I walked back to my AirBnb where I fell into a deep sleep listening to Leo at actualized.org. It’s not often I listen to Leo anymore. I used to all the time. But I wanted to know what “duality” is and knew he had a video on it.
Within 10 minutes I was profoundly asleep.
And somehow slept through my alarm. Did I turn it off in my sleep? This shall remain a mystery. Either way I slowly got up, hauled myself to the light rail, and rode it all the way to the end. There, in the center, I was accosted by a guy named Matias who called himself a monk. He was trying to sell me a copy of the Baghavad Gita.
I said, “I totally wanna read that. I just wanna read the Stephen Mitchell translation.”
“But this one has the original Sanskrit.”
“Matias, I don’t speak Sanskrit.”
After talking to this brother in spiritual arms I headed to Espresso House, where I ordered a latte and a scone, which cost something absurd like nine US dollars. If you’re going to Norway prepare to start leaking money. The first time I came in 2012 that was essentially why I left. And that might be why I’m already planning to leave on this trip, too.
I don’t want to leak money. I want to leak amor.
At Espressssso House I found a table in the corner covered with dirty plates and cups and posted up. I wanted to see what the scholars had to say about this whole, “Is life worth living” thing, so I looked for some more articles. There was one from Huff Post and one from JSTOR from 1895. And then of course a lot of personal accounts from people dealing with depression. But I’m looking for a more scientific approach. Yes, of course I FEEL like life is worth living. I feel this profoundly. And of course it could never be proven empirically that life is worth living, but I still wanted to see what learned people had to say on the matter.
Mostly there was a dude on Quora who said we’re all just “lumps of meat.” His answer was, “No.”
I took a sip of my latte.
Then I did something weird. I got up and put honey and cinnamon in my latte. The taste and smell of milk were overpowering. This is probably why the average height of Norwegian men is like eight feet tall. Bergen is like walking through a city full of Preying Mantises. They grow ’em tall in Norway. I’m like a Gremlin here.
OK, so I know I have to get a job. That much we’ve worked out so far today. Thanks, guys. I could always count on you. Next the question becomes, What job? Indeed. Tricky question. You see because I don’t what to be a Spanish interpreter anymore. I don’t want to be a Spanish teacher. But I do want to do fulfilling work.
Of course the thing I actually want to do is be a writer.
Then there comes the question of love. I already have many platonic relationships in my life. And these are great. But I’m looking to get decidedly unplatonic, and this is where I run into road blocks. I’ve tried OkCupid and Tinder and Bumble. O don’t particularly like them. But maybe they’re a necessary evil? No, I refuse to believe that. Subtract the word “necessary.”
Subtract the word evil. And all you’re left with is a breath of air.
Nighttime in Bergen and the day has flown by. After espresso house I took a walk, letting the caffeine course through my veins, enjoying the city. I walked past Cafe Opera and it looked completely different from yesterday. It somehow seemed more elegant, more serious. Then I went back to the library. I love libraries. At home I have three library cards for three different systems. At the Bergen library I read a short story by Roald Dahl, and then a book called Introduction to Zen or something like that. I still don’t really know what Zen is. Apparently it’s not something you can really define; it’s only an experience you can have.
After the library I decided to go buck wild and got two cheeseburgers from Burger King. And then I got a smoothie from the grocery store. And then I rode the light rail back to my AirBnb, not paying. I am a criminal. At any moment the Norwegian constabulary will be beating down my door, then throwing the cuffs on, then condemning me to a life of darkness, rain, and strange cheese.
Back at my AirBnb I felt 43% welcome. I retreated to my room where I began watching an Eckhart Tolle video with binaural audio. The soothing voice of Eckhart Tolle. I’m convinced he’s actually a guy from Cincinnati who just speaks with a German accent. You never hear him speaking German. He does speak Spanish, because he spent his high school years in Spain.
Now it’s time to seize the night. But first a glass of water.
In Amsterdam I start to feel tired, but I can’t sleep. I solve the problem by getting a “sausage roll,” which is basically a croissant with a sausage in it. Despite the fatigue the layover goes fast, and suddenly I find myself boarding the flight to Bergen. I have no idea how long this flight takes. I imagine no more than an hour. There’s a child in front of me essentially screaming, and I can’t figure out which language he’s speaking. It sounds like Italian but could also be Romanian. In my addled state it might even be Dravidian.
The plane is small and I have a row to myself. I had a coffee in the Amsterdam airport, and I swore to myself I wouldn’t have any coffee to ward off jet lag, but now it seems like the only solution. Black tea just wasn’t cutting it. And it does work a bit. I also took some 5-HTP, which I at least partially credit for my better mental health as of late. 5-HTP apparently helps with your seratonin levels. And seratonin makes you feel good.
A guy gets up and goes to the bathroom just as we’re about to start taxiing. The flight attendant is not stoked. I’m not stoked either, because he’s flouting the rules. Should I get another coffee on this flight? That might push me into the realm of insanity. Better to stick with black tea.
Soon the plane has taken off and we’re cruising over some kind of sea. It’s supposed to be an hour and 26 minute flight. It’s just occured to me I don’t know which apartment to buzz when I finally get to my destination in Bergen. Maybe it’s not an apartment at all but a house? Ideally I get to the apartment/house, take a short nap, get up and walk around the city a bit, watch the Ajax Chelsea game tonight at nine, then wake up tomorrow at 7:30am, right on schedule. In the Amsterdam airport I did indeed book the train to Oslo. Which means after four nights in Bergen I’m going to Oslo. And from there probably on to Sweden. It’s all a bit unclear at this point, and I’m fine with that. I like to keep my options open. Ideally I wouldn’t even book a train to Oslo, but the longer you wait the more expensive things get. So I took the plunge.
What will Bergen be like? Apparently it’s a lot like Poulsbo, the small city near where I grew up. I imagine it’s a bit more striking though. Just a touch. When I think of Poulsbo I think of car dealerships and maybe a decent bakery or two. When I think of Bergen I think of fjordland majesty. But places almost always lose their mystique once you get to them. Or rather, the real version isn’t the fantasy you dreamed up in your head. Better to have no expectations.
At this point I haven’t slept in probably 20 hours.
Bergen so far reminds me a lot of BC. A mix of Victoria and British Columbia, with everyone speaking a different language and the buildings a bit more European. I even see shades of Port Angeles.
My AirBnb host is Panamanian, which means we’ve been speaking Spanish the whole time. Her English is pretty good, but my Spanish is better. I took the light rail into Bergen from the airport, whicn cost about four dollars and comes every five minutes. It leaves right from the airport. It couldn’t be easier. Then when I got to my AirBnb I expired the space a bit, but the only thing I really wanted to do was lie on the bed and talk to people on WhatsApp and watch YouTube videos. Is it possible this trip was a huge mistake? I feel like it was, but at the same time have this deep-seated feeling that this is exactly where I’m supposed to be, like I’m supposed to be making this mistake. Either way that’s the attitude I want to have with everything. No mistakes. Sort of a Bob Ross mentality.
It’s 4:45pm and it’s almost dark in Bergen. After getting settled in the Airbnb I forced myself to hit the town. To go in search of Knausgaard. First stop, the place he talks nonstop about in Book 5: Cafe Opera.
It’s amazing to go to a place in real life that existed so intricately in your head. I thought Cafe Opera was two floors. I thought it was always bustling. I thought it was kind of huge.
