14 April 2014

the birdman of east village

I met Birdman of East Village today.

10 April 2014

beethoven faces a tree

That tree was planted directly in front of the monument. Why?

organ, metropolitan museum of art

lunch, central park bench

(Taken April 9, 2014, en route to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.)

a fairview park tree

Taken on March 31, 2014, after a snowy evening.

04 April 2014

a marker post: my backlog posts and the now

I have a lot of backlog posts, which is psychologically preventing me from blogging about the now. They are clogging my blog pipeline. 

I have to break the block. I can always post about that train ride and Chicago and everything else that had happened afterwards in the coming days, perhaps even when I am already back in the Philippines. But in the meantime, I need to blog about the now. 

So much have happened from March 23 to the present April 4, 6:30 p.m. Cleveland time. In brief, calendarically

On March 24 I arrived in Chicago, spent two full days there, with one full day inside the Chicago Art Institute. On the evening of March 26 I boarded another train to Cleveland, where my beloved aunt and uncle reside. I arrived in Cleveland in the early morning of March 27. From that day until April 2 I stayed with my aunt and uncle, both septuagenarians, in their lovely home in Fairview Park, a suburb city of Cleveland. 

We laughed, we ate, we told a lot of stories. I accompanied them as they went around their neighborhood on their lively errands. 

On the evening of April 2 my cousin, a doctor practicing in Cleveland, fetched me and brought me here, to her apartment, which is approximately five to ten minutes away from downtown Cleveland. 

On April 3 I spent the day at the Cleveland Art Museum, which proved to be a far superior museum experience than the four hours I had spent at the far more popular Chicago Art Institute. (Why?) In the evening my cousin and I attended the Mitsuko Uchida concert with the Cleveland Orchestra at Severance Hall. They performed Mozart. 

This morning and early afternoon I visited the Cleveland Art Museum for the second time 

I am presently typing away in the spare room in my cousin's apartment. I have been here for the past two or three hours, napping and resting. It is six thirty in the evening. I believe my cousin's husband arrived an hour ago. He drove all the way from Kentucky, where he has his medical practice. 

Outside, the wind is blowing hard. There might be a storm. 

glenwood springs, two diary entries

11:00 a.m. I nappped for a while, about fifteen to twenty minutes maybe. I feel revived. 

The train is at a station stop at Glenwood Springs. It's the same usual sights: snow-capped mountains, and malls, and stores. JC Penney, Target, Radio Shack, Denny's. The Colorado River, however, has now wound itself to my side of the snack car. 

Finally saw a man fishing on the river a few minutes before the train slided to this stop.

11:18 a.m. We are leaving Glenwood Springs. I briefly saw a mantle of snow on the ground. The scenery is still very deserty, but with tufts of green on the grounds and a few scraggly trees every now and then on the desert hills. 

I wonder, would this scene look the same were it summer?

overheard: snowing in chicago

The snack bar attendant is chatting with the male counterpart of the loverbirds. He says he received the following text message: WTF! It's snowing! In Chicago! It's nearly April!."

So there will be snow when I arrive. 

I am not thrilled.

(Written on March 23.)

march 23, 9:49 am: the colorado river

An hour and a half after the P.A. had announced it's fluid presence, and the train is still speeding past the Colorado River. I think the train is alternating between 100 kph to 120 kph this time. (I could be wrong. It could be going faster.) 

I haven't seen any swimmers yet.

getting comfy in the snack car

For some reason it is quiet warm here, way warmer than in the observation deck and the coach car. Warm enough that I have taken off my coat and my long sleeved shirt. Now I am just in my t-shirt; my sleeve tattoo is showing. Cool. 

I have also taken off my shoes. I can smell my feet. I hope they don't stink up the snack bar. 

I have my lunch baon here. It would be nice to have pasta but I can't say I'm comfortable with the communal dining situation. It's been awkward the two times I ate at the dining car. I'll probably have the pasta tomorrow, or if not, on my return train trip to California in May. I'll be happy to have my baon salmon tin and wheat bread here, which I'll pair with my baon lime coke, with some free ice from the snack counter guy.

