A Poignant Pilgrimage
My grandmother died on Christmas Day in 1962. She was a sensible and kind woman who adored her family. I remember her being so very sweet to me and I think about her often. I hadn't been back to see her grave since I was 14 in 1971. As I approach my own death it has somehow become more and more important for me to connect with my relations that have already traveled to the great beyond. I do not know why this is so and I do not question it. It is strong desire and there is nothing unhealthy about it...it is, in some strange way, deeply comforting and wholesome. I also visited my grandfather and uncle's graves...family I never met but with whom I feel a tangible and sentimental connection.
I spent two hours in the Rocky Ford, Colorado cemetery thinking of their lives and their hopes and dreams and fears. My poor uncle Chuck wanted to enlist after Pearl Harbor like two of his brothers but when he was given his physical they found an "enlarged heart". According to my father he was devastated by the news and died in two years at age 22. I was stunned by the poignancy of the visit. It is possible to love people you have never met and will never meet.
Indeed this was quite a road trip. As well as these deeply emotional and affecting parts of the trip there was also some just pure fun. Won't you come along? You'll get to meet my amazing Aunt, one of my dearest friends who I have known for 52 years, and go to the Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie Centers in Tulsa, OK and visit my new favorite city with a small town vibe - Kansas City. Then there was beautiful drive home... here's a photo of from Highway 160 in Colorado.
Let's go! I decided on this trip to take things easy - no long drives. I liked it. It gave me more time to take in the sights and pull over whenever I wanted to. In fact, my first day I set google maps to "avoid highways" and cruised out to Kingman, AZ. On the way I stopped by the tiny but fun Route 66 Museum in Victorville, CA.
The following day I slept in - relaxed - and leisurely drove to Grants, NM. This is the same road that I have been on probably over 50 times in my life and always saw the Walnut Canyon National Monument but never stopped there. Finally! Here was my chance and what a cool little place - unfortunately the main hiking trail was closed due to trail maintenance but I still enjoyed traipsing around and peppering the Rangers with questions about the history and flora.
In the afternoon I drove by the Petrified Forest National Park and stopped in the Painted Desert. It wasn't the best light but it is certainly a beautiful place.
And a black and white.
The next day saw a rather uneventful and relaxing drive to Amarillo, TX. The following morning I got up early and hit the road - there is always a problem heading east first thing in the morning. The sun was in my eyes, I was blinded in my little roadster, and I just pulled over and waited until the sun rose a bit. I only mention this because with the years comes a bit of wisdom - when I was young I would have powered through it even though I couldn't see a damn thing...now? What's the hurry? Relax...life, to me, is best lived simply one moment at a time and on this trip I was able to let go and really let things unfold. What a way to travel...
On my way to Tulsa I stopped for lunch with my friend Jill in Yukon, OK. We had only known each other online so it was a kick to meet 'in real life". We talked each other's ears off for 3 hours. Then it was on to Tulsa - and I was excited... the first thing I saw was the home of the Tulsa Drillers - the Dodgers AA affiliate. Now, I got to go back during baseball season!
The ballpark was within a block of my hotel. I had a restful evening and got ready for a day had long awaited. When I was in high school a girl who I viewed with fondness, okay, maybe a little more than fondness, loved Woody Guthrie. I was a Dylan boy and so, naturally, we became friends and shared favorite songs. She turned me on to "Deportees" and "Pastures of Plenty" and I turned her on to "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again" and "I Shall Be Released". We were both astounded and astonished and it was pure delight.
Indeed my love for Woody Guthrie has been lifelong (thanks, Blythe wherever you are now). As a result, I signed up - years ago - to be a member of the Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa. It was always a dream to see the place and here I was at the doorstep.
You know how in life you sometimes think things are gonna be great and they let you down a bit? Sure you do... it happens all the time ... but not to me in Tulsa and not at the Woody Guthrie Center - I made fast friends with the staff and other visitors and immediately felt like I belonged.
Rumor is - and I cannot verify it - that Bob Dylan was so taken with the Woody Guthrie Center and, in particular, their care of the archives that he was enthusiastic about his center being in Tulsa too. I heard about it a few years ago and knew that when it opened I would be there. No other artist in any medium has meant as much to me as Bob. I became a member and founding supporter and set my sights on visiting opening day. Sadly, that didn't happen as I was on my big train trip - I mean, I never dreamed it would open on time... but it surely did in May 2022. By golly, I would be there as soon as I could. I felt like I was in a dream during my visit - such is my love for the music and artistry of Bob Dylan.
Of course I'll share some photos - who wants to read all this anyway but, please, if you are a modern music lover - make the trek to Tulsa - what a divine treat...you won't be sorry that I can guarantee.
In would be remiss if I didn't share that the Guthrie Center also had a Bruce Springsteen exhibit. Lots of cool E Street stuff and here's a photo of the Clarence's saxophone - RIP Big Man.
What a day! Who knew the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma would give me so much joy at age 65? Seemed unlikely most of my life. Now I wanna go back. That night I had a quiet dinner basking in the wonder of where I'd been and prepared to drive early the next morning to Kansas City.
I woke up very early the next morning and started the long and, on this particular morning, seriously rainy drive to Kauffman Stadium to see the Kansas City Royals play the Minnesota Twins at 1:00 PM. I arrived at the stadium about 90 minutes before game time.
As I was waiting near the gates a Royals stadium employee asked me if I was from out of state (How did he know? My clothes? My California mannerisms?). "Why yes", I said, "I am indeed." Well, the stadium employee said, "Today is your lucky day - follow me". I did as I was told and he showed me the "only open gate" and a path to the Kansas City Royals Hall of Fame. It was a kick!
I have been to few baseball parks in my life and quite a few stand out but I must say that the park in Kansas City is absolutely one of the best - hands down. Someone described Kansas City to me as a large city with small town feel and that is precisely how "the K" felt to me - a big stadium with a small and intimate vibe- it has a great sight lines and a family feel - the employees and fans are friendly and personable and I was made quite comfortable there. I didn't know it at the time but this was a feeling I would carry with me for the next few days during my visit. Kansas City is a new and favorite place. Man, I can't wait to get back there...
After the game there was no traffic (seriously) and I made it to to my hotel in about 15 minutes. It rained that night and I woke up to steady downpour. As a Southern Californian the rain was welcome and I walked around town a bit just feeling that wet stuff in my face.
I visited the Negro leagues Museum which was one of the big reasons for me to visit Kansas City. Most of us baseball people are amateur historians and the story of the Negro Leagues is fascinating and tragic and wonderful and bittersweet. The Museum in Kansas City, run by the irrepressible Bob Kendrick, is a gem and I spent a few hours getting educated and immersing myself in what life must have been for a baseball player of color until Jackie Robinson came along (and even for a few years after).
When you walk into the museum the tone is immediately set. There are some figures playing baseball but you can't get to them - you can see them and you have a desire to walk to where they are and you just can't understand why they won't just allow you to do that - one is, indeed, on the outside looking in. It is, of course, the perfect metaphor.
I spent probably too much time at each exhibit but I was enthralled with the place.
Finally, at the end of the museum tour you are allowed to walk among the players.
I had to have some Kansas City Barbecue and that evening I walked down to Gates Bar.B.Q. I was told by a taxi driver that it featured Soup Nazi employees and that I had better have my order ready when in line and called upon and he wouldn't recommend it - "the food is great but it's a bit intimidating". I wanted to go, but after hearing his words, I HAD to go.
I wasn't disappointed. Sure enough there was an indecisive person front of me.
"I'm still looking at the menu".
