Category Archives: Barbara Ellen

There and back again

Sort of a Hobbit adventure, our just over two thousand mile Amtrak trek through five states in seven days: Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico. At a cost of about a dollar a mile for a private room with meals.

No dragons encountered, however. Just occasional problems, some more annoying than others, like the empty soda bottle that rolled out from under our bench seat, and worse the delay in trying to get the lowered upper berth put back because Bar was feeling claustrophobic and breathless in the lower double one.

Or the broken WiFi and broken electrical outlets on the Amtrak-subsidized Greyhound bus (which advertises leg room but doesn’t provide it for six-footers) from Albuquerque to El Paso (nevertheless with an excellant 50ish black male driver) to spend the night and catch the Sunset Limited the next day back to Austin. No WiFi on our trains but convenient working electrical outlets. And Bar said Albuquerque’s spectacular Andaluz Hotel had a soothing vibe.

Basically, the trip was a lot of fun, though we might next time stretch out the 566-mile Austin to Newton, KS, portion. Spending the night in Oklahoma City, for instance, but with the problem of where to go/what to do (a good public library perchance?) after checkout at noon—with fourteen hours to go four hours to Newton for a 2 a.m. departure west.

As it was we were exhausted by the time we got to Newton but enjoyed the 424-mile Newton to Trinidad stretch in our bedroom (a four-hour nap) and  breakfast in the dining car. Scrambled eggs and orange juice (and fellow Amish passengers with blond triplet boys) approaching destination Trinidad, Colorado, with snow-capped twin peaks of the Rocky Mountains in the distance. Trinidad was a surprise as there was no station to admire, no covered shelter at all, just dumped on the paved siding. The city’s negotiations with Amtrak for a station not going well they say. Fortunately, it wasn’t precipitating. We drew a blank on a call for a taxi, to the number on the Amtrak sign, and finally decided to walk the two blocks to McDonalds where the manager knew who to call: Monica!

The lovely Monica became our taxi, in between taking care of her three children and husband, in her family’s white mini-SUV. Otherwise there are no taxis in Trinidad. None. It’s a tiny, antique tourist town built in the 1850s. There are however numerous motels to choose from (a few welcoming potheads but most not) and more than twenty “dispensaries” of marijuana. So I guess it evens out for those with what the heads call “couch-lock” (where “you actually become the couch” and don’t feel like moving). We enjoyed some of that, chewing watermelon-flavored gummies from Freedom Road.

Take an ounce of good bud home with you, someone suggested. Oh no, I don’t want to go to prison. Locals said the cops of New Mexico watch for cars with out-of-state plates leaving Trinidad, and find reasons to stop them. And the DEA has been known to search bedrooms on trains not leaving Colorado. So we just enjoyed it while we were there and took peace-of-mind home with us.

Trinidad gets lots of pot tourists, the locals told us, mostly from Texas. But its monopoly will be gone when the New Mexico legislature gets around to also legalizing weed. Texas may take a lot longer, I think.

For now the Austin to Trinidad trek is worth it. The stations are clean (some, like El Paso’s Union Depot (circa 1904) and Oklahoma City’s old Santa Fe station are spectacular marbled monuments to rail) and all have conspicuous security guards to keep the peace.

The Texas Eagle, Southwest Chief, and Sunset Limited trains were clean but a bit shabby from all the deferred maintenance imposed by Congress. And the freight-dinged tracks are very bumpy in spots. The federal pols spend money on the Northeast coast trains and rails for themselves while imposing cuts, and otherwise neglecting passengers in flyover country. The bedroom attendants (mostly black women for us) and dining car waiters (mostly black men for us) were overworked.

Could be, however, we’re on the cusp of a passenger train renaissance, judging from all the passengers who packed the Sunset Limited’s cheaper coach seats from L.A. to New Orleans. Our private room segment (that dollar-a-miler) was 576 miles of Texas, mostly in the dark—seeing the sunset over the Davis Mountains (old Apache country) but missing the views on the 300-foot trestle over the Pecos River.