It turns out it’s on the ground floor, and it’s not that bustling, at least on a random Tuesday afternoon. It’s also a lot smaller than I expected. There are probably only 18 tables. The experience so far is the definition of unremarkable, except for the mozzarella red pesto toasties, which were much better than expected. It is not the places then, but the people we meet there, the experiences we have there. And so this place basically means nothing to me. It’s just a cafe in Norway. Sure, Karl Over Knausgaard, one of the most famous authors of recent years, used to come here all the time. But what did I expect? A hunched over Knausgaard in his 20s, sitting at a table in the corner, drinking a coffee and scribbling furiously in his notebook? I dare say I did. I think a little part of me expected to live an experience exactly like what he described in his book.
It’s also hard to get a feeling for anything, indeed to feel normal, when you’re so jet-lagged. I’m jet-lagged as shit. But it’s also good that I’ve slept so little, because that means it’ll be easier to get on a normal schedule tonight. Obviously I have to watch the Ajax Chelsea game tonight. Other than that I have nothing ony agenda. Tomorrow: more walking.
“I’m sooooooo tired, I haven’t slept a wink.”
In a wild turn of events the following things have happened: 1) I’ve actually gotten on a schedule; I woke up at 7:30am this morning even though every millimeter of me wanted to go back to bed; 2) I still haven’t had coffee even though normally in these situations I go down a brief rabbit hole of coffee and despair before finally righting the ship (the day’s not over yet); 3) My Airbnb host and I have gone BACK to speaking English despite my assertion that my Spanish is far superior to her English, though to be fair I think she speaks English constantly with her husband when he’s around (which might be never because he “works at sea”). This last one I actually find a bit disconcerting. Part of me wants to strongarm her into speaking Spanish, and another part says, “Bro, does it really matter? Just be secure in your language abilities.” One thing that’s a little different from other hosts so far is between her and her uncle, who’s visiting her, someone is ALWAYS here. I’d love to have the place to myself a bit. But so far that hasn’t happened. I don’t think her uncle has left the apartment yet. He doesn’t speak English and he definitely doesn’t speak Norwegian.
Upon leaving the house I walk around and probably walk at least two miles. My feet start to hurt. My back starts to hurt. This is weakness leaving the body. During the walk I have a bit of an existential crisis. Just a tiny one. I think the whole not working thing is really getting to me, or affects me far more than I let on. I don’t need to work right now because I “came into some money” two Junes ago. So if I do work right now it would not be so much for the money but for the sense of well-being it provides, the sense of contribution, the sense of fitting in somewhere in the community. I am in a unique position right now where I’m able to sort of examine things from outside. I see people with their heads down, headed to work every morning with such purpose, and in a way it seems so contrived. And yet of course it’s not. When a squirrel gathers nuts for the winter we don’t consider it contrived. But what if all the sudden the squirrel didn’t have to gather nuts? What if they were all provided for her? Would she be stoked? Or would she become listless, roaming the streets, the parks, going from cafe to cafe, questioning the worth of it all? Would she start reading Karl Over Knausgaard?
The thing is, I started to have these sort of existential questions even when I was working. It all started probably five or so years ago. I remember when I was walking the Camino de Santiago I would often fall asleep with the Tao Te Ching playing. You see, if life is worth living, and I don’t know if that’s a question in itself worth asking, if that question even makes sense (is it kind of like saying, “Is the color red worth being red?”) then it then follows that you should do everything in your power to live well. And neuroscientists have actually broken down what it means to live well. It means doing well in the following three categories: love, work and play. It doesn’t mean focusing on this nebulous concept of “happiness.” Never focus on happiness. Happiness is bullshit. Most people widly confuse happiness with excitement. But a deep sense of peace, of contentment, which is what you should really be striving for, can’t be striven for. Instead you focus on doing well in the aforementioned three categories. At least according to this article.
So look, I’m trying not to get too deep or dramatic on you, but I think it’s good to ask these kinds of questions, at least once in your life. First you ask, “Is life worth living?” and then you either say yes or no or that question is stupid. If you decide either the first one or the third one then you ask, “OK, how do I live well?” And then you take the steps to do that.
Not to toot my own baritone, but I’m pretty well prepared for this trip. Consider exhibits A-F:
A) slip on shoes. A must for moving about the cabin and then getting back to your seat, taking your shoes off, and tucking in, like a young willow ptarmigan, to a rom com.
B) a book. In this case the The Unknown Teachings of Lao Tzu. Like the Tao Te Ching but with wonderful bits of irony. Makes fun of people who meditate. I meditate.
C) proper travel adapter. Cuz you gotta charge that phone.
D) Charles Schwab debit card. Get reimbursed for ATM fees all over the world.
E) layers. You don’t need a big parka for Scandinavia in November. You just need lots of layers.
F) An aisle seat. Because I like to get up to pee a lot, and also to hang out in the back of the plane, drink water, stretch my legs. And I don’t want to have to bug someone every time I do that.
There are other critical elements. An extra debit card, a credit card, a travel notice pre-set on my debit card, lodging for the first four nights already arranged. What a departure from my younger days, when I used to just show up at a given destination with zero plan at all. Lao Tzu said, “A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” I know what he means by that. A good traveler takes delays in stride, uses them to his advantage. Say the plane is somehow delayed in Amsterdam. A good traveler uses the opportunity to sample some Dutch cuisine. The General would probably use it to roam the airport looking for women to talk to. The General is an insanely good traveler. I’ve never seen someone so patient, so eternally non-plussed.
Speaking of The General, I met him on the 9:40am ferry this morning. Ahhhh, the 9:40am ferry. Is there any better ferry? The traffic of the commuters is gone. The day is awake and bright. And it’s still early enough that you have the whole day in front of you. I think it might be my favorite ferry to take into Seattle.
We ply the waters of Puget Sound and the ferry is preternaturally quiet. People are lying down in the booths. There’s a slight din coming from two booths of travelers to my left. The odd outburst of laughter. This morning I got up at 7:30am and had two cups of black tea and some toast. Then, right before I left, I had some more toast, this time with butter and honey. One of my favorite foods. Black tea, toast with butter and honey. I finished packing, which mostly consisted of organizing all my shit from this weekend, surfboards, wetsuits, a tent that was still damp from the dew of La Push. Last night I went to Rite Aid to check out their noise-cancelling headphones, but they cost 50 bucks and supposedly aren’t that good. I’m going to make one last ditch effort at Bartell’s in Seattle, and then get on the light rail. Maybe a cheeky tea from Uwajimaya?
Not enough time.
The waters of Puget Sound are smooth and grey. A girl talks loudly on her cellphone and I look over and realize she was in my class in high school. I know her name but never really talked to her. The General is strangely quiet. He hasn’t said anything all ferry ride. I know he’s excited for the flight, though, and even for Norway, even though he calls the country “ass-backwards.” He means it in an endearing way, though. Norway is basically Sweden.
Last night I also revisited Book 5 of My Struggle a bit. Every time a place was mentioned I looked it up on my phone to see if I could find it. I’m going to be walking around the city a lot. Lots of cafes. Lots of writing. Lots of sitting by the water. Maybe a foray into nature. Lots of grocery stores. Lots of eating out at cheap places. And hopefully lots of meeting people. But how do you meet people? Especially when you don’t stay in hostels. I don’t really know. But I just have this feeling I will.
It’s like the other day when I was at Westport. If I feel pretty good about myself, at peace, then I tend to meet people. This guy named Rob came up to me and started talking to me. I think he thought I was some hot shot surfer.
“Rob,” I wanted to say, “I’m not good.”
But when I told him I’d surfed in New Zealand and Costa Rica and France and that I’d just gotten back from a surf trip to Mexico, he assumed I was a ripper. I didn’t really set him straight. I just enjoyed the conversation and his inquisitiveness. When he found out I like to write he said, “Ahhh, so the real passion comes out.” He urged me to continue writing. Sometimes it’s nice to have these moments of reinforcement.
We’re getting into Seattle now. The city is upon us. That ferry ride flew by. Now it’s time to get off and walk.