"Give me just a minute"
"SIR! STEP OUT OF THE LINE. PEOPLE BEHIND YOU ARE READY TO ORDER".
"STEP OUT OF THE LINE!"
He did step out and was then ignored. He finally gave up and left. I think I may have been the only person who noticed. And let me tell you when I was asked for my order? I was ready! And was it worth it? The line that almost went to the door gave testimony.
After dinner I realized I had reached the eastern limit of my trip and tomorrow I would start heading west through Kansas. I would be staying the night in a Best Western in a little town called Wakeeny. I looked at the map and saw I would be traveling through Abilene - the place where Dwight Eisenhower was raised and home of his presidential library. I hadn't thought much in my life about Presidential Libraries until recently when my pal Tom Thrash came out west and we visited the Nixon Library together and I enjoyed the heck out of it. I am related to General Omar Bradley and he - along with most of my relatives - no matter where they fell on the political spectrum - all admired and respected Ike for his extraordinary leadership in WWII, his intelligence, class, and decency. He was, by all their accounts, a good man.
I decided to stop at his library in Abilene and I wasn't disappointed.
The Eisenhower family home was being "refreshed" and was closed but the museum and grounds were beautiful. It was a warm spring day and I pictured young Ike enjoying the Kansas weather the same way I did on that fine day.
The next day was the real reason for this long drive and, as I shared above, I was unprepared for the emotions of visiting my grandparent's and dear Uncle Chuck's resting place.
Rocky Ford, Pueblo and Aunt Lisa
I was 7 years old and my mom began struggling with her own sanity. We started moving and trying a new community every few months. My father was working two jobs and was never at home and we somehow ended up in Laguna Beach the next year in 1965. It was an artist colony and hippy haven. The greeter (Eiler Larsen) was there in full regalia and voice and personality.
My aunt Lisa - who had divorced my uncle - moved to Laguna and was as bohemian as they come. She also ran the children's theater in that artistic community. She taught drama classes and had her own studio. She drove a TR-4. And, thank you universe, she adored her nephew. And, let me tell you, her nephew adored her (and still does!). She cast me as Sneezy in Snow White. She was, for almost a year, the only adult in my life with whom I felt connected. I remember us cruising PCH in her Triumph with top down, wind whipping through our hair, and holding on for dear life as she made the left turn into the hills around Laguna or zipping through Laguna Canyon Road and her looking down at me with the most loving smile I've seen in my life. How grateful I am to have had her in my presence in my childhood.
A few years later I tried my hand at acting and directing and became a High School Drama teacher. Today? Well, they don't make those Triumphs anymore but I own a tiny roadster anyway and, once in a while, on a fine spring day you can see me on PCH and carving corners around Laguna Beach and thinking of my dear sweet Aunt Lisa. You might say she influenced me - just a tad.
And Aunt Lisa? She is still kicking and living in a nursing home in Pueblo, CO. She's in her 90's - closing in on 100 and still sprightly and kind. I don't know how many more chances I'll get to visit her - she and I are both "getting up there" as they say. Here we are...and you'll be hard pressed to find a photo of me with more joy in my heart.
We said our goodbyes and off I went for another trip down memory lane with a long time friend - Lee Anne Martinez. She and I have know each other since 1970. I met her in 8th grade and we have remained pals all this time - she is a professor in Southern Colorado and also lives in Pueblo. We met for dinner and reminisced. Her father was one of the finest teachers I have known and he was a tremendous influence on me and a man of great integrity and heart. Lee Anne's family are extraordinary people - all of them absolutely brilliant. We met when the restaurant opened and were there when they closed it- and I still wanted to spend more time. We gotta figure out another time to meet soon. I love my friend Lee Anne.
I wasn't quite through with Southeastern Colorado. In 1998 I took my father, recently diagnosed with Alzheimer's, to visit his brother - my Uncle Bill - and we took a trip to Bent's Old Fort. I returned in remembrance of them. Here are a few photos.
The next day I started the long drive home. My heart was full of joy and sorrow and love and despair. Just the old human condition I suppose...
I hope you enjoy the start of autumn and these photos of Colorado and Navajo Lands. I also hope you too are able to travel and see the friends and family who you love and who have meant much to you in your life. This trip was one of the most poignant experiences of my life and I wish the same beauty and poignancy in your life. Words fail to describe how much this trip meant to me and how much sharing it with you does too. Much to love to each of YOU.
I officially became a geezer in 2022. I'm not sure what milestones you mark in your life but 65, as Ron Burgundy would say, is "kinda a big deal" to me. Moreover, it also marks my 20th year of sobriety. Of course, turning 65 isn't really anything at all except what's in your head. And here's what's in my head... I'm in the autumn of my life and, as the song says, "the days are dwindling down to a precious few." I could make a list of all the people that I have loved and lost in this lifetime - including my parents and grandparents and best friends and cousins and schoolmates but the names would fill this page - I know my time is coming. I wish it wasn't but that's the way this all goes. I am relatively healthy and I need to do the things I've always wanted to do and see some of the things I've always wanted to see. I watched too many of my relatives waste their last days watching TV and sitting on the sofa waiting to die. I want to celebrate being alive while I can. And, by God, that's what I am going to do.
I am a "Travels with Charley" and "Blue Highways" fan and, as a result, originally planned a cross country car trip and while I still have many road trips in front of me it occurred to me that I could take the train and see lots of the country - get fed - and relax in ways that aren't possible when you're driving. Further, I didn't want to be on the road longer than a month. I spent several of the Covid lock down months planning the 10,000 mile trip and it worked out well.
So, let's go. I'll do a short narrative for each day so hold on tight and please remember this is an overview. Several events, by necessity, have been left out but these are most of the highlights. Also, please note that the photos in this post are not high quality - they were often taken through the dirty window of an Amtrak passenger car replete with smudges, reflections and lens flare - nevertheless, since this is a TRAVEL blog, I shall include them - I hope that's OK- the idea is a to provide a summary narrative...it ain't high art.
Oh, and guess what? Apple Music finally acknowledged their problem and fixed it! MY library is back...I listened to some SWEET tunes - maybe I'll share my playlist on another post.
April 11, 2022
It started early on an April morning in Fullerton - just a few miles from home. Lupe dropped me off at 5:45 and I waited - on the wrong platform until about 5 minutes before the Pacific Surfliner arrived. A kindly Amtrak employee inquired if I was headed to LA? Why yes, yes I am. Well, you need to get in to the elevator and cross the tracks the train is almost here. Yikes! So, off I went with my suitcase and Tortuga backpack in tow.
After arriving at LA Union Station I walked to the Amtrak booth to say hello and the agent said, "Hey, you want some coffee"? "Sure!" Well, head on up to the Metropolitan Lounge. This was the first of many lounges that I was to spend time in over the next 3 weeks. Free coffee and snacks are the mainstays of all the lounges but none of them compare to the New York Lounge. Here is the LA Union Station "Metropolitan Lounge":
I waited a few hours and then headed down to Track 12 where we boarded the Coast Starlight bound for Portland, OR. The photo on the lower right was my roomette view in the station.
Excited, I settled in and we headed up the coast. This was my 4th time on the Coast Starlight. The first was back in the early 2000's to celebrate earning my doctorate at USC. That was in December and it was rainy and we were stopped for hours because the tracks were covered in water. This time it was mid April so - I looked forward to the beautiful American spring weather. (This is what is known in the writing business as "foreshadowing".)
I do love the parts of the California Coast that one can only see on foot or by train. I have driven Highway 1 dozens and dozens of times in my life and missed so much of the coast that is only accessible by train. These photos were all taken from my window (as are 90% of the photos in this blog post). The lower photo here is of Gaviota - a place I have visited every year for 10 years.
