west coast freight

In leaving, portland, san fran, travelling, west coast on December 9, 2010 at 1:09 pm

The 18hr train journey to Portland doesn’t start auspiciously. After hopping onto the bus from the ferry building in downtown San Francisco and traveling across the bay bridge to Emeryville (home of Pixar) we get to the station and are informed there has been an incident with a trespasser and the train at San Luis obispo, where I’d stopped earlier in the month, on the drive up to san francisco to have coffee and cake with Alex who I’d met in Bariloche.

The train was going to be two hours late, it was already ten o’clock at night. But what can you do, I sigh and look around at the other passengers waiting to board and I pull out the very large book that I’d snagged from the hostel in Los Angeles, which I’m close to finishing and glad to be so as I have another three books in the bag which needed to be read, which I’d actually bought and needed to be read so I could lighten the load.

Amtrak trains are on two levels, seating at the top and various things on the bottom, restrooms (don’t call them toilets, it upsets the average American) baggage, spaces for decades old arcade machines, played by young children, little shops for snacks and sundries. The seats are big, but old and cranky, they don’t recline all the way back and the pillows are slow in coming and there’s no blanky but the air-conditioning is set at an acceptable level, not too hot and not too cold.

But the views out of the wide window make up for it, tall green trees, acres of land with sprinklers flicking water across them, wide lakes stretching to a partially snow capped mountain on the horizon. Verdantly green triangular hills which remind me of volcanoes slumbering, ready to erupt again. Swathes of crushed, jagged rocks, across which the tracks of our train are raised, long dark tunnels through which your ears throb and pop.

Spindly trees line the course of the journey, thick and seemingly impenetrable, stretching away into the distance that you cannot see. Dappled sunlight seeps through cascading through the carriage dancing across flesh and foam, reflecting off the metal surfaces it alights on. The tracks follow the course of rivers and creeks, occasionally we cross and recross them, the sparkling water spilling out over rocks and fallen trees, as the day slowly awakens as the unblanketed occupants awaken, the red/purple sky strip of light swollen in the darkness.

Listen to the endless requests for reservations for the dining car, the reiteration of rules and regulations, the 2nd call for those who haven’t made their way to breakfast, lunch and if there are any other untoward stops, dinner. If I had my way the voice behind the calls would be crushed like a tin can beneath the thumb of a giant.

Trains in the states are slow, lumbering beasts, freight trains as I find out in Portland, are miles long, the railway lines in fact generally belong to freight companies and freight trains have priority. And standing at a railway crossing waiting for a freight train to pass can take a very long time. Time to break out the book or portable games unit. So the train rolls slowly, the old rolling stock not making it any faster, but its fun in a honey way, you give up on your own time constraints, and desires. The train will get there when it gets there and there’s nothing you can do about it, apart from quiet your buzz and sit in your chair. Which is what I do.

Sit and watch the time pass slowly through the ever changing view offered me by the windows either side.

America feels on that grand level now, like Argentina did as I swooped along the roads on the luxury buses. Big and vast and awe-inspiring, as you wonder what it must have been like way back when, when all you had was a horse-drawn cart and weeks and weeks to travel down a non-existent trail from one part of the state to the other. Now we can move so easily across states it makes a mockery of the hard work and effort and sacrifice that others made to make it possible.

I take a couple of photo’s and wander down the length of the train, try not to think about the rumbling in my stomach and hope that Nicole is there to meet me when I get to Portland.

PS fingers crossed the bike makes it in one piece. I’m pretty sure it will, but you never know, would be just my luck to have the bike get fucked as I travel through america rather than Argentina and Brazil.

San Francisco vol3

In eat drink man woman, out and about, san fran, stateside, west coast on December 9, 2010 at 12:46 pm

My stay in Berkeley will forever be linked to the mournful note of the train horns, as they passed along the tracks to the station close by, late at night, they would flower out, and I’d lie and try to hear the chitterclatter of the trucks rolling across the railings.

That and the sound of skateboards doing their own imitation of trains as they chased their shadows across the creases in the sidewalk. Nothing to remind you that you’re not in Blighty, but the sight and sound of some fresh-faced youths, or not so fresh-faced men pushing themselves along, before the glide begins, hips pushed forwards even as they lean back and bend their knees. Ah California’s love affair with the skateboard, for brief envious moments as I watch them slide past, I want to regress back to my childhood so I could put the hours in getting to a level of competence well above where I am now, which is rolling for a couple of steps before falling off.

Late nights by the water, with the lights reflected in the Bay, lovers whisper of a breeze, fluttering over your flesh. Getting a bit nippy, but just a thin merino jumper (thank you uniqlo) suffices to keep the chill away.