Seatac International Airport. The S gates. A hot English breakfast tea with half and half and, an unexpected addition, raw acacia honey. Things are looking good. The flight doesn’t look that full, though it’s always hard to tell. I’m sitting at a different gate because most people feel the need to sit at their actual plane’s gate, which means it gets super crowded, when two gates down it’s completely empty. Philistines! I will never understand people. What tranquility prevails at gate S4, where I’m currently seated, and what chaos everywhere else.
I got my tea from Peet’s, which is kind of like a crappy version of Starbucks, which in itself is already pretty crappy. But it was cheap for an airport and the woman working there seemed kind. There’s a dude who looks Mexican walking around barking something in Japanese. The flight to Tokyo is just about to leave. It looked crowded. The enzymes from the acacia honey have just kicked in, instantly elevating my immune system to that of a snow leopard. Outside it’s sunny and it’s supposed to be sunny when I get to Bergen, too. I don’t know what I’m going to do the whole flight. I should probably buy some kind of novel. And I definitely should’ve gotten some decent headphones. But whatever, I’m pretty good at killing time. I’ll go to the bathroom multiple times, drink as much black tea as my organism allows provided they have black tea, and probably watch a couple terrible movies. Apparently Delta Basic Economy does include meals on longhaul international flights. This is definitely longhaul. And if you count The Netherlands as a country, it’s definitely international.
OK, nevermind, the flight looks crowded as all hell. Is it crowded? It’s so hard to tell with these large planes. We’re flying on an Airbus A330-300, 2-4-2, configuration. I’m flying in Delta One, where I’ll have a lie-flat bed, gourmet cuisine, and someone doting on me at all times. Oh, but I kid. I’m flying Basic Economy. I’m in the trenches. They might make me spend half the flight in the bathroom. They might make me go down below in a dog crate. The General is flying Delta One though of course. Hopefully I don’t have to walk by him when I board. I know he’ll try to trip me.
Speaking of The General, it’s about time to board, which means it’s time for one more bathroom break and then communing with the cognitive gods. Wait, am I going to Europe?
I’m going to Europe!
Jackpot. Delta flight 142, you are kind to me. Ladies and gentleman we have reached our cruising altitude of 600,000 feet. Shortly we will be passing the moons of Jupiter and then making a brief pit stop on Neptune for snacks and stretching. Until then if we can do anything to make your flight more comfortable, don’t hesitate to let us know.
I’m on movie number two, which is About Time starring that English guy you’d recognize and also Rachel McAdams. I must say: I’m in love with Rachel McAdams. Like, actually in love. Which is a shame because, as far as I know, she doesn’t know who I am. I think she might also be betrothed, which is a real hiccup in our budding romance. Rachel McAdams is one of those people I’d marry without ever talking to. I assume we all have one or two these.
Things are peachy at the back of the plane. We just had dinner. I’m listening to meditation music and The General has come back to pay me a visit. Dinner was “chicken or pasta,” and I’m very glad I chose pasta. The pasta was delicious. I love airplane food. I have no idea why. But I love it. We also had a small salad, cheese and crackers, a bread roll with butter, and the coup de grace, a chocolate chip brownie. Then there were the multiple cups of black tea, one of which tasted suspiciously like coffee. My seat mate sounds like he might be Dutch. He’s currently sleeping. I’m loath to look at the flight map, but I imagine we’re somewhere over Baffin Island right now. Possibly Elsemere. It’s dark outside. It’s 1:40am in Amsterdam right now. The inflight wifi is working which means I can text friends on WhatsApp till my heart’s content. Though my heart is already pretty content. I’m going to Europe. I’m going to Norway. And right now, at this moment, I have the whole damn armrest to myself.
I am a sheikh.
I’m impressed by the guy sleeping next to me. How do you just pass out in the middle of the afternoon. I probably won’t be able to sleep on this flight because in Seattle it’s the middle of the day. I’m not bad at sleeping on flights, I just have to be tired. And I’m not tired in the least right now.
In the back of the plane there is an unlimited supply of Cheese-Its, cookies, Kit Kat bars, and water. The Cheese-Its are the only thing I can eat because they don’t have sugar. On my diet I’m not allowed to have sugar unless it’s offered to me, like when my mother asked if I wanted a cookie yesterday. This might sound like a weird system but actually it works perfectly. When I go into a grocery store I’m not allowed to buy anything with refined sugar in it. But if I’m in a social situation and someone says, “Should we get dessert?” I’m allowed to scream, “Hell yes!” We all have to find our own system when it comes to dieting. This is the one that works for me. I imagine it’s like this in all aspects of life. It’s called getting older.
If I could travel back in time right now to fix a wrong, or live a situation differently, what would I do? Well, I would probably relive all of my breakups (wouldn’t that be fun), and try to handle them in a more mature, healthy way. I’d avoid saying certain things that you can’t unsay. But mostly I’d just enjoy the shit out of certain moments. Isn’t it ironic that being able to travel back in time might just make you better at living in the present?
This is about the end of blogging for today. There’s not a whole lot to report. I’m sitting on a plane. I have to sit on it for about another six and a half hours. And then I get to get off the plane and go through Schengen Area customs, and then get on another flight to Norway.
This guy is hogging the shit out of this armrest.
Hey Jude plays in my headphones because I’ve just finished watching the movie Yesterday. I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did. But of course I almost cried. Of course I fell in love with the main actress, and the main actor for that matter. I thought I was done writing for the night but sometimes you just have to take out your phone, open up the notepad, and let those fingers flutter. The flight has gone by fast so far. They’ve been feeding us as if we were geese getting fattened up for fois gras. The flight attendants have been wonderful. A constant stream of black tea as well. I’ve watched three movies so far. We have less than three hours to go in this flight. Are longhaul flights actually really easy? I’d say I’ve just jinxed it but I know that would be a lie. Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Amsterdam. Bergen, Bergen, Bergen. A room in a flat on Danmarksplass, near where Karl Ove used to live. And tomorrow I check in and walk straight to the cafe he used to frequent, Cafe Opera. I’m trying to follow, almost literally, in his footsteps.
The General just came back to say hi.
“Mate, have you seen these Jason Bourne movies?”
“General, those are like 10 years old.”
“Fuck off. Seriously?”
“Yeah man. Those came out awhile ago.”
“Fuck me,” he says, and trails off. “How you holding up back here?”
“I’m good. How’s Business Class.”
“”S’alright. Can’t sleep. Been watching these Bourne movies. Makes me want to get a bunch of passports and just fuck off.”
I open my mouth to say something but he’s spotted something at the back of the plane and a minute later I hear a cackle from the flight attendant and one of The General’s trademark chortles.
“What are you doing back here in coach?” I hear the flight attendant say.
I can’t make out what The General replies but she laughs again.
So, I did end up booking a place for Friday night. It’s a hotel called Zander K. What a name. It’s right by the train station. Breakfast included. Looks chic. If there was wifi on this flight I might book my train to Oslo. I’m thinking of going to Sweden now, since I’ve never really been there. I went there once in 2012 but only spent one night in Stockholm. I also spent a few nights in Åland, which is basically Swedish, but it’s actually part of Finland. But everyone there speaks Swedish. I met a girl named Emma there who spoke flawless Finnish, Swedish, English, and I think German, and of course fell hopelessly in love. I remedied the situation by doing calisthenics in the hotel room.
My back is a little sore from sitting so long. In a little bit they should be along to serve us breakfast. If there is breakfast. I almost hope there isn’t, but actually definitely hope there is because it will be a nice distraction to make the time go by faster. I’ve switched to classical music. Right before leaving on this trip I sat down to play one last Chopin Nocturne. Chopin coming into my life over the past two years has been a blessing. I’m definitely one of those old cranks who thinks the best music was written a couple hundred years ago.
