||"And well I know, as you go on your
You'll tell good tales and shape yourselves to play;
For truly there's no mirth nor comfort, none,
Riding the roads as dumb as is a stone..." --General Prologue
|The Journey East: I was up about 8 AM Tuesday,
September 5th. I had wanted to do some looking around Reno while
I was there, see some sights, pick up some souvenirs, and maybe relax a
little before heading back... but that was all on the assumption I'd be
getting to Reno Monday afternoon. The gridlock and subsequent delay
in getting out of Black Rock City changed all that. There just wasn't time.
I said goodbye to Anne before she hit the road. I gave her a big hug and
thanked her for getting me to Burning Man and back. I called my wife to
tell her I loved her and to see how everybody was. Everyone was fine. Nothing
was blown up. The cat wasn't dead. She was anxious for me to get home.
Checkout time was twelve noon. I figured I had an hour to get supplies, an hour to eat, and then an hour to pack before I had to be out of the room. I took a quick shower, then headed out looking for the nearest bank. I needed some cash. My belt was loose, like I'd lost about 2 inches since the last time I wore it. I saw a newspaper for the first time in over a week, and it was a shock to read that Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, had passed away. That was so sad. I liked him. There was an ATM in the casino, but it charged an $8 fee per transaction. Yikes! Fortunately, there was a branch of my bank just a couple of blocks away. (In Reno, the blocks are really short, too.) Right across the street was a drug store. That's where I picked up some snacks for the train, and a $3.99 sweatshirt. Reno stores already had Halloween decorations up.
I went back to the room and took another shower because, well, I could. I went downstairs for some breakfast. Several of the restaurants tempted me, but one word reached out and touched my soul: "buffet." All you could eat for about $9. Bwa-haha. I think they lost money on me that morning. I chowed down on three big helpings of eggs, hash browns --and of course, plenty of bacon. By then, it was almost 11. I had to hurry. On the way back to the room, I swung through the casino and tried my luck on a slot machine. I think it would've been quicker to throw my dollar bill out the window. My card key wouldn't work when I went back upstairs, so security had to come let me in. Most everything was already packed in my bags. My plan to attach my drawstring bag to the top of the Alice pack backfired– it just wouldn't go. I was gonna have to carry it in one hand and the duffel bag in the other. I left the hotel right at noon. If it had just been the backpack, I would've been all right, but the combination of all the bags really wore me out. It was only a few blocks to the Amtrak station, but it felt like I'd been bench-pressing weights for hours.
The station was empty when I got there: no passengers, no staff, nobody. I went downstairs to the platform level and sat in the waiting room all by myself. I read more of "The Canterbury Tales" while I waited. About 1:15, a lady arrived to wait for the westbound train, which she said was due "about 4:15." That would only make it an hour late. Other people arrived to wait. One lady was taking the Zephyr to Chicago, and then from there to Orlando, Florida. She used to be a nurse, but had quit to become a song writer. "I don't know what I'll be next," she said. By then, the office upstairs was open, so I went back up to check two of my bags. I double-checked to be sure I could bring my Alice pack on board with me. The station clerk said, "You can take it all with you, if you like." Indeed, one woman carried on all her luggage with her, all five color-coordinated bags. She needed a cart to move them all. At 3:30, they announced the eastbound Zephyr would arrive about 4:25. I got a soda from the machine: Pepsi, no Dr. Pepper. A freight train roared past the station at 2:45. It turned out the westbound Zephyr was running about five hours late. Amtrak: when it absolutely, positively has to be there –eh, whenever.
Back towards the middle of the car, there was a real loudmouth sitting with some friends. He spoke in a loud, annoying voice, liberally sprinkled with curse words. The lady across the aisle from me even went looking for a seat in a different car, to get away from him. Obnoxious Man was on his cellphone, trying to get a friend to look up a phone number. He explained he couldn't look it up, because he was on a train. "What do you care where I'm goin'?" he asked his friend. "Just do what I ask for once in your life!" He finally got through to his buddy in Salt Lake City, and arranged to meet him at the station to get some cigarettes when the train arrived at 2 AM. He was so busy talking, he didn't hear the conductor say we'd be stopping in Winnemucca for an hour. It seems train crews must be under the same laws as airline crews, in that they can't be on the job for a certain number of hours without resting. They had to take a mandatory 8-hour rest period between shifts. The westbound Zephyr didn't get to Winnemucca until 2 that afternoon. That meant that even if we got there by 9 PM, we had to wait until 10 PM for the crew to be rested enough to take us on eastward. Obnoxious Man wasn't happy when he heard that– especially since we were out of service by that time, and he couldn't call his friend back.
The (in)famous Mustang Ranch was supposed to be visible from the tracks, just east of Sparks, but I missed it somehow. We rolled through Fernley at 5:40. I looked up just as we were going over the trestle bridge. Every other time I'd been to Burning Man, I'd gone down that road under the bridge, but it was weird to see it from that angle. The Orlando Girl came through with a Corona beer –$5 in the snack bar. We passed mile after mile of dried lake beds, but I was pretty sure I'd seen enough of them for a while. I tried to catch up on my writing. I did notice some buffalo grazing on a grassy slope, not far from some cows. At 7:05 we passed through Lovelock. Horses grazed on dusty fields as a flowing, golden sunset lit up the western horizon. To the east, a bright, full Moon lit up the sky. The vail of dusk fell over the Nevada landscape. I saw a coyote, as big as a Rottweiler, casually loping through the brush. No roadrunners were visible. From atop a telephone, a crow watched dispassionately as the train rumbled by. The evening movie in the observation car was a documentary about a spelling bee.