By the afternoon the train turns inland and you roll through California's extraordinary Steinbeck Country.
The evening approached and I had a fine chicken dinner in the Dining Car. I went to bed early. After all, lots more to see and tomorrow night I'd be meeting the great Lilster, my amazing daughter, who is attending school at Oregon State University in Corvallis for dinner in Portland.
When I awoke in Northern California it was a darn winter wonderland. What the? So much for the mild spring weather. I looked at the weather app and it looked OK in Portland but the route of the Empire Builder - the train from Portland to Chicago which I was scheduled on for 4/13 - looked like it was going to get some real winter weather.
We were delayed for two hours in Klamath Falls due to an Amtrak personnel issue (yeah - I don't know - something about a crew change). I was hoping the snow would clear up but on the ride to Portland it got worse and worse.
As we got closer to Portland the conductor made an announcement that all passengers heading east on the Empire Builder would be terminated at Spokane as the tracks were closed beyond that station. Welp, there it was. As the conductor came by my room I stopped him and told him my situation - that I was headed east on the Empire Builder tomorrow. His response was, "It doesn't look too good". Oh great...I was just starting my journey and already there's was a potential major hiccup. I started looking at the airfares from Portland to Chicago. I had to be on the Lake Shore Limited in 3 days.
The beautiful Willamette River came into view as we rolled into the pretty Portland Station. My sleeping car attendant said goodbye and wished me luck. Lilly was waiting for me and drove us to the Mark Spencer Hotel in Portland. That night we prepared for a possible flight if my train was canceled. Lilly showed me her packing tips - I folded all my shirts into burritos based on her direction. I gave her a bag of some items that I could survive without and which would allow me to perhaps not check both my bags at the airport. Then we went and had a nice dinner at local Mexican joint.
I slept in a bit in Portland and checked in with Amtrak - the train was still running despite the various websites showing service disruptions and closures at stations like Minot, ND. Lilly met me at the Metropolitan Lounge and we waited - sure enough, the train was running after all. No one knew but we would be the last train through for nearly a week - a historic blizzard was bearing down on the Montana Hi-Line.
I sadly said goodbye to my sweet daughter and got on the Empire Builder bound for Chicago. In the over 10,000 miles I traveled on Amtrak I believe the most scenic part of the ride was from Portland to Spokane and through the Columbia River Gorge. It was simply stunning. A few times in my life I have been moved to tears by nature's splendor (OK OK - more than a few times - I am a sentimental old fool) but this was certainly another one of those times. I gazed out the window and relaxed. This then was the trip I'd been planning and dreaming about for over a year. It was happening. The good life...
After an excellent night's sleep I woke up to chilly weather outside. It was 9F but according to the weather app "felt like" -1F. There was snow on the ground but the sun was shining and I looked forward to another relaxing day staring out of the window.
Around 11:00 AM it started to snow. And then it really started snowing. Then the wind began to bend trees over sideways and drifts began piling up. The conductor made an announcement that the next few hours were going to be a challenge and that we should expect delays. He also named several train stations along our route that were not in service because they were snowed in. A hush fell over the train.
In the afternoon we were forced to a siding to wait out the storm. I talked to one of the sleeping car attendants and she told me they were a little nervous. All Amtrak and even the freight trains were now canceled on our track - we were the lone rangers and the only train running. We passengers mumbled worried words to each other and visions of "Train Stranded for Days" headlines ran through our heads.
After about an hour on the siding the conductor announced we were ready to move but there was a frozen switch ahead and that he and some other crew members would need to manually throw the switch. This required him to exit the train in the blizzard and would take him about 30 minutes to accomplish the task if, "it goes like it should". It was a rather nerve-wracking experience for all of us but at least we were warm and inside. Fortunately it went, "as it should" and we were on the move plowing through the snowdrifts.
I ambled down to the dining car and saw the conductor. I thanked him for braving the elements and getting us on our way but before I could finish my compliments we were interrupted by an extremely agitated woman who demanded that we stop at her station even though it was closed. I sat down and listened while the conductor explained that they were not going to drop someone off in a massive and historic blizzard at a closed station. "Cars are not able to get to the station. Amtrak would essentially be stranding someone by dropping them off. It is "CLOSED". I admired his patience but he grew progressively firmer as the conversation went on for maybe 10 minutes - finally the woman asked, "well, what stations are open"? The conductor told her and she exclaimed, "Oh! That works! I can get a ride from there". She got a major eye roll - not just from the conductor but from everyone within earshot. When things get dicey some people are calm and centered and, well, let's just say some others are not. It had been a helluva day. In fact it would be another FIVE days before passenger trains were back on this route.
Woke up - had my coffee and looked out the window at downtown Fargo, ND. Today, if the fates would allow, we would get to Chicago where the temperatures were supposed to be downright tropical - high 40s!
By the time we hit St. Cloud, MN the sun was shining. Oh how welcome it was...
It was a chilly but glorious afternoon in St. Paul as we rolled alongside the Mississippi River. I knew I'd see it again in a week or so but way down south near New Orleans.
Grateful to have made it through the blizzard (how do people live in Minot, North Dakota anyway?!) I spent a very enjoyable afternoon and evening rolling through the farms and fields of scenic Wisconsin. I also must mention two of the greatest employees that work for Amtrak -Lisa and Aiyana. They took amazing care of me when things got weird on the Empire Builder. I'll never forget their kindness and hope they are reading this!
We arrived in Chicago and I had this delivered to my room. Yes, I know Lou Malnati's is not on my diet but, come on, when in Rome...er.. Chicago! And yeah...it was as good as it looks - maybe better.
I went for a long walk in the neighborhood along the Chicago River after I stuffed myself full of pizza but it was too cold and windy - about 36F with 40 MPH gusts. I also saw so many people, all bundled up, enjoying time with one another and got a bit lonely. It doesn't happen often in my solo travels but it did that night. I headed back to my cozy hotel room where I slept for 10 hours - a rare thing indeed.
After spending a lazy day resting in my room and wandering around Chicago I hailed a taxi and went back to Chicago Union Station. Turned out to be the craziest taxi ride of my life. The driver was angry. I asked if he was alright. His answer, "NO- you are only going to train station everyone else is going to the airport! Airport is much bigger fare!". He was driving 65 mph through the streets and then screeching the brakes at every stop. In my experience the people of Chicago are generally quite polite but when this taxi driver cut them off I found that they do have a quite extensive vocabulary and aren't afraid of expressing their displeasure by use of an age old finger gesture. After 15 minutes of Hell I finally arrived at the station - not the entrance mind you - but close enough for me to get the hell out of that cab. Geez. The world seems so angry these days.
Chicago Union Station is HUGE - ten city blocks long and it feels a little intimidating at first but with the help of station personnel it's not too challenging to figure out where to go to eat and to relax. Like most things Chicago I like it. The train platforms are all underground and on my way to my roomette on the Lake Shore Limited I saw this private car and stopped to take this photo. The photo isn't much but in taking it my suitcase and backpack fell and and splattered on the platform. The passengers behind me were not amused so as I put my luggage back together I let them go ahead, muttering, "sorry".
As usual I had a marvelous sleeping car attendant and he assisted me with my luggage and directed me to my room. I was surprised at how different the eastern trains (Viewliners) were from the western trains (Double deck Superliners) - the biggest difference? A sink and toilet in the train compartment.
Again, I slept very well that night. I was on my way to Utica, NY to rent a car and drive to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown - a place I'd wanted to see since childhood. I was stoked. I can remember in High School telling people that I doubted I'd ever get married but, if I did, it would only to be to a woman who wanted to spend our honeymoon in Cooperstown. It was a joke, of course, but it had a sliver of truth to it.
