Monday, September 03, 2001

All Aboard

We were cruising for the last time out of Modesto. This would be our last spin in the Saturn before turning it over to Marsha. Marsha was going to be in Hawaii when we left town so we had to get creative with arrangements. We found that Amtrak leaves from the San Francisco airport, so we could leave the car in long term parking for Marsha’s return from Hawaii. That sounded like a plan until we found out that Amtrak would not let us take our large luggage on the shuttle that goes from San Francisco to Emeryville, where the actual station is located.

I never fail to fall asleep in the car or any vehicle: land, sea or air, as long as there is motion involved.
This day was different. This day was our last trip out of Modesto, traveling Route 99 to 205 to all of the other veins of highways that deliver you to the city of fun and entertainment. I was wide awake and seeing the scenery in a new light. It was as if I was taking mental photographs to remember what it looked like as we sped by mile by mile. I was never so refreshed on a car ride and anxious to experience one adventure at a time, taking careful consideration not to anticipate the sequence of what was planned for our future. It was not as arduous to stay in the moment as I had anticipated and was a worthwhile venture.
The first stop was the Emeryville Amtrak station, where we had to check our luggage Friday evening for our Saturday departure. The weight allowance was 70 pounds per bag. One of our bags was 78 pounds and another was 73 pounds. Then the spare emergency bag that we stuffed all of our last minute “treasures” into was 38 pounds. This and two carry-ons, plus a backpack with the laptop were all of our former life that would follow us into the next life. As I contemplated this thought, my mind wondered to earlier that day when we gave away more than 170 shirts, pants, scarves, gloves and other assorted clothing items. After 170, I stopped counting the hangers that were needed to transport the clothes to their new homes. Our housekeeper had come for the last time that day and she was able to leave with cash and a car load of goodies that we could no longer use, fit on the truck, or carry with us. Now our life was further condensed to about 200 pounds of luggage and probably less as we continue this journey. This is too much weight to be carting around the planes, trains, ferries, taxis, and other modes of transport both here and abroad. The Amtrak Ticket Clerk demanding an extra $20.00 for having overweight luggage interrupted my reverie. Story of my life, even my luggage is overweight.
Feeling less weighted down, we headed to the San Francisco Airport Hilton where I was able to get a room for $59.00 plus frequent flyer miles on my airlines card, my Hilton Honors card, and by paying with Visa the current promotion awarded me another 1000 bonus points. Jackpot! Our room was a deluxe with a sitting area, but we arrived by 8:00 pm and then crossed the parking lot for a late dinner before turning in for our race in the morning.
As I was getting ready in the morning, there was an interview on the television with the author of the Under the Tuscan Sun, Frances May. All that I heard was her comment about having a dream about 101 angels and how she knew she would find them in Tuscany. She was not certain if they would all be clustered together or if she would come upon them one by one. My mind began thinking about angels, the 101 plus angels that we were leaving behind in California. They are the angels of friendship, the angels of compassion, the angels of love that filled our life with so many unforgettable memories. These angels will be with us for all of our days to come, out of sight, but always flying in and out of our memories until fate brings us together again. Shakespeare said it all with “parting is such sweet sorrow.”
Our last errand was to bring the car to the San Francisco airport and park it in long term parking for Marsha to find when she returned from Hawaii. By going to the farthest end of the parking lot, we were able to find parking directly under a marker sign. I just needed to remember to call Marsha in Hawaii and tell her where it was parked. From the parking lot shuttle to the airport, we descended on flight to find the Amtrak shuttle, which whisked us off to the Amtrak station in Emeryville for our train. Waiting on the platform brought back memories from childhood of the anticipation of a train ride. Being a child of a railroad employee and later an employee myself, there were many opportunities to ride the train. This is one mode of transportation I never grow tire of. On the train in coach and off to Denver on the California Zephyr, the trainperson was a woman with a cheery disposition. Departure time – 8:30 am Saturday morning…arrival scheduled for Denver Sunday at 7:30 pm. The coach seats were extra wide with a leg rest that could be adjusted to any height while the back reclined. All seats with the exception of the handicapped are on the upper level. This was going to be a comfortable ride and the thoughts of blissful dreams were dancing in my head. Once that train started moving, it was time for me to say, “Good night sun and good night moon”. Although there is a viewing car, it was not much different from our coach car other than the seating was arranged differently and covered in leather. One more car away was the snack car, and then yet another car’s walk was the smoking car. Surprisingly, I did not grace the smoking room as often as I thought I would, however; there were a couple of women from Iowa, sister-in-laws who bragged about being in the smoking room for the 36 hours we spent on the train, only leaving to get sodas, beer and once a quick nibble. It seems that their husbands worked construction, building power plants all over California at this time, but all over the states from time to time. They had not been home for seven months, but each had a family emergency to attend to and the last minute airfares directed them to Amtrak.
Motion is a narcotic for me. I do not need drugs, prescription or natural when in a vehicle. I cuddled up in my seat with the provided pillow and my new mystery book complements of my co-workers for a relaxing read-doze marathon. From what I viewed of the scenery between reading and dreaming, I had not misplaced my energy or attention. I was able to recoup all of the dreams that I never had due to lack of sleep for the last three months. It was mentally stimulating in a narcoleptic manner.
Ron was able to pry me lose from my seating by making dinner reservations in the dining car. I had always fantasized about dining in style on a train, but when I was a child, our family budget was picnics in our seats, not eating out fashionably. It was extraordinary to watch the waiter and waitress serving beverages and dinners on china as the train wobbled along at high and low speeds, but was more fascinating was to think about the poor chef who had to cook with the same aplomb. There were five entrees on the menu, no small feat for a moving restaurant. We settled on the roasted chicken which I have to honestly confess was delicious. The entire dinner was beyond our expectations and not much higher in price than a regular restaurant meal.
It was three am. I was wakened by the stillness of the train. When I looked out the window, we were not moving. The train stops, I wake. The train moves and I sleep. That is a lovely arrangement, but now I am yanked from my subconscious world of imagery, because the train has stopped. It has stopped in the desert of Utah. Why? At that point I did not know. All I knew was that my hibernation had been interrupted…for over two hours. Later, I learned from the two chain smoking Iowans that there was a freight train accident and we had to wait for the tracks to clear. We were actually delayed for three hours. Thank the gods of the nighttime reverie that I did not have to stay awake that long.