I read more of "The Canterbury Tales." I was almost through
with it, too. It had very little about the pilgrims' actual journey to
Canterbury. I was a little surprised it was still required reading in some
high schools, considering how downright raunchy some of the stories were.
I was struck by the variety of stories, as well as the variety of writing
styles Chaucer used. Each tale sounded like a different person was
telling the story. It was like some modern writer doing a series of short
stories, one in the style of Raymond Chandler, one in the style of Zane
Grey, etc. That took talent. The recurring theme of one man mating for
life with one woman, sometimes to the liability of those involved,
showed how deeply ingrained the concept was in western society... and what
an uphill battle gays and poly families faced for acceptance. In "The Knight's
Tale," two friends become enemies when they both fall in love with the
same girl. I kept thinking, if they just formed a triad everybody could've
lived happily ever after. I found many sections to be colorful, wise, funny,
and –perhaps most surprising of all– progressively feminist. I didn't care
for the anti-Jew stuff, though. I didn't care for that at all.
I opened my eyes, and realized we weren't moving. Outside, freight cars sat waiting on parallel tracks near an overpass. It was Wednesday, September 6th, and we were in Salt Lake City. I went out to the platformed and walked around, stretching my legs. Someone mentioned we'd been there a half hour. One passenger said we might make Denver on time after all, but another said we were running 3 hours late. It was 6 AM Pacific Time, 7 AM local. After another half hour, we were on the move again. Outside of town, I saw some water off to the side– was that the Salt Lake? We breezed through Provo at 8:30 local time. Beyond Provo, mountains rose all around us, carpeted with green and red trees. Omaha Mom wondered if there'd been a frost already, but I figured the leaves had turned from excessive summer heat.
At 4 PM local time, they announced they were taking reservations for the dining car. I had been telling myself I'd eat at least one meal in the dining car, but the prices left me cold. I satisfied myself with peanuts and beef jerky. The Zephyr had to stop for about 10 minutes to let a coal train pass before we could continue. Delays kept piling up. We stopped again a few miles up the track. I wanted to call my sister-in-law, to let her know when I'd be arriving in Omaha, but I couldn't get a straight answer on when that would be. I didn't want her stuck at the station for hours waiting for me, like Anne was. Westward, Omaha to Denver took about 9 hours. If we got to Denver by 11 PM Omaha time, that put me back in Omaha about 8 or 9 AM. We were in the Rockies, the longest, slowest part of the route, and there was no telling how close (or off) the schedule we'd be. Hopefully, by the time we got to Denver, there's be some idea of our ETA to Omaha... Except, I couldn't get an ETA for Denver, either. For some reason, I kept thinking of songs from "Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat." The train slowly crept forward again. They finally announced we were moving slowly because the trackside signal system was "broken." That was encouraging. Not. We eventually picked up speed, climbing into the mountains.
I dozed off... I woke up when I noticed the train changing speed. I got up, and saw lots of lights outside. It was 9 PM Pacific Time, 10 PM Mountain Time-- We made it to Denver. We stopped at the station about 25 minutes later "--Only two hours late," one woman said, as she packed up to disembark. While on the platform, a Japanese guy was trying to get a picture of the Denver skyline. I showed him he might have better luck if he turned off his flash. Several people got on at Denver; the conductor said the train was "packed." A young man with a guitar got on and sat across the aisle from me. He made me nervous playing with his lighter. He eventually read a book while munching on some popcorn. We were at the Denver station for a good hour before we resumed our route, and it was another half hour before we got out of the city. Once on our way again, I tried to get some sleep...
I woke up just after 4 AM Pacific Time. Dawn was no more than a rosy glow in the east. I couldn't see outside very well, but from what I could tell we were flying across the plains. As it became brighter out, I saw miles and miles of-- corn! What a surprise. At 5 AM Pacific Time, we rolled into Hastings, Nebraska. It was Thursday morning, September 7th. By now, I figured, my campmates were all back at their homes, resuming their lives in the Default World... I still had many miles to go. The Sun rose over a sleepy Nebraska. It was a new day, full of promise, entheusiasm and vigor. Going through a town called Crete, I saw a business called Suds 'n' Rays-- a combination laundromat and tanning salon. The train was really pushing it. I could tell we were getting close to Omaha when I saw something different in the landscape: hills. When we pulled into Lincoln, Nebraska, the conductor said we were five hours, 6 minutes late. A woman who was supposed to catch a plane in Chicago calculated she wouldn't make it on time. The guitar player across from me was having trouble sleeping in the morning sunlight, so I closed the curtains of my window. We passed the Linoma Beach lighthouse, an unexpected thing to see in Nebraska.
I called my sister-in-law when we were stopped in Lincoln.
I told her it would probably be another hour before I got to Omaha. It
actually took about an hour and a half before we rolled into the station
at Omaha. I'd been on the train for just over 39 hours. My sister-in-law
was on the platform waiting for me. The Zephyr was still several hours
behind schedule. Passengers were on cellphones, canceling plane reservations
and rescheduling. I switched my watch back to Central Time. It was just
after 10 AM. Back at my sister-in-law's house, I showered and changed into
some clean clothes. Satori was indeed loaded up with silk flowers from