I don't really know what I am musing on these days. It's more like an irregular stream of consciousness thing...it seems to be working.


June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008
December 2007
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005
May 2005
April 2005
March 2005
February 2005
January 2005
December 2004
October 2004
September 2004
August 2004
July 2004
June 2004
May 2004
April 2004
March 2004
February 2004
January 2004
December 2003
November 2003
September 2003
August 2003
July 2003
June 2003
May 2003
April 2003
March 2003
February 2003
January 2003
December 2002
November 2002
October 2002
September 2002
August 2002
July 2002

-- HOME --

-- RSS 1.0 --


Soskins Media
C.C. Books

Powered by Movable Type
« September 2003 | Main | December 2003 »

w November 24, 2003

Texan Odyssey Part III

We're finally in New Mexico, and it is astonishing how different it looks from Arizona and California. Somehow, it's flatter, more gentle, and golden. Everything the sun hits sort of faintly shimmers, and it just feels very peaceful. The hills look not unlike the cone of flour you would get pouring it into a bowl...softly rounded tops, slightly sloping sides. And the best part? Funky little Dr Seuss trees and/or cacti. I really wanted to see some Whos or Thing One and Thing Two running around.

Ate dinner with a lovely couple from Virginia who were on their way to New Orleans...now, there's an odyssey. Remember, we're going eastbound from California...you think about that geography. I had bought a half bottle of reasonably tasty merlot, and Bean only allowed me to drink half a glass; the hilarious grandmother sitting with me suggested taking it with me...I had bought it, and if I didn't take it, they were going to purloin it. I took it. And I'm not ashamed to say I sat in the dark in our berth with Bean asleep, swigging directly from the bottle, watching the desert go by. I gave in to sleepiness and the wine at 9 o'clock and went to sleep myself, so we both ended up feeling a lot better in the morning.

Yay! In Texas. But there is a lot of Texas to go through...let's start with El Paso. One always forgets that it is a fairly big city, and I certainly forgot that it is also right on the border of Mexico. While I rationally know there is such an animal as the Border Patrol, it was still a little disquieting to see multiple trucks policing the area. I didn't see any pickups, for which I was thankful, but it really did feel like an interactive "COPS" episode.
Made it into San Antonio only two hours late (that's pretty good for Amtrak, trust me), and our cars were hitched to the northbound Texas Eagle. Onward to Dallas, yeehaw. Yet again, totally different landscape...the route from San Antonio to Dallas is through the Hill Country, and it is just so bucolic. Trees! Cows! Grass! Farms!
The one thing that isn't so bucolic is the proliferation of completely dilapidated little towns strung along the rail line. You have to wonder if the sad, broken-looking storefronts are just remnants of an older downtown that had relied on the railroad, and there was something more prosperous up the road, but more often than not, it just didn't seem likely. On the other hand, they all have well-kept water towers with the local high school mascot slathered on brightly.

Got to Dallas about 6:30 (still two hours late), wrestled everything off the train, and eventually wrestled everything onto the light rail that would take me north to Plano. I was actually going to McKinney, my mother's "family seat", but Plano is next door, and we would be picked up by some of my very favorite relatives in the world, Mom's cousins who quickly became Mamie and Pappaw to Bean, and who embody every GOOD Southern stereotype in the book. I won't go into my actual time in Texas, let's just say it was restful, fun, filled with barbecue and Dr Pepper, and I found the house I intend to buy and fix up sooner or later. Go to www.ebby.com and look for "401 West Louisiana Street" in McKinney, Texas. Trust me, it's worth it.

The return trip was easy enough, I felt like I was a little more savvy about rail travel, and we also had a car attendant who gave a crap about his job, so that helped. We got into Los Angeles with an hour and a half to spare before our connecting train north, I was feeling great...and then I found out it would not be a train, but a bus. This girl is not taking a 12 hour bus ride with a tired toddler and two diapers left. Nooooooo way. I hightailed it back to the Burbank airport with a totally insane cabbie, easily got a flight to Oakland, and was home in time for lunch. In retrospect, I should have just forgone the San Jose-LA train from the beginning, but no matter. I learned a good lesson about the efficacy of air travel, ha.