Sunday, I was definitely ready to get off of the train by noon. Unfortunately, if I had I would still be somewhere in Utah and still far from Denver. I tried to diversify my activity by going to the lounge car. They had televisions there where they showed movies to wile away the hours. The movie showing was one we had seen, Chocolat. It was worth watching part of it again and non caloric at the same time. Other movies were too loud to stay in the lounge for and there was no one around to control the volume. Fortunately, our friend Leinani had given us a goodie bag, which we nibbled on the rest of the trip: the snack bar had irregular hours. By Denver, I had caught up on 20 hours of sleep and finished my mystery book.
Ron’s nephew-in-law picked us up in Denver and took us to his house for a visit. Ron’s sister Marge came from Fort Collins to see her “little” brother again. She had been in Iowa for the 4th of July when Ron was there. Ron’s niece Rita and she and Mark’s daughter Elise were there to entertain us. Oh, I cannot forget Annie, their chocolate Lab. She is five years old and still has more energy than five children with ADD on speed. One of the highlights was watching Elise’s soccer video. It is amazing and liberating to see such incredible young women excel at the sport. In addition, they were all beautiful. Mark and Rita have their basement decorated with the art of their two daughters from throughout their school careers. Kudos need to be given to their art teachers for the imagination they inspired in these two young girls, now women. The range and depth of media was beyond any that I have seen for the lower grades. Brains, beauty and talent, what a lovely way to celebrate a family gathering.

Mark took us to our hotel, another Hilton and more bonus points. I had called the hotel to make sure they guaranteed my room with my credit card. The desk clerk chuckled and said if we should up at 3:00 am with 100 other people she would be able to accommodate all of us without a problem. They only had 20% occupancy. Remarkably, I was able to rest well regardless of my cat naps on the train.

Faithful and charitable Mark was there to pick us up at the hotel the next morning to escort us to a breaking of the fast at their home. After our last meal with Ron’s kin folk, we said our good-byes once again. Still the reality of time and absence had not settled in when we hugged that last time. Mark drove us to the Denver airport to pick up our rental car. This is where my mettle gets tested. It is approximately a five plus hour drive to Gillette, Wyoming from Denver. Gillette is where Ron’s dear friends Sheila and Fred Billick have settled down until Fred’s retirement from the railroad. The question in my mind was WHY WHYoming? Ron had not seen them for a number of years and had recently reestablished a continually and more gratifying writing relationship gratitude to the technology of e-mail. Sheila had also found out about my love of seashells and sent me an apothecary jar that she had collected from their last trip to Florida. I in turn sent her some shells in a frame that I had collected from Thailand and other travels. Trying to stay in the moment, there was no anticipation of what the next couple of days would be like, but the thought of the drive to their home was not my favorite topic to contemplate.
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