The photo below is of the dining car on the Viewliner. On the train I am always up early, typically the first passenger to arrive in the dining car - there for my coffee and the view.
The Lake Shore Limited is a more scenic train than I had anticipated. It hugs Lake Erie and I enjoyed every minute.
Here is a photo of Buffalo, New York or, "Dirty Old Buffalo" as the great musician and my friend, Gurf Morlix, calls it in one of his terrific songs. It looks like I always thought Buffalo would look - frigid.
Yep! That's snow on the ground! And more was coming. I arrived around noon in Utica on Easter Sunday. No taxis around so I sent for an Uber to take me to my Motel. The driver arrived, it was sunny, and it was only a 5 minute drive to the Best Western. By the time we got there the ground was covered with hail. That was an omen.
I walked through the slush over to a nearby restaurant and had a fine dinner. I returned to my room and went to bed fairly early because I was renting a car at 8:00 AM the following day and meeting my buddy Tom Thrash at the Baseball Hall of Fame around 10:00 AM.
I awoke at 4:00 AM to a storm alert on my phone. A big red STORM WARNING. The next day 12-16 inches of flipping SNOW was supposed to fall. Road closures were predicted. I was supposed to be in Cooperstown for the next two nights. Yikes! (I didn't actually say yikes- just FYI - I used another word). After living in the snow for 30 years of my life the last thing I wanted was to have to deal with THAT - in a car rental - 3000 miles from home.
So, what to do?
I waited until 6 AM and, casting polite behavior to the wind, and because he's such a good dude, I texted Tom and asked him to give me a call when he awoke. Tom had also reserved a room in Cooperstown and I figured he would have an idea of what to do. Five minutes later I was on the phone with Tom and, yes, he knew exactly what to do. The first thing he made clear was that I was not overreacting. Indeed, a big storm was on the way. In fact, he was already planning on not staying in Cooperstown in order to avoid the mess that was surely coming. Thanks to his insight, savvy and kindness we came up with a plan. I would grab my luggage, check out of the Best Western, and get a ride to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Tom would drive the several hours to meet me. We would spend the day at the Hall and then Tom, out of the goodness of his heart, would get me the heck out of there, take me to Poughkeepsie where I could catch the train for my next stop - the Big Apple. It was kind of a genius plan. So, after a very enjoyable ride to Cooperstown through some quite beautiful upstate New York countryside, I met Tom and, after all these years of dreaming about it, we went to the HALL OF FAME!
Look, I know social media stinks and is responsible for much needless angst and stress and plain meanness in the world but my Twitter account allowed me to meet my friend Tom Thrash. Let's see...what is Tom interested in? Baseball (a fellow SABR guy), nature, National Parks, history and trains. Anyone you know who likes similar things? It's uncanny, isn't it? We really are, in many ways, two peas in a pod. And, let me tell ya, we had a damn fine time at the Hall of Fame. Here is the old man with the first group of inductees.
𝐁𝐀𝐂𝐊: Honus Wagner, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Tris Speaker, Nap Lajoie, George Sisler, Walter Johnson 𝐅𝐑𝐎𝐍𝐓: Eddie Collins, Babe Ruth, Connie Mack, Cy Young. Not pictured: Mathewson (sadly deceased), Cobb (tardy!).
Yes,. it does appear as if I am sitting in Connie Mack's lap - he was a gentleman and wouldn't say a word.
Speaking of gentlemen. Here's Tom's photo with the first class. Smarter than me he's sitting between Connie and the Bambino.
Pictures don't really do the Hall justice - it is a pilgrimage that all baseball lovers should make. I know, if I stay upright long enough, that I will return. Nevertheless, I will offer a few photos for those of you who might find it interesting. The Hall consists of 3 floors - the docents recommend exploring floors two and three before coming back down to number one to see the plaques. So let's start on the second floor.
The first floor highlight is the Plaque Gallery. I remember hearing the great Tom Seaver talk about how proud he was to have his plaque at the hall and that each time he visited he would run his hand over it - just to make sure it was real. The first photo is my childhood (and adulthood) hero.
Here are a few more plaques - it's just a taste. You should go and see them in person - it was an emotional experience for me. They are vertical photographs and, if you see someone you like, be sure and click to read the entire plaque.
Lastly, here is the statue of the great Buck O'Neil.
After spending several hours in the museum I went to the Gift Shop. As I was checking out the cashier asked, "You staying here in Cooperstown? We are gonna get two feet of snow! I can't believe this is April". She confirmed my worries. "No," I said, "my buddy is driving me to Poughkeepsie". "Your buddy is smart!" she replied. And so he was. My hero Tom drove me all the way to Poughkeepsie. I got a room a few blocks from the train station and avoided the storm - which was huge and did indeed end up closing roads and was, in general, a huge mess. I am including the following photo -it's not mine (thankfully) that I pulled off the internet from a resident of Cooperstown to give you an idea of what happened and how Tom saved my behind from dealing with that wintry drama.
The following photo was taken from my hotel room in Poughkeepsie and I never thought I'd be so happy to be in Poughkeepsie, NY - but, I was, I was. Whew! Now I would spend an extra night in New York City but, hey, I could handle that! What a relief it was to be out of that crazy weather. I am so grateful to Tom for helping me - and I knew in a few days I was headed south to The Big Easy on Amtrak's Crescent and warmer weather.
It was chilly and windy in Poughkeepsie and I went to the Station which was old and drafty and beautiful.
Here is a view from the platform.
The ride on Amtrak's Empire Service was uneventful to New York City and, of course, the minute I got off the train the New York experience hit me - full force. How I love and have loved that city. There was so much to do and see and it had been ten years. My hotel was adjacent to Penn Station and Madison Square Garden. I know not everyone agrees but I think New York City is magnificent. Here are two views from my 33rd floor hotel room.
My first night I had a wonderful dinner at Uncle Jack's Steakhouse on 9th Avenue. It was a bit cold - no snow - and so I walked around for awhile just taking in the perfect madness and rush of the Big Apple. It took me awhile to get it together and get my bearings. It had been awhile and, to use a surfing metaphor, you have to ride NYC like a big wave - it takes a while to stand up on the board and be comfortable when you return. And then, unlike any other city I know, once you do catch your balance, you will go for the ride of your life. There is no place I have ever been that's like it.
I woke up and leisurely walked up to Times Square and the TKTS booth. I was hoping to see American Buffalo with Laurence Fishburne and Sam Rockwell. I got to Times Square about an hour before the booth opened and already there was a long, serpentine line for tickets. That was OK - it was a nippy but sunny day and it felt so good to just feel New York. After some searching, I found the end of the ticket booth line. I heard someone yelling behind me, "SIR! SIR! HEY! HELLO! THAT IS NOT THE END OF THE LINE! - THE END IS OVER THERE". Hmmm, it seemed like someone was yelling at ME. I looked around and the people in front of me pointed to another spot. It was only a few feet away but I had clearly committed a major TKTS faux pas. I moved to the REAL end of the line and a young woman who had observed the entire episode turned around and with a twinkle in her eye said, "Well, I'll guess you'll never make that mistake again!" We both laughed and rolled our eyes. Oh, you fabulous New Yorkers. Embarrass me one moment and let me know that's it's all OK in the next - such is my favorite city.
I was able to score the tickets for American Buffalo and it was even better than I'd hoped. Sam Rockwell is probably my favorite actor these days. He was utterly brilliant. It had been awhile since I'd seen a show on Broadway and now I gotta hurry back.
