Travelog Part 12 – back on Amtrak and home at last

The train was late. We were worried that we would miss our connection in Chicago, but the attendant said that we had lots of time and Duane discovered that he was looking at the wrong time on our tickets. While we sat in the station something happened outside. Some altercation between a cabbie and a fare. Four police cars responded. Couldn’t tell what was going on. I don’t think anyone was arrested. We read our books. Finally our train came.

Next day Chicago. We have lots of time to explore Chicago on a Sunday. The weather is beautiful. Tulips are blooming in the planters. We have breakfast at the Elephant & Castle. This time we do find Lake Michigan. Look out over the lake for awhile not too far from the yacht club. The toilets aren’t open so we head back to Daley Park. Chicago has some of the best sculpture installations I have ever witnessed. There is a predestrian bridge in this park that is made of highly polished metal and it looks like a river in the air. On the far side of the park a man is playing saxophone. He has some recorded music that he is working with and it is so beautiful. We go to the park next to the Art Institute. This is a small park, lined with long benches. Very peaceful. We join a couple, the man is stretched out on the bench and still there is room for us and another older woman who comes later. In the distance we hear the sound of drumming. A demonstration, perhaps? I stand up on the bench, but I can’t see anything. The older woman says they are urban kids playing on plastic buckets. She says the cops always come and the kids run and set up somewhere else and this keeps going on. She says people like to listen to the kids and she doesn’t know why the police insist on chasing them away.

We found a store with a grocery section and bought some items for our return trip. Trail mix, apples, breakfast bars.

The train is on time because this is its starting point. We have some frantic moments when the computer at the lockers claims that we left our bags too long and they have been removed to another site. We run to the customer service room. I know where it is because I went there on our first arrival in Chicago looking for someone to call our car rental place when that train was going to be so late we thought we’d lose our car reservation. The woman at the counter tries to calm me. Says the train won’t be leaving for awhile. After an interminably long time someone comes and takes us back to the lockers. We retrieve our bags and run to the train. We are the last in line, almost and there are no seats together. I’m already frazzled and am at the point of martyrdom, declaring that we’ll have to sit apart. The coach is filled with high school students and their teacher rearranges their seating so that we can sit together. I feel embarrassed for being so petulant, but glad to not be separated.

The young folks are really mature. A marked contrast with the kids that we encountered on the first leg of our trip. These teens had been to Chicago for a music event and had their instruments with them. Some actually worked on school work, but most slept or talked. They got off in Minneapolis.

We had forgotten that we could use the debit card to buy dining car meals so we worried that we didn’t have enough cash or food to stretch over the next 2 ½ days. We shared a sandwich from the lounge car. It was a soggy tuna fish thing. The lounge attendant told Duane we could use the debit card in the dining car, we were relieved. That evening we had dinner with two very interesting gentlemen, both retired, both from the sleeper car. The oldest of these two was probably fairly well-off. He was headed to Spokane. The other man was from Buffalo and had been a professor. Now he writes articles and sells them to magazines and journals. Both of these men were politcally liberal, particularly the professor—I think he taught French. We talked about Quebec, which he has visited several times, and about the condition of Buffalo.

He said that there was some effort among a group of businessmen to revitalize part of the city. He did not know how well it would work. Said that not much thought or energy had been put into putting people to work. I have been to Buffalo three times. The first time I didn’t really see much of downtown. It was my first husband’s hometown and we visited his parents in the suburb of Orchard Park. The second time, I remember that the downtown was fairly busy, but by the third visit much of the shopping district was empty. I have heard that homes might sell for $40 to $60k. At one time it was a city with a lot of promise. Right on Lake Erie, with Niagara Falls providing massive amounts of electricity it was poised to rocket into the future. Steel mills were built in Lackawanna. There is a basilica in Lackawanna in the midst of ruined mills that has a painted dome ceiling. Quite beautiful. All sorts of gold leaf accents. When the corporations chased cheap labor southward, Buffalo lost. It has never recovered. Maybe it is the weather. It can be brutal there. One winter, Lake Erie froze over and Paul’s brother-in-law, Greg Allen, took his dogsled all the way across the Lake. There was an article about him in the local paper. It may have been that same winter, the blizzard that occurred in the 70s, Greg had a bar / restaurant in Buffalo. Everything was closed down except Greg’s place because he could run supplies from the warehouses on his dogsled.

