Amtrak Train #7, near Columbus, Wisconsin
I'm writing this from somewhere just west of Columbus, Wisconsin. The Empire Builder is moving along at a good clip and, from all indications, is actually on time. I have a reservation for the 7:30 dinner. The New York strip steak sounds good, but at $18 I'll probably pass and get the herbed chicken instead.
The ride into Chicago was OK. I probably got only an hour and a half of sleep before the alarm woke me at 3:30 this morning and, unfortunately, didn't get much sleep on the train. (I've slept on trains before, but the lack of a pillow on this trip worked against me. Here on the Empire Builder, where they provide pillows, I've been able to grab two 30-minute cat naps.) The lack of sleep had more to do with walking to the train station than the train itself: Crossing through a darkened construction area and under a freeway at 4:00 in the morning has a way of putting one's senses on alert. Anyway, the train got into Chicago on time and I spent about an hour wandering around the station and the nearby area waiting for Sarah to arrive on the Metra. The wait was pretty much my fault: Sarah could've come in on an earlier train, but I've had so much experience with Amtrak being late that I suggested a later time to her. Now I know better.
Sarah and I didn't have much time to visit—my layover had been reduced to an hour and a half by that point—but it was still good to see her. Neither of us were too familiar with the surrounding area (well, I am architecturally, but that doesn't help when looking for a good meal), so we got lunch in the station, grabbed a spot next a building by the river and talked for an hour. We talked about usual stuff, although the coconut detour does seem to stick out for some reason. Anyway, I need to come back to Chicago some time to help her get her computer set up for her business, and if schedules work out she may be up in Minneapolis for the turkey party.
I got to the gate a little later than I would've liked, but in this case my procrastination paid off. The first car for those headed to the Twin Cities was full, so I ended up in another car predominated by folks heading to Portland. The car will be full by the time it reaches it's destination, but for now it's half empty with plenty of space to spread out. Quite nice.
That's pretty much it for the trip, although there is one other thing I feel the need to mention. I don't know why it wasn't a problem on all the Amtrak trips I've gone on, but many of the passengers I've seen today and last week seem to have a lot of problems moving from one car to another. It's not an overly complicated process: You walk up to the door, push the big black button that says "PUSH," wait for the door to open, step between the cars, push the big black button on the next door, wait for the door to open, and move to the next car. Not too difficult. Well, guess what part people are having problems with. That's right, pushing the button. On the way down I watched as a man repeatedly hit the button with his fist and then start complaining about what a piece of crap it was because it didn't open. It took him a while to figure out he actually had to push the button in a quarter of an inch, not just smack it with his hand. Then, today, I saw a woman following another traveler get trapped between cars when the second door closed before she could pass. 30 seconds into this little show I decided to get up and help her, but she figured it out just before I got to the door.
The greatest example of door problems came on the way down, though, when I saw an elderly man completely lose his shit when a door started closing on him. He pushed the door back in, to which the door responded by immediately trying to close again. All the guy had to do was push the button to get another 10 seconds, but no, he kept pushing the door in over and over and over. Each time the result was the same, and in the end he blocked the door with his foot and hit it repeatedly. (I would've helped, but there were five people in line between us to get to the next car.) To make matters worse, the same exact thing happened when he tried to pass to the next car. He pushed the button, and the door opened. Obviously distrustful of the door, he stood in place for seven or eight seconds to make sure it wasn't about to close. Of course, that meant he was half-way through the door at 10 seconds, and once again the door fell shut on him. The entire scene was ready for another repeat one car later, but, thankfully, one of the people in line behind him took mercy and helped him avoid another disaster.
Well, it's around 6:00 in the evening now, and amazingly dark for the hour. It looks like we have a fairly wicked storm brewing outside. I just spent four days in bright, sweltering weather, and now return home to thunderstorms.
I couldn't ask for a better welcome.
) ) )
Well, I thought I was done writing for the evening, but that was before dinner. I ended up sitting at a table of four solo travelers, one from Portland, one from central Pennsylvania, and another from Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Three bearded men and a woman with a wine fixation. Damn hippies. Anyway, the Sheboygan traveler grew up in Two Rivers, the same city I spent a rather dim decade and a half in. I mentioned I grew up there, and he asked me what I thought of it. "Not much," I said. "I like the geography, but from a community standpoint it left a lot to be desired."