The next day was devoted entirely to the New York Mets and baseball in the Big Apple.
I was up early to eat a hotel breakfast and then take the Number 7 train to Long Island. When I arrived at Hudson Yards station (the steepest incline in NYC) - the first stop on the line - I was the only passenger. An empty NYC train was an odd experience. It wouldn't stay empty for long. We rolled along and picked up Met fans all along the line until the train was FULL of folks in Mets gear.
It was, for me, another cold day but setting my eyes upon Citifield changed all that. It is magnificent. I am a Dodgers fan but I love the New York Mets and Tom Seaver has been a lifelong favorite and was a fellow USC Trojan. His statute is perfect- and captures his style, competitiveness and unique pitching motion - the drop and drive - extraordinarily well.
Mets fans are a serious and baseball savvy bunch and they follow the game intensely. No selfies or the wave or arriving in the third inning or leaving after the seventh inning. Some west coast fans could learn from them.
A trip highlight happened just before the game started as the players came out to warm up. I saw the Mets first baseman Pete Alonso - a fine player come trotting out and just then a young boy - maybe 8 years old - yanking his mother by the hand came flying down the stairs next to me and ran to the railing while shouting in a perfect New York accent, "OH MY GAWD! IT'S PETE ALAAAAAWNZO!". It absolutely cracked me up and reminded me of every child who has ever fallen in love with a baseball player and finally gets to see them for the first time in person. It always feels like a miracle. My GAWD, I loved that little boy and baseball and all the feelings it engenders.
One last night in New York.
I couldn't sleep so I walked around Hell's Kitchen already missing New York and not having left it yet. Got back to my room and made a melancholy photo while lying in bed. As I grow older each visit to a place I love makes me a bit sentimental and I always wonder...will I be back?
Up and at 'em. I walked across the street to Moynihan Train Hall. It was time to take the Crescent all the way to New Orleans. At last - some warm weather!
We rolled out of New York and my sleeping car attendant wasn't too helpful. Apparently her beau was also on the train so let's just say she was scarce. The spring weather was uplifting as we passed over the Delaware River near Trenton, NJ and Philadelphia and nearby environs.
We picked up speed nearing Baltimore and I clocked the train going 107 mph (there's an app for that called Speedbox).
We slowed down here to cross the Susquehanna River.
I was deeply interested in the next part of my journey. While I am a regular New Orleans visitor I had never seen much of what is considered the "Deep South" other than a visit to Atlanta. As a music nut, and a Delta Blues fan, I had always wanted to travel to Memphis and to see the Mississippi Delta. Moreover, the view from the train often captures a kind of hardscrabble point of view of America - after all, people of means don't usually live too close to the tracks or in a hobo jungle. I wasn't going to get a glossed over chamber of commerce version of the South. As a California man I had lots of stereotypes in my head...just what would my experience be like? One guy on social media said for me to "watch my back". Yeah. OK. I thought at the time that was a racist comment - and still do. The Delta is approximately 85% African American.
In the meantime...the view from my window on the Crescent was mesmerizing. Here are some photos near DC and Baltimore.
I fell asleep in Virginia.
And woke up in Georgia.
The next several hours I had my nose glued to the window taking in the sights. As a man of the West I have become somewhat snobbish about the great outdoors. However, I must say that there is some true scenic splendor in Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi that I did not anticipate and brought on my favorite feeling while in nature - a feeling of awe. I hope you enjoy the photos. Here is Alabama:
And my first glimpses of Mississippi.
The photo just above struck me somehow. It is of Meridian, MS the hometown of the great Jimmie Rodgers or as he was affectionately known, the "Singing Brakeman." I envisioned old Jimmy working out there on that particular part of the railroad while dreaming of making music. Regardless, for me it is an evocative photo reminiscent of the past and, oddly, perhaps my favorite of the trip.
We arrived in New Orleans late due to freight train interference which is a ongoing and regular problem with passenger train travel in the United States. If you are an Amtrak traveler you know just what I'm talking about.
Finally, around 9:00 PM I was in the Crescent City. It was a heavenly 79F!
My day in the Big Easy. I woke up and walked to the French QuarterFest. It was hot and steamy and so very welcome. I went to the Chevron stage near Jax Brewery along the River to listen to Cajun Music. As usual in New Orleans it was a party. I often think about the notion that we should let go of the past and stop worrying about the future and focus on the NOW (and try to live accordingly). That viewpoint seems to be the philosophy of New Orleans which is a major reason why it is and will remain one of my favorite places on earth. It's a gas.
What a fine day I had!
After hours of listening to terrific music and chatting with some locals, I ate a delicious gumbo dinner and went back to my room. I got sick to my stomach afterwards and figured it was a passing thing. It was not and would plague me off and on for the rest of the trip and then for a few weeks after I got home - it was a particularly virulent stomach bug (good news -after many doctor visits and tests I am better now!).
The next day I was up early to find my brick at the WWII Museum and then make my way to the train station to ride the City of New Orleans train to Memphis.
Several years ago I made a donation to the WWII Memorial in DC in my relative's names for its construction and for the construction of the WWII Museum in New Orleans. One of the donation opportunities was to fund a brick to be placed outside the museum - and I visited the museum several times after I purchased it but never actually looked for it - until this trip. I didn't have time to explore the museum again but wanted to find that darn brick- the docent located it on the computer and gave me a map and, indeed, I found it. I am proud of ALL who served but in particular my 3 uncles - W.A. (Shorty) Hubbard, Bill Hubbard and Edward Poppe. Each of them served in the Army Air Force and my Uncle Shorty flew 35 missions over Italy, France, Belgium and Germany. He was severely injured as a tail-gunner on a B-17. I am a bit of a WWII historian as a result of my family's influence and service.
Speaking of inspirational people - there is a modest monument to Anne Frank at the Museum and she has been a personal hero to me for as long as I can remember. When I became a high school drama teacher I couldn't wait to direct my own production of "The Diary of Anne Frank"- it remains one of the poignant stories of my life and one of my proudest moments as an educator.
After that short visit I jumped on my next train which is only a few blocks from the museum. I was unprepared for how scenic the initial section of the City of New Orleans train was as it moved north through the bayou country and into Mississippi. The sleeping car attendant caught me staring, slightly agog, and said, "Oh yeah...I see you. I know I should be working but sometimes I just have to stop and look out the window too. Some days I count the alligators. Counted 50 once".
The clouds rolled in as we got closer to my destination of Memphis and the rain fell - very hard at times - and it was dark and beautiful and made my little roomette even cozier.
The train arrived in Memphis about 11:00 PM and I was excited to see that my hotel - the Central Station Memphis was adjacent to the tracks. How convenient. I had been receiving confirming emails from the hotel for a few weeks and it looked great.
Looks can be deceiving.
When I arrived the young lady at the front desk informed me that there was no record of my reservation. I showed her my confirmation number and emails. She said, "Sorry, sir, I have no record of a reservation and we have no rooms" and smiled. That awful smile. It was 11:00 PM and I explained I was tired and none of this made sense and she said, "Call booking.com" - and then, because I didn't leave, she called her supervisor. After several minutes trying to get the phone number for Booking.com I spoke to someone overseas who said, "Oh, they have to find you a room. We will ring them". Finally, the hotel front desk had another person arrive to help - a sympathetic and evidently more experienced employee. She winked and said, "don't worry...we will figure this out." Finally I started to relax a bit until the first employee hung up the phone with her supervisor and said, "DON'T EVER USE A THIRD PARTY. That's your problem."
