Fushan kids back in bus

Sunset LimitedSeptember 2011:
Going Home & Other Delusions



At last I'm on my way home. But what makes me say "home"?

There wasn't any, hadn't been for a long time.

What did the word "home" mean, anyway? Did the words "my" and "way" complicate that statement even further?

Home was where it was quiet and I could hear myself think. Home was where I could afford to buy something to eat along with a beer or a glass of wine to go with it.

To put it more abstractly: Home was undisturbed consciousness of self wherever I was.

Home was the mind free to roam. Let the existential philosophers think about that.

And I didn't need an exotic vocabulary to say it. Just a few simple words worked.

The train nudged out of the New Orleans Passenger Terminal. It was a good feeling and a pleasant thought, whatever "feeling" and "thought" were.

I was tired of the roar of jet engines. I was tired of meaningless conversations. I was tired, I was tired, I was tired. And I was tired of being tired.

On the train there was space to stretch your legs. Almost immediately I got up and moved forward to the lounge car.

I watched New Orleans disappear as we began moving west across the Gulf, through the bayous and oil towns. By "disappear" I didn't mean that New Orleans was utterly gone; people there could still see it, I think.

The bayous were lovely, swampy, living places. The oil towns were dark smudges upon the landscape.

It was slow going but I was up to it. Sitting for 11 hours in the airport in Iceland, 8 hours in the airport in New York city ... had make me patient. Time was just one dimension of the space-time-mind continuum, sometimes moving quickly, sometimes moving slowly.

The Sunset Limited goes from New Orleans in Louisiana, passes through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, and terminates at Union Station in Los Angeles, California.

Is that a true proposition? What is its truth value?

That's what the route guide says it does. But where does it take you mentally? What are you thinking about when your body arrives in Union Station? The route guide didn't tell you that!

I watched for towns that would confirm what the route guide showed. If the towns were real, and not some kind of special effect arranged by Amtrak to deceive passengers, then I could confirm the proposition.

But what about the mental aspect? Was I not limited exploring mind with mind? Was that epistemologically sound?

I hear a young reader ask, "Hey, dude, what the fuck does epistemologically mean?"

Look it up!

I watched the country roll by, or at least thought I did. "Roll"? Hmmm? Was I moving or were the tracks and the countryside moving?

The countryside seemed scrappy, as all countryside in the United States does except in Iowa and parts of Monterey County,  California. Piles of junk in backyards, sagging farm fences, borrowed dogs, and rent-a-cow brown-how nows.

And all the time, whatever that means, I'm staring at oil-tanker train car after oil-tanker train car. Blub, blub, blub, blub, blub.

That means a lot or nothing at all. All black and a few rusty on top. I've seen better legs than these, girls.

I really wanted to go back the way I came. That is, on the Zephyr. One big breath, whoosh!

But it seems that the Zephyr is "cool" now and all booked up by the cool crowd. For me, that meant the Sunset Limited, which sounds like a retirement community that has given up all hope.

So what do you think? Are you aware of your thoughts—are they objects, things out there in front of your mind that it can grasp? Or are you all messed up inside of them? Can't tell self from mind and thought?

What I'm saying is that the Sunset Limited is less of a pleasure route. It caters to more ordinary people—les gens pas extraordinaire—who are just trying to go somewhere.

From Point A to Point B in the "actual" world, not some other. Forget about "possible worlds" and the "universal wave function."

But they = Amtrak are still pushing the dining car. Ordinary people eat and shit too, right? Eat, shit, eat, shit, eat, shit.

Ordinarily true but hard to prove.

Am I dreaming again? My hands are cold, my face is warm.

I will drink much water and it will be okay.

The bayous are sort of slow-moving watery jungles. Anything and everything might be out there, which makes them look so intriguing. But they are not alone these days.

Old Macdonald's farm is there along with a lot of slick operators of the oil-rich kind. Joe Barton's buddies sucking the earth dry and fucking the planet.

Sky is clear overhead and seems like the same sky I see everywhere. What was I expecting? Green sky, red cloud, blue sun?

All houses seem to be prefabs. They look more temporary than even the people who live in them with their borrowed dogs.

For what it matters, before Schriever the countryside is beginning to alternate between bayous and flat grasslands with farms. If it's real of course, and not some Amtrak Special Effect©.

Of further possible interest: The light seems too bright. What do you make of that, girls?

Now the train is continuously blowing its horn but I see no cross roads.

Now I do. Dirt farm roads. Dirty, dusty, but not obscene.

Only one crop? Sugar? Corn?

I'm crop-shy. Don't make me do it here!

Last night, India House Hostel; essence of questionable, question within. International pub crawlers, worst. Sloppy, dirty; young-uns, racket all night. Hippyish but in worst possible sense. And yet another type: 10 PM lights off; expects to sleep. Ha! Last night, guy groaning, any sound, light, door. Thinks it's the Ritz, he's Rockefeller!

Think we are through Schriever. Not much.

Wrong! Not there yet.

Strange lack of town signs. Are they doing something illegal?