But we’ll do it all again.  Of course we will. It was fun.

Home again

“Home is the sailor, home from the sea…” sure feels like a sailor long at sea, after our thousand mile (at least) and seven-day trek by Amtrak. The room is swaying. That last stretch was eighteen hours from El Paso. I’m unsteady on my feet. Only wish the chair would stop moving.

(to be continued)

UPDATE:  Day two. The room has stopped moving and my legs pretty much.

Burying Mom

Barbara Ellen’s aging mom was buried the other day. Now comes the hard part.

Mom wanted to be planted in a box. Dad preferred cremation. So his nine-year-old ashes were put in the box with her. Her remains, that is, as hard as that idea would be to deal with under normal circumstances.

They are the lips that kissed us, the hands that caressed us, and the arms that encircled us when we needed them.

It was made “tremendously comforting,” however, by two dreams her Dad brought her shortly before Mom passed. One was of him telling her to get the dying over with and come along. Mom had the same dream that same night but it included the detail that he was waiting to go dancing. Bar’s other dream was of a crowd of people with him waiting for Mom to come along. She recognized some of them, including her great grandmother.

Still, Mom is gone from our sight and that is the hard part. After many months dying she is suddenly gone. Everything has changed.

Immortality

Barbara Ellen’s mother is on her last few physical days and BE is spending those days with her at her sister’s home, reminding me of the days of Mrs. Charm’s physical ending and the intense grief that went with it.

Grief never ends. It just slackens over time, gets easier to deal with.

Her mother’s room is crowded with a host of deceased relatives, immortal energy beings, who both frighten and reassure her. “They want me to go with them,” she says, “and I’m ready.” BE has accepted the notion of immortality and it will help her deal with her mother’s passing, make the grief easier to bear.

Coffee with Sennacherib

His excellency paid us a visit in which we served him coffee and discussed how much the town has changed in just the past eleven months (traffic is worse) he’s been away, and sundry other points of interest.

He said the rancho sits in what was once a field of scattered limestone quarries when he was coming up here in the Sixties. Now lives in western Colorado taking care of his 80ish parents. Sent his regards to Barbara Ellen who was at work.

The old Assyrian said he’d been in touch with Snoopy to learn that he was visiting the grand kids up on the Lebanon border. Stay safe. Mr. Goon. We shared memories of defunct Austin restaurants like Bean’s and Les Amis. But he finally had to leave: Got to go see a girl, he said, with anticipatory eyebrows.

Oy!

Studying the rails

Barbara Ellen and I are studying this Amtrak route map to decide what to tell the travel agent about how we want to get to Trinidad, Colorado, in February. Objective: See snow. Romp in snow. Snap pictures of snow. Also get stoned.

Looks like we get there fastest by going north to Oklahoma City, taking an Amtrak-provided Greyhound bus to Newton, Kansas, and thence by train to Trinidad. But the times must be calculated, since only one or two trains leave an Amtrak station daily. Probably only one from little 19,000 pop. Newton.

UPDATE:  We’ve bought tickets do it all: go north, west, south, and east. From Austin to Austin. Over seven days. With overnights in Trinidad, Albuquerque and El Paso. Most of the way in private sleeper compartments called “bedrooms” with an enclosed toilet, sink and shower. And a big picture window. Starting Feb. 9. Have to book early to get the compartments which are in high demand and low supply on any given train. More as we get closer.

Car magic

Barbara Ellen was driving her daughter’s newish Chevy when the engine idiot light came on. She drove to AutoZone and had them examine the engine’s computer for “the code” that explained the light.

Seems to be something called “the impulse valve” which relates to the exhaust not the engine itself. So daughter is now equipped to take the car to a mechanic to knowledgeably ask for a fix. BE and daughter dislike going to dealers. They prefer AutoZone’s tipoff.

Seems like pure magic to me. My 14-year-old CRV has some computers in it, particularly the ignition key, but not this level of sophistication.