(Written on March 23.)

9:30 a.m., privacy at the snack car

I am now parked at the snack bar. 

I went down here just a few minutes earlier to buy a bag of Doritos.  But the snack bar at the time was still closed and I could not buy any. It was then that I really noticed the empty dining seats and tables down here. I could have privacy here. 

At the observation deck it is possible to look from behind my seat to see what I am writing. While I have privacy on my seat in coach and could comfortably write there, I need a change of scene. 

I also do not like feeling self-conscious, which happens in the crowded observation car. So now I'm down here. 

There's so much space for my stuff. And it's quiet. The passengers who go down are here to buy snacks that they bring to the second deck. They don't even see me in my table behind a "Danger! High Voltage" closet. 

(Written on March 23.)

8:50 a.m., grand junction, colorado

We are in a well-populated area now. I see a high school. and a church ("Victory Life Church"). There are so many farm lands here. Trailers, beat up cars, old houses.

I wouldn't want to live here. This looks worse than Palmdale, California. 

I see the usual boring stores, malls, and restaurants. JC Penney. Ross. Wendy's. Taco Bell. Verizon. Hobby Lobby. Office Depot. Standard americana.

(Written on March 23.)

8:43 a.m. change of scenery

We have really left the desert. I am finally seeing cultivated green fields, farms, and some acres of land being advertised for sale.  

8:22 am, march 23, entering colorado

A female voice has come on the P.A., heralding our entry into Colorado and departure from Utah. "On the train's right is the colorado river, which we shall be following [for some time]. We shall be arriving in Grand Junction, a station stop, in forty minutes..." 


So now I know the train is in Utah. 

They say we passed by Salt Lake City last night. Too bad I didn't get to see it. 

Perhaps the train was in Salt Lake City when I woke up at 4 a.m. this morning and saw the Yellow Cab sign. In any case, the Utah that I am getting to see is a desert. 

An immense desert. It's probably not much different from the Nevada desert I saw yesterday. For some reason, though, it is seeing the Utah desert that I am struck with the thought of this world's immensity. 

This could be how the Martian landscape is like.

(Written on March 23.)

waking up, march 23

The cold woke me up. At six a.m. the P.A. system announced the dining car's availability for breakfast. I got up at seven and, contrary to my original plan of having my baon for breakfast (a can of salmon, bread, some butter I took from my dining car table last night), I went to the dining car, thinking a hot cup of coffee would be good to wake me up and kick the grouchiness out of me.

a sleep diary

Sleep was fitful. I think I woke up around three or four times. 

But it was better than expected because I had thought I would stay awak for long periods of time and struggle to fall asleep. This did not happen. 

First woke up at around eleven p.m. or one a.m., I cannot remember. I think it was the lovebirds that did it. They woke me up with all their rustling. I actually thought they were having sex. But passengers would pass by our aisle every one and then on the way to the toilets so they could not have been. But they were moving around underneath their blanket a lot. 

I think the woman was having a difficult time finding her position. No pun intended. 

Then I woke up at around 3:48 am. The train was at a standstill. I heard somebody heavy footed going up the stairs and down the aisle to the next coach car. It sounded like he was actually running. I woke up annoyed. And a little alarmed. The train at a standstill meant it was at a station stop and very probably boarding new passengers. And unboarding old ones. There was not an announcement of the stop, though, to warn passengers. A thief could have gone up the cars. But no, the tall guy walking briskly on the aisles wore an Amtrak hat, so I was somewhat reassured (at the time of the night I was not being logical). He was soon joined by a woman wearing an Amtrak uniform. They briskly walked on my aisle about three or four times so maybe they were doing a routine check. 

At around 4 am (or 5?) I woke up again, but this was due to a harsh light outside to my window; I had not closed curtains (I'm not sure they can be closed completely). The train was again at a standstill. We were underneath what looked to me to be a flyover. The light came a lamp underneath it. I looked around for a clue on where we were. Nada. I only saw a sign for "Yellow Cab." I don't think it was for the pizza company. It was for a cab company. 