She then sighed - a huge sigh - and started punching the keys of her computer and then gave me a key to a room - a suite because, "that's all we have".
Wow. What a mess. It was now midnight. I was supposed to get my car rental at 8:30. I got into the room - took a shower and tried to relax -nope - still too wound up by the reservation drama - couldn't sleep - all night. Still, I was thrilled about renting a car and driving through the Mississippi Delta and exploring the home of so many of my musical heroes. How curious and interested I was about my next adventure.
At 7:00 AM I went down to the hotel restaurant, ate a veggie omelette, and then called Enterprise car rental who said they would send someone to the hotel to pick me up at 8:30. I gathered all my luggage and walked outside. It was a nice morning. I waited and no one arrived. At 8:45 I called back and someone said, "we are on our way". At 9:15 I called again and was told, "Sir, we are having a challenge getting you a car". I can't remember precisely what I said but was later told that the guy expected me to yell and that I remained calm and told them I had no place to go and needed a car and that they were to come pick me up and I would wait in their office for a car and didn't give a damn how long it took. So far, Memphis had not been exactly a welcoming place. They sent someone for me.
My grumpy strategy evidently worked and I believe they got tired of my pouting geezer face because within two hours I had a car. It wasn't exactly pretty but it was a car.
Fired up, I jumped in and, of course it was on E, but I got 'er filled up and went directly to Stax Museum.
After spending about 10 minutes inside I thought, "Hey, did I get all my luggage from the Car Rental place?" As soon as I had that thought I received a call from "Enterprise - Memphis".
Hello, Dr. Hubbard? Yes, I know - I'll be right over...
I gathered the suitcase I left behind at the rental agency and decided to get out of Memphis. Soon, windows rolled down in the sticky springtime Mississippi heat, I was driving south on legendary Highway 61.
First Stop - Tunica, Mississippi.
I took my sweet time driving down to Clarksdale. My first stop was to visit Roger Stolle and his fabulous Blues store Cathead. He was as kind and friendly and knowledgeable as expected. If you are a Blues fan and make a pilgrimage to the Delta like me - I strongly encourage you to to make Cathead your first stop. Your mind will be full of ideas about what and who to see and where to go...and you'll walk out and feel like you're going back in time to an earlier era. Right next to Cathead is an old Rexall sign...how many years since I'd seen one of those? 30? 40?
From Cathead I drove to my spot to sleep the next few nights - the famed Shack Up Inn. It was my kind of place. Here was my bit of shangri-la. I was in the "Caddy-Shack".
I sat outside at the shack with a cold drink and meditated and read and relaxed and felt that cool Delta breeze on my forehead. I immersed myself in the feeling of the place. It did feel just as I supposed it would. The problem is that as I imagined it long ago there was too much pain to contemplate. Still, I was grateful to finally be in the place I'd dreamed of seeing my entire life.
Slept beautifully and was up early and off to the crossroads. Yep. Those crossroads.
I wandered around and ended up at the Delta Blues Museum.
I had dinner at Abe's back at the crossroads and tried one of their tamales. Sometimes we Westerners don't realize that tamales are eaten in the South - there is even a "tamale trail". It wasn't too bad although eating it with saltines seemed pretty darn weird.
I spent most of the day exploring the Delta with a visit to the Grammy Museum in Cleveland, MS which is right across the street from Delta State University and in the same town as the Martin & Sue King Railroad Museum. Everyone that day was extraordinarily kind and helpful and generous with their advice and time. Southern hospitality is a real thing.
On my way back to my room at the Shack Up Inn I stopped and made a few photos of the old Hopson Plantation which is adjacent to the Shack Up and the surrounding area.
The next day I made a leisurely drive to Memphis to spend the day at the National Civil Rights Museum and the Lorraine Motel where MLK was assassinated. I also wanted to see the Blues Hall of Fame Museum (of which I am a member). In my life - one leader towers above all the others in my estimation - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His philosophy of non-violence, patience and kindness and love have inspired me my entire life. Thus, it was a deeply emotional experience to see the very place where the world lost him. My breath left me and I had to walk away from other people and gather myself upon witnessing it. In my life I have never seen another site that brought so much sadness for our country and "what might have been". I have not been to Dealey Plaza - perhaps it will have the same impact.
Here are a few other photos I made. I took too many and didn't like any. In candor, I struggled with the fact that this was the place chosen for the Civil Rights Museum - until I saw that Coretta King had agreed to make it so. If she thought it was fine then who am I to doubt it? It is a place that every American should see.
Leaving the Museum was bittersweet but I know I'll be back - hopefully with my grandchildren.
I have been a member of the Blues Foundation for many years. Their museum is located in Memphis directly across the street from the Civil Rights Museum. When I arrived and shared my membership card one of the docents jumped up from her chair and said, "WELCOME We have been waiting for you!". It was too sweet and, of course, I loved it.
Here is - no kidding - Muddy Water's guitar. 😲
Soon it was back to the train station and the City of New Orleans on our return trip to Chicago.
The ride to Chicago and back to the cold weather was uneventful on the City of New Orleans although I had oddly stopped being hungry and, trust me, that it is highly unusual for me. Nevertheless, Arlo Guthrie's version of Steve Goodman's classic song, "City of New Orleans" song was stuck - as it should be - in my head and on repeat. And look! Here is Kankakee! Followed by a few other photos I enjoyed making and that made me hum... "Good Morning, America- how are ya?"
That night in Chicago, despite not having much of an appetite, I walked down the street to the Berghoff and had a Root Beer and a few bites of German food. When I got back to my room at the Central Loop Hotel I checked my Amtrak ticket on my phone and it said, "service disruption". That is trainspeak for, "you are screwed -the train isn't running". I called Amtrak and the agent said, "well, maybe you're getting that information before we are, which often happens, but it looks like your train is still running". That was encouraging - or not. I slept fitfully. I was ready to get on the Southwest Chief and come home - it had been almost 3 weeks.
"Service disruption" no longer was displayed across my iPhone Amtrak ticket. Thank goodness. I took a taxi to the splendid Chicago Union Station. It's really quite a place. Unlike airports (yuck) there is plenty of room to spread out and walk and sit and relax without other people around. There is also no TSA theater where they do things like take away your 6 oz sunscreen because you know... well, actually I don't know.
I got on the train for long trip home. It was beautiful ride - the Southwest Chief is a gem. I was also enthusiastic about going through my father's home town - La Junta, CO on the train where, in the early 1950's, he got on the "El Capitan" and came to Los Angeles and met my mom.
Unfortunately, my stomach issues really kicked in and I wasn't able to enjoy the trip as much I'd hoped. Still - I was able to make a few photos and I hope you enjoy them and they give you a sense of what riding on "the Chief" is like.
We were reaching Colorado and I was able to take a few photos of the place where my dad grew up. I will return this September, in my little Mazda, and visit the graves of my grandparents and Uncle and my last remaining Colorado family who live in Pueblo. The photo below is the "old" train station in La Junta - did my dad walk out those doors? Buy a ticket from that window? Wait outside for the train right here?
These photos are all in New Mexico - the next day I'd wake up in California.
My trip was originally supposed to include a stop in Kansas City - due to Amtrak staffing shortages that part of the trip had to be eliminated - I was bummed at the time but it actually worked out OK. By the time I hit California I was pretty sick from that nasty (and long lasting!) stomach bug. It felt good to be home. And, let's face it, I love California.
What a journey. Of course, a blog post and these photos don't do it justice -if I had the creativity and energy of a younger version of myself I might be tempted to write a short story or novel about it. As it is these words and photos will have to suffice. I can't imagine taking another trip similar to this length on the train - it might happen but I doubt I'd do it solo. Maybe if you came along?
