june 24 – blast off
ok now we're danglin'. this is more liked it. we've been dribbling along for what seems like forever. it's the interminable wait that kills me, but it was my own fault. i gave myself plenty of time and then i got my heritage stations mixed up, so i've got over an hour to cool my heels. it's not like i'm flyin' dahling. i'm on the bus, but frugality says i spend a day of my like in lieu of speed. so it goes. now in this station, mcdonald's is the only "restaurant" and the only other offerings are a handful of vendors selling a confabulation of items; from gem stones and tacky souvenirs to sushi. what i want is a nice fat glass of red wine. kick back with a nice cab sauv and some brie or something….and fat chance there is of that coming to pass here.
in the line to the bus i got talking to a czech girl who was dreading the prospect of the border. i do as well, but for other reasons.there've been occasions i've presented myself to the border guards and momentarily forgotten my own name. i know! czech girl gets a fine grilling on every crossing, and today is no different, but today is also her lucky day and she is back on the bus shortly after most of us. it is a couple of english travellers who stall the process amost an hour. and then there was some nonsense about customs only taking cold hard US cash. No CAD or english credit card would suffice. poor girl came back on the bus looking to trade english pounds one to one for USD.
we are zooming toward seattle through a patch of sunshine. i am not allowing myself to doze off because I want to be able to sleep during the night portion of the journey. we make it to seattle terminal with just enough time to for me to grab my bag, take a pee and join the cue for the sacramento bus. the station is a complete hole, i wouldn't want to linger here even if i had to. bus is packed. lady in front of me is working the incline on her chair. asks me to move my feet back. bloody well excuse me for having long legs. unintentionally i speak my thought aloud "oh yeah, that's perfeck!" as the chair drops into my lap. apparently, she has second thoughts and pulls it back up again.
as we hurtle toward portland i can't sleep and think the road awfully bumpy. the driver is straying from his lane and we are pushing over the raised lines in the road; those bumps meant to tell drivers they are heading onto the shoulder and possibly into peril. for some idle amusement i strain to make out shapes in the dark and lumpy landscape. tree, tree, water. gas is 2.53 a gallon. places with strange names. i giggle to myself. just outside portland, i notice a commemorative parkway dedicated to rosa parks.
we pull into the station at portland sometime after 10, through a series of narrow, well groomed streets lined with cobblestones and lit by heritage lights. the train station is crowned by a giant clock lit in a dazzling illumination of deep blue neon.
the depot is quiet when we arrive for the longest break so far. it's clean and kitted out with tvs all tuned to cnn. were it not so late, a little restaurant serves the depot and a person might have been able to get some sort of hot meal. i get the attendant to break down a crisp new 20 in between his dealings with unruly customers so i can scrounge myself a meagre meal out of the vending machines.
the lights dim and the sky colours deeply and soon it is the deep of night. the crazy cowboy codger is in front of me, cussing and banging the window, bringing up phlegm and constantly changing his position. me, i am hanging onto consciousness, trying to keep my sleep schedule as close to normal as possible. i’ve got the window and the seat beside me and have myself tried a few different ways to sleep. around 11 i take my meds and arrange myself in the position i've discovered best for myself to sleep–slightly reclined with feet slid under the seat ahead. i cover myself with my little airline blanket, and wait for sleep to come. it doesn’t come easily, but some deep breathing and the music of my iPod i get there.
i wake up just as we leave medford around 5 am. soon we stop at a gas station with a well stocked store and i grab some supplies for the road. i really want a coffee, but i am not drinking anything because i want to avoid being forced to use the bus toilet. interesting things you see on the side of the road. in the dawn light i see that you can get a room at hojo’s for $39.99 a night in medford. looks like fair class establishment. lol.
we've just left a small town called weed. the dour bus driver made a joke about it. you know “weed" winkwink. the station looked to hardly more than a carport in someone's backyard. 8am and 10 hours to go.we’re on the road speeding as fast as our milk run schedule will allow. i stare out the window hoping my intense gazing will help propel us toward san francisco faster than the projected 30 hours.
dawn turns into early day as we leave oregon and cross into california. we roll into redding. another tiny outpost. it looks to be standard issue. toilets, seats and vending machines under dingy fluorescent lighting. my iPod is dead. i opt for reading for the balance of the trip. i hope the book lasts. the last i see of the crazy, codger cowboy is that he is sitting outside the station. he almost looks lost.
hans and franz take over the seats vacated by the cowboy. oh i know they're not hans and franz, but it makes me smile instead of scowl as they talk loudly in german and begin to engage in childish games to pass the time. it pisses everyone off. they get told so by a few people. they apologize sincerely and carry on as they were. we’ve scarcely left the station.
