Thursday, October 30, 2008

On the Train Again, Day 7

I watched the sunrise over the cold Nevada desert while I lay on my lower bunk. Beautiful red line rising over the horizon.

I decided to try out the shower, and much to my dismay, the line of water didn’t descend quickly. Realizing I only had a half an inch before the water would spill over, I rushed my shower a bit and rinsed off. The drain did work, but very slowly. Still, I got my shower in, and I’m still trying to convince Val to try it out.

At my insistence, we went to breakfast. I could smell the French toast before I got to the dining car. As it turned out, we were seated first with one gentleman, a New Yorker who was visiting his father in Oakland, and then a woman joined us; she lives in Albany. As Val later said, it seems we were finally seated with the only two other liberals on the train – oh, joy, oh joy!

Lots of conversation about Obama, Dellums, Las Vegas. We took a little longer for breakfast than is necessary.

I’m now back in the sleeper compartment as we pull into Reno. Val tells me that they have train memorabilia for sale in the lounge car. I’m gonna have to check that out.

Only a few short hours left until we pull into Emeryville.

What she and I both agreed: it's nice to leave a trip still wanting a bit more.

On the Train Again, Day 6: Leaving Chicago

Today we leave Chicago for another train ride. We caught a cab to Union Station, checked our two bags, loaded up on reading material and pretzels, and headed for the lounge waiting area. When we boarded, all of us following one agent, half the group got separated due to baggage carts on the narrow platform. Still, we finally found car 531 and boarded.

Our sleeper car is exactly the opposite of the one we had on the way over. The California Zephyr will take a southernly route through Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, and then California over three days.

We were glad to see the speaker in our room works so that we can hear the announcements, but they just announced that none of our toilets will be working. They tried to get it fixed in Denver during our long stop there, but gave up. This does not bode well for the rest of the trip.

Our dinner companions on the first night were people who wear their faith on their lips. And the woman has some definite health problems, perhaps the reason they’re taking the train. The age skews upwards here, and many of the people we meet are on their way to visit their kids, who for some reason for another have moved to another state. They were pleasant enough, especially compared to the couple at this morning’s dinner. She said a few words to us, mostly negative, but he never spoke to us at all, ignoring us the entire time. Just as well, I guess. They looked pretty red.

We went to the Observation Lounge, and I heard a few people in passing talking about Obama. I sensed it was negative talk. And not a word about McCain. I think that’s the difference in this campaign. It’s positive or negative about Obama. And McCain just doesn’t figure in.

I did not sleep well last night in the bunk, mostly due to the lurching of the train. Still, I’m not worried about it. Plenty of time for a nap.

We are currently in the Rockies. Snow is all around us. It’s very pretty. As a matter of fact, the scenery this time around has been spectacular, mostly on our side of the train.

I went by myself to lunch, and was paired with the same couple as last night. They were very pleasant. Yes, they talked a lot about themselves, but I found it interesting. And it really passed the time, especially when we all had the Haagen-Dazs ice cream.

The dining car supervisor, Susan, stopped to talk with us a bit. She was still upset that a woman complained about her earlier this trip when she refused to repeat for the 4th time the choice of desserts. It sounds like a hard job. She sleeps at intervals, mostly between 11 pm and 5 pm, when she has to get up for the breakfast service. And she’ll be doing this until 5 am on Friday.

We apparently have some Asian people next door – my guess is Japanese – but they don’t speak English. The cabin attendant asked another attendant for help: “Do you speak Oriental?”

A problem has been brewing since Denver, 7 am this morning: the toilets are out of order in our car. We stopped a little longer at 4 pm at Grand Junction, and they had the truck ready to siphon waste out of car #531. But that didn’t solve the problem. The engineers on the train were guessing out loud that it was the pump, but it’s a little late now. Looks like we’re totally without restroom facilities in our sleeper compartment or our entire car for the rest of the trip. That means two days. I am not a happy camper. Or, rather, I’m a camper without a restroom and I’m not happy.

7 pm. They just came up with an announcement: “Everybody flush your toilets!” Sort of like NASCAR. “And press the button hard, several times!” I did so with much glee. And the pump held. We have flushing again!

Tonight we tried something new: I slept on the bottom, while Val climbed on the ladder to the top bunk. I slept very well, got to the bathroom easily, and Val seemed to have a jolly good time. So, when we make that long Australian trek on the train, we’ll know our sleeping arrangements.

Chicago, Day Five: Obama Territory

This was our last full day in Chicago. Those promised snow flurries may have hit the streets last night, but they melted once they hit the ground. It’s in the upper 30’s today, a bit gloomy, but we had a planned adventure up ahead.

We ate quickly at the hotel spread, and then walked into the chilly streets. We went down a couple of blocks to the subway entrance, climbed down steep stairs and put our one dollar bills into the CTA vending machine. We put enough in to get us a subway ride as well as a bus ride.

The subway reminds me of the Underground in London. It’s old but serviceable, and people tend to obey the rules and keep it clean. Once we went a couple of blocks, we climbed back up into the daylight, went down another block and immediately caught the “3” bus. Another clean bus! The two men at the driver’s seat were very friendly, and showed me how to insert my CTA card – upside down.

The 3 took us to Hyde Park, which is where Val lived when she was attending the University of Chicago Divinity School, and incidentally where Barack Obama currently lives. Our bus ride was probably a good 20 minutes when Val said, “Let’s get off here.” We walked in her old neighborhood when we decided that a local Greek restaurant called Salonica on 57th Street seemed a good place to get lunch. When she had visited the place before, she could only afford to order coffee. Times have changed, we thought, as we ordered a full breakfast rather than lunch.

Then we went out again into the brisk air and walked another 15 minutes to the school. The purpose of this visit was to visit the Co-Op bookstore, and she had to find it by memory. Once we located the entrance into what looked like a church, we took a flight of stairs down into the bookstore. I perused the shelves, not with any intent on buying anything, while she went to work seeing what would work for her work.

While I was looking at a paperback version of Wind in the Willows, I heard two young men talking in the bookstacks about Obama. “Yeah, it’s amazing to think that he’s a member, too.” A member of the Co-op. Cool.

I went out to the foyer, still a little cool but protected from the wind, to wait. About half an hour later, she came up and sat down next to me, proudly showing me four new books.

We went on back down the road toward the bus stop, but I had been whining for pie, so we stopped at another of her old haunts. The Medici bakery had a restaurant next to it, obviously a student hangout, and we both ordered the apple pie a la mode. The menu advertised that it would take 15 minutes to heat the pie (“we don’t use microwaves”), and they weren’t kidding. We were surprised and awed when the pie came out with a glop of melting vanilla ice cream on top, sitting in a dish. The crust was home-made, and delicate. The pie itself had cinnamon all over it. The whole concoction was delicious. And we needed the dish.

After that necessary little excursion, we went back to the hotel along Michigan Avenue. It’s awesome to see the Chicago skyline against Lake Michigan.

We didn’t go directly back to the hotel, though, as I wanted some souvenirs. We stopped at a mall and went into both a Chicago shop and a sports shop. I was able to find a White Sox t-shirt that had the ALCS on it and all the players listed on the back. Several of those players, of course, are ex-A’s players.

We ended up eating dinner at California Pizza Kitchen, which was only a block away from the hotel. Good thing, too, as the temperature was dropping as night fell.

Night was spent in the hotel watching news about the election. November 4th is getting closer.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Chicago: Day Four Part Two: Stuffed Pizza

We headed against the wind for the three blocks in order to arrive at Giordano's, a stuffed pizza place, before the meeting time of 7 pm. We walked into what seemed like an overstuffed subway station. And we were the sardines.

We very smartly got our name in for four people, and the woman there said, "Okay. It's an hour-long wait. Is that okay?" We nodded. "In 35 minutes, go place your order at the counter to your right. Then wait for your name to be called." What a clever idea. So your pizza bakes while you're still waiting.

About half hour of waiting later, just standing on our feet, trying not to be stepped on by commuters who demand their pizza, in walked a woman who seemed to recognize us. It was Lisa from 43Things. I must admit that I don't know Lisa, but she seemed very friendly, and so she waited there with us for our table. Val and I had name tags on so that the last person we were supposed to meet, RuthG, could find us. Turns out we never did see Ruth.

We placed our order for a medium stuffed cheese, and after another half an hour, got seated in the back. In the meanwhile, Joe Blanton was pitching an excellent game on T.V., but I couldn't see the monitor from where I was sitting. It took all my concentration to hear Lisa anyway, so we talked and stuffed the wonderful pizza into our mouths. "Stuffed" means "deep dish." I took some aciphex right before I started eating, and it worked really well.

When we walked back to the hotel, I didn't feel as cold as I did walking over. Val told me that eating helps. Well, gosh, that's the secret, then, to surviving in Chicago. Eat before you dive into the cold.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Chicago: Day Four: Visiting the Art Institute

Chicago! Every street is exciting, no matter what part of town you're in. I really don't know anything about the city, and am allowing Val to show the way.

Our itinerary is very conservative. We had a nice breakfast at the same bistro we went to last night for dinner, one long block away. And then we caught a cab about two blocks later to the Art Institute. Since we'd had a lazy morning, we didn't get there until about 1 pm, and found demonstrators outside asking cars to honk for impeachment. I wasn't driving but I still honked, waving as we passed them into the entrance of the massive building.

Val used to visit here weekly in the early '80's. This was my second visit. Using the guidebooks, I was able to pick out what I wanted to see: the European masters (impressionists), and the modern American artists. We found both, using the map, and wended our way through the small rooms. I must admit, there weren't that many impressionists. It could be that they're being stored while the construction is ongoing -- a fate that several Picassos endured -- but I still enjoyed what there was to see. The large Seurat Sunday afternoon painting was outstanding. You view it from far away and then approach to discover the points of light.

And in the modern gallery I found Nighthawks, which later artists parodied. It, too, was so very interesting in person.

We went through a side elevator to find the little cafe, and stopped to have some yogurt to last us through until this evening.

When we got outside, it was darker and colder. As we went down the steps, I asked Val, taxi? She saw a busstop, apparently the same busstop she had used 25 years ago, and tried to figure out which bus to get on. So we found ourselves on Bus #3, going to Grand Avenue, put in our two dollars, the only words the driver would say, and sat back to enjoy the ride in a very clean, modern bus. So modern that the sign above the driver spat out which avenue we were approaching.

We are now in our hotel room for a brief rest before we have to go out again. We're meeting some 43Thingers at a pizza place two blocks away. The weather is part of the adventure: it should be about 30 by the time we get out there.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Take the A-Train to Chicago: Day Three

Saturday, October 25th

The day was one of sleeping in, relaxing, and getting ready to depart. We totally missed breakfast, but grabbed a cookie while we sat, read the newspaper (this time from Minneapolis), and waited for lunch.

We had a thoroughly delightful lunch (well, except for the food) with two women from Wisconsin. They had gone to Washington State for the death of their grandmother. They didn't seem terribly sad, saying that grandma lived to a ripe old age of 100. But they had to de-train in about 45 minutes, and were worried about the slowness of the service. For the first time on our journey, the place was packed. But they managed to get their meal and even order dessert. "I thought we were going to order some chocolate ice cream and take it back to our roomette," said one, laughing because her sister had ordered the cheesecake. Let me tell you, she really enjoyed her cheesecake.

We went back to the room, and watched three states go by. We were finally in Illinois, and from the state line it was only 20 minutes to Union Station. Our cabin steward nicely took our red bag down to the platform and we eventually followed him. We found our way to baggage claim. The next step was finding the car which would take us to the Holiday Inn, something which was a bit of a problem since they never return phone calls, but we found him by the taxi's. He drove us for about 15 minutes, winding in and out of busy streets, until we were finally there.

The room they gave us was a mess -- they explained later that their own employees had used it as an office earlier -- and reeked of smoke, so Val went down, complained, and I found her in the elevator, having gotten us a new room.

So I'm sitting in the room, hearing the cacophonous voices behind me of 20 or so channels on the T.V. as Val channel surfs. That's why I'm on the internet.

Tomorrow: The Chicago Institute of Art in the daytime, and meeting 43Things members at night for pizza!

Take the A-Train to Chicago: Day Two

Friday: Montana is icy cold

I woke for the last time at about 8 am this morning, and Val, sensing I was awake, asked me, “How are you feeling?” Tired, I replied. I know I slept, but not a lot. I asked her how she felt, and she repeated, “Tired.” The train was noisy, shaking constantly. And she has a cold. Knowing I was up in the higher bunk bed and couldn’t move was psychologically confining. There’s a ladder that stays put, pins under the rim. And two hooks with straps that hook to the ceiling to prevent me from falling out. Val’s bed pulled out just beneath, and prevented any other activity except going to bed. And using the bathroom.

My best-case scenario was staying still and not having to use the bathroom. My acceptable scenario was having to get down once. Well, I went ‘way beyond that. Let’s just say that I became rather good at climbing up the ladder and descending backwards (meaning, facing front) on the ladder. And I didn’t wake her up once.

We knew the dining room closed at 9 am (which is actually 8 am, since we had to forward our watches one hour). So we had to get a move-on. We were dressing, and just fell apart giggling when it became a challenge. A challenge to find our clothes, a challenge to stay upright while we tried to put them on as the train lurched forward. We were having a good time.

After breakfast, we dug further into the train and found the Observation Lounge, which has windows up above and windows all the way along the car length. We sat down at a table, and marveled at Montana. We could see Glacier National Park in the background, and parts of Canada on the left, and sometimes there was a light dusting of snow in the foreground. Not a lot of houses, people, cars. Just wilderness. The trees were intermittently yellow, then green, then naked.

I decided to go back to our room and left Val there. I was determined to try the shower. It’s a metal enclosure, and there’s a shower wand above. The directions were simple: turn the shower nozzle on, adjust the temperature, move the wand above you. What it didn’t tell me, and what I forgot, was to lower the lid of the toilet so that the seat didn’t get wet. Ooops. Well, I cleaned that up. The temperature was a little tricky, as the nozzle goes beyond the red/blue, but I found a nice, hot temp. We noticed the day before that they didn’t provide shampoo, so I put some of the sink liquid soap into a little drinking cup and used that. I luxuriated in it, in the impossibility of having a hot shower amid 30-degree temperatures outside. What luxury.

We went over around noon for lunch at the Dining Car, and found ourselves sitting with two young men from Wisconsin. Each was about 25, and very nice. We talked about innocuous subjects, like who names cities and how some get started, the benefits of public transit, things like that. I don’t think I learned much of anything about either of them, but the pleasantries certainly passed the time.

Amtrak is offering a wine and cheese tasting right now in the Dining Car, but Val’s stretched out, asleep. I don’t think we need the food anyway, although that belief has never stopped me before. Tonight we’ll be celebrating Shabbat, although it’ll be hard to bless the wine when other people are staring at you. I’ll let the rabbi handle that.

Take the A-Train to Chicago: Day One

Thursday, October 23

We are now pulling away from Wenatchee, Washington, picking up speed as the vibration increases.

My jeans are wet, as is my hoodie. I was in the tiny bathroom, sitting on the toilet seat when the train shifted and water came dripping, heavily, out of the shower head. So I’m typing this while a little wet. But, hey, it’s been an adventurous day.

Val is swearing she will not take a shower in our two days on the train. I’m convinced I must, just to be able to talk about it later.

We flew into Seattle from Oakland. Our Lincoln town car service picked us up promptly from the curb, and delivered us to the Amtrak train station in Seattle. We proudly walked in, checked our bags to be picked up in Chicago, and then discovered we had five hours until the train was to depart. So, at that point, we cleverly checked one more bag, to be picked up by us later, and got in a cab and said, “Take us to Pike market!” She quickly corrected me, “Pike’s Peak Market,” and then laughed and said people call it all sorts of things.

It turned out to be a beautiful day. It was probably hovering around 60, breezy and cool, and the sun kept trying to peak out over enormous clouds. All of the locals we met raved about the unusually good weather. We walked through the covered marketplace into a French restaurant. It promised us: Gorgeous views!

Well, not terribly gorgeous but certainly interesting. We were seated at an indoor table by the window. Our view was Puget Sound, but also the small apartments between us and the body of water. We were starting to wonder who lived there when I, in pulling my wooden chair close to me, snagged the wood with my left thumb. When I pulled it up, in pain, I noticed a large sliver of wood stuck in it. There’s wasn’t much of a head on it, nothing to pull out. Still, Val persisted and got it out. The waiter, who had been patiently leaving us alone until we settled things, came over and asked us if we needed a band-aid. He also brought a sheet of antiseptic. So, all bandaged up, we tore into our delicious terragon chicken croissants.

We left an extra dollar in tip for the bandage as we left – which I thought was generous, considering it was the restaurant’s fault – and started exploring the shops in the marketplace. We stopped along the way, after about 30 minutes, and had a soft drink while taking in another little restaurant. This one was much smaller, much cheaper, much more informal. It was help yourself, and we didn’t feel guilty about only having something to drink.

When it came time to get back to the train station, I called the number the woman taxi driver had given me, we found our taxi, and he took us back to Amtrak.

Getting on the train was no problem, and we were told which sleeper car was ours. I am amazed at how tiny it is, yet everything is here. A bathroom, sink, cabinet over the sink holding towels and soap. Two bunk beds. (That will certainly be interesting tonight!) I think a couple of mice would be very comfortable. We’re not mice. We’re anxious to see if this mode of travel suits us; if so, the possibilities could be very exciting.

At our designated time of 6 pm, we headed over to the dining car. I found out last month that we two had to sit next to each other so that the next couple could sit across from us. The couple at our table was from Pennsylvania, and had just visited their 26-year-old son and his girlfriend in Seattle. She works for the Salvation Army, and had an interesting story about how these hard economic times are really hurting organizations like theirs. Both Maddie and Charlie were very nice, but I could see redneck lines, sort of a conservative aura surrounding them. They live in a swing state. I am very glad politics did not come up in conversation, and whenever we thought it might, we would steer the conversation to the changing of the leaves right outside our window.

I’m going back to my book now. Bedtime will be the next adventure.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Dana's Section

I didn't get my usual seat at the symphony (Davies Hall) yesterday. Instead, I was sitting in the 2nd row Orchestra, right down front. Better, I thought, to see pianist Leon Fleisher's fingers pour over the keys. I was right: I could see everything clearly.

I had to interrupt the gentleman on the aisle, who was reading his program very intently, leaning over almost into his lap. He let me in to the next seat, and immediately turned his attention to me, asking me my name, where I live, things like that. He told me his name was Dana. He was obviously a regular. He was a small man, and had stuffed his cane under our two seats.

I actually recognized him. When I'm in my regular seat up above the orchestra in the side terrace, I will often see a little man yell and clap and approach the orchestra members after the piece. That was him, I was sure.

Dana then reached over me to pull on the sweater of the woman on my right. He interrupted the conversation of those two women to introduce me. And then, suddenly, he went back to reading his program.

While I sat there for 15 minutes, hoping to use the time to read about the selections of Beethoven we were about to hear, when he repeatedly reached across to snag Mary again, telling her about someone he'd met, or something he wanted her to do for him.

He knew almost everyone in the section, saying hello to them even when they were having conversations with other people. This was His Section.

During the concert, which was wonderful, he often kept tempo against his leg, or hummed, moving his head to the music. I must admit it wasn't that often or distracting, so I'm not complaining. At the end of a movement, he seemed to know exactly how it was going to end.

At the end of one movement, some people started clapping, so he raised his fingers, showing two, and indicated that there were still two movements to go.

And at the end of the piece -- actually, every piece -- he yelled "Bravo!" He and the guy in front of him. Apparently there was some competition as to who could yell it first, yell it the loudest, yell it again. And then he'd go to the stage and try to shake someone's hand.

Dana is a real enthusiast, a real music lover. A bit too intense for my company. But he became a real side show today.

Business is Booming at The Grinder

I went in for a 6-inch sub at Grinder's, a little hole-in-the-wall (literally) sandwich shop in Montclair.

The Sandwich Nazi has been well chronicled. The tall, eloquent business owner will yell at you if you don't know what you want, and wants orders boom-boom-boom! If you're smart, you'll take his suggestion and put your name and order into his computer. That way, you walk in, look him right in the eye, state your name, and he'll read your "usual." You say yes, and his assistants get to work.

I asked him today how business was. Surprisingly, he said it's the best it's ever been. "People want a low-price sandwich these days," he told me. He also surmised that fewer people are going to Tahoe on the weekends. "They can't afford to go out-of-town, so they stay here."

Apparently Channel 5 was just in the shop yesterday to interview him to find out why his business is doing so well. He laughed when he told me they had a tough time squeezing the camera into the pencil-thin shop.