"It's just small enough that everyone knows everyone else's secrets," he replied. "and it's probably the most backwards, inbred place I've ever been." Later, he put his sentiment in even greater context when he said he lived in Mississippi for two decades. "It was bad down there, so after the kids were old enough to go out on their own we decided to move back up," he said. "But we stayed away from Two Rivers and went to Sheboygan instead."
Two Rivers probably thinks it's famous for being the home of the ice cream sundae. If only its residents knew they were famous for something slightly less admirable.
Speaking of food, dinner came in the form of herb encrusted chicken, veggies, mashed potatoes, a small salad, soda, and cheesecake covered in strawberries. If I'm still awake when I get home, it may be a good idea for me to take a walk.
) ) )
Finally, other travelers' reasons for taking Amtrak instead of flying or driving:
- "I don't like flying."
- "Planes don't really go to Glacier National Park."
- "It's the most dignified way to travel."
- "It's relaxing, and I can get work done."
- "It takes less time than it would to drive to the airport, make two connections and drive home."
- "Airline food sucks."
- "Have you ever been through Bradley?"
I like flying, but agree with everything else.
I think I'm done now. Good night.
Well, it's my last night here in St. Louis. It's been a good trip. My train leaves at 4:35 tomorrow morning, and since it's already 10:30 at night right now, this entry is going to be short.
The trip down was good. As is usual when riding Amtrak, I met some interesting people, had some good conversations and experienced a few moments of mild drama. During lunch I found myself sitting with a family on their way back from Glacier National Park in Montana, one of whom was pursuing a doctorate in philosophy at UW-Madison. We covered all kinds of topics and at some point I managed to shift it to urban planning. (I'm not trying to suggest such a topic shift would be unusual for me, of course.) The others at the table weren't familiar with the concept of redlining, so I gave them a brief overview of what it is and what it does. My explanation caught the ear of one of the dining car attendants, who launched into a two-minute story about how his community south of Chicago recently fought off developers who were trying to do exactly what I was talking about. The people I was sitting with had seemed somewhat skeptical about what I was telling them, so it was nice to get some unexpected reinforcement. Serendipity can be cool that way.
Anyway, the mild drama came in the form of two events: The Empire Builder was late to Chicago and I had to run to make my connection to the State House. (Ben and I had planned on meeting by the gate. Instead, we met on the train.) The second event occurred a couple of hours into the ride on the State House, when some foul-mouthed individual told off the conductor and got kicked off in Springfield. Beyond that, the trip was uneventful.
I guess there was also a soap opera moment: The couple sitting behind Ben and me were returning from their honeymoon in Chicago. They were a cute couple, but Ben overheard a couple bits of their conversation that called into question how long they were going to last. Of biggest concern were the getting-to-know-you questions, i.e., the questions one should ask before getting hitched. Questions like, "So, what kind of books do you like," "Can you stand [rap] music?" and "Do you think the death penalty and abortion are moral equivalents?"
Ok, I made up the last one. But only the last one.
Friday was good. Ben and I didn't really have any set plans, so we wandered around to see what there was to do downtown. Answer: Not much. We had lunch on the landing, looked at the arch (Ben had some scissors in his pocket, so we didn't go in), and then went back to the hotel to cool off before the Carindals-Phillies game that evening. The game was a lot of fun, although I'd rather the home team won. The score remained close through most of the game, but the Cards imploded in the eighth, a fact made all the more obvious by the small sea of Phillies fans surrounding us. (Sometime around the bottom of the fourth Ben decided he was going to root for the Phillies. I asked him why and he said he didn't know.) Although some friends had warned me about the quality of the stadium, I thought it was fairly competent. In many ways it was a lot like the now-deceased Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, only without all the boring parts.
Saturday turned into somewhat of a museum day. We hit The Pulitzer Foundation For The Arts in the early afternoon, walked down a very humid Lindell Boulevard to Forest Park and then met Ben's dad, a resident of the St. Louis metro area, for the Omnimax show at the St. Louis Science Center. We toyed with going to the St. Louis Art Museum, but it was nearing closing time for that facility, so we just wandered around the park instead. From there we found the Metrolink, St. Louis' slowly expanding light rail system, and headed back to the hotel. Both of us were bit burned out, so we just hung out at the hotel for the rest of the evening.