It took me sometime before I fell back to sleep after that. 

(Written on March 23.)

Turning in

Coffee at dinner did me no good. I lost my sleepiness. I went to the observation lounge to read my alertness off. Only a handful of people were there. There was one goodlooking guy, apparently eager for conversation, but I wasn't sure what we'd talk about, so just kept to myself and read Beethoven. After I finished a chapter ("Childhood") I decided to go to sleep. I downed a tablet of melatonin to help me in that department.

The new lovebirds were already there, sharing two seats.

(Writtten on March 22.)

02 April 2014

speed and noise at 9:00 p.m.

The train has definitely picked up speed. I am at the nearly deserted observation lounge, writing these posts for this blog. The train has gotten a lot noisier now. Is it because this is the observation lounge? Has it been made less sound proof than the sleeper and coach cars?

(Written on March 22.)

8 pm: caffeinated

I had coffee with dinner and so I am alert. I do not think I will be able to sleep soon. I will probably stop typing for my blog after three hours.

(Written on March 22, on the California Zephyr)

the amtrak steak

And so I ordered the Amtrak steak. Well done. 

At another table, occupied by a white couple and a black mother and daughter, the white man was waving his fork around. On the fork was skewered a sliver of glistening raw meat. So the guy  had ordered his steak rare. Very rare.

The guy looked old, but he was probably just in his early fifties. He was with a much younger woman, a rather obese blonde, and she had a lot of colorful bracelets on her wrist. She always spoke in a loud, assured, perky voice. Rednecks, I thought of the two of them, with the man greasy haired, gaunt, sunburnt, wrinkly and ferocious-looking. He was talking to the young girl, drawling in his drunken voice: "Let me buy you some chocolate cake, how about that? I bet you would like to have some chocolate cake!" With her back toward me, the black girl faced the man with I imagine to be a polite, indifferent expression. 

My steak came on a paper plate. It was served with greens that I would say resembled sitaw. And mashed potatoes. The waiter said, unceremoniously, that they had run out of baked potatoes. I told him I didn't mind. The meal also came with a side salad and coffee.

The "sitaw" (later on I would learn are called green beans) looked soggy. 

How about the bread in the communal bread basket? 

The bread were stale. And probably no good even if freshly baked. I miss Budong's malunggay pan de sal, baked fresh and crisp everyday at a store very near my home in Quezon City. It's good even without butter or anything else. 

So how was the steak? 

It was about the size of my small Asian palm and probably an inch or a third of an inch thick. Here are two photos for your, uhmm, delectation. 

Was it tasty?

Yes, to my surprise. It was not so bad. From the looks of it, I had expected much worse.

Was it tender?

It was okay. 

Will I have it again tomorrow? 

At $25? Are you kidding me? 

Was it worth it?

No. Decidedly. Not. Worth. it. My curiosity had gotten the best of me. 

Having the Amtrak steak has been the one wrong decision so far in this vacation. There are $12 meals that are far better. Even $7 meals. And for $25 I could have gotten this, or this, or this sans guilt. 

01 April 2014

sharing a table

There was a middle-aged couple on my table, they are black, and there was a guy around my age, he is white. He looked really sad. 

The black man had his eyes closed the whole time he was waiting for his dinner to be delivered. I did not realize then that he and the women were together, he seemed so intent on shutting everyone out. 

The white guy is thin and in his hood looked withdrawn. With his dirty hair and gaunt, unkempt appearance he reminded me of the beggars in San Francisco. He mumbled his order to the waiter. He had wanted to order from the kids' menu but the attendant would not let him. 

The woman was staring out the window, at the drab, darkening Nevada desert. Occasionally she would catch my eye, smile faintly, and nod. 