Right then, we’re just passing Iceland. When I post this it means I’m in the Amsterdam airport waiting for my flight to Bergen. When I post this it probably means I’m tired as shit because it’ll be bedtime in Seattle. When I post this it means I’ll be on European soil. Or at least European tile. Or possibly carpet.
I left The General in La Push. He was pissed. He ran after the car when he realized what was going on, swearing, and then at the last second stopped short and smoothed his hand through his hair like he’d never been running in the first place. Like it was his idea. Something tells me I haven’t seen the last of The General on this trip, though. Like I’ve left him in the dust only to find him hitchhiking later, somehow further along down the road than me. Today I feel like he might be waiting outside a gas station in Hoquiam.
The surf last night in La Push was glorious. Actually, it was tiny, and really crappy at the beginning, but then I found a nice little right wedge that I tucked into repeatedly, and started, finally, to commune with La Mala. Every time anyone’s asked me how my new board is I say, “I don’t really know. I haven’t really gotten to surf it yet.” And this is true. The first time I surfed it was at lackluster Crescent, then gnarly, wonky conditions out by Cape Flattery, then massive Westport, and then yesterday, finally, small, punchy La Push. La Mala needs punchy waves. She needs a bit of force. A bit of danger. If the waves are mushy she’ll just get out of the water. Or refuse to perform. Which is what she was doing yesterday until I finally found a peak worth surfing.
After surfing I didn’t make a fire. I hung out with The General on the beach, looking out at the stars, and the crescent moon that dangled above the horizon.
“Fuck, that’s beautiful,” The General said, taking a drag off one of his Gauloises.
I looked over at him and raised an eyebrow. Was The General getting sentimental?
“Reminds me of this one time we were in Algiers. Mortars coming at us from all angles. Real shit storm. But then all of the sudden things cleared up for just 10, 15 minutes. The stars were beautiful.”
“You were in Algiers?” I asked, and immediately the mood changed. The General continued smoking and finally said, “I’m turning in for the night.”
But he hadn’t gone to sleep. When I got back to the car The General was standing next to La Mala, whispering in her ear. She looked uncomfortable/excited. I heard him whispering the words, “Clever little munchkin…” when I pulled him back and asked if he wanted to have a smoke.
If there’s one thing The General’s always down for, it’s to have a smoke.
Now I’m a city called Amanda Park, somewhere on the Olympic Peninsula, at the Timberland Regional Library. This place was a godsend. I needed a place with WiFi to watch the Chelsea vs. Watford game, and just as it was starting the Timberland Regional Library came into view, and it had just opened. The facilities are wonderful. The woman working the front desk is insanely helpful, going out of her way to track me down and ask if I needed headphones. And so here I am, watching English Premier League football, happy as a razor clam, listening to Chelsea fans chant, “Jorginho” over and over, and even watching Christian Pulisic score. After the game I’ll keep going down to Hoquiam, and then through Aberdeen, and then on to Westport for a cheeky early afternoon surf.
Is it weird to say that I kind of miss The General? I mean, he’s a huge asshole, but he tells it like it is. I need his no-nonsense approach in my life. I weirdly hope he’s somehow in Hoquiam.
Part 2 (a day and a half later)
So yes, just as I suspected, The General was waiting for me in Hoquiam, outside a Shell station. This has happened countless times between The General and I. I leave him in some or another town, and then find him down the road, him having somehow hitchhiked his way ahead of me (I drive kind of slow). The funny thing is whenever this happens we never talk about it. I just say something like, “What’s up,” and he stubs his cigarette out on the ground, and we continue on as if nothing happened. He gets in the front seat of Panchita, makes some lewd comment about a passing girl, and off we go. The thing is I was GLAD The General was waiting for me in Hoquiam. I kind of missed him. He provides such a fresh perspective on things. Taoism is all about not forcing things, but The General always says, “Fuck that shit, mate. How do you think geezers ever get stuff done?”
Camping at Westport was great. We stayed up past 1am talking about random shit, the whole time justifying it by saying, “Well, we get to sleep an hour more tomorrow, so we can go to bed whenever we want.” I still slept about seven hours. I slept in Panchita. I slept WELL in Panchita on this trip. I think it’s all about having the window cracked a bit. Get some fresh air in there. If you think about it, in our cave-dwelling days we were always getting fresh air, because we could never seal the cave properly. So I think it’s essential when you’re sleeping to have a little fresh air. This is not a problem on Full, because she’s super porous. The hatch has a vent on it. There’s a vent in the bathroom. In the summer I sleep with the front hatch cracked, too.
One thing I realized today is that when writing this blog I’m going to talk about people in my life, and they’re not always going to agree with everything I say. In fact, sometimes I’m going to interpret things people have said to me in the completely wrong way. Sometimes I’m going to offend people. But I guess that’s natural anytime you write about your life. The General is always telling me I need to be MORE offensive, that I need to speak my mind more. This was never a problem when I was younger. When I was younger I had no filter.
Tomorrow, at 1:23pm, I leave for Norway. I am over the moon excited. I only wish I had noise-cancelling headphones. I totally bricked it on getting that taken care of. I also need to move heaven and earth to make sure I get an aisle seat. When you fly Delta Basic Economy, you don’t get your seat assigned until you actually check in. I still haven’t checked in. So maybe I can do that now and go kamikaze (poor choice of words) on an aisle seat. The best thing? I won’t be making the trip alone. The General is coming with me. Except he’ll be in Business Class.
OK, I got an aisle seat. I was originally in 22D, which seemed like an aisle seat because I figured it would be a 3-4-3 configuration, but maybe 3-4-3 configs don’t even exist, it’s a 2-4-2 configuration, which means 22D is middle. So I changed to 40H. The fact that you can even change upon check in with Delta Basic Economy is awesome. The only problem is I’m like three rows from the bathroom. This will be awesome if I have diarrhea, but otherwise it’ll just be a nuisance. God, I need noise-cancelling headphones. A long flight like this is almost guaranteed crying baby. I might even be crying. I’ll certainly watch several movies.
Daylight Savings time has just gone out of effect, which means, even thought it’s only 4:30pm, the sun will be setting soon. In fact, it sets at 4:49pm. I still have to pack for my trip. I still have to figure out how to get from the airport in Bergen to my Airbnb. I still have to figure out why the girl I’m staying with somehow hasn’t read a single book by Karl Ove Knausgaard.
I’m also going to take it easy this afternoon. Hang out with my parents a bit. The reason I didn’t write sooner was because I was being social and being active. It’s good to talk to people other than La Mala and The General. So tonight I’ll drink some black tea and hopefully spend some nice time with my parents. And then tomorrow…NORWAY!
My good God, I’ve struck metaphysical gold. I’m at the Poulsbo Library in Poulsbo, Washington, and the reason I’m here is because I’m on my way out to the coast to pick up The Fish, which has just been repaired by Bauer Surfboards in Port Angeles, and from there to La Push to go surfing tonight and then on to Westport tomorrow. I had to drop off a couple CD’s I’d checked out, and out of curiosity checked to see if there was anything by Carlo Rovelli or anything about Taoism. There was Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, by Carlo Rovelli, (hopefully) everyone’s favorite primer on the quantum world, and also, and this was entirely unexpected, Stephen Mitchell’s The Second Book of the Tao. I am more than a pig in mud right now. I’m like a pig with its head buried in the feed trough.
And yet. And yet. When I left my parents’ house this morning I had a strange feeling in my chest, a bit of a sad feeling. I’m not sure why this was. Maybe it was just the simple act of saying goodbye. Saying goodbye is always a little bit sad, even if it’s only going to be for a few weeks. But I think one of the reasons it was sad is because my mother didn’t realize she wouldn’t see me before I left for Norway, so it all felt a bit abrupt.