His job required him to be back in Northeastern Wisconsin on Monday, so Ben switched his tickets and headed home Sunday morning. I was sort of bummed not to have him around, but it still turned out to be an OK day. I hit the St. Louis Art Museum in the afternoon. It had a few good exhibits, but not much to write home about. (Or, to put a positive spin on things, it was a reminder how lucky those of us in the Twin Cities are to have the MIA.) From there I walked around Forest Park some more. It's a huge, impressive public space, with museums, a golf course and a number of other sports and recreational facilities. It's presently undergoing a massive renovation, which occassionally made walking awkward: Most of the times I found myself approaching some temporary fence, I found myself wondering what side of it I was supposed to be on. (Others seemed to be experiencing similar problems; in once case a couple walking down the other side of a fence asked if they were in a closed area, and I had to answer that I didn't know.) That said, it was a very nice park. The residents of St. Louis are lucky to have such a space reserved for public use.
Well, it's approaching 10:30, so I really should get to bed. I'll have about three hours to visit Sarah in Chicago tomorrow, and I'd rather be awake for it.
As if life hasn't been busy enough, this evening I realized this: With the exception of five evenings and one weekend, my life is booked and planned all the way through September 28th. I haven't changed the splash page on lstc.org yet, although I may want to consider doing so.
One day to St. Louis. Nine days to my brother visiting. 30 days to London.
) ) )
I'm noticing a distinct double standard coming from some of the Minnesota sports fans I know. Sure, they can rip on my Wisconsin teams all they'd like, but I make one little joke about how the Vikings can't keep their players hydrated during training camp and suddenly I'm THE MOST EVIL PERSON WHO HAS EVER LIVED.
In related news, I had dinner with Jason, Rich and Heather in Woodbury this evening. The four of us need to get together more often.
) ) )
An exact date hasn't been set yet, so this is more of a heads-up than anything else, but Turkey Party 2003 will probably be held in early October. Details should follow soon.
After a long week of technical problems with my cable service, I seem to have a reliable Internet connection again. (You know what the worst part of the cable going out is? You can't be online, but TV is no longer an alternative, either.) Backlogged entries from last Monday and Wednesday have been posted, but photos from the past 10 days or so may have to wait until after I get back from St. Louis early next week.
) ) )
"Fox claiming they own the words 'fair and balanced' is a little like
Schwarzenegger claiming he owns the words 'qualified and experienced.'"
-Andy Borowitz, author of "Who Moved My Soap?"
It was a good weekend.
Ben was up in the area this weekend, and whenever he visits there tend to be small events surrounding him. Friday was no different as a number of old friends and coworkers—Kent, Becky, Liz, John, Paul, me—gathered with him for dinner at Cafe Latte in St. Paul. We spent a couple of hours there, enjoying good food and excessive deserts, talking about a number of interesting subjects and doing stupid things with my camera. After dinner, many of us headed over to The Times in Minneapolis, where Ben had an old friend playing in a salsa band. It took a while for everyone to gather (a couple of people got lost on the way over, and Liz had to drive all the way to Apple Valley to retrieve her boyfriend), but in the end there were six of us—Ben, John, Wendy (another friend of Ben's), me, Liz, and Liz's boyfriend, Brandon. The band was good, the venue was cool and the dancing was... Interesting.
There are a million or so things I can't do well, and I can now affirm one of them is salsa dancing. I got a little better after I stopped looking at my feet, but even after that minor revelation I was still was clear and away the worst dancer on the floor. Wendy showed remarkable patience with me stepping on her toes, though, and we were able to finish the song before retreating back to the table. Later on, she and Ben went on the dance floor and made it all look incredibly easy.
We left The Times around 11:30, and Ben, Liz, Brandon and I went for a short walk along the Mississippi. We passed by St. Anthony Main, wandered across the Stone Arch Bridge, studied the cast-iron frogs by the riverwalk, and headed back across Hennepin Avenue. Liz and Brandon headed home at that point, and Ben and I went over to our cars in a nearby meter-free residential neighborhood. There we ended up talking for another hour, mostly about politics but about a few other items as well. We parted ways around 2:30.
