Thursday, October 1, 2009

From Seattle to Providence, by Amtrak

Harken back to the days of the railroads, coon hats, and Manifest Destiny. We could shoot buffalo out of coach windows and piss off the steps of the caboose. Weren't those just the golden days? They were, I would think, if you're James T. West in a Stetson and you get the girl at the end of every episode. Anyone who thought a cross-country train ride would be romantic (including myself) is either a sadist or a TV producer. Four days in a chair next to a variety of middle-aged men who can't take a hint (hello, boy-cut hair, nasty rat tail, rainbows all over, NAKED LADIES ON MY T-SHIRT) is plenty enough "experience" for me to recant everything positive I said about Amtrak or America or traveling previous to September 28.

In all seriousness, though, I would do it again. Maybe not Seattle to Providence, but Providence to Miami, Miami to San Antonio, San Antonio to San Francisco. Traveling, for some people, is like blood in a sow's mouth; we just want more, even if it means eating our own babies, or gorging until our organs rupture. Is that just me? I do think traveling is addicting, though. The feeling of arriving in a place utterly foreign, surrounded by people utterly alien is my new high. (For those of you who want me to quit smoking, I just might, so rejoice. But Amtrak is more expensive and possibly more dangerous; I swear the pillows are made of asbestos. Cancer is still an option)

That high from, or anyway, that desire for, traveling, drove Millay to write, "there isn't a train I wouldn't take, / No matter where it's going." I would hardly compare myself with the great Millay, but I would say we share a certain willingness to sacrifice some things (comfortable networks, stable jobs, safety nets) for movement - be it physical or otherwise.

Everyone I met on the trains carried lifetimes of travel under their proverbial belts: Tommy the Thai manicurist (if somehow you're reading this, you crazy stalker, please understand I write this with only sweet tenderness) tracked me down in King Street Station. I saw him approaching and couldn't do anything. I was an abandoned pack animal - a llama, maybe, in the Andes - weighed down by 55 lbs. of baggage. Easy prey.

"What are you? Korean?" he says.

"Japanese," I say.

And for next 45 hours, he tells me the stories of the half dozen Japanese women who fell in love with him, from Tokyo to Baltimore.

"You like Korean boys?" This is about 21 hours out of Seattle. "You like waking up and smelling kimchi? What kinda boys you date?"

"I don't date... boys," I say. And that's when he gives me his number, saying, "If you ever change your mind..."

Goddamn, if I had a dollar every time I heard that. And if you can answer this question, I'll give YOU a dollar: Why do men think they can change everything with their dick?

But now I'm on a tangent. The point was Tommy can barely speak English, but he knew about all the best hiking in New Hampshire, the estimated size of spiders in Texas, the cleanest hospitals in New York. This man, despite his political incorrectness and raging sex drive, is a regular Rick Steves, complete with nerdy glasses but sans nerdy family.

Cliff the Canadian cattle rancher jumped on board in Shelby, Montana, and by the time he disembarked in Grand Forks, North Dakota, I knew intimately his whole "operation" in Alberta (5,000 "head" of red angus), his daughter's thriving family in the states, his online dating career with women half his age, his cell number, and his Canadian cellular service provider's number. I suppose when you live the romantic life of a solitary cowboy out on the range, you tend to be an insufferable chatterbox among company.

He did offer me one brilliant insight, though. We passed a small gaggle of antelope somewhere between Nowhere and Shithole, Montana.

"There must be coyotes if there are antelope," I said.

Then he, fabulous man that he is, said, "There be coyotes, alright. There be coyotes." (As in, "There be monsters in these here waters.")

And the heavens opened up, and God appeared all glowing and dressed in Gucci, and touched my eyes with his heavenly middle finger, and I had my revelation: Canadian cowboys = pirates.

But again, I was talking about traveling, and Clifford is the king of travel. He's spent the majority of his life sleeping outdoors with a herd of cattle. He buys month-long Amtrak passes and hops trains all over the U.S. He has never traveled outside of North America, but he has traveled to EVERY SINGLE PLACE in North America. I have nothing but admiration for his ability to simultaneously run a business and do what he loves: explore. And rape and pillage and bury his booty on godforsaken islands that only Johnny Depp can find.

This post is too long. If I were Natalie Tran from communitychannel (I desperately wish I were), this is the point at which I'd say, "It's porno music slash comment time."


  1. hahahahahahayou crack me up. sounds like an eventful trip, eh?

    thanks for sharing your revelation, I'm gonna have to do some serious meditating on this whole canadian cowboy issue...

    I understand the need for travel though... can we travel together when I'm not broke? I'm sorry I'm not there with you. :(

  2. This was a great post Jillian! Really enjoyed it!