“OK, I’m gonna head out now. See you in a few weeks.”
Upon which I got into Panchita, where, unbeknownst to me, The General was waiting for me. The General, I will explain now and only now, is Swedish snus. Snus, and here again I will only explain now, is smokeless tobacco. Basically it’s little sacks of water, tobacco, and nothing else (I think there’s one relatively benign preservative, too). I’ve been hanging out with The General a lot lately, training, some might call it. The General is a no-nonsense fellow. When I got in the car this morning he said, “Sup, pussy.”
The General can always be called upon for moral support.
“Little late leaving today, aren’t we?” he said. “What were you up to in there? Drinking tea? Sucking your thumb?”
I said nothing but rather put Panchita in gear, rolled out of the driveway, and then out of the cul-de-sac toward the main road. Took a right on 305 and was off toward Poulsbo, off toward the library, off toward a weekend of surfing. Tonight, though, I’ll be camping alone. This isn’t entirely terrible. I’m used to spending time alone. To a certain extent I like spending time alone. And of course I won’t be alone at all, because Panchita, The General, The Fish, and La Mala will be there. In fact, The General is looking over my shoulder as I type these very words, snorting and shaking his head.
“Jesus,” he says, “Aren’t you an emotional one? What are we doing in a fucking library, anyway? Aren’t you supposed to be surfing?”
The General, despite being Swedish, speaks perfect English. If anything he has a bit of a British accent, and some British mannerisms. He’s always smoking and wearing aviators. I’ve never seen him in anything but the same black, leather jacket. He’s in tremendous physical shape, mostly owing to the hundreds of push-ups he does every morning. In fact, I recently got an invitation from the Seattle Fire Department to apply for a job as a firefighter, and The General laughed when he saw the physical fitness test you have to take.
“You can’t do 35 push-ups,” he said. “I’ve seen you do push-ups. You don’t even do them right.”
“That’s because my wrist is messed up,” I said.
“Your mind is messed up,” he countered. “You can’t do 35 push-ups because you’re not a 35 push-up kind of guy. You know who’s a 35 push-up kind of guy?”
“Fuck no. I’m a 100 push-up kind of guy. Have you seen my pecs? No, your dad’s a 35 push-up kind of guy. Some of your friends are 35 push-up kinds of guys, though maybe not because you have soft friends. Actually, now that I think about it, I doubt any of your friends can do 35 push-ups. Get down and give me 20 right now.”
The General is always demanding that I “get down and give him x number of push-ups.” I never do it. I just look at him, and he takes a drag off his cigarette, and then walks away, disgusted.
The General doesn’t completely approve of my lifestyle, but he’s always down to hang out. He was stoked we were going on a road-trip today. Panchita was also stoked, though she shows it in her own little way. A coy smile here and there.
On a completely unrelated note, the hotel I was hoping to stay at on Friday in Bergen has just gone up $30 dollars. Last night I checked it, it was $91 dollars including tax, including an “evening meal” and also breakfast, and I didn’t book it because I couldn’t decide between a room with two twin beds or one double bed. And now the price has gone up $30. Woe is me.
But now it’s time to leave the Poulsbo library with my trove of books on physics and Taoism. The coast beckons. Plus, The General keeps kicking the legs of my chair.
What to say about the city of Port Angeles. There’s a grocery store I love here called Country Aire. I also like the library. It’s weirdly nice for a town known mostly for hunting and meth addiction. But Port Angeles is also where you get the ferry to Victoria, BC, Canada, a place where I’ve spent some of the happiest days of my life, so I will always have a soft spot for Port Angeles. But I don’t think I would ever live here. Why live here when one of the coolest, most livable cities is just across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. I will live in Victoria someday, or Vancouver. This is something I’ve been talking about for a long time. I must manifest this reality.
Country Aire is a fabulous grocery store, and it’s where I’m currently drinking an English breakfast. Panchita is outside resting, aka yawning, itching to get back on the road. But first I need to do a little grocery shopping.
The drive out here was uneventful. The General fell asleep in the back seat just as we were leaving Poulsbo. It looked like he was having nightmares. He kept saying, “No, no, no! Put it down! There’s kids in there!” followed by rapid fire Swedish and his eyelids fluttering upward. I asked him one time if he had flashbacks and he said, “What do you know about death?” and that was the last we ever spoke of it. I think he might’ve been stationed in North Africa, but I’m not entirely sure. He has a scar on his arm that I’m 96% sure is from shrapnel, and if you accidentally sneak up on him he’s been known to wheel around and get you in a choke hold.
Why did I buy a tea when I have an entire thermos of tea in Panchita?
I’ll probably wake The General up for the rest of the ride to La Push. God, I hope there’s a campsite there. La Push is simultaneously the best and worst place to camp I’m Washington. Best because it’s gorgeous and the surf is good, worst because it’s expensive and they have all kinds of arcane rules, like “one sleeping arrangement” per campsite. There’s no way The General is sleeping in the car with me. I won’t even let La Mala sleep in the car with me, even though she’s sexy as fuck. And of course I have to keep The General apart from La Mala because every time he gets close to her he starts making obscene gestures. How will The Fish fit into all this? The Fish is so passive, I doubt he’ll even notice. I would be blown away if The Fish and La Mala became a thing.
The surf should be good today. My wetsuit is dry. I’m going to buy a sandwich now and some stuff for dinner and head over to the ding repair shop to pick up my board. And then the beautiful drive around Lake Crescent, the beautiful drive to the coast.
A slough of dates. Get to the surf shop and the board isn’t ready yet. I play with the pitbull/boxer the guy has who owns the shop. His daughter is still wearing facepaint from Halloween. I sit in the parking lot listening to the cars go by and checking out The Unknown Teachings of Lao Tzu, by Brian Walker. It’s like the Tao but different ways of saying the same stuff. Most of the verses of the Tao are different ways of saying each other. Don’t force things. Don’t rush things. Listen to the Tao. Don’t compete. Don’t look for recognition. Be like water, content to occupy the low places. You can interpret the Tao’s verses any way you want. But the general idea is clear: non-action. Which basically means, “Don’t force things.” And also, “Rejoice in the way things are.”
The General hates when I talk about shit like this.
Panchita doesn’t care.
The drive around Lake Crescent is one of my favorite drives in Washington. Lake Crescent’s water is blue and deep. If you go swimming and open your eyes you are confronted with the abyss, and unless you’re some kind of sea creatures your first instinct is to either close your eyes again or get out of there. The water is cold and surrounded on all sides by steep mountains, covered in pine trees. This is hot spring territory. Indeed there are hot springs just a few miles away. I went there once with a girlfriend and was interested to note almost all of the clientele was Russian. Russians, for whatever reason, love dipping their bodies in scalding hot water.
The road twists and turns around Lake Crescent like a gazelles running from a hyena. And then you’re spit out into the planes just before Forks and the spell is broken. When you’re around Lake Crescent you feel like the outside world doesn’t exist and anything is possible. But then, back to reality.
Luckily, I still have a thermos full of tea. So reality is pretty sweet. And if all goes well in about two hours I should be surfing.
I’m getting kind of bored waiting for this board. I’m going to see what The General is up to.
