Fushan kids back in bus

California ZephrMay 2011:
Cross-Country Reality Check



Early the next morning we pass through Salt Lake City, Utah, then Provo; and now, according to Arnold, who is back from checking on his "sweetie," we are heading up Soldier's Pass with a little stream on the right and a highway on the left. At 6 AM the sky  is the same as it has been most of the way: gray and overcast. Later in the day, says Arnold, we should hit Colorado and head up into the Rocky Mountains. I have had almost no sleep in two days now but feel good. It is not like flying on an airplane where you have no idea where you are. This world? Another? On the train you can see it all and actual people get on an off along the way. We pull almost silently into stations, then feel the nudge as we pull back out.

Passing along the Green River, which looks muddy, we are now approaching Grand Junction, where Arnold tells me we should start to see trees again as we approach the Rocky Mountains. I don't have to ask what a tree is. I know. Along the Green River, which is a major tributary to the Colorado River, it is mostly flat but with jagged formations of rock or dirt. It looks like something out of an old Western movie: loose dirt that an angry kick would sent flying—I tol' ya not to be doin' her that way—and stubble. The plains look vast as the Milky Way. I have the feeling that if one spent much time here, one's perspective would change. Old assumptions would dissolve, new ones would be slow to form.

Green River, Muddy River,
At night it looks the same.

I have been reading a book by Stephen Hawking called The Grand Design. It is about the nature of reality on the subatomic and cosmic levels. It discusses photons and bosons and spacetime and black holes ... The old Newtonian physics breaks down there. It talks about the 11 dimensions. The more you read, the less you take for granted. You begin to be more careful about the language you use. You talk cautiously about the world "as we know it here."

It is a little like that out on the plains. Assumptions dissolve. Words like "economics" make you laugh. What is serious one place seems like a joke another. Old perspectives go looking for a new clients.

I don't mention any of this to Arnold. But I think he has had some perspective-altering experiences too. There is a look in his squinting blue eyes and a sound in his soft sandy voice that says living is discovery, and life is not a fixed thing involving so many account transactions.

It is a very scenic ride up to Grand Junction with river and rock formations and some trees again. Grand Junction is supposed to be a "major transportation and commercial hub" of the region, but it doesn't look like it anymore. The main station there is fenced off, boarded up, and wears a for-sale sign. It is nice to look at—it looks "historical"—but it also looks like a major fixer-upper for anyone who wanted to buy it. But for me there is an attraction about it that I don't quite understand. The town is probably not a total loser, as it appears to be, but it is the loser aspect that interest me. It looks like a place one could go to disappear and never be heard from again. In Hawkingesque language, one could curl back up into one of the other seven dimensions and be undetectable to relatives, the police, or the IRS. Such places interest me a lot these days.

Arnold indicates that it is a place that "used to be" a major transportation hub, but that is not the story the town's promoters pitch. Whatever the case, it is enough of a loser-looking town to interest me.

Personal Note: Grand Junction bills itself as a great place to "raise a family." It looks to me like a great place to dump a family and drop the dog off at the SPCA. As Lawrence Ferlinghetti says in Coney Island of the Mind: Junkman's Obbligato:  "Your misses will not miss us." Was he thinking specifically of Grand Junction? Could be.

While we are there the train breaks down and we wait for a new engine. What happened, I don't know. The engine that got us all the way from the West Coast apparently decided that Grand Junction was a good place to end its days.

Some two hours later we are headed for Glenwood Springs and Aspen. We are now passing through ranching country with green grass. The cliffs along the way are red with scattered dark-green vegetation. Whoopee!

Next we are approaching Glenwood Canyon and going along the Colorado River. There are no roads along this route, as the conductor points out—does that scare you?—and the canyons are spectacular, especially the rock formations with the river down below. It is an otherworldly place for the traveler longing for other worlds. Boo!

Finally we come to Granby and the Rocky Mountain National Park and pass through the Moffat Tunnel, a six-mile long tunnel that cuts through the Continental Divide. Cuts, I say, not slices. I don't want to scare you.

In order to preserve air quality in the train, passengers are requested to stay in their cars until the tunnel is cleared. There is a ventilation system in the tunnel, I'm told, but is it installed in the right tunnel in the right state in the right country on the right planet? Such mistakes are common these days, I hear.  In the Rockies we were now seeing a lot more snow but no cheddar cheese.

At 8:30 PM we arrived at Denver, crossing rolling hills with grass but not trees. Denver is on a high plateau. I scanned it for aliens of any kind, expecting a close encounter, but spotted none. Where were they? I was still wondering about the ventilation system. Do you feel woozy too?