Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Back in the Saddle Again

Well, if the road to we all know where is paved with good intentions, I'm in a heap of trouble at the moment, since this didn't get put up yesterday. However, I spent some quality time on Sunday evening (which made my monday morning less than quality and more coffee) sketching in my travel stories I wanted to tell for the benefit of all of you back home.

For anyone who may have forgotten, I'm deep into my MFA studies at Pacific University. I'm beginning my fourth semester which will focus mostly on the compilation and revision of the thesis manuscript--so far as I know. I still don't know what goes in to the thesis semester. I suppose, like everything else, I'll figure it out as we go.

I left Kalispell around 7:45 on Saturday night. So, yes, this post is delayed. I like to keep this blog running while I'm away to keep everybody back home in the loop while I'm staying up too late, getting up too early, and hanging out with some of the most fantastic, most gracious, and most talented writers in the country. (Most of them fit in to all three categories.)

So then, the getting here.

I got to the Whitefish Amtrak Station at 8:20pm Saturday. Shaunna and Lexi dropped me off. We had a nice chat on some of our favorite book series along the way. I had Mary Helen Stefaniak's book, "The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia" in my backpack to read in the lobby while I waited for the train. I had planned to finish up the worksheeps for my workshop group on the train and then hopefully relax for a bit before we got to Portland. I went into the train station and the guy behind the counter let me know the train was running late, and would be in somewhere around ten p.m. So I sat down with my book and read while another person, then a mom and her two daughters, then four older people, then a group of five guys came in. Pretty soon the little train station was packed.
When the train finally pulled in, I headed for the last three cars of the train. (The Empire Builder Amtrak train stops in Spokane, gets split in half, three cars get put on a new engine to head toward Oregon, the rest of the train goes to Seattle). The conductor stopped me before I got to the doorway and told us all to form a line. The train was going to be full, so he was assigning seats. He called for families and people traveling together first, then those traveling alone. I was among the first of the 'loners', and he handed me a ticket for seat number thirty. I figured it was probably an aisle seat, but I was hoping for an aisle seat with some space to do my work.
I got on the train, stowed my suitcase and climbed the stairs. I looked up at the numbers just below the luggage rack to track down number thirty, and there it was, directly across from the stairs...with an older gentleman slumbering in the seat beside it. I stowed my backpack in the luggage rack after rescuing my book again, and set my bookbag on the floor gently. I sat down and leaned into the aisle a bit so I could read for a while, since I didn't want to reach over his head and turn on the reading light for fear that the motion or the light would wake him.
Fifteen minutes later, he woke up, stood, and asked me to excuse him. He left his backpack and his water and headed up toward the lounge car. They had just announced that the snack bar was closing in about ten minutes. I didn't unpack my homework. He'd been forced to step over me, and I had to pick up my book bag to let him by. So I turned on the light and waited until he came back to settle in with my worksheets.
After about an hour, I was checking the forward door every five minutes or so. No sign of him. After two hours, I tucked my book under my winter coat. I used the coat as a blanket and dozed, checking every ten minutes or so to see if he was coming back and I needed to move. By morning, there was still no sign of him, all his things still in my seat. Of course, all the most interesting and imaginative possibilities were coming to mind: He jumped off the train, he was thrown off the train, he got off for a smoke and we left without him, he had a heart attack in the lounge car and they offloaded him at some stop, he had a heart attack in the lounge car and was still down there...Or met a friend. Or sat down somewhere else. Or....there was....a bomb in his backpack?
Thoughts of all sorts crowding worksheets out of my mind, I scooted as far toward the aisle as I could get (not much further than I already was) and stared out the window willing PDX to appear. The guy behind me was sneezing, sighing, and snorting every two to five minutes like clockwork. The conductor came on the PA system to tell us we were a half hour out. Then fifteen minutes. Then ten. Five minutes to PDX (the train station), the gentleman appeared with a young girl who looked like she was his granddaughter, and asked if he could retrieve his things. The little girl was holding a cup of coffee and telling him the drink smelled like him. Then they walked off together. So much for getting homework done on the train.
I disembarked and headed into the train station, intent on finding my way to a Tri-met ticket station. Portland has a light rail train that goes all over the city. My cousin also calls it the MAX. Unkyl had me get on the train once to go and meet some family. I didn't remember much about it except it would prevent my family from driving clear into downtown Portland to take me from the train to the airport. So, I looked for an information desk to give me some directions. The itenerary I'd printed off the internet instructed me to walk out of Union Station and head south. Problem was, there were no indicators in the building to tell me which way south might be, and nothing on my directions to tell me right, left, ahead, or behind. Apparently, Union Station is not equipped with an information desk, and the man at the ticket counter looked quite surly. So I decided to act as if the Tri-Met map was on the north wall, since the map had an N in the corner and an arrow pointing up. (I can see my father, all the rangers, and all the FCFers shaking their heads in despair. Sorry, guys, I know my directions by the mountain ranges at home, the sun was behind the clouds, I had no analogue watch, and there are no trees with moss on them by the station.)