At the table across us four diners, all white, were busy getting acquainted. I overheard one guy say that he was on his way to Chicago (like me) and that he had got on the train from Emeryville (like me again). He was speaking with a woman, who was travelling with two men. They appeared to be her husband and son. 

"And where are you from?" "How often do you take the train?" "And what do you do?" The group chatted in this earnest, smiling manner as they had their rice and chicken. I envied their friendly banter.

The black woman and I tried to make small talk. Mostly she talked about herself. She said she and the man (her husband? brother? I didn't ask) were travelling back home to Tennessee (did she say Memphis?). They had taken the train from Emeryville. They had been up since four that morning. She and the man had taken the California Zephyr before, about six or seven years ago. The journey was in winter. The place we were passing that moment had been covered in snow. Then she mentioned the Malaysian flight, how she could not understand why the plane still had not been found despite the technology today. She did not ask anything about me. 

The sad man was not unfriendly. He appeared to be listening to our conversation. He made eye contact with us and politely nodded at appropriate times. But he looked like he was about to burst into tears--ask him what's wrong with the right amount of sympathy and he would start crying.

The black man still had not said anything. And when I ordered my twenty-five dollar steak ("I think I will have the steak," I tell the attendant), the black woman began to join her companion in his silence. She could not finish her pasta. She asked for a take-out bag and the dining attendant handed her two sheets of aluminum foil.

My dinner was so awkward.

(Written on March 22.)

the dining car

I showed my reservation ticket to the superintendent and he showed me to my table. 

Dining at the Amtrak is communal, which means that you are not to be seated to a table all your own but would have to share a table with the other passengers. 

The dining car was half full with passengers, about twenty people. Although about four tables were free, the dining staff had seated the twenty in five tables. 

(Written on March 22. Photo taken at 10 am.)

dinner plans

I am thinking of ordering the Amtrak Steak. They dub it "The Signature Amtrak Steak." It is $25.74. I am intrigued. I had saved money by not eating at the dining car for lunch anyway.  

After dinner I will go to a dressing room and put on a thermal suit under the clothes I have on right now. There is no mistaking the cold. It is 7 pm. I bought my thermal suit at SM North Edsa and they are made by Monsieur, the local men's underwear company. 

7:05 pm: waiting for dinner, "guanamanca"

The P.A. system has announced a station stop up ahead. It sounds like "Guanamanca,"

I am really sleepy but cannot fall asleep. I am waiting for the dining car to call my 7 pm reservation. The dining car can only accommodate a certain number of passengers at a time and so meals are served in three rounds. 

(I heard wrong. The station stop is called Winnemucca.)

It is dusk and the mountains outside have taken on a pink color. 

(Written on March 22. Pink? Boy, what kind of a homosexual are you, anyway? That's not pink, Mary, that color down there is mauve.--I imagine Belize from Angels in America reprimanding me.)

5:17 pm: a nap and a preview of tonight

In the desert I can take a nap. I am reclining my seat all the way. 

It looks good, doesn't it? 

Does it look like I would need a sleeper room? Would I need to upgrade to a roomette just to get a good night's sleep on this journey? 

No, it doesn't look like I would. 

train speed, desert

The train has picked up speed now that it is out of the mountains. I would say about a hundred to a hundred and thirty kilometers per hour. 

5:00 p.m., nevada, the desert

So the train has slid into Nevada. My window is consistently presenting me with desert.

The desert is, uh, yeah, okay, a pretty sight.

It has its beauty, but a beauty not as engaging as the ever changing pageant of fields and lakes and pine forests and tunnels and bridges and snow and snow-capped mountains and abundant awesomeness that I have just left behind.

The desert is expansive. Its color, drab. Consistently drab.

Which is good. I could now do things other than be hypnotized by my window.

(Written on March 22.)

31 March 2014

4:25 p.m., reno, nevada

"Ladies and gentlemen the next station is Reno. This is a station stop, so if you want to stretch your legs, you may do so, but please stay close to the doors and don't wander off too far from the train."

Oh wow, A LOT of people are getting off at Reno. 