So, final thoughts on our Railroad Adventure? I would do it again, absolutely. However, a second pair of hands and a somewhat older Bean would help. No connections, absolutely. Highlights: Dogies (that's calves to you tenderfeet) running and playing, a tumbleweed actually tumbling, a faux stagecoach and horses set up on a hill outside of Alpine, looking real enough to make you look twice, meeting some veeeeery interesting and colorful people, seeing the sun come up over the desert, everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, waving at the train as it passed. I almost started to cry when that would happen, because it just said so much about the ability of us jaded humans to still find mundane things exciting...there's a little four-year-old in us all.

It was, even in the face of all the travails, a magically romantic adventure, and I'm heartily glad I did it. All aboard, y'all.

by Heather Hoffman at 10:55 AM


Texan Odyssey Part II

Both Bean and I woke up at about 5:30, and rather than try to fight the sleep monster, I put my glasses on and stared out the window at the desert for a good 45 minutes. There is something utterly compelling about moonlit sagebrush, saguaros, and sand...but something fairly spooky as well. I found myself not looking too closely at the shadows, not wanting to see ghosts of Jesse James or Bat Masterston skulking alongside the tracks.

Other people were up too, evidenced by the multiple porch lights and the tractor chugging along an access road...this is going to sound like such an urban kid thing to say, but I just couldn't figure out why people were up so early until it finally dawned on me...farming. Okay, fine. But in southeastern Arizona? Apparently, yes. Cotton, at least. I think it was cotton; white blobs on spindly sticks, at any rate. It struck me that agriculture in the southwest is just such a dichotomy, between the dry, hot, dusty flats, the hills and even mountains surrounding them, the patches of brilliant verdancy, and the palm trees. It seems a little like the Sahara with junkyards and trailer parks.

Arizona is interesting. The part you see from the train is visibly poorer and rougher than California, and yet, the light is somehow diffused differently, and while it doesn't make the shabbiness exactly picturesque, it's at least not completely depressing. That being said, I know we travelled through a number of Indian reservations during the night, and I can't help but think those might have been even more raggedy.

Had my first "communal seating" experience at breakfast, with a man from Corpus Christi, Texas, and his young daughter. I realized that Southern men seem to really come in two varieties: the charming flirts and the tongue-tied country boy. I was definitely sitting with the latter. In the interest of keeping any of my Southern male friends reading this, you're all the former.

The morning passed quietly and somewhat boringly...Bean napped, I read trashy magazines and drank relatively decent coffee. Still not out of Arizona, and I discovered an unpleasant surprise in my lunchtime chicken sandwich...an used twist tie, perhaps from a bag of bread. I recognize that it is not on the same level of disgusting as, say, an used hypodermic needle, but it was still faintly revolting. I opted not to say anything to the waiter; I don't think he would have given a toss, and I had already eaten most of my lunch by that point. Plus, it was pretty hard to even find a waiter when you needed one. Amtrak has a rather long way to go in terms of customer service, but at least you get your food eventually. And it comes with a free gift.

by Heather Hoffman at 10:27 AM

w November 21, 2003

Texan Odyssey Part I

Bean and I have returned from our mad foray into the former Republic of Texas, and in the interest of boring the socks off of everyone who reads this, I present a three-part series of anecdotes and travelogue. Feel free to close this window at any point :)

Sunday, November 9: Begin checking the Amtrak website for the status of the Coast Starlight train (Seattle to Los Angeles, all intermediary stations). It's running 45, 50, 60, 75 minutes late as it gets closer and closer to San Jose. I start imagining the horror of running through L.A.'s Union Station with baby, car seat, stroller, shoulder bag, enormous camping backpack...with ten minutes, maybe, to spare. Not a pretty picture. Gene had a few Southwest flight coupons, so we decided to cut my losses and just wing it down south and avoid the whole potential catastrophe...Bean was also able to have a fairly normal day at home, which in the long run was best.

