Saturday, December 12, 2009

3 Train Stories

1. I had flown into some Eastern city and on the way down (landing), my ear had a fit. I later learned this is called baro-trauma or something like that. The pressure within my ear did not equalize and we had some major pain. In fact, I took a cab to an ER in the middle of the night. I think this was in North Carolina. The doc lanced my eardrum (Ow!) and told me I should not fly home. – So, I took a train.
Since I felt sorry for myself, I got a little compartment. I would like to say I was cozy, but actually I was wierded-out on pain meds. As it turned out, I could not take the train directly to Ann Arbor, Michigan but needed to go to Chicago and then double back.
Somewhere in Ohio, I got off the train and rented a car and drove home. Remember there were no cell phones and it was just me and my ear. We discussed it and decided to adopt the straight line approach.
Planes, trains and automobiles. Not so funny.

2. I love the night train from Paris to Barcelona. This is a very cool trip. You get on in the evening in Paris, have dinner on the train and wake up in Spain. The track has many twisty curves during the night while you are rocked back and forth. Somehow the side by side rolling is comforting to me.
I like the whole ritual with the conductors that speak a dozen languages. The strange hallways outside the compartments as you roll through town with no lights and no traffic. Its allowed to just stare out the window even if it is night time.
On such trips, we always vaguely felt we were in an old movie.

3. My mother took me on the train from Phoenix to Kansas City several times. On most trips, as a small chatty boy, I met many older adults. In those days, I seemed to just wander the train and talk to people. If my mother was worried, I never knew it.
A particularly memorable person was a retired railroad man. He had a pass and could allowed him to ride forever. When we would pass over particular bridges or trestles he would tell me all about how they were built. He seemed to know about every place.
He told me that he had only 1 small bag and essentially lived on the road. He was not poor. When he needed clean clothes, he told me, he would just throw away an item and buy new things. I believed him. I still believe him. Cool. I often think of him when I am packing, fearful that I might forget something. “You can always buy it.”

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The fabric of lies

The Fabric of Lies
As I watch our march deeper and deeper into Afghanistan, I frequently am drawn back to my early days, now over 40 years ago, as a 23 year old draftee in the US Army. The scene: we are in a morning formation in front of company headquarters. We have our weapons. We all dressed in fatigues with a special white patch on our shirts which boldly shows our unit A-2-1. The white patches were part of a program to keep us away from other recruits. It seemed we had a meningitis problem.

Newly married, but drafted none-the-less. I had been a deputy probation officer in Oakland, California. I had a desk job, was fairly chubby and definitely un-athletic. I was not having a good time.

The morning gathering was sometimes like a pep rally. We would shout our company saying: “WETSU!!” This is not a Chinese saying. It means : We Eat This Shit Up!” Depending on what the commanding officer said, we would all shout “WETSU”. Think Bonzai!! And you get the picture.

The commanding officer came out on the steps and announced: “We have just declared war on China. They have come across the border in Vietnam and we are at war.” Of course, he was being dramatic and making the point that this could happen. But for a moment, I totally believed him. It wasn’t hard to imagine that this would happen and that the war would be bigger and worse.

In those days, I heard people regularly say something along the lines of: “I’d rather fight them in Vietnam than the streets of San Francisco.” These were the same people that believed the war was started by the Vietnamese because their patrol boats had attacked our 7th Fleet.

I think I may have been one of those people. When I heard our fleet had been attacked, I was another person. I believed pretty much everything the government said. Does that sound naïve? Well that was me. I believed it, if it came from the government. Suffice it to say, that after only 2 years in the Army, I came out much improved. I now believe only a portion of what our government says.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


I’ve been on a campaign to stop whining about the fact that I am nearly 66 and can’t see how to retire. I’ve tried:

“You know, the entire concept of retirement needs to be reconsidered. Nobody will really retire we’ll just…”

“Retiring is not really all that good for you. I hear all the time that people who totally stop working become bored if not ill, so…”

“You can retire, but you need to re-frame your expectations and consider the benefits of a good cat food…”

But none of these really worked very well. However I now have a plan to continue working and stop whining. (a.k.a. Trips to the whine store as my daughter explains). I have decided to re-wind and become 61 years old again. It is simple, I just decided to be 61 and now I tell people things like, “I’m only 61.” Or “Now that I’m 61 again, I figure I’ll do this.” It is a very good plan. People laugh and they generally think it is an excellent idea.

I recommend this to all my former age-mates who have lost a good chunk of their retirement savings. Just trim off 5 years and keep at it.