I miss having Ben up in the Cities, but if someone asked me to quantify that, I'd probably start by saying I miss the conversations.
The highlight of Saturday was Ben Folds and Tori Amos at the Northrup Auditorium, a concert I didn't even realize was happening until the day before. Liz and I are both Ben Folds fans (and I'd consider myself a second-tier Tori fan), and we knew they had a concert coming to the Cities, but hadn't been paying much attention to details. (Liz is on a Ben Folds mailing list and as they'd been announcing other shows reasonably assumed they'd announce the one in the Twin Cities. For whatever reason, that didn't happen.) Friday afternoon I asked her if she knew when the concert was, and when she said she didn't, I looked it up online. Seeing that the concert was the next day, I resigned myself to the fact it was probably sold out, but went ahead and checked for tickets anyway.
We ended up in the orchestra pit, row three, about ten seats off center. Aside from the one of the ushers misreading the "SEAT 10" on my ticket as "SEAT 18," a minor mistake that caused us to miss 10 minutes of Folds' set as we searched for our seats, it was a pretty good concert. The only complaint I could render is that it would've been cool to see Folds and Amos play a couple of songs together, which, unfortunately, they didn't.
Sunday morning started off with a bang. Well, not a bang, really, but the cascading sound of a cat and a good number of books tumbling from the bookshelf. As should probably be expected, Putter spent much of the rest of the day acting unusually quiet and reserved. At first I was worried that he'd been injured—a number of the books he knocked off the shelf landed on top of him, including Richard Rhodes' 886-page The Making Of The Atomic Bomb" and William L. Shirer's 1245-page "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich"—and for a short while started looking up emergency veterinary care. He got better as the day progressed, though, and by this morning was back to his regular self, so I'm thinking he was just freaked out by the experience.
In less chaotic news, I spent much of Sunday afternoon hanging out with Lisa making plans for September's trip to London. I'd say it's good that we'll be there for a full week, but from all indications we already have enough ideas to fill the better part of a month. There are worse problems to be faced with when traveling, of course, so I won't complain.
Eight days to St. Louis, 37 days to London.
) ) )
This afternoon I did some work for a client in Hoboken, and I've had Yo La Tengo stuck in my head ever since.
The camera seems to have survived. More on that later.
Oh, that, and salsa dancing.
Yesterday afternoon while I was on my way home, a free can of soda given to me by a coworker developed a slow leak as it sat in my backpack. Considering I didn't become aware of the problem until the can was almost empty, this minor incident could've made an incredible mess of the front passenger seat. Thankfully, my $500 digital camera was at the bottom of the bag to soak up all the soda.
Wait, it gets better: Having discovered the mess in my backpack, I pulled off on a side road and went about drying off the camera in as quick a fashion as possible1. I opened the media slot and pulled out my IBM 1GB Microdrive, a wondrous little device that cost almost $350 when I purchased it two years ago. Much to my relief, its business end seemed clean and dry. I quickly wiped it off and set it on the dash, where it slid a few inches and landed beneath my sunglass clips. Incidentally, those clips, when worn, are held to my glasses by a set of magnets.
Today was a very stupid day.
) ) )
In related news, my budget for this quarter is officially fucked.
Not much time to write lately. The past three weeks were incredibly busy, and the next three look to be more of the same. Most of my waking hours last week were spent at work, so there's not much I can say about that. The one event outside of work worth noting, dinner with Diana, Pri and Mansi Monday evening, was somewhat of a mess. Pri and Mansi were delayed for a number of reasons, and after dinner Diana returned to her parking lot to find her car towed. Beyond that, there's not much I can say for the week.
The weekend was a little better. I spent a lot of time on the phone catching up with friends, hit the Uptown Art Fair on Saturday and caught up on a bunch of home-related stuff I'd deferred while plumbers and other contractors were running in and out of the apartment. Again, beyond that, not much. I'd say the weekend was relaxing, but really, it wasn't. So many things are coming down at once at work right now that I have trouble taking my mind off it.
I probably won't be updating much this month. Well, maybe more after St. Louis, but not much before then.
) ) )
17 days to St. Louis trip. 24 days to my brother visiting. 46 days to London.