Panchita’s limp is fixed and so everything should be right in the world. And indeed it pretty much is. This morning I woke up at 6:16am to text friends and tell them I wouldn’t be going surfing. Now, why on Earth would I do that? Why would I pass up an opportunity to do the one thing I love with two people I love? Short answer: it didn’t feel right. Long answer: it didn’t feel right. Plus, to a certain extent, I probably just wanted to sleep in. And also didn’t want to sit in the car for six hours. Granted, the company would be great. The two friends I would’ve been surfing with are kindred spirits. But lately I’ve been trying to listen to my intuition, or the Tao, or the Logos, or whatever you want to call it, and today it was telling me, in a gentle but insistent voice, “Today’s not the day to go surfing. You’ve got other shit to do. Like read that one Carlo Rovelli book. And maybe drink some mate. And maybe do some laundry. Don’t worry: you’ll go surfing this weekend.” And indeed, that is the plan, to go surfing this weekend, possibly at Westport, possibly at La Push. And then Monday off to Norway. Yesterday I researched how much it would be to take the train from Bergen to Oslo after my few days in Bergen. About 40 bucks. And supposedly it’s a gorgeous train ride. So that’s an option. And then from there are cheap flights anywhere. A ferry to Kiel, Germany. Or just hang out in Oslo, going from cafe to cafe in search of Magnus Carlsen.
My morning routine is getting pretty dialed, and indeed today was no different. Wake up at 7:30am, feel groggy as hell for a few minutes, stretch and groan and contemplate going back to sleep, and then finally launch myself out of bed, not unlike a young Romanian gymnast. Then I put the kettle on, always the most critical part of any morning. Lately I’ve been drinking English breakfast tea, which is wonderful but also requires eating something. If I drink it on an empty stomach the nausea is real. So there’s the tea and then all the shit I add to it, like Lion’s Mane, golden tea mixture, and today and today only, Bulletproof collagen along with Kerrygold butter. If I’m not superhuman in the next 30 minutes then something’s wrong. All these good things I’ve put in my body, though to be fair the mixture smelled like refuse, mostly because of the collagen powder, which is essentially ground-up cow. Mildly disgusting.
After the tea I move onto the dancing and the staring out the window. Both of these are pretty self-explanatory. For the dancing I put on music and gyrate to it, softly, shaking the boat, and for the looking out the window I swap out the wood planks of the hatch with clear plexiglass ones. And then I stand there looking out. Today I watched a group of geese swim by. And then a juvenile seagull landed about ten feet from my boat, looking like it was looking for something. I opened the hatch.
“Can I help you?” I said.
“Hungry as balls,” the young seabird said. “Need eat.”
“Your grammar is atrocious,” I said. “Subject, predicate, noun!”
At which point the seagull turned its back to me and defecated.
It’s cold and I’m afraid Billy is dying. Billy is the succulent who, you’ll remember, I recently decided was an “outside plant,” aka “dead plant.” His leaves, or whatever you call them, are turning brown. And yet I feel he’s happier up top on deck, in the world, with at least a fighting chance, than down here in the boat getting overwatered by me and watching me dance. No one, as far as I know, observe these little private dance sessions. They’re absolutely critical to my mental health. When I’m in Seattle I don’t dance very much, and it’s a shame. When I’m in Latin America I dance constantly. But in Seattle almost never. So I’ve decided to fix that with a little dance therapy every morning. I suggest you try it.
The other part of my morning routine, also critical, is the meditation. Let me make something abundantly clear: meditation for me is not some trance-like state (except when it is). It’s basically me just observing my breathing. Resting my mind on my breathing, some might call it. It’s a chance for the mind to stop its constant rumination on the last or projection towards the future. It’s a chance for my brain to slip into alpha waves instead of its usual beta. Maybe even theta. Maybe even Delta? I have noticed that it’s much easier to meditate in a quiet place, like a church. I have also noticed that the effects become more apparent with regular practice, preferably at least twice a day. Thrice might even be preferable. I’ve noticed that in the afternoon my mind tends to become restless, probably a product of fatigue. Meditation is a good way to kind of reset the mind. Coax it from its wandering. But I don’t expect anything of meditation, and I think that’s critical. I don’t expect to have some amazing experience. I don’t expect to have visions. I don’t expect everything in the world to instantly be perfect.
It’s Halloween, and I’m reminded of this every time I look up and see an unexpected ghoul. The cashier at Whole Foods looks like she just wandered out of a cemetery. My costume today is lacking. I’m dressed like a hipster fisherman, with skinny pants and a wool sweater. Will Full get any trick or treaters tonight? I doubt it. The liveaboard community isn’t exactly rife with children. Plus the big no trespassing signs at the beginning of the dock might ward off any potential trick or treaters.
It’s sunny in Seattle once again. There’s no rain in the forecast. A week of rain and now who knows when it will rain again. It’s sun and cold for the moment. But at night with the space heater turned up full blast and a down comforter draped on my person, I’m quite comfortable. My living situation is simple. A 27-foot sailboat. A small sink. A table. An electric tea kettle. And a dying plant on the deck above me. Panchita in the parking lot. La Mala, who I haven’t talked about, wedged in between the side of the boat and the fridge. I haven’t talked about La Mala yet. La Mala is my surfboard. Or one of my surfboards. She’s 6’1″ and boasts (loudly) 32 liters of volume. She’s fast and responsive and kind of hard to ride. The other day at Westport I rode her in well overhead conditions. On the bigger waves she was content to just go straight. She likes speed and plenty of it. Our relationship is only budding now, but I feel like by spring it’ll blossom. Sometimes the best relationships are the ones that develop the slowest. So those are the inanimate objects in my life: Panchita, Full, Billy and La Mala. Add my neighbors and the constant array of waterfowl plying the waters near the boat, and you have yourself a vibrant ecosystem of conviviality. For now though I better go. Carlo Rovelli beckons.
I feel like I fucked up. Maybe I should’ve gone surfing today. I wish I were surfing right now.
Instead I’m in the U-Bookstore cafe drinking an English breakfast and thinking and about how most of us spend our lives striving. Constantly striving. Can you think of anyone who’s content with their life as it is? You might be able to. I certainly can’t. Well, I can think of one person, but she’s very far away in southern Chile. She’s content to listen to Chopin in the afternoon and talk to geese and pet her cats. And drink the occasional cup of coffee and smoke the occasional cigarette. Her striving is limited to finite tasks she’s more than capable of fulfilling, like painting a sign for the cabins they rent or drawing a picture of a goat. She doesn’t waste time yearning for her life to be wildly different. She doesn’t waste time lamenting things she can’t control. She’s always talking about how she feels intensely happy but if someone from the “outside world” were to scrutinize her life they’d see an old woman taking walks, listening to music, and petting cats. You might think this would be lonely. But she’s built her own little paradise in southern Chile, and it’s one of enjoying the smaller, intangible things in life. It’s one of enjoying the fruits of one’s labor (in the case of painting the signs), but without desire for recognition or monetary renumeration. I’ve had the fortune of spending many an afternoon with this woman, talking, sharing a mate, smoking a cigarette, listening to music. I’m fortunate to call her a friend and, though she would dread this word but not understand it because it’s in English, a mentor. How lucky I am to have a mentor! Someone who wants my happiness and nothing more. I trust the advice of very few people in this world, because very few people in the world are me and thus, in the immortal words of the movie Sideways, “don’t know my plight.” But I trust this wonderful Chilean woman who spent much of her life exiled in France and then in northern Mexico, this kindred spirit who I met only because I was hitchhiking and her also wonderful daughter in law deigned to pick me up, this sage who even in her 80s is strong enough to slam doors with a swift kick.
But back to the University Bookstore. Back to reality. I’m going to finish this tea and then stroll across campus, lapping up the sun. Not thinking about how I wish I was surfing because I wasn’t prepared to sacrifice the time required for the drive and if you’re not prepared for the rain you shouldn’t complain about not having the green.
I spoke with Panchita today, and she was furious. “You left me out here in the cold to die,” she said.
“Panchita, you don’t fit in the boat.”
