Archive for the ‘The Road’ Category

Tea Party on a Train

October 10, 2011 4 comments

North Dakota Flooding

I was on a westbound train out of Minneapolis, heading for for Portland, when I had one of the more remarkable experiences this journey has provided. It was mid-June and the Empire Builder route had been out of service for a week due to heavy rains. The night I left Minneapolis was the first run west this train had made since the immediate flooding had gone down enough to allow safe passage. But by morning the train was already behind schedule.

In the early morning I went and found myself a seat in the observation car. A pleasant looking man in his forties asked if he could have the next seat. He hailed from Louisville Kentucky where he owned a successful company. His two tween aged kids were with him and there were frequent calls and texts back to Mom, who was enjoying some “me” time. He and the kids were going to explore the Glacier Park in Montana. As the train moved slowly from Minnesota into North Dakota we chatted with the train’s barman, stationed right next to us. When politics entered the conversation I soon realized that my companion was a very suave well educated member of the tea party. I said nothing about my own political affiliations and just listened.

While the rest of the country labors under this, the fourth year of the 21st century depression, North Dakota is in the middle of an oil and gas boom. Wizened farmers are taking their newly gained wealth and leaving for Hawaii. Any able bodied man tough enough to be a rigger can get a job that pays enough to support a family. Women are welcome to apply to sling hash.

In the spring of 2011 record breaking snowfall became record breaking flooding. In Minot ND, a rigger heading home to Montana boarded and joined our small party in the observation deck. Minot is the same town that suffered a devastating flood just days after I passed through.

Our new traveling companion was as rough and hardened as the first man was smooth. But they shared a political ideology, and the talk soon turned to the news of the day. Mr. Louisville’s children, especially the boy, were very expressive in their hatred of Mr. Obama, to a point which would have raised eyebrows if they had been adults.  Mr. Montana’s loudest derision was saved for “Obama’s global warming”. After all, the northwest had been laid waste by snow, not heat. And god dang it, Montana has an un-employment rate of 50% or so, and that was the government’s fault. Obama’s fault he had to ride twelve hours to get to work, and missed being with his wife and kids…

The train had slowed to a crawl, with frequent complete stops as conditions changed on the tracks. We were supposed to reach the Glacier Park at sunset, but now the estimated time of arrival there was just before dawn. Food was running out on the train as well. We were promised that they would take on a delivery of fried chicken somewhere down the line.

At some little whistle stop the border patrol boarded the train for a citizenship check. Each passenger was asked their citizenship. Most were not asked to prove it. There was a contingent of German’s on board, all with proper passports. When they reached our group, Mr. Montana told them they should ask Obama the same thing.

Then something odd happened. I had been mostly silent the whole way. Mr. Louisville was a good conversationalist except for the political thing, and the evening had passed quickly enough. But I was getting hungry. And I was arguing with myself about whether to spend some of my last precious dollars on food. Just as the fried chicken was delivered the Kentucky group said good night and departed for their sleeping car. I would be sleeping in my seat on the observation deck.

That is when the man from Montana offered to buy me a chicken dinner. I accepted. We munched on our chicken and talked in the fading light. He talked about his family and life in the big sky country before things got so hard. He also asked me about myself, whether I was married, had kids etc. When I said no, and told him I was widowed he offered sincere condolences. We spoke of how hard it was to raise kids now, to know they were safe.  In short he became human to me.

I began to realize that this person and his fellows were not my enemy. I may find him ignorant. His birther comments may offend me. His anger may scare me. But he is one of the people being most affected by the wickedness of the free market and the excesses of Wall Street. It is the job of the progressive left to show people such as this who the real criminals are. If we are not making our case with the words we are using now, we need to find new words. It is very important to know who the real enemy is, and not allow the angry words of a poor family man distract me from the real villain in this story—the elite rulers who crashed our economy for profit’s sake.

Riding the Train Coast to Coast

The Train

I decided to take the train for this phase of the trip, and was able to get a rail pass good for one month. And so I hopped the Zephyr one morning in May, bound for New York City by way of Chicago. The train is a lot softer than the bus in terms of the travel experience, though the problem of sleep still looms. At least they give us little pillows, and there is plenty of leg room. It is also possible to walk around, to eat in the dining car if you have the inclination and the money, to drink a civilized glass of wine with dinner, and to get water when you get dehydrated.

There are other advantages as well. The people are not only less likely to be crazy than they are on the Greyhound, they are often wonderfully interesting.  I decided to try the dining car just to see what it was like, for the evening meal. They sat me with an older black couple, both retired from working in the medical field in Washington DC. I told them the purpose of my travels, which got us on the subject of the new American depression. They did not disagree with my contention that this is a depression, that it began around 2007, and that it will take a long time to get out.

Emboldened, I went on to discuss this with many other of my fellow passengers. None disagreed. In fact, I began to listen to the conversations around me and many other people were discussing t along the same lines, with no prompting from me. I do believe we have reached the tipping point, and that the public will soon demand official acknowledgement of this depression. All I can say is it is about time.

Categories: The Road Tags: ,

Crossing the Country by Greyhound-Detroit to San Francisco

April 13, 2011 2 comments


Leaving Detroit

I arrived at the Detroit Greyhound station at ten PM though my bus wasn’t scheduled to leave till the wee hours. Bill and Shirley gave me a ride, and I didn’t want them navigating that neighborhood too late at night. Besides, once I was in I was safe. Modern Greyhound stations are like forts, with lots of security. The first stop would be Chicago, at the crack of dawn. I spent the time discussing progressive and Detroit politics with a lovely educated woman. Once on the bus, everyone either slept or tried too. Sleep is a very valuable thing on a long haul by bus.