Hopped on a 7:30 flight from San Jose to Burbank, and was amazed at how kind and solicitious people are when you're travelling alone with a small one. There are benefits to Bean looking younger than her age, and this is definitely one of them! We were able to preboard, so I got seats in the second row, tucked her into her carseat, and took a relieved, deep breath. Started talking to the family in front of us who had a little boy a few months older than Bean; we did the parent thing and swapped goldfish crackers for honey wheat pretzels, etc. Mom was really nice, but she just sounded exactly like Mike Myer's character Linda Richman, on Saturday Night Live. Or Barbra Streisand, or a combination therein. I just kept expecting her to break into "People" or something.

Short but bumpy flight, got a cab easily (in passing, I have to highly recommend the Burbank airport. It's so much less insane than LAX and you are probably just as close to downtown), and $35 later, we were at Union Station. Only problem was, I couldn't get on the train for 40 minutes, and Bean was starting to completely melt down. So we sang umpteen million songs and did laps around the bank of chairs we were sitting in, hopefully amusing other waiting passengers. Union Station is quite lovely, still retaining a good deal of mid-century railroad glamour, and easy to navigate.
Oh, and how's this for irony? The Coast Starlight showed up only half an hour behind schedule, easily allowing its passengers to make the connection to the Sunset Limited. Grr.
Our train was called at 10 pm, and we were asked to line up according to sleeper or coach. This proved to be a little difficult for some people, and it was monumentally chaotic for about fifteen minutes until things got sorted out. I was in line with a mom and her two kids who were also going to Texas, to finalize her divorce. I heard more than I think I ever wanted to hear about what a jackass her ex-husband was. It was an interesting start to the trip.

Finally we were shunted down the corridor to the tracks, at which point the cattle herders stopped us again to try and sort out where people should go...again, this was a little complex for many, and they just breezed right past the Amtrak employees, even as they were shouting, "Ma'am! Sir! You need to stop! Ma'am! Sir!" I was trying to be all polite and Canadian about queuing up, but eventually gave up and shoved the stroller in front of the mob and got the go-ahead to board. We were in the last car of the train, as it would be taken off at San Antonio to hook up with the Texas Eagle, so I didn't have to schlep too far. Had the sense to fold the stroller up and leave it in the baggage area, but hauled everything else up those teeny-weeny little stairs, and heaved it into our closet...I mean berth. Those things are SMALL. Fortunately, Bean can still tuck into bed with me, so I left all our bags on the top bunk and tried to get her situated for bed. We left promptly at 10:30, but neither one of us fell asleep until probably midnight. Sigh. The good news is, those compartments are amazingly soundproof if you have the door closed, so I don't think we annoyed too many people. I finally discovered that if I put her at the head of the bed, and I laid down at the foot of the bed, it worked out much better. I didn't get much in the way of covers or room, but I thought, you know, I'm not paying to get a good night's sleep, I'm paying to not be the parent of the miserable howling baby in coach. I can sleep in Texas.

But first we had to get through the vast deserts of the Southwest. Stay tuned for tomorrow's installment...Arizona! New Mexico! West Texas! More West Texas! And even MORE West Texas!

by Heather Hoffman at 10:51 AM

w November 04, 2003

Independence Day

Apologies to all who have been awaiting new Bean stories...I know you're out there.
I kept her home from preschool yesterday as we're both fighting off colds, but thought I'd give it a whirl today. Partially because I really wanted a little quiet time to let my Advil Cold & Sinus kick in, but also because we're going to be out of town for 2 weeks, and I didn't want her to miss THREE weeks worth of school. So, took her in, and lo and behold...she had a great day. Smiled the entire time, apparently, ate a good part of her lunch, let her vision teacher work with her without wigging out, etc.

The only semi-bittersweet realization I had was that she's truly becoming her own little person...she has people outside of me and her father that she loves and enjoys being with. That's a wonderful, tremendous thing, and I think it says volumes about her progressing development, but it's still hard to think I'm not always going to be the most important person in her life.

No one ever really tells you what it's like to have your heart walk around outside your body.

by Heather Hoffman at 3:41 PM