Two cars have disembarked using my stairwell (my stairwell na ngayon, hehe). I counted fifty people. My car has almost emptied out. The Filipino and the Indian families are gone. Even the hottie with the pull-ups and the "Team Hawaii" T-Shirt left. (So he's not part of any group or wrestling team. And he's probably over 18.) I guess this means the observation lounge is not crowded anymore. 

No wonder I'm the only one here who made a reservation for dinner. 

Ten minutes later and the California Zephyr is on its way again.

after seven hours

It is 4:21 pm. The train left Emeryville at 9:10 am.

How is it possible that I am still fascinated by the views outside even after seven hours?

I am using the Beethoven biography as a mousepad.

mutely watching (4:07 pm)

The train has come down from the hills.

It is no longer cold. There is no snow on the ground on this elevation. I have removed my gloves.

There might be about forty passengers on the second deck of car number six. But the car is quiet. Few people are dozing. Most are awake and looking out of the windows. Wordlessly. You hear the murmur of a conversation every now and then, yes, but nothing sustained. The woman behind me has stopped playing her computer game, doing away with its occasional and annoying pings and whistles. It's as if the views outside have lulled us all.

Everybody's just looking outside, taking it all in.

california zephyr views, 3:55 to 4:10 pm

eye candies on board

Two of the conductors on my car are a goodlooking fellows. White and black, tall, they sport facial hair.

There is a group of athletic young men on the train. Various ethnicities. They are lean and muscular, always together, wordless and single file on the aisle, which I guess means they are travelling together. "Penn State" on the front and "Team Hawaii" on the back reads one's shirt. They glow. Eighteen years old to twenty, I first thought, until I noticed they are not so tall, around five feet eight seven and or below. I'm afraid they might be younger, around sixteen. Maybe they are high school wrestlers. (Yes, they are not so tall. I see one successfully do a pull up to peek at his stuff in the overhead luggage compartment.) 

Should I be alarmed or annoyed that at thirty six years old my head still turns whenever I spot a fit and good looking man, whatever the age? 

Nope, I should not. It's somewhat reassuring that age has not dulled my appreciation for masculine beauty.  

This ride is turning out to be a winner for such beautiful views, both inside and outside of the train.

(Written on March 22, 3:46 pm)

3:28 pm, truckee

I am at Truckee. I believe the train is about to leave California and enter Utah.

It is getting really cooler. I have put my gloves on.

(Written on March 22.)

dinner reservation

It's 4 pm and a superintendent has announced the dining car's acceptance of reservations for dinner. The superintendent will start with the sleeper cars then walk his way to coach to get reservations.

I've reserved my seat at the dining car for 7:15 pm. 

(Written on March 22.)

my window as the train goes through a tunnel

a lake: 3:04 pm

I see a lake down below. 

It is rather a longish lake.

By now the train has passed plenty of lakes, reservoirs, ponds, etc. But this one is remarkable for its size. And there are many cabins around it. 

I am reminded of a nintendo game I used to play when I was a kid, the spinoff of Friday the 13th the film franchise: college kids getting macheted by Jason as they sought refuge in one lake cabin after another. 

It's an odd, if not morbid, association, I know, considering that the lake looks spectacular and tranquil from any angle. And I bet it is a lot fun to be down there, to live in one of those cabins. 

(Written on March 22. I believe this might be Donner Lake.)

2:08 to 3:15 pm: a snow diary

2:08 pm. There are clumps of snow on the ground outside. 

A woman's perky voice came on the P.A. system. What she said made me laugh: "Now, I have an announcement that will please you A LOT! The snack bar is now open." 

Haha. I had expected something more exciting. 

2:15. The clumps have turned into blankets of snow, about five or six inch thick.

2:57 The blankets have turned into a mantle covering almost everything. I think the train is now on top of a hill, or several hills. I may very well be on the snowcapped rises (hills? mountains?) I have seen earlier. 

3:15. I feel a slight pressure on my ear so I am be right. The train has climbed to a higher altitude. I am up the hills.

