessible by car or foot ; I was in awe. I was plastered to my window! Then inland towards Salinas, we rode through mountain ranges where I saw deer; happy California cows! Four tunnels later, I got my cell signal back.


     The Pacific Ocean absolutely enthralls me and suddenly a moment of absolute clarity struck me in the form of a haiku I wrote about my muse. 
          
          Pacific Ocean
          Seafoam reminds me of your
          Grey saltwater eyes



Tonight at dinner I met Valerie; Bonnie, Canadian childhood friends. They took a cruise from Vancouver and stayed in San Diego for a few days and were now returning home. While I was having dinner, someone I follow in Twitter said something about wishing the Canadians a happy thanksgiving, serendipity? Of course I didn't see the tweet until I had said goodnight to the ladies, otherwise I would have passed on the regards.   


I've  met so many interesting people; I've told them all my crazy story of missing the train. It's a great icebreaker. Unexpected cicumstance turns into great stories!


Tomorrow the Cascade Mountains await. I wondered why it takes so long, it's 1377mi (according to the brochure) so it's approximately 22hrs of actual travel time.


My tweets during this day:

-It is 434am in California. Next stop, San Bernadino, CA. It's colder this morning than yesterday! 434am

-Night still glides by my window as sleep struggles needlessly with alert. I'll let the slug it out and just sit here. 438am

-It is 640am & the highway is already packed w/traffic. Red string lights dot the road. 640am


-Traveling Feet is now in LA! 801am

-LA Union Station, it's grey it's cloudy, but I'm enjoying the fresh air 802am

-Maybe it won't be 2 hard to get Traveling Feet to pose. This is in the general waiting area at LA Union Station 826am



-So this route is far more bourgeois than the last route. We in the sleepers have a separate "parlor" car & wine tasting- a sarcasm font :-/  10/38am

-Love, I've mapped out our romantic getaways, I know the places you'll love because I love them too. All I need is for you to arrive. 1109am

-It's only 1pm yet the sky is getting darker, there is a tangerine tinge to the clouds. Does it presage rain storms? 106pm

-Saw a buck bounding through to dunes on his way to the ocean. Beautiful full horns too! 252pm

-Freshly cut trees trackside; the bright orange insides glisten like blood, can you hear a tree scream? 253pm


-Went thru 4 tunnels just now, want to see what I looks like when u r in a tunnel!  417pm


-I'm just a melancholy baby watching the landscape fly by, each railroad tie, each mile, every mountain we climb, remind me-you're not here. 537pm

-It's the grey of late afternoon that obscures my sight like a hidden veil. Or is it the tears that linger on the edge, refusing to fall? 541pm

-What I have learnt in the trip so far, age doesn't diminish your ability to be engaging, fascinating & friendly. 914pm

-I must admit the rolling years can be cruel, but you cannot submit to that cruelty. Enjoy life it is a gift of great joy! 915pm



We just passed Oakland, about 30-40mins ago, next stop is Martinez, CA. I'm going to sleep. G'nite!