Around Iberia more flat farm land. Some bailed hay, unbailed cows. But mostly resentful sugar cane. Sweeten up, baby.

Almost all houses prefabs with corrugated iron roofs.

Prefab houses, prefab people, made in a factory, assembled at home, ha! Throwaways, all of 'em.

I see that Roy, my waiter at Chartre House, was right; I would mostly see trees in Louisiana.

PoBoys and PoHouses; PoGirls, loose blouses ...

My view now is mostly to the north.

Finally I see a sign for Iberia. 3:15 PM. We are about 30 minutes behind schedule.

Who cares about the 4th dimension?

More corrugated iron roofs and cheap houses.

Oaks. Iberia. See them. Everywhere. Everywhere. Iberia. Oaks. See them. Random distribution. Unpredictable. Quarkish.

Lafayette, Cajun country of sugar cane and rice and, according to the Sunset Limited route guide, the city with the most restaurants per capita of any city in the US.

Lot of food, lot of shit; lot of shit, lot of food ...

Then Lake Charles: bridge, bay, refineries, tanks.

Finally Beaumont, Texas. Then, according to PoBoy Roy, no more trees. See if I care.

Checking the schedule: About a day across Texas. 6 PM to 6 PM. Then, blam, New Mexico.

Beaumont coming up. Big. So we are in Texas and there are still trees. But the country has been changing for the last half hour or so.

Going through a dump. 6:30 PM. Stopped waiting for oil-tanker cars. Light beginning to change outside.

Beaumont, says the guide, used to be rice and cattle. What's that mean, the whole god-damned place?

Then oil was discovered.  Can I trust the guide? Can I trust anyone?

I can trust my eyes. If it ever were rice and cattle, it's not now; it's oil, oil, oil. It wears the smudge, shares the smell; all is bleared now in Hopkins' Hell.

We have been waiting a long time now for the oil tankers to pass. They are huge but does that make it right?

Dark now and headed across Texas. We are bouncing on bad tracks. Up, down, kabaum, kabaum.

Houston 9 PM. Big buildings, glass and steel, Darth Vader business lighting, the bottom line. We could be in any soul-suppressing city of big buildings, glass and steel ...

Drifting, dreaming. I'm no longer in Shangri-la. But is the war over? And where did my plane go down?

Not here I hope. We'd never get out.

San Antonio 3 AM, Del Rio 8:30 AM. The long night across Texas. Mucho espaņol as we go along picking up passengers.

Earlier the conversation of the truck drivers that started on such a high moral plain, then descended so low: road courtesy to big bubs and greasy cunts Neither gentlemen nor philosophers.

Cafe attendant seemingly unfriendly unless you are female. Nothing I can do about that.

Can't help but think of George W. Bush out here and feel the Bush-country blues. He did a job on all of us.

Two-hour stop over in San Antonio. A little sleep. Then the gentle nudge at 5:30 AM.

Still dark but should see light soon. Brief access to the Internet in the station.

Message to brother: don't pick up at Union Station; catching the FlyAway bus to LAX but not flying away; hopping the Lot C Shuttle to Lot C but not getting off there; catching nearby Muni ... Sort of amusing the first time you do it, sort of a drag thereafter.

6:30 to 7:00 AM. Let there be light. There was. But where was god in this country of Bush, brush, and a few small trees?

Clear sky but haze. Hilly here.

Small rolled bails of hay in fields, long straight roads converging to infinity. Cattle, water holes, flatland, tumbleweeds ...

Get me out of here. The train moves on.

Observation of an idle mind: Buildings, houses appear more substantial than in Louisiana, where they all look like they're waiting for the next flood and probably are, unless climate change is a hoax as some political hucksters say it is.

Presidential hopeful Rick Perry on evolution: "It's a theory that is out there—and it's got some gaps in it." As does Perry.

Approaching Del Rio, brush country, stubble. Texas looks like it hasn't shaved in a week. Where are the empties? Then cactus, dry creeks, and a few small reddish-brown deer.

Past Del Rio. View of the Rio Grande. Then Lake Amistad on the border with Mexico, a welcome watery view. Otherwise barren landscape, rolling hills.

Now coming to Pecos River Bridge. High but not the highest bridge in the United States, as stated by the conductor. 351 feet? No. 275. Hardly the highest bridge in the United States, it is number 20 on the list of highest bridges.

And, yes, I'm wondering now in plain, uncompresse English about several other things the conductor with the big mustache said. Well, he was a likeable fellow and made the trip more interesting. But was he talking about some other place?

Past Sanderson. Interesting rock formations. Also interesting dry river beds.

Alpine next. Confirmed both by guide and observation of signs.

Okay, now back to more flatland.

Headed to Alpine, then El Paso.