Enjoy a couple of drunken nights out in San Francisco, one when I’m still staying in Berkeley and the BART finishes running at about midnight I think. And I’m immensely glad that I got the number of the bus that runs back from town. Only when I put my bike in the rack on the front and settle back into my seat, drowsy with the alcohol, do I realise I have no idea which way this bus is going to get back to Berkeley and on top of that I have no idea whether I’ll be able to recognise where I’m staying once I get there. 

Bus takes me over the Bay Bridge, so far so good, then heads down the freeway and before you know it we’re in Oakland and apart from my daylight jaunt to Bakesale Betty’s none of this looks familiar, bus is on the fuller side with people sleeping, listening to iPods, chatting amongst themselves, and I’m staring out the window trying to figure out where I am, who knew the bus would roll through Oakland first.

Cue a good half an hour of fretting, and nervous neck twisting,  and finally sight is caught of a landmark I know and I’m sighing withe relief and looking for whatever I have to pull to get this bus to stop.

2nd, I get a call from Sacha, friend of a friend whose out with some friends in the Mission District, and I’m now staying in the Tenderloin, right in the heart of town and its no big leap to head out to see him and drink a couple. Once again I’m seduced by the simple act of riding a bike through the darkened streets. Loving the wide roads, the reminder to look out for the tram lines, and just the general feeling of those late night runs to someplace new, to drink and carouse, and just have fun. Also the knowledge that I won’t have to do anything but ride back to the hostel makes it a whole load more inviting.

So end up in this bar in the Mission, drinking cider, making small talk with the barmaid, over something that seemed really interesting at the time, but which I can’t quite put my finger on. Knocking back shots of rum, and defending the going out side of London from the table of Americans. My only point on that is DO NOT GO OUT DRINKING IN SOHO! Do Not Want! Just go to Shoreditch and Brick Lane and get twisted there, cheaper – relatively – and it’ll go on for longer, and if you want to be a dirty stop out in hopes of performing the walk of shame there are places where you can continue drinking into the wee hours.

After the drinking, I expected to ride straight back to the hostel but got the rumbletums, saw some bright lights and what do you know ended up in the Californian equivalent of the kebab shop, filled with as many drowsily drunken people as you could swing a stick out, as I leant across the counter, and ordered a couple of burritos’ before sitting and waiting like everyone else for the foil wrapped food present to make its way to me. I’m pretty sure I ate it when I got back to the hostel. Ahhh yes I remember now, everyone was in the downstairs kitchen, well six or seven people and drinking games were ensuing, and I just wanted to devour my burritos in peace, though I did drink a beer that someone offered me. Good Times!

On close to my last day in town I decided to ride the cable car, the bike was all bagged up, and where I was staying if you walked up the hill you got to a cable car stop, which then proceeded to take you down the steep ass hill, with a rattle and clank of chains as us tourists hung on the side, taking photo’s and being told not to stand in the entrance/exitway. For such an archaic piece of machinery, it does the job, and its nice to just stand on there and watch the slow descent down to the water, down past the edge of Chinatown, and into the more professional business section, skyscrapers ahoy.. It just feels like one of those things I have to do, and having missed out on the Alcatraz tour, those mothers get booked up early, it makes me feel as if I actually spent time in San Francisco and got a glimpse of how living here on the regular would feel.

Round the corner from me, hey that’s what happens when your hostel is located right slap bang in the center of town, is a pretty good Diner that has been recommended in my guide-book, so I’m in there like swimwear and eating, the scrambled eggs, bacon and home fries like there’s no tomorrow, sat right up at the counter with the short order cook, working right in front of me. It’s a cosy place and there’s a queue outside, which takes ten/fifteen mins to negotiate as eaters finally relinquish their space. The foods great, you can’t really mess with the all american diner experience and it’s always good to watch your cook sweat over a hot stove, right there in front of you, see the skill with which he works the skillet, and the custom of the never let it run out coffee refills, is manna from heaven for the coffee addict.

mural alley

In artworld, san fran, stateside on December 6, 2010 at 12:21 pm

Murals are big in San Francisco, here, they caught the imagination, feasted on it and expanded. Supposedly there are almost 600 murals throughout San Francisco.

I didn’t get the chance to see a fraction of that, but I did see some along the celebrated alleys of Clarion and Balmy,  down in the Mission District, where walls on both sides are festooned with gloriously political designs and thought-provoking story images. These images are more political overt and heavy-handed with their messages/stories than the big pieces that impressed me so much back in Buenos Aires, but the lineage is clear, the sensibilities parallels obvious.  And I enjoy walking behind a tour guide from the Clarion Alley Project (CAMP) as he leads a group of kids through the symbolism and meaning of the artwork which spreads across the walls.

A rich heritage of mural painting in San Francisco, especially in the Mission District can be traced back through Diego Rivera and Los Tres Grandes, with a more openly political stance being taken up by the artists painting in Balmy Alley in the 70’s.

But words generally can’t do this sort of thing justice. So see for yourselves..