Fushan kids back in bus

California Zephyr—May 2011:
Cross-Country Reality Check



We are in Illinois now and have just crossed the Mississippi. It's big alright. But you might ask, per the last discussion, compared to what? If you take the question seriously, then you would have to decide what big meant in terms of a river: Length, width, depth, flow, or some combination of these measurements? We would need to develop a chart. Let us leave that for another day, okay?

We could also take the question from a poetic point of view.

Of incomparable extent.
Having no beginning and no ending,
eternal river of rivers,
source of all that flows ...

That is silly but more fun than charts.

We could also go jump in the river, which would be one way to end this discussion.

Better yet:

At about this point I got a call from Amtrak telling me that my connecting train in Chicago, The City of New Orleans, has been cancelled due to flooding. But they told me to come on into Chicago—what else could I do?—and they would work something out to get me to New Orleans.

Too bad. I was looking forward to "passin' trains that have no names" and singing, "Good morning America, how are you?" I feel that nostalgia most of the time these days. But I might change the lyrics to "Good morning America, who the hell are you?" Or "what the hell are you?" I've been away a long time and I don't like the America I see. Those in charge don't seem to care how many people are out of work, how many people have lost their homes, how crowded the schools are or the prisons, or about anything else as long as they've got their tax breaks.

Note: This was written slightly before the Occupy Wall Street protests began, the first on 17 September 2011 at Zuccotti Park in New York City and spreading to many other cities.

About 8 PM we pulled into Chicago and I went to the Amtrak customer-service desk to find out how they planned to get me to New Orleans. Here was the plan: They refunded me the price of the The City of New Orleans ticket and gave me five bucks to take a cab to the Greyhound bus depot.

Greyhound got me there but it took three buses and another day and part of the night. The buses are not like the train, where you can move around, stretch your legs, eat, drink, and put your feet up. The buses, though new, are cramped and your movement is restricted to going to the restroom if you are desperate.

When I finally got to New Orleans, I was greeted by a pickpocket with a riddle—a distraction technique—who then tried to get my money belt but failed. I had met one of America's native sons who was not a banker or a politician.