the earth is a reddish brown that looks like it hasn’t seen the rain for weeks. if the brush is any indication i’m sure it’s true. stuff looks like it could simply burst into flame. isn’t that what california is famous for, other than the fact that it doesn’t rain? hmmmm, i’m trying to determine what the trees are. it’s as if johnny appleseed came along and planted but one and only species of tree. in nice neat rows of an almost orchard-like configuration. if they are fruit trees i can’t tell what sort of fruit they might bear, they possess no tell tale nodules or orbs of any kind to say. there’s not an evergreen in sight. the cloudless blue sky stretches out an invitation and the rolling yellow grass hills rise to meet it.
we happen into red bluff next. not a bluff red or otherwise to be seen for miles. we step off the cool of the bus into heat that makes me think that this is what a bug under a magnifying glass must be forced to experience at the hand of curious and slightly sadistic child.
i’ve lost track of time. i am fixated on my arrival time. we have a new driver and she is a regular joker. perhaps it helps if you share her particular sense of humour. her and a driver along for the ride are now regaling stories about leaving behind passengers that didn’t make it back to the bus on time. mildly amusing. if they’d stop somewhere more interesting than a buttf*** nowhere gas station, perhaps we’d be less inclined to wander. the landscape foliage begins to change and weeping willows and flowering shrubs begin to chop up the monotony a bit as the land flattens out. i suspect that these additions to the view are foreign and added for the benefit of the residents. the precise orchard configurations continue and dominate the scenery.
trundling down a two lane highway we are forced to crawl behind a municipal truck making a leisurely procession of the traffic behind it. got nowhere to go fast, apparently muni workers are the same everywhere.
we arrive in sacramento and we have almost two hours to kill. at first the a/c of the station is welcome. there is not much else to hold us there. people watching only goes so far, and “re
staurant” is the loosest term one could use for the grease heaven serving up burgers, hotdogs and the like. after awhile i begin to feel refrigerated, so i drag self and my bag and i outside into the heat of the day. the bus station is on L street and it is a street that has entirely seen better days. not that i expected the bus station to be in the middle of the fashion district or anything, but sometimes one hopes for more. old sacramento is not far away and my curiosity is piqued, but i have no idea how far away it might be and i am not bloody being left behind in sacramento. i decide i don’t have time and stroll the blocks that bound the bus station. i surrender and return to sit and wait in the cool. the people watching is beginning to take on more interest as a few local characters begin to buzz around the room. selling, buying? people have begun to drop their bags as placeholders and i resist conforming until local number one says that is what is done, and it’s first come first serve so it’s a good idea. he even volunteers to take my bag to the line. it seems he is a chivalrous sort. it’s about 1 o’clock in the afternoon.
we clamour onto the bus that will take us the last leg all the way to san francisco and i don’t manage to get myself a window seat. i feel lucky to get a seat at all the bus is so packed. across the aisle a brazilian woman scores herself a window seat next to a fellow who needs to be able to stretch his leg into the aisle. he is chatty and dispenses colourful stories and anecdotes about the area all the way into san francisco.
out of oakland, the bay bridge is bumper to bumper as far as the eye can see. all five or six lanes of it going our direction. which in and of itself boggles my mind. there's some problem in our lane–the hov lane–that is making it hell for everyone else. with some cagey maneouvering on the part of our driver he manages to bail out onto an off ramp that is relatively less congested.
finally we snail through town to the bus station. i can't believe we have finally arrived. over an hour late. but i don't care anymore. i am now in san francisco. i grab my bag from the pile of bags and stride out of the station into a blast of wind zooming through the downtown wind tunnel. after a few blocks it dawns on me i don't know which direction i am to go so i seek someone out for help. i see a kid on the corner across the street. (now in hindsight had i read his little leaflet i would have realized he was from oakland and perhaps not familiar with downtown san fran.) i give him a small donation. and he gives me directions. off i go. after a couple of blocks i notice him sprinting after me. he has sent in the wrong direction. i tell him that he is lucky i wasn't walking too fast and he tells me, a little out of breath, that i was walking fast enough. he sends me in the opposite direction and i turn around and cut through the stiff downtown wind, still unclear as to my destination. i walk for a bit and i don't cross the street i am looking for as expected and so i flag down a gent as he is leaving his building. he is incredibly kind and tells me he appreciates being lost in a city and is happy to help. unfortunately, he has no idea where i am going either, but sends me up the street in the general direction of the area he suspects i am meant to go. as always i decide that the best plan of attack is to ask a concierge of a hotel what i need to know. i've thumped my bags and my sweaty self into the palace hotel. it a stunner, and resembles a palace, even so the concierge is helpful, deferential and very kind, giving me a little map to get me right where i need to go. ever the diplomat he tells me as i leave that my hotel is a beautiful hotel.
i arrive at the hotel, my feet beginning to burn from the pace i have set. i ring the doorbell to the room, and after a pause, michelle answers the door. we begin to chat and soon michael and jay arrive back to the room. the week has begun.