I had a five hour layover at this station, the largest of all the Midwest hubs. This may have been the most uncomfortable five hours of the trip, but a person gets to watching people. It is dangerous to relax completely because of the luggage situation. I found a seat close to my gate and hunkered down. A party of three, an old man, a girl, and a young man, all tumbled in and dropped their bags. I thought they were together, but when the old guy and the girl took off (he was her grandfather) the young man said that he “didn’t know them from Adam” and that the girl had been driving him nuts. He was from Kentucky, going to North Dakota for work. He said he had tried every fast food place for miles around his home and come up empty. His mom had something for him to do in North Dakota. Times are hard when a willing seventeen year old can’t find work in a fast food joint.

At last the bus pulled up, an older model with no electricity and no internet.

Through the Midwest

I was surprised at the beautiful scenery across parts of Iowa and Nebraska. I had no real knowledge of the fact that

Iowa City

both the Mississippi and Missouri rivers cross the Midwest. Davenport in particular looks like a good place to explore further. An old river town. The sun set over the plains as we headed for Omaha. It was then that I realized that there was a contingent of people going to San Francisco. We formed a little mutual protection society, making sure we were all aboard when the bus left a god-forsaken “rest stop” at a convenience store in the middle of nowhere, watching each other’s stuff on layovers, and hunting for the ever elusive plug. My favorite was a tattoo artist from Wisconsin who was heading to Sonoma County, my home.

I started counting the Walmart trucks in Iowa. There seemed to be hundreds of them. This began to make sense considering the number of giant Walmart super stores we passed. I know we have them in California, they are just hidden better.

Riding the bus is a little like jail, except you can walk away. They remind you over and over again that you can be arrested for one infraction or another. One driver claimed that if anyone were caught with a bottle of booze, everyone on board would have their luggage searched and warrants run. I doubt it’s true, but I was fantasizing my constitutional search and seizure suit, if they tried that on me.



The Rocky Mountains

We reached Denver at daylight. There is a great charging station there and decent coffee. I will not eat most of the food proffered by the outfits associated with the bus-line. Normally what I bring keeps me from outright hunger. But coffee is a tricky thing, and I was glad to have it.

It turned out they had routed us over a gorgeous stretch of the Rockies, through Steamboat Springs. It took several hours longer than taking I80, but it was worth it.

Salt Lake City to Home

We arrived in Salt Lake City in the early evening. It seems like this is always the case. I would like to see this town by daylight one day. By this time everyone on the bus was sleep deprived, and I was a little hungry. I had powered through my apples, cheese, nuts, and most of the candy. Note to self-bring more food next time. The only big stop was at the Reno station, a true pit. No coffee, broken vending machines. But, by then I was close enough not to care.


Categories: The Midwest, The Road Tags: ,

Good Bye to San Francisco-For Now

Great Poverty Exists

San Francisco has had a large income gap for a long time. For as long as I can remember, shapely high heels would step over the prone, nearly lifeless bodies of the homeless to get to their meals of Filet Mignon and Chocolate Decadence. It is a good thing I am coming back here in a few weeks because I was not able to meet with even one of the people I had

Side by Side with Great Wealth

hoped to. On my last day here, Wednesday, I made it to the Food Cart Wednesday under the Chronicle Overpass at 5th and Minna. I sat with a large crowd of the neighborhoods workers at lunch and listened to music in the sun.

At midnight my friend gave me a ride to the Greyhound station on Folsom and I started out towards Madison by way of Salt Lake City and Denver. The Greyhound station is new. It used to be a very scary place, dangerous even in daylight, situated in one of the city’s

At the Greyhound Station in San Francisco

worst areas. Now it is in an industrial area, and is under guard. You can’t come in to the lobby without a ticket.

The bus itself is cleaner than I remember from another long ago trip east. There are no rowdy drunken men in the back of the bus. But, it no longer stops at stations with diners. Instead it stops at Chevron Mini-Marts. I am very hungry

Salt Lake City View from the Bus Station

right now because I could not find one thing I consider to be edible in any of these stores.

Now I am enduring a three hour lay-over in Salt Lake City. I was lucky to find a plug. There is no food here either. By dawn I will be in Denver.


San Francisco-Days One and Two

The Journey Begins

The trip began in a light rain, which seems appropriate. My first stop is San Francisco. I have been doing a lot of walking, getting the lay of the land. It is an interesting phenomenon. I know this city, have lived in it years ago and around it for what seems like forever. But now I am observing closely, looking with new eyes. I am staying with friends, and the time I spend at the home base is companionable as we share a meal or a bottle of Zinfandel. But I can see that this will be a lonely venture.

On the Road

I spent the day in the Union Square area yesterday, checking in at the dying Borders Books where they are having a closing sale—“Everything Must Go!” Including the employees, who will soon be battling astounding odds as they try to find new jobs.

In the evening I went to a event at a local watering hole, the Café Royale.The way couch surfing works I have a better chance of finding places to stay along the way if I have people to vouch for me, and a few couch surfing “friends” on the website. The people were really great. There were a lot more men than women at first, but by 9:30 PM it had evened out a bit. They came from all over the world. It is a truly international crowd. I may have been the oldest person there but it was not an issue. And I have my first Couch Surfing friend, a young

Everything Must Go!

man from Santa Cruz who is in the process of moving to San Francisco. This may actually work.

Meanwhile, in other news, Governor Walker of Wisconsin by passed the need for a quorum which he couldn’t achieve without the fourteen Democrats who left the state three weeks ago, and used some procedural skullduggery to push the union-busting bill through. That leaves me with a little logistics problem. I want to go to Madison first thing, but my plan was to go south and cover California first. It takes a little over two days to get to Madison WI from san Francisco by bus. I am torn…