The big Western train I didn't take was the famed California Zephyr - I'll make up for that this autumn. I'll also visit Kansas City when I visit Colorado late this summer while on my Bob Dylan Center and and family ancestry pilgrimage.
This was a long post because, well, it was a long trip. I truly appreciate you reading and allowing me to share. Connecting with people has always meant a lot to me and, after retiring several years ago, I lost my ability to do much of that. Except with you - and for that I'll be forever grateful - and when I say much love to my friends and readers I mean MUCH love to each of you.
May this summer be the best of your life. Thanks again.
Let me leave you with lyrics from a favorite Dylan song that has inspired me these many years and that I thought of often on my once in a lifetime cross country train trip.
"Let me Die in my Footsteps".
Let me drink from the waters where the mountain streams flood
Let the smell of wildflowers flow free through my blood
Let me sleep in your meadows with the green grassy leaves
Let me walk down the highway with my brother in peace
Let me die in my footsteps
Before I go down under the ground
Go out in your country where the land meets the sun
See the craters and the canyons where the waterfalls run
Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Idaho
Let every state in this union seep down deep in your souls
And you’ll die in your footsteps
Before you go down under the ground.
For awhile now I've been contemplating writing a blog on music. I've started a few but they sit there as drafts since the topic, for me, is a bit overwhelming and I have so very much to say.
People who know me well know I am a music addict. In my lifetime, nothing has given me more comfort and solace in my most difficult moments. It is also something I've studied for a lifetime - it started as a youth in the 1960's when we we were inundated with such marvelous music and became cemented in my freshman year of college when I took a course entitled, "Popular Culture - Rock Music". The final exam had two hundred questions and I think it was the only final I ever received a 100% score on!
Since that time in my life all my interests, sans music, have waxed and waned. However, the one sure and solid and reliable source of diversion and comfort has been my tunes - LPs, 45's, 8 track tapes, cassettes, cds and now downloads - it's never mattered. I've always surrounded myself with music.
I am planning a trip next Autumn to Mississippi and Tennessee to visit the Blues Trail, Memphis, and Nashville and attend the annual Americana-fest. I can't remember being more excited about a trip. I'll be right there in the heart of it all.
Suffice it to say - I could go on for thousands of words about music but I'm going to limit the scope of this particular post by using the criteria suggested by Alex. Here goes:
“In no particular order – which 10 albums really made an impact and are still on your rotation, even if only now and then." It also says I should "post the cover and nominate another person to do the same" - uh, no to that part about nominating others. I'll tell you what mine are and if you're motivated to do the same exercise - then get on it!
An important proviso - these are not, necessarily, the albums that I think are the "best". For example, "Sergeant Pepper's" is certainly superior to "Magical Mystery Tour" - these are, instead, the albums that influenced me - my life and musical tastes, more than any others... Note also this is not a list of my favorite bands - otherwise, for example, the Rolling Stones would be in my top 5...
Also...while the instructions indicate there is "no particular order", these are fairly chronological.
Enough. Here goes...
Number one is an album that my parents purchased that I probably listened to more than any other as a child, "Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison". It was released in 1968, I was eleven years old, and it's impact on me - musically, politically, sociologically was profound and remains so to this day. Johnny's identification with the downtrodden and lost and hopeless modeled for me exactly how a man should be. As I got older and was, at times, downtrodden, lost and hopeless myself, this album always brought and still brings comfort. Who other than Johnny could have sung with such anger, regret and sadness, "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die"?
When he sang, "I bet there's rich folks eating in their fancy dining car, they're probably drinking coffee and smoking big cigars" I hated those rich and free people even though he knew "I had it coming, I know can't be free, but those people keep on movin' and that's what tortures me". And...what tortured me was the implication that they didn't know or care about the other sad and troubled riders, like Johnny's sad narrator, on their own train. Those people still don't.
The entire album merited nearly daily listening in my youth and it's still in my regular rotation after all these years.
It's just bad ass...
ROLL UP! ROLL UP! Number two was the very first album I bought with my own money. I was 10 years old and I saved my allowance each week. The guy at the record store wanted me, for some reason, to buy the new Rolling Stones album "Their Satanic Majesties Request" but I would have none if it. I had to have, just had to have, "Magical Mystery Tour". I wore out the grooves on it.
Of course , it's magnificent and I enjoyed that my mom hated, "I Am the Walrus" and it's lyric, "yellow matter custard dripping from a dead dog's eye", which was part of John's freaky imagery and while I didn't necessarily enjoy the picture of that image I liked that my mom thought it was so awful. Damn, I was a rebel.
My favorite song from this album was and remains, "Strawberry Fields". There have been songs, perhaps a dozen or so in my entire lifetime, that on first hearing take me away to a distant place - Strawberry Fields is one for me.
Let me take you down
Still works, doesn't it?
Number 3 is another I purchased, as an 8 track tape, on my own as an 8th grader at Ralph's Department Store in Blue Jay, CA. I played Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits, Vol. II, over and over and over and drove my father to exclaim one day, "Can't you find ANYTHING other than that to play"?!" I'm an American Roots music man these days and so was this one influential? Well...yeah...obviously and profoundly. This was a delicious double album. Talk about resonating in my heart, soul and ears.
Of course, over the years, I have met people who claim that they, "don't like Bob Dylan's voice". That's cool, but my hunch is that they have favorite artists that don't have beautiful voices and whose success as a singer is perhaps because Bob led the way on lyrics and vocal expression...but to each his own. In my younger days I tried to teach the world about Dylan and and I ended up doing the learning. I learned that some people just aren't gonna "get it" and that's ok.
I have many thoughts about old Bob which probably will merit a single blog post in the future - my final exam in the Rock History class I was boasting about earlier? Of the 200 questions - 190 were about Bob. It's no wonder I aced it and got along famously with the professor. At age 61 I realize there will not be another artist who will mean as much to me in my lifetime as Dylan. His winning of the Nobel Prize finally shut down some of the ignorance about his work but, if you don't like Bob, don't you realize what you're missing?
Ah here I go again...maybe, after all, I still haven't learned the lesson...
Number 4 "Harvest". Another artist, my entire life, who I've always managed to find at just the right moment is the great Neil Young. This album, from my high school days, if I had to guess, is probably the one I've played more than any other when I've been deeply sad (Simon and Garfunkel are good, too!). At my high school, when the weather was nice, the Drama Dept. would pipe music outside and I can remember warm, spring days listening to "Heart of Gold" and feeling that teenage youthful joy that we only experience when we're young. This is another album in which I could discuss each track and how much it has meant to me over the years. One song, "Out on the Weekend" might just be number one on the soundtrack of my life. Obviously, it's "still in my rotation". Neil has always seemed to understand the profound sadness and strangeness of life.
See the lonely boy,
Number 5 - The first concert I attended, in the Fall of 1974, was Elton John at the Fabulous Forum in Inglewood, CA. Elton had some songs that were big hits on the radio and while I loved, "Yellow Brick Road" (still do) it was "Madman Across the Water" that captured my passion. I didn't realize it at the time but the great Elton John lyricist, Bernie Taupin, was living just a few miles away in a nearby neighboring mountain town, Blue Jay, CA. "Tiny Dancer" has always been a favorite and I still use it as one of the quintessential road trip songs. The image of the "seamstress for the band" while they travel from town to town captures some essential travel vibe that still resonates.
Hold me closer tiny dancer
There are several excellent songs on this album although they may not be as well known as Elton's "hits". I hope you can imagine my horror and sadness when this artist started making songs Like "Philadelphia Freedom" and went so far away from his original brilliance. Oh Elton, where did you go?
