Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Public Transportation and the Whirlwind Life

I just recently wound up circling the whole country with no plan and perhaps more notably, no bike.  While I did ride a few people's bikes around over a few days of the trip, I did not bring my own, and these borrowed steeds did not constitute any measurable length of my travels.  Instead this trip happened via planes, trains, and automobiles, buses and light rail, public transit and the no plan.  I'll attempt to give you all a proper recap and analysis of these systems without getting too much into the gooey, sappy details of the life adventure that brought it all on.

I went riding with Roni (moustache #6) in Sedona the day that I got on the train.  All signs that day said that I should go, though I had my doubts.  We took her car, Scooby, that she had recently acquired for free as the original owner had driven it to the moon and decided to give it up to her.  Roni and I have a history of proper train sendoffs and tonight would be no exception.  We got back up the hill from Sedona and I drove Scooby to my house and threw some things (actually way too many things) into a backpack and headed back into town for supper and drinks.  I bought my ticket on the way to Mia's Lounge.  "I'd like one ticket to Portland please." "For when," the lady behind the counter asked.  I told her "tonight" and she looked at me funny and then charged me $175 for the trip.  The train would be here in less than an hour.  It was the same lady that sold me the ticket the last time I took the train to San Diego to kick off the Baja Tour last spring.  I was glad to see her and I told her so.  She said write your congressmen because the new Republican house wants to cut funding to Amtrak.  What a shame.  I grabbed a few whiskey drinks at Mia's with Roni and Dre and Ray who stopped by to give me a deposit on Moustache #14, and when we looked out the window the barricades to the railway were coming down and the train was coming to a halt.  I made a mad dash with all my things crossing the tracks illegally and jumping on board to go pass out in my seat and arrive in L.A. early the next morning.

I had a four hour layover between trains in L.A., so I wrote my congressman.  Fund rail transit in the United States.  I boarded the Pacific Surfliner bound for Portland and beyond....the long haul.  The train is awesome.  Its like being teleported back to the 1800s.  The stretch that this line travels is absolutely stunning, and its made even more amazing by the fact that none of your technology works outside of the cities along the route.  You can charge your phone or your computer, but there's no cellular signal or wireless connection.  As we chug along oceanside I am forced to find more primitive interactions.  I talk to my neighbors.

Overall the train is a very social vehicle, and is so by design.   Reservations for meals are taken by car attendants and when you show up for the reservation you are seated at a full table with other passengers.  There is a chef on board, the menu is pretty tasty, and no one ever dines alone.  There is a snack bar below the observation car that sells not only snacks, but also beer, and good beer at that.  The observation car is filled with booth tables and also chairs fixed into semi-circles looking outward to the passing landscape.

My coach seat is spacious and it reclines a fair way and has a foot rest and pillows are provided by the attendants.  Sleeping here leaves a little to be desired as I was going for a full night's (rather two full nights) worth.  Next time I might just spring for a sleeper.  The route was absolutely beautiful and wound us up the Southern California coast, through the central valley's rolling grasslands, and through the mountains of Northern California and Southern Oregon.  The whole trip to Portland was 42 hours including the layover and the train arrived on schedule.  Driving this in a car would have taken two 16 hour days and I would have been much more exhausted and not been able to read, write, or talk to people.  Everyone I talked to was stoked on the train, and for the same reasons I was.  The train is a great way to get around, its fun, relaxing, there's no TSA, metal detectors, or body cavity searches, its more bike friendly than any other means ($15 for a full size bike box, free on commuter trains), it is the most efficient and environmentally friendly of any other mass transit network, and lastly its rooted deep into the history of our country.

My time in Portland was over quickly and soon I found myself on a commuter train up to Seattle and my time in Seattle was over quickly and I found myself buying a plane ticket seven hours before I was to be on a plane to Atlanta so I could make it to an old friend's wedding.  City buses and light rail delivered me to the Sea-Tac Airport by 7:00 AM for an 8:30 flight.  I really loathe flying but sometimes it is the only option, particularly given my inability to make an sort of plan.  I find rushing around and being completely subject to the whims of the airline to be equally exhausting as a full day of driving.  I managed to make it through my security screening (read: complete intrusion of all privacy) unscathed despite having plenty of items that I know were questionable...Bike tools, a knife, an LARGE tube of TOOTHPASTE, a CO2 inflator.  I was forced to check my excessively large pack at the gate, but by doing so was able to dodge the luggage fee.

Somehow I always end up flying Phoenix based US Airways as they seem to offer the cheapest last minute flights to the places I need to go.  $315 from Seattle to Atlanta with a short layover in Phoenix.  This, folks, is the worst served, most crowded airline you can possibly fly...and when you buy last minute, you're definitely sittin' bitch.  In the two and a half hours from Seattle to Phoenix I flew right past my mountain, my home, though I wasn't on my way there.  Air travel is discouraging like that.  Its a big tease.  All the ground covered in fourty plus hours of trains zipped past underneath me in a mere two and a half hours of way more stressful travel experience.  The flight to Atlanta, even worse.  As I wedged my long legs into the space between the seats allotted for your lower body, I noticed that the woman next to me was overflowing into the seat reserved for me.  I decided to spare her the embarrassment of trying to put down the arm rest and figured I had about four and a half hours to get cozy and immobilize myself.  At least my giant backpack made it to Atlanta with me this time.