This made her doubly furious, one because I’d called her Panchita (her full name is Francisca Rivera Casas Sobrepuentes and if it were up to her I’d call her this and only this), and two because I’d implied she was fat. But she’s a Subaru Outback. She doesn’t fit in a 27 foot sailboat. Plus she’d make it dirty, though of course I don’t dare mention that. She sulked off and I noticed she was limping a bit, so I checked the pressure in her tires and noticed the back left was below 20. Panchita! Mi amor! Que te han hecho?
Putting air in Panchita’s tires is something I’ve been meaning to do for awhile, one of those things you know you should do but is kind of a hassle, like laundry or taking a shower. When you do those things you feel good about them, and feel a sense of accomplishment. The more odious the task presumably the greater sense of accomplishment. This might be why I vacuuum the area rug on Full (the short name of my boat) quite often. Constant accomplishment. And then three minutes later it’s filthy. I guess that’s what happens when you basically live out of doors.
Yesterday evening I went on a bit of a ramble by myself, over to the U-District and then into Capitol Hill. I went to St. Mark’s cathedral for a bit, where I sat observing my breath and the depths of my soul. It turns out my soul is pretty damn deep. Like 50 plus fathoms, depending on the tides. I tried to throw an anchor because I felt like I was drifting away toward the narthex and in danger of becoming an Episcopalian, but luckily just at the right moment a woman opened the door and my trance was shattered like a bottle of Olde English falling to the pavement. Thank God? Thank someone. Thank Jehoveh, or Yaweh, or Bernie Sanders. Then I kept walking, further into the heart of Capitol Hill, and suddenly there were all kinds of people walking around me and it was bustling and beautiful, and then I was in Cal Anderson, where it was peaceful and fall-like, the light from the street lamps dripping onto the paths, the leaves rustling with every faint breeze. Ahhh, fall in Seattle. I kept walking to Elliott Bay Books, where I go quite often. Funny thing about that: the last girl I dated used my frequent outings to Elliott Bay Books as sort of a metric for how much of a bum I was. Like, if you go to a bookstore everyday, you’re kind of a bum. But I just want to learn! Plus, Elliott Bay is one of the best bookstores on the planet. I prefer it even to Powell’s Books in Portland, despite the latter’s superior selection. Being in Elliott Bay feels a bit like being in a temple. So yeah, maybe I’m a bum, but I’m not going to stop going there.
I leave for Norway in less than a week. I’m staying the first three nights in an Airbnb with a girl named Marie. I will be hot on the trail of Karl Over Knausgaard, probably spending protracted afternoons at Cafe Opera. And then I’ll either take the train to Oslo and fly somewhere, or fly somewhere from Bergen. I might go to Paris to see a friend.
Panchita is outside in the parking lot waiting for me, undoubtedly seething. Why do relationships have to be so tough? Or maybe they’re not that tough. Maybe I just make them tough. The only thing I know is that it’s gloriously sunny in Seattle and a great day to be alive, certainly as good as any other. And I’m going to Europe soon.
Just as many of you probably did this morning, I woke up and asked myself the question: what would it be like to spend an entire morning at the U-Bookstore?
So then of course I set out to do it. I piled into my ’97 Subaru Outback, also known as Francisca, or Panchita (though she hates being called that), and drove the several miles into the U-District.
First however I had to make a mandatory Whole Foods stop. Yerba mate. I sat down next to a girl with an MIT headband on and contemplated asking her, “You think you’re better than me?” but instead opted to do a little journaling followed by a long journey to the bathroom for thinking time. I left my stuff on the counter when I went to the bathroom. I trust people, almost to a fault. Well that’s not completely true. I also trust my instincts when it comes to sketchy people. If I’m walking at night and get a bad feeling about the person coming toward me, I’ve been known to cross the street.
After the mate I finally made it to the bookstore, where intelectual and spiritual riches abound. Is there anything better than sitting in a bookstore with a book you don’t own and have no intention of buying, learning and reading for free? Actually, I can think of a host of things. But this morning it was pretty great. I read a book by Carlo Rovelli, and also Ursula le Guin’s interpretation of the Tao Te Ching. The Rovelli book is called Reality is Not What it Seems and is about quantum gravity, a subject I knew, and still know, nothing about. The problem with reading at a bookstore is you always get tired. It’s too damn peaceful. Plus at the U-Bookstore they always have good classical music playing, so all you want to do is curl up on the floor and descend into dreamworld. And this considering I slept well last night.
After the U-Bookstore I went to PCC to contemplate the lunch crowd, and then sat by the cut by the Google offices, basking in the sun not unlike a juvenile Komodo Dragon. The closer you are to the water the warmer it gets, due to the reflecting rays. But then I was seized by sudden inspiration, and trotted up the hill, past all the Googlers working their asses off for better email, better maps, better search engines, all the stuff that matters in the world, and made my way back to where Francisca was parked. She looked pissed. For some reason she doesn’t like two-hour parking. Says it makes her feel “emasculated,” which is strange considering she’s female. But I know better than to argue with Francisca. When she gets mad she burns oil. One time at the Canadian border in August she got so pissed at the line that she started to overheat. She punished us (I was with a friend) by making us turn up the heat full blast to cool her down. Francisca is nothing if not temperamental.
Finally I got back to my boat where I have left the succulent plant I purchased from Trader Joe’s on the deck of my boat to die. Or live. It wasn’t doing well inside so I’ve decided it’s now an outside plant. I think it enjoys being in the sun. What plant wouldn’t? The cold might kill it. Or it might thrive. So far I have killed plants by paying too much attention to them, so I’m trying to put this one out of mind by keeping it more out of sight. True love seems indifferent, or so the Tao says. Unless it’s a car. Then you sort of have to pay attention to it.
We pull into the railyard between Emeryville, California, and Oakland and stoicism is taken to new levels. I quickly check how much it would be to rent a car from SFO to LAX. A hundred bucks. Plus gas. But that’s not what I’m here to do. I’m here to ride this damn train.
Last night I slept fitfully. When I woke up in Sacramento it took me a good five seconds to realize I was on a train, then a good half hour to figure out we were in Sacramento. Sacramento. Who wants to go to Sacramento?
This morning I had breakfast with a girl from Bakersfield, the town my dad’s from, who goes to school at Chico State. We pounded coffee. We talked about history and Brazil and the relative merits of 3D design. I waxed philosophical about how whatever you do in your spare time is what you should do for a living, and immediately questioned my words as I said them. Then I heard Sakhovy telling Katrin that there was going to be a “problem.” Apparently there’s something wrong with the lounge car, my favorite car, and we have to stop at the yard to fix it. Estimated repair time one to two hours. Hence me checking rental cars.
The woman behind is essentially screaming into her phone. I’m contemplating taking a shower. I feel disgusting. There’s something about sleeping fitfully that makes you feel gross the next day. People are milling around outside my car and now I kind of regret drinking coffee because going back to sleep right now wouldn’t be half bad. It wouldn’t be full good, but it would be at least half good. It’s a beautiful sunny day in California. Hopefully we can make up some time on the way.
Update: I’m still on this damn train. We’re nearing San Luis Obispo, aka SLO, aka home of Cal Poly. Another update is that the friend I was going to stay with on night one can no longer host me. This is actually kind of a blessing in disguise because I love staying in hotels and since tomorrow I’m celebrating 14 months of sobriety I’m treating myself to a hotel on the nicer end. I’m staying at Hotel Indigo, which is by the Staples Center and apparently four stars. On Booking the rooms cost $200 plus tax. Through Hotwire I was able to get a deal for just under $150, after tax. My elation knows no bounds. The best part? It has a pool.