But you have to have a compelling reason to live in a place where the weather can be that extreme. Most people don’t and if they can leave they do. Buffalo has been steadily losing population for at least 30 years.

The French professor is going to visit Portland for the first time. He is going to stay at the Day’s Inn near Portland State. I didn’t tell him that I didn’t think it was necessarily a good choice. I think that is one of the County’s motels. One that they use to voucher homeless folks into which means that the owners have given up on attracting travelors and have given up on taking care of the place. We told him about the exhibit at the art museum of Columbia Gorge Native American artifacts.

This time we were awake for North Dakota. Now why did I want to see North Dakota? Actually, the geography wasn’t entirely dull. There were some interesting rock formations. Most of Eastern Montana is more of the same. At least so far as I remember. It began to snow as we approached the Rockies. That was pretty. We were eating dinner with two women. One of them works for an auction company. They auction Native American items. She travels quite a bit. But the travel part of the business is being eroded by the internet part of it. Until they started using the internet, the company would publish and distribute a catalog of available items, then rent a conference room or ballroom in a hotel and hold an auction. People would travel a long way to come to the auction. But fewer and fewer are coming and more and more are doing their bidding online.

The other woman was traveling to somewhere in Idaho, but had to get off in Spokane where she would be picked up by relatives and given a ride. She is recovering from an accident that most have been quite severe as she has to walk with a cane. She had bought a bottle of wine and shared it with the other woman, Duane and I demurred. We helped her get her leftover wine and dinner down to her seat on the lower level of the car. She planned to eat it for breakfast though her first plan had been to have the food heated up later in the evening. The dining staff said that they were not allowed to reheat food.

We were in Spokane the next morning and followed the Columbia River from then until we crossed it going into Oregon. Duane and I sat in the lounge car all the way and watched the river and the bank change from brown hills to gradually greening. Past Pendleton, The Dalles, and by Hood River it is all green. There were splendid views of Mt Hood because the sky was absolutely clear. My eyes began to eat the scenery. I think I must have been homesick by the end of the trip. Passing through Vancouver on its Eastern end, we passed some huge homes overlooking the river. These were monster places with four car garages. The excess of it was stunning. We had been reading a section of a Chicago paper the day before that was about the increase in house size from the 50s to what the average middle class family expects to live in today. The low interest rate helps to fuel this overconsumption. Neither Duane nor I have any desire to live in these places. They are repulsive given what they represent in the amount of resources consumed to create them and noone needs to live like this. This is as large a home as you can have without having to hire a maid and I seriously think you would need to hire a cleaning service at least once a week.

Finally, we roll into Portland. Happy to see the red tile roof of the Italianate Union Station. Happy, at last to be home on the steady earth, no more trains to catch. How to get home. We decide to take the max, what did I say about trains to catch? Max is light rail, not really a train. It’s at least a ten block walk. I feel myself frayed and tired and grouchy. At Lloyd Center, we hop on the number 8, a short ride, and then a two block walk and we are home.

Kittycat is sleeping on our bed. Oh, how wicked she is. Kathleen has left us a note and a beautiful vase of tulips. She has also left a rug and some glass beads hanging in the window of the bathroom. It is all good. Out the window, the red red maples flaunt their colors, but the pink dogwoods, the huge chestnuts, the giant oaks, the great cedar by our bedroom, the green, the green, the green. I am awash in these colors. Iris’s in bloom, Wisteria hanging from porches, trees tunneling Knott street, pansies, fuschias, phlox, moss on the bricks that new bright spring green and the blue light over every living thing. My head is swimming, I am drowning in the beauty of home.