Number 6 - "The Band". Most of these "influential" albums are obviously from my youth. This band and this album have been my "go to's" all my adult life. In my view, the Americana genre was really started and pioneered by The Band (ironically 4 of the 5 members were from Canada). Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm are two of my musical heroes. I was lucky enough to see The Band in 1975 at the Greek Theater for their last tour and just a few short months before the famous "Last Waltz" concert - of which I had tickets but to my everlasting chagrin couldn't go - (true story and it still pisses me off). My lifelong anthem, "The Weight" is not on this particular album - it was on "Big Pink" - every single song on this album is a treasure and has personal meaning for me. As I reach the twilight of my life - and as much as I love the Beatles and Stones and Clash - this group, it turns out, has been my lifelong favorite. Perhaps one day I will write an entire blog post discussing each of their songs and why they are so important in the canon of American music. It started in the fields and then the delta and through Charley Patton and Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams and there is a direct line right to "The Band". What music...
Number 7 - "London Calling". In college I considered myself kind of a cool kid and I knew music and was a bit jaded and then...punk music. I was admittedly infatuated with the genre and really liked the Sex Pistols album when it came out but I was blown away, wiped out, by The Clash. Not only was the music new and cool but Joe Strummer and Mick Jones had a nearly Lennon/McCartney harmony that was compelling and fascinating and provocative as Hell. As if they could be any more cool their politics were EXACTLY like mine and, oh say, Woody Guthrie's...People sometimes seemed surprised to find out that Woody was such an influence on Joe Strummer but, when you think about it, it's not much of a stretch. One of the most wonderful afternoons of my life was spent at the Santa Barbara County Bowl listening to the English Beat and then the remarkable Clash. If you haven't given this album a listen in awhile then do so again and hear the musical revelations - and revolution.
The ice age is coming, the sun is zooming in
You know, there's a reason the call him "The Boss". Number 8 could have just as easily been "Born to Run" or "The River" but, nah, I gotta go with the one that knocked me for a lifetime personal loop, "Darkness at the Edge of Town". In this album Bruce cemented his place as America's next great along the Woody Guthrie/Bob Dylan line. Few albums in my life have been written that seemed to be expressing everything about my life - the feelings, the loss, my own personal faults, the injustice of the world, like "Darkness". It's as if Bruce channeled my mind and then expressed it musically. There is pain in this album - it's filled with pathos - but because, it's Springsteen, it has layers of hope and beauty...just enough to make it real and universal. Classics like, "Badlands", and “The Promised Land” are as good as contemporary music gets. "Factory" could have been written about my father, too. Each song has profound lyrical and musical depth. While I have given excerpts from previous songs from albums on the list this one is given in its entirety.
"Darkness On The Edge Of Town"
For many years I could be found there in the darkness too.
It took many years before another songwriter spoke to me like Bruce...and that's today's generation's Jason Isbell. I can't call him "influential" but he gets it...I could write an entire blog post on "Southeastern" but you should just listen to it instead.
I couldn't possibly write a post and not include my favorite album of the great Elvis Costello. I read a review of him - got his first album, "My Aim Is True" but it was his next one, "This Year's Model" that must be included on this list at Number 9. Elvis, to me, was such a rebel and a a "retro rebel" if that is a thing - His "Elvis" name and those Buddy Holly glasses and pigeon toed style of performing. He was the man! Young Elvis captured my angry young man years as well as anyone because he also was so damn pissed off...and cynical and condemning of modern society and it's emphasis on superficial values. This album is flawless and one of the most brilliant ever produced.
From, "This Year's Girl":
See her picture in a thousand places 'cause she's this year's girl
Number 10 - More Bob? Yep. Although I struggled with this last one. I feel like I'm leaving out about a million albums that I love and, well, I kinda am. I was just about to place "Document" by REM here but it wouldn't be a true indicator of "influential" to me and I simply couldn't do it. Then there was, "Who's Next" and, as much as love it, I just didn't love it in the same way as my favorite Dylan album (I think it's my favorite - I equivocate a bit - tough choices there). I do know that in high school all the cool kids were spinning "Blood On the Tracks" and I guess I was one of the cool kids. This is Dylan at his balladeer best and not even my dad complained when I played it - which was daily for about, oh, ten years! I actually sang, "Tangled Up in Blue" when I was the Drama teacher at Rim of the World High School at the "talent show". I'd like to emphasize that was my one and only public singing performance outside of drunk karaoke. There are reasons I'm just a listener...
A few years back I read that Bob simply said about the album that it was, "nothing but pain" and his son Jacob said it was the musical soundtrack to his parent's divorce. I can certainly see that kind of sadness but there is also great storytelling to be found here as well as sweetness and love - especially with, "Shelter From the Storm" and "Simple Twist of Fate". Of course, "If You See Her, say Hello" summed up my teenage romantic angst so aptly:
Sundown, yellow moon
So there you have it - I've taken several weeks to think about his and I'm not sure I've gotten it right and I suppose I'll second guess my choices but, today, it's the best I can do. If you have similar tastes that's marvelous - if you don't well, that's OK, although I'd encourage you to keep listening to new (and old!) music and go to concerts, maybe read a little music history and theory, and, whatever you do, don't say, "Music died in the '60's or '70's" or...whatever. First, it's not true and secondly you're shortchanging not only some great artists but yourself as well. In my experience people who say, "I know what I like" really are saying they "like what they know" and usually that isn't much. Nothing speaks to our inner self - our soul - like the charms of a good song. There's beauty and soul stirring melodies and words out there no matter your tastes...
If, like me, you're compelled to get more into the "American Sound" I'd encourage you to start your journey by reading, "Mystery Train" by Greil Marcus. It'll put you on the right road.
Thanks for reading and I look forward to reading about your most influential albums.
Now, go put on some tunes!
Something I get asked from time to time is, "How do you travel alone so much?". It typically strikes me as an odd question but I get it. Being alone with one's thoughts as your only companion can be difficult especially if you identify with those thoughts. This is a major reason I meditate. I'll write about meditation in a blog post soon but, in the meantime, these are my thoughts on traveling solo:
My career was people oriented. I did my best to create positive relationships with everyone with whom I worked. I truly cared about the people I worked with even if it wasn't always reciprocated. Perhaps I was naive. I also worked with people who didn't share my passionate values about the welfare and education of young people and I didn't mind their enmity but was always hopeful that we could "see the light" together at some point. Nonetheless, I was constantly interacting with others. I spent my life, from kindergarten through retirement, around groups of people on a daily basis. As a result, my retirement has been completely different and weird at times (thank God for my beautiful family who have endured my sadness and helped me). While I used to crave solitude I now seemingly have an over supply of it. My first year or so of not working was terribly difficult for many reasons and I often felt lonely.
That's no longer the case.
I have learned to cherish and appreciate this solitary life. I'm blessed with an understanding and loving wife and family. They accept my longing for the road and pursuit of beauty. That unconditional love provides a firm foundation which gives me permission to do what I want (and need) to do with approval and encouragement from those who "get" me.
My days, off the road, consist of reading, meditation, and personal growth activities - like walking, writing, watching films, following sports (USC, Liverpool FC & the Dodgers), learning Spanish, reading my twitter timeline, running errands, planning trips, an occasional motorcycle ride, and learning the guitar. My reading hunger since I stopped working has been insatiable- I know I'll die before I read everything I want to read.
My days on the road, since I have my books and my meditation, are rarely lonely. I do, of course, enjoy traveling with others, in particular, my kids, family, and wife. They are all fabulous, non complaining, