California Zephyr

8/11/2008 – 8/12/2008 & 8/14/2008 – 8/15/2008

Amtrak: California Zephyr

I’ll admit, I was somewhat intimidated by the idea of two nights in a row sleeping in my seat on board the train. It was this, combined with the fact that my college friend Sarah lives in Denver, that led me to break the journey into two pieces. Overall, traveling by train has been a good experience. It takes quite a while, but can be cheaper than flying (and driving) and is actually a relaxing and interesting way to travel if you have the time. I made some notes on the people I met during the two legs of my journey.

Chicago to Denver
  • A retired old man who now mows fairways at a golf course by his house, on his way to visit his daughters in California.
  • Another old guy who talked a lot about World War II (“the war”) and Korea.
  • My seatmate on the first leg, a man from Denver who has retired from computer programming and now spends his time freaking out about peak oil. He seemed well-intentioned but pretty flaky. I learned some things talking to him.
  • Sandy, a young woman who grew up in NYC but now lives in Davis, California, who was on her way back home from DC. She flew out and took the train back for fun, which made me like her even more.
Denver to Emeryville
  • The train lost a car in Denver, so I sat at a table in the cafe-car with Frank, a mid 70s man headed to a $100 per plate union dinner in San Francisco.
  • Frank and I ended up playing cards with Ashley, a great girl I ended up hanging out with a decent part of the journey. She was on her way home to Sacramento from Denver.
  • A mom and her two cute young kids headed from Denver to Salt Lake City. The boy was wearing an awesome shirt that labeled the different parts of his “engineer kit”. I was obsessed with trains when I was a kid too, so I could relate.
  • A weird dude from Arkansas who was going to his brother’s property in northern California to pan for gold or something. Interesting story but this guy was seriously strange.
  • A nice lady who couldn’t finish her lunch and gave me lots of it, then I once I was given a seat I ended up next to her.
  • Rebecca, a woman moving across the country to the bay area, looking for big life changes. I ended up chatting with her quite a lot during the last few hours of the trip.
  • I had to change seats at Salt Lake, at two in the morning, and ended up sitting next to Mary from New York, an older lady whom I really enjoyed talking to. She mixed koolaid and grapefruit seed extract for her morning drink, which was strange, but overall she was great. Also, she writes limericks for fun, and I wrote one while I was sitting with her.
  • I ate breakfast in the dining car and met some folks there, including a Basque guy (“I’m European. Basque, actually. From Spain.”) He was well-traveled all over the world and ended up telling us about taking the trans-siberian railroad west from China to Moscow. I’d considered that trip eastbound, but never thought of doing it westbound. He also talked about getting a horse in Mongolia and going to live in the camp-villages for a few days.
  • We also sat with a tattooed and pierced guy who turned out to be a juggler. He talked a lot but was very nice, genuine, and loved life.
  • Our fourth was a picky woman who ate almost nothing. She tried to order off the menu several times, which doesn’t really work on Amtrak. They have what is on the menu and nothing else.

Reading: On The Road – finished on the train; Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood – started

Incidentally, I highly recommend reading Jack Kerouac’s On The Road while you are traveling through Denver and San Francisco. These two places, along with New York City, are the primary locations in which the story takes place. I guess I could have left from NYC rather than DC and that would have made it more perfect, but oh well. As it was, it was pretty neat to see the places in the story just as I was reading about them.

I suppose it would be possible to follow the exact paths taken by Dean and Sal, but that would take years, and many thousands of miles of travel. Good luck if you decide to try this.

On to the Bay, Sacramento, and eventually to a bit of a break in Oregon.

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Denver, Colorado

8/12/2008 – 8/14/2008

I’ll keep this pretty short: my train arrived late Tuesday morning, but Sarah was happy to pick me up anyways. We went to breakfast. It was good. Then she took me back to her apartment where I was re-introduced to the cat, Squash, and she (Sarah, not Squash) gave me a key, her bike, and some advice.

Colorado Capitol

I went for a run, then hopped on the bike and rode around downtown Denver. As part of my explorations I stood on the step of the Colorado Capitol that is exactly one mile above sea level. After a time I stopped and got some coffee and read for a bit, but eventually meandered my way back to Sarah’s apt. I walked across the street and bought some Oregon beers (yay!) and then hung out at the place until Sarah got home, at which point we walked downtown and wandered around Larimer Street for a bit, had a couple beers, and I got drunk on a very small amount of alcohol (altitude!).

British Columbian Art

Our first stop Wednesday morning was the U.S. Mint. We arrived at 8:40 and conned our way into the 9 o’clock tour to look at coins and coining machines for a while. After a tasty omelet for breakfast I made my way to the public library–where I used the free internet to order my new camera–and then on to the Denver Art Museum. The museum was actually very cool, and I ended up staying there for quite a while. After returning to Sarah’s apartment I went for another run before we began the night’s activities. The plan: dinner and a Langhorne Slim concert. The concert was great! Check out the music. After the show we had a drink and then headed back to Sarah’s house. At this point we had a pretty surreal experience. *lowpro moment* Fun times.

Thursday morning, I caught my train. It left three hours late, but I knew that was going to happen so I didn’t show up at Union Station until 10 o’clock.

Reading: On The Road

Departure: Amtrak California Zephyr, Denver’s Union Station to Emeryville’s station, $120.00

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New Camera!

I ordered a new camera this morning. It’s the Canon Powershot SD890 So my picture-taking should be both more frequent and of higher quality in the near future.

I think I need to start taking pictures of my meals. That’s always fun. Anyways, I’m in Denver, Colorado, and enjoying the free wifi at the public library before I head out for some art gallery and museum action.

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