(Written on March 22)

the california zephyr: the toilet situation

Now to a more mundane matter. 

The toilets are located on the first deck of the car. I am on the second deck. 

I chose a window seat near the stairwell. I was one of the first passengers on board and so had first choice when it came to seats. I congratulated myself for having chosen what I had presumed to be primo seat. 

Later on I realized this was not a very good decision. 

At the bottom of the stairwell are the toilets, about five or six of them. Train toilets are the same size as airplane toilets, and use the same flushing mechanism. (Some of the toilets are marked as "dressing room." They are about twice bigger.) 

After lunch, there was a steady stream of people going down the stairs, presumably to use the toilets. I say presumably, but it is obviously the only reason they have been going down there. 

This had happened around lunchtime, and perhaps the conductors have remedied the matter by tinkering with the ventilation because it is no longer happening now. But earlier, whenever someone would open a toilet door, a plume of bad odor would waft up to the second deck and straight up to my nose. This happened about three or four times.

Patay, I thought, fearing I would be assaulted with poop smells for the rest of my 51 (now going on 46) hour journey. 

It is no longer happening now. The toilets are continuously being used, but the ventilation blower sounds louder and there are no more poop smells.  

Come to think of it, the air now smells citrusy. (Is Amtrak actually using air fresheners? What if a passenger were allergic?)

(Written on March 22.)

train speed on a canyon

When it winds through hills it does not go fast. Around 30 kilometers per hour. I think the fastest the train has gone so far is about 80 kph. No wonder it takes 2 days to get to Chicago.

(Written on March 22, 1:22 pm)

pine trees: 12:34 pm

Two hours into the journey and I notice a complete change in the greenery outside. There are pine trees. A lot. Like a forest.

I think I should still be in California.

Am I?

california zephyr, 12:15 pm, lunchtime

The P.A. system has announced that the dining car is full. I am not yet in the mood to socialize with other passengers. I have decided to have a peanut butter sandwich, a protein bar, hot green tea on my seat. 

The hot water is free. So are the disposable plastic cutlery. I gave the guy at the snack bar a dollar tip. I'll be visiting him for hot water a lot. I brought my leftover office teas from the Manila: Twinings Green Tea with Lemon, how plebian, gen maicha tea from Tita Vina, and lagundi tea. I also helped myself to a some teas at Kuya Geordie and Sinta's, who had given me a water bottle; I will use it for my hot teas on this journey. 

I brought bread and peanut butter. I have to be careful with making the sandwich. I cannot make a mess on my seat, I will be on it for two days. I've wedged the jar between my thighs as I spoon the gunk out. There is of course no air turbulence on the train, no abrupt plunges like on a plane, but the train does sway. (Oh, hey! there are no seatbelts or seatbelt signs, I just noticed.)

train location, 12:15 pm

The train is passing a place called Auburn.

This was confirmed by a Docent.

Two Docents have boarded the train. They are on the first floor of the lounge car using the public address system. Wonderful.

(Written on March 22.)

25 March 2014

the view and a sigur ros moment

I am listening to Sigur Ros's album Takk as all these awesome scenery pass by. I have never tried ecstacy, despite persistent urgings by some friends to try it. But I imagine this must be how it feels.

Or perhaps this is but a fraction of how a drug-induced euphoria is like, this high, this placid exuberance.

Nope, I do not need drugs to get me high.

(This post was written on March 22.)

train location, 11:35 am

Nearly two hours after the train left Emeryville it stopped somewhere called Roseville. 

The train driver or whoever it is who goes on the public address system of the train does not always announce where the California Zephyr is. Usually it is the people in the dining car or the snack bar who come on. They say something like: "Folks, the dining car will be open for lunch in an hour!"

I remember the San Joaquins, with its route of Bakersfield to the San Francisco Bay Area, which I rode six times about six years ago. Its public staff announced the location of every single stop the train made. 

I do not have an android phone so wifi would be of no use to me anyway. I try to guess where it is by looking for signs outside my window.