It’s 5:12pm and dinner service will happen just after San Luis Obispo. I’m not going to make the same mistake I did last night and go all out on dinner, ravaging my digestive system. I will keep it simple with some chicken, potatoes, and veggies. Maybe a side salad. The rolling hills of the Central coast are golden from the heat and the dryness. Cattle dot the landscape, black dots on an otherwise sea of gold. Sakhovy said as of now we should get in between 10pm and 1030pm, but quickly rushed to say, “As of now.” Anything can happen on Amtrak. I booked the hotel room not without some trepidation thinking how terrible it would be if we got delayed again and I didn’t even get to stay there. But must remain positive. A deer prances towards a wooden area, evidently spooked by the train. A vulture glides overhead and we pass three tan colored cows who are staring directly ahead as if frozen in time.
As we pull into Santa Barbara, a midnight arrival time to LA looking probable, my main reflection on the trip is this: I’m not desperate to get off this train. I could easily (well, maybe not easily) do another night. Every other long haul transportation, including flying business class on an airplane, I’ve been pretty ready to get off whenever we arrive. And granted I am ready to get off this damn train. Thirty eight hours is a long time. But I’ve got my little room here. I’ve got my bed. I’ve got my entertainment. I’ve got my food.
What am I saying. Get me out of here.
At approximately 11:26pm we finally trundled into Union Station, Los Angeles. I had been on the train just under 38 hours. I rode a scooter to my hotel, checked into my room, and inspected it. I stood in front of the glass window looking out at LA. Then I took a bit of a walking tour of the hotel, where I ran into a girl who was there supposedly for some kind of insurance function. She was wasted. I asked if I could help her, or what she was trying to do. She was swaying. Eventually I ran into her downstairs in the lobby and she still seemed confused about my presence, as if I were part of the party when I assured her I was just a random hotel guest. When I asked her where she was from she said, “Kinda here, and kinda another country.” “What other country,” I said. She gave me three guesses. I said Russia, Colombia, and Sweden. All wrong. I fired off a few more. Ukraine. Germany. Mexico. She seemed offended by all of them. Was she Hungarian? Canadian?
After I said Argentina she disappeared into the night.
In an effort to fight the stereotype that train service in the US is awful, I have decided to embark on a 35+ hour scenic jaunt down to Los Angeles from Seattle on the Amtrak Coastal Starlight. It is 9:38am. The train is scheduled to leave at 9:45am. I’m already drinking my first coffee. There’s a thermos upstairs from which one can presumably take multiple refills. I have met the sleeper car attendant, whose name is Sokhavy. She said, “Do you have any questions?” and I precoeeded to batter her with questions for the next five minutes, though my thirst for Amtrak knowledge, and this route in general, was not even close to satiated. Apparently the observation car — with glass ceilings — is a good place to make friends. I shall go there soon.
My sleeping berth is slightly more spacious than I thought. It’s also laid out differently. I thought you would open a door to a narrow corridor flanked by a bed and culminating in a window. But instead it’s more like the first class you see on airplanes. Two seats facing each other that fold into a bed. Unlimited coffee. Have I mentioned this? But Jesus, what am I going to do for 35 hours. Sokhavy has just informed me there’s no wifi. I have an uplifting book about Afghanistan, the CIA, and the leadup to 9/11.
I better make friends.
As things currently stand were hauling ass. I have no idea how this takes 35+ hours. We must make some long stops. And also go slow through the mountains.
Halftime of the Ajax Chelsea game has coincided nicely with sweeping views of south Puget Sound. I’ve made my way to the lounge car where two couples from the south are gabbing excitedly about the views. One woman is Facetiming and the audio is, well, audible. Her southern accent is like honey that has fermented to my northern ears.
The passenger across from me is named Shay and will apparently be boarding at PDX. Will Shay and I be besties? Also, lunch is scheduled for 1:00pm and dinner for 7:30pm. I wanted a later dinner time. I imagine dining alone at night, the countryside racing by. I imagine most of these people are just taking this train to Portland. Maybe some to the Bay Area. Even fewer to LA. I would like to become friends with Sakhovy, the sleeping car train attendant. She’s been working for Amtrak for 15 years.
Practical notes: the bathrooms are more than serviceable. The existence of the lounge car with its floor to ceiling windows is welcome. I’m in a sleeper on the first floor which smells more than faintly of disinfectant. But apparently the first floor is actually kind of nice because there’s much less traffic. All foot transit takes place on the second floor. The first floor is a bastion of tranquility. We’re nearing the place where an Amtrak train derailed last year. We’re also nearing the very tip of south Puget Sound.
The best part of taking the train so far: you’re not going along the highway so you’re seeing parts of the country you’d never otherwise see.
First impressions: Everything is better so far than I expected. The scenery is gorgeous. We might actually roll into LA more or less on schedule. The food sounds pretty good. I love having my own little compartment.
So far this could compete with many European train services. It’s a gorgeous fall day and the track is lined with deciduous trees shedding their leaves and preparing to hunker down for winter.
There are people playing dominos in the lounge car. I’m drinking orange juice. Portland was beautiful. A sea of fall leaves and people walking around as if Portland were the only city on earth. I took a power walk and made it as far as the Whole Foods and Powell’s Books in the Pearl District. My knowledge of Portland is poor and my desire to increase it poorer. I will never live south of Seattle again unless it’s Mexico or Chile or Italy or maybe (maybe) New Zealand.
I would estimate our top speed so far around 70mph. Possibly 80mph. Not bad but a far cry from the gazelles that zip across the European or Asian countrysides. Apparently long haul train travel in the US is on its way out. Could the Coast Starlight be the end of an era? Will everyone by driving self driven electric cars in 10 years, even more glued to their phones than they are now?
Lunch was a lively affair consisting of an Angus burger and sitting with a couple from North Carolina and a German masqaurading as an Englishman. If you’re traveling alone on Amtrak you will probably sit with strangers for meals. It was nice to have a bit of social interaction. The German guy was happy with the train, especially the scenery and the amenities despite it being “obviously an old train.” I noticed he tipped well despite coming from two countries not known for tipping. As for dinner I’m already excited. My reservation, as I mentioned, is for 7:30pm. I’m hoping to get the Land & Sea Combo accompanied by a garden salad. It retails for $39 and has a steak and a crab cake. Will they allow me such decadence? Meals are included with the sleepers but I’m not sure if all the meals are. Suburban Portland is a prison of convenience stores and overly temperate weather. I’m thinking about having another coffee. The girl across the hall finally showed up but doesn’t seem particularly keen on making friends. It might be time to meditate or even take a nap. We’re crossing rivers and going by lakes and the sun feels like it’s already setting. It’s a beautiful day.
I can now officially say I’ve made a friend on the train. Her name is Katrin and she’s wonderful. She’s from Germany, Chemnitz to be exact, which is near Dresden. In the past few months I’ve met three people from Dresden. What is the universe trying to tell me? I’m not sure, but I’m listening. The universe is speaking to me in German.
I’m in my sleeper now preparing for bed. We’re winding through the mountains toward Mt. Shasta, aka Dunsmuir, aka Redding. Aka the Bay Area. Aka were in California and still have approximately 24 hours to go. How is this possible. How is this state so massive or this train so slow or both. I’m already looking forward to hopefully breakfasting with Katrin tomorrow and talking about the Camino de Santiago and spiritual shit. She told me she’s reading a book by Osho. I told her I fall asleep to Eckhart Tolle videos. The thing about Amtrak is they make you eat meals with other people, so you have to meet people. It’s like a forced blind date with someone regardless of gender or age. I had dinner with a woman in her 70’s from Klamath Falls. We talked at length about healthcare. I shoveled down rolls and strained to hear the conversation of the (different) German girl next to me who appeared to be taking about Kombucha. And then when I got back to the sleep car Sokhavy, bless her beating heart, said, “I’m gonna go downstairs and make up your bed.” Am I in paradise? Is Amtrak actually the future?