Then I meet Tommy. There are some nice folks on the train, especially the older folks. The latter generally think before they speak and don't use expletives instead of adjectives. They also tend to listen and not just "dump." But I am kind of selective these days. Remember Marko back at Main Station Hostel in Berlin? You have to be selective. But Tommy sits down at the booth I'm at in the Observation Lounge. Soon he is talking about his drunk driving tickets, then his list of arrests "this long." His gesture is a long one. He thinks I will be impressed. I don't look like someone with a long list of arrest, maybe just one or two a long time ago. Then he tells me about his post-traumatic stress disorder that he is milking the government for. Usually I'm sympathetic to those with this disorder. In fact, very sympathetic. Not in his case. He once witnessed an accident while in the navy off the coast in Vietnam. A man was killed when he walked into the propellers of an airplane. But it was not till years later that Tommy realized what a profound effect this had had on his life—and how much money he could get for it. Tommy also thinks he had a book inside of him, the story of his life. Friends have told him that he should write it. But Tommy has not been able to bring himself to do it; Tommy, you see, is lazy. He is looking for someone else to do the work, the writing. I am not interested. Lot's of people have stories. Lots of people have been in the drunk tank. Lots of people have arrest records "this long." I am tired of Tommy. But I am polite. I escape to the cafe below the lounge car and for a hot-dog and a beer. That is infinitely better than the story of Tommy's life.

There are other characters on the train whose stories I listen to. There are the retired custom agents who talk about catching smugglers at the border. There is Rodney, a young guy who quit the business world and is now headed to a job in New Mexico to restore an historic cemetery. There is also Bill, a retired truck driver who has been everywhere and now does missionary work. And there is a young mother and her daughter. It is their first time on the rain. They are taking the train to avoid the security pat-down for the daughter.

"I taught her to not let people touch her there," says the mother.

A week later on TV news I hear of other complaints of airport-security pat-downs of young children.

"Hey, sweetie, like them curls. Now just spread your legs so Uncle Joe can have a feel, okay?"


Now at Alpine with peaks and the red-brick university, Sul Ross. I notice the sky is now overcast. Does that mean anything?

Tommy comes down below  to the cafe but I avoid his glance and he does not stick around long. Now we are nudging out of the station.

Next El Paso, then onto New Mexico.

Some dramatic views worthy of Shakspeare & Co. Hamlet on a hill, Lear raging in a dry river bed.

Actually, most of Texas is pretty scenic, so why the bad reputation? It's certainly not just miles of flat desert, as people have described it.

Mountains and clouds, pale greens and light browns. Dreamy at night with the distant lights of towns.

Finally Deming, Lordsburg in New Mexico and the lightening strikes begin. No stations, just Amtrak signs and people getting on or off in the dark. No time or personnel to pat down the little ones.

Home, home on dry desert land without Homeland Security. Safe at last.

Now headed to Benson and Tucson Arizona. Going on about 8 PM. Into LAX Union Station 8:30 AM tomorrow, about 12 and a half hours from now.

Talk with Roderick about moving all the time and weariness. Since quitting the business world he has been moving from place to place doing a variety of projects.

"It takes planning" he say. "Other people don't know that."

I know what it's like. To move all the time requires a high level of planning, probably comparable in complexity to the scheming of business executives.

He offers me some kind words of encouragement when I tell him how utterly tired I am of it.

Delayed going into Tucson due to signal problems. 10:20 PM now and waiting.

I'm slimming stuff down at end of trip. Empty bottles, illogical thoughts, anything I don't need into the trash.

Get ready, California, here we come. Morning up through the desert— Palm Springs, Ontario, Pomona, then Los Angeles. Surprise!

One and a half ours late now. Through Palm Springs with pale, almost white sand and tumbleweeds.

Mustard-yellow sunrise. I expected rose color.

Dawn lit up the sky with finger tips of rose.

Oh, Homer, if only you could see the world now you would feel our sadness. You too would long for some other place.

Bill, the retired truck driver, calls it a "chemical sunrise." He's seen it plenty of places.

Sitting in the lounge car, it is hard to see more than half a mile.

The landscape painting has been destroyed. The impression is now all wrong.

Arbeit Macht Frei? What am I doing here?

California may be leading the nation in reducing air pollution but Palm Springs certainly isn't. Is there no hope, Bob? Can you be our jester in these hard times?

Ontario and Pomona next. Los Angeles about 10 AM.

But we arrive at 9 AM. How did they do that? Mirrors? Slight of hand?

The trains slows, then is silent, motionless. You could say we're there—or is it there?—but I don't.

The little girl and her mother stand up to get off. An older kid, black, baseball cap on backwards—a kind of smart aleck bully type—tells her, "Kids have to stay on." She looks at her mother and starts to cry. She is sensitive. The bully looks pleased.

What does that all mean? I don't have time to think about it. I have to catch the FlyAway bus to get to the airport.

But I'm not flying anywhere. At the airport there are other buses to other places.

I will take one of those to my mother's house in Palace Verdes. Call that home if you want.

The landscape will be restored by a sea breeze. The painting will make an impression.

In a week or so I will catch the train to Emeryville, then BART to San Francisco.

And I will not be shot in the back by a BART guard and I will have a martini at Le Central. All good things will come my way.

They will, won't they?

I've come a long way. You can say that if you want.