He's laughing. That's a good sign.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Prop 8 Has to Die!!!

I am worried. No, not about the financial crisis (although that is heating up to be a global disaster). But about Proposition 8. Prop 8 takes away our constitutional right to marry.

Here's a photo of George Takei getting married earlier this month. His best man and woman were Walter Koenig and Nichelle Nichols.

Will Prop 8 take George's marriage away from him? He and his partner, Brad, have been together over 20 years now.

We have to defeat this measure. My God, I feel like I'm in the '50's sometimes.

Feasting/Fasting during the High Holy Days

Yom Kippur is now over. Jewish ritual and tradition calls for Jews to fast during the 24 hours of Yom Kippur, which was yesterday. "Fasting" includes no intake of water as well as food. Jewish tradition also says that those who are sick, as well as children, should not fast.

I like to follow along with what my community is doing. However, I do fall under the category of "sick" for this exercise: diabetic, high blood pressure, on and on.

So I do what I can. I had a cereal breakfast in the morning, and ate a banana for lunch. I use water to take my medication the three times a day I must take it, plus a little more. But believe me when I say I was really hungry when I dove into the oneg feast at sundown.

And that's the other problem for me during Yom Kippur: eating all the wrong things, all at once, at the end of Yom Kippur.

I tried to eat a lot of fruit. However, I also ate a lot of sweets (because they looked really good). And there wasn't enough water available -- they ran out of water in the first 10 minutes -- and the only thing left was red wine or apple juice, both rife with sugar.

My blood sugar wasn't over the line (140+) this morning, but it was up there, 130. I didn't succeed all that well at controlling my blood sugar, and will have to think about that more next year.

Now, today, I'm back to routine.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

It's Obama Time

An elderly African-American woman stopped me from leaving Sizzler Sunday night to tell me, "I love your button." She pointed to the tiny button I had on my shirt, one which read, "Veterans for Obama."

I'm not the usual person to be wearing a pin like that. I'm older. I have gray hair. I am not as liberal as many in the Bay Area. And I'm a veteran. But then again, I'm a woman and I'm rational -- that kind of skews me toward Obama.

I wore my Obama t-shirt today. It's big and colorful, and I knew I might get some stares as I made my way through Oakland doing my chores today.

Interesting debate last night. I think the analysts I listened to thought that it was mostly a draw, but the viewers as measured by the polls clearly thought Obama won. I see it both ways. I thought McCain got in some good points. But I thought Obama was calm and reassuring, and had a plan. McCain had a new plan which called for buying up distressed mortgages; I understand some of his conservative base is rather upset about that this morning!

However, I thought Senator Obama's speech in Indianapolis this morning, most of which I heard on CNN, hit the jackpot!

Early on in his campaign, when Sen. Obama was spouting Yes We Can platitudes and lifting younger people into the political arena with hope, I wanted more of a plan. Now that he's telling us his plans, I find myself wanting more reassurance, more hope. I wanted to be lifted. I mean, my God! These are tough times! His speech this morning gave both.

I love the CNN analysts. I even love the Republican ones. They're erudite, and rational, and a bit worried right now. My favorite analysts (some Democrat, some undeclared) are John King with his electoral map, David Gergen, and Donna Brazile. Did you see Brazile wince when somebody brought up the Gore misstep in his debate with Bush (when he sighed visibly)? Funny and tragic.

Gergen said last night that a 6-point lead in the polls by Obama may not be enough, and I was definitely listening. He talked about the "Bradley Effect" without naming it, a phenomenon where people poll one way but get into the privacy of their little voting booths and vote another way. Tom Bradley was going for governor of California after 8 years as Mayor of Los Angeles, and was ahead (polling at 65%) in the polls -- he lost that election. And it's all because of race, according to Gergen: some people can't stand to see a black man in the highest office in the land even though they won't admit to pollsters what they really feel.

We'll see. It's one of the most important elections of our time. (I would include Proposition 8 on the California ballot among them.) It's certainly very exciting. I'm glued to the TV set every day, every night.

As I was finishing my breakfast/lunch today at the Montclair Egg Kitchen, the waitress, a young Hispanic woman, pointed to my t-shirt and said, "That's Obama?" Yes, I replied. "Very pretty. Very colorful."

Colorful is right.