I've become a big fan of taking MARTA from the airport when I fly back to Atlanta.  Its the kind of cultural experience that you just can't get in Arizona.  Always exciting.  I had Dr. Gonzo meet me at the Decatur station for proper libations and filling in on the details.  It was much needed.  Getting around to see the friends and family in Georgia is best done in a car, but if you're clever you can manage to link up car trips with bike rides.  I borrowed back my old GT Tequesta from my mom and Courtney brought me up to Athens where we properly drowned our sorrows.  In the morning I took care of the bike @ The Hub and headed off for my sister's new house in Bethlehem.  I forgot to fill up my water though, so thinking of were best to do this I decided to drop by Jared the Black's house unannounced on a Saturday morning.  Now if I had to guess out of the blue, I would have had to guess that The Black would have been in bed with some random girl on this particular Saturday morning, and the strange truck in the driveway made me believe it.  I made a ruckus as I passed by his bedroom from the outside on the way to the front door where I knocked loudly and waited before letting myself in.  Jared!, JARED!  What are you doing?  Who the FUCK is that?...Is that fucking RICHARD?  Well who the hell do you think it is?? What are you doing?  Nothing?  Am I interrupting something??  Yeah.  I just need to fill up some water. Well you know where the sink is.  You wanna drink that bourbon?  Hell Yes I want to drink that bourbon.  The girl that emerged out of the bedroom a few minutes later had brought over a fine bottle of said bourbon and they'd barely touched it that night.  So given that it was eleven o'clock on a Saturday morning we got to drinking it.  The girl had the look on her face of Who in the hell is this guy and why are you OK that he's here and interrupting us.  Nothing was said.  You just wouldn't.  Everything was understood.  I took her to be the one from prior stories as "the young one," though again, nothing
was said.  After some whiskey and some exchanges I hit the road, bound for Kevin's wedding.

Leaving Atlanta came quickly as well.  I didn't need to sit around and wait for people to have weekends. I also was over the idea of flying back home to Flagstaff.  The Amtrak that runs to New Orleans and then to Tucson was only running Friday and Saturday and I didn't want to wait around for that either.  I found an ad on craigslist that someone wanted their car driven to Dallas and would pay what sounded like $100 on top of reimbursing for gas expenditures.  I have friends near Dallas.  This could work out.  I called Monday night and made some sketchy arrangements.  The Russian said he was performing with the Cirque du Soleil in Dallas and would be there for a length of time I did not understand but that he wanted someone to drive his car from Atlanta and deliver it to him in Dallas  I would pick up the police car from a "friend" at his "shop," but only if he could meet me tonight.  He said he could if I could come after eleven.  I got my mom to drive me over.  The friend didn't exactly say much, but more grunted and pointed with his nose.  I think the only words he said were "write some words" as he wanted me to write a contract of sorts.  He gave me the keys and said the front headlight was out and that was that.  I drove it to the nearest gas station and inspected it not too thoroughly for drugs, weapons, insurance, registration.  It all seemed OK.

After a poor night's sleep I departed for Texas but not before getting coffee and donuts for the trip.  What better fuel for making a road trip to Texas in a police car.  Fourteen hours.  Two stops for fuel.  Headphones in.  People around you drive like fools when you're in a retired police car.  They'll ride up along side you and won't pass even if you're doing less than the speed limit.  They'll leave you boxed in. They'll pass you and then slow down to way way slower than either of you was going to start with.  Its never ending.  Your best bet is to point it straight in the left lane and never move.  People get out of your way then.  I wouldn't speed due to the unknowns of the situation, and given the situation thought up every possible turn in a police encounter to avoid a sticky situation....The Russian is my friend, we've known each other for a while...no I didn't know there were bricks of coke in the trunk.  Avoid police entanglements.  That's just good life advise.  I made it to Will and Laura's around dark and caught them up on life and my fateful adventure.  I made contact with the Russian.  A storm was rolling in--The Russian wanted his car tonight instead of in the morning and I wanted it out of my hands.  Will and I would deliver the car to Sherman, TX.

The Russian was calling me frantically, as if he had lost all hope that this would work out.  I pulled into our designated meeting place with my phone ringing.  He was running towards his police car with his hands up triumphantly.  Ecstatic.  The stranger had come through.  He handed me $200.  Then he unburied some vodka from the trunk and poured me a triple shot as his Russian friends made jokes about how many bodies you could fit in the trunk and the M-16 in the trunk...I would have figured him for an AK I told him.  We drove away, Will and I, free of my burden, in a blur, as Texas closed down due to snow.

I spent the next two days here doing what I could to run and ride and trying to buy a truck to make the last leg home before admitting my being stuck and getting on the Greyhound.  What a shit show.  Its a collection of shady people from Americana (and Texas Americana at that) who've very little hope in the world...and....they're all disgruntled.  Nobody wants to be there.  Drivers, passengers, throwers, no one.  You'd probably encounter equally sketchy folk on the Amtrak, but everyone's in more or less a good mood.

Here's a brief list of things you might want to acquire before taking the Greyhound to improve your chances of fitting in:

1.  Neck Tattoo--something to the effect of "Make Momma Proud"
2.  Camouflage--boots, jackets
3.  Screaming children
4.  A gunshot story
5.  A feeding tube
6.  Bruises on your face
7.  Sunglasses so you never can get looked in the eyes
8.  An ill temper
9.  Fluency in Jive

24 hours of being jerked around by Greyhound.  I made it home.  Again with all my belongings, though this time even more magically.  Sherman, TX to Dallas, TX to Amarillo, TX to Flagstaff, AZ via I-40, $185.   So, SO not worth it.  Rent a car.  Buy a car and sell it.  Hitch hike.  Everyone around you on the bus would agree.

1 comment:

  1. Youre crazy.... I remember taking the bus with my mom when I was a kid. It took us 14 hours to get to Beaufort....same state mind you. Im scarred from that and cant walk within a hundred feet of a bus station. Epic story Richard.