If the map was, in fact, on the north wall, it'd mean I needed to go 'round to the other side of the building. But when I tried that, there was a fence to the right a ways, and to the left was a high staircase and a skybridge with no indication of a light rail track. So, I decided I'd wander up ahead and see what happened. I came upon the greyhound station a few feet away and thought I'd go back to the train station to track someone down for directions, but the light to cross the street was red and I didn't want to wait for it. I turned back around and, lo and behold, a Tri-Met ticket station!
Now, when I say 'ticket station' I really mean vending-machine-like independend kiosk with no human attendant and, apparently, inadequate instructions. I pressed the button for an Adult 18-25 (or whatever the age range), a two hour ticket, and that I wanted to pay. I tried to put in $5, and nothing happened. I tried again. Nothing. I turned it around. Nothing. I flipped it over, nothing. I tried it the first way again. Nothing. By this time, there's a line behind me.
"Hey, what's going on? What are you doing?"
"Didn't you press the button?"
"Put your money in, come on"
That, and a rather intense guy giving me dirty looks.
That was the moment one of the trains pulled in and a guy got off to see what was happening. Apparently he worked for Tri-Met. He pressed all the buttons again and tried to insert my cash. Nothing. He looked at me, looked at the line, and said "tell you what." He opened his wallet, dug around, and pulled out a ticket. He had me validate it. "You look like an honest citizen, and you really tried hard to pay for it, so here you go." I was floored. I thanked him and two guys behind me asked if he was giving those out.
"No, she tried to pay for it and it didn't work. Just that one, sorry guys."
He started walking away, and the younger guy behind me whipped open his own wallet and pulled out a card.
"See this? It says Active Duty. I FOUGHT FOR YOU!"
His friend said "He doesn't care, man", and they walked away. I walked around to the front of the kiosk, thoroughly embarrased, and there was a nice older lady standing there who asked me what happened. I told her I was from Montana where my town just barely got a bus route. I confessed I had no idea what I was doing, so she told me to get on the train she was waiting for, then swap trains. I told her my directions said to get off at the Rose Quarter. She told me I should absolutely not do that, and to wait to get off until the convention center, which she considered safer. I deferred to her good judgement and we got to talking. She's from Tillamook. I asked her where she was from originally and she told me she was from California. She'd lived there with her first husband. Then she laughed and told me that always sounded dubious--she'd only been married twice.
She told me about her son--how he likes to travel, how he's a freelance/self-employed/sometimes contracted graphic designer, how he helped design an international Hershey bar wrapper for one of their bigger candy bars and it got an award. "He always puts that on his resume".
We chatted until it was time for me to swap trains. She told me "Get on this one, and don't get off it until they throw you off. The final stop is the airport."
I grabbed all my stuff and made a beeline for a seat. After I sat down, a rough voice asked me "You know where Target is?"
I turned to see this guy in a fluffy red coat and jeans who looked almost as rough as his voice. He looked like he had two black eyes, and I wasn't sure if he was like our transients back home, just came off a night shift, a bender, who knows. I told him I had no idea and he closed his eyes. After he fell asleep I glanced that way and realized he had the word "Bunk" tattoed on his left eyelid, and "Dope" tattooed on the right. Twenty minutes later, we pulled into the second to last stop. I looked up, and there was Target in all its overgrown red-and-khakhi splendor.
"Hey," I said, "there's Target".
He kept snoring. I left him alone.
I felt bad that he missed his stop, and I wondered if he would need another fare. I thought about the seat on the train I had all to myself, the great guy who gave me a ticket, and the lady who had showed up to be my traveling companion, and figured I ought to do something. So I fished out the $5 I was going to use to buy my MAX ticket, said a little prayer, and left it on the seat in front of him. My hope was that if he needed a fare, or if someone else was getting on who needed a little something, it'd make the difference like all the things that had happened for me.
I got off the train and made it into the airport as fast as I could. I found the check-in to catch the Pacific shuttle and told the lady my name, and that I was on the next shuttle.
"Oh. You're early".
"Yep, I know. I figured I might be."
"Well, we'll just put you on this shuttle. It's parked out there. Tell the driver not to leave until I call him".
So I ran outside, across the roadway, and made it to the shuttle! With catching that shuttle, I made it to the hotel two hours sooner than I thought I would.
On the drive, Phil, Mags and I chatted about Bigfoot, wine, seafood, bike riding, karaoke, my bank, Phil's farm, and how most Led Zeppelin songs are about the Lord of the Rings. When we pulled in to the hotel, Mary Helen turned around and told us we were better than listening to talk radio. I hadn't noticed that almost no one else in the bus was talking. Apparently everyone had been listening to us.
Chris and I met up and headed for our room. Cynthia showed up a couple of hours later, and the posse was complete!

So, there's my travel story. I'll get some school stuff up here, hopefully tomorrow, although it's the bonfire on the beach tomorrow night if it's not dumping rain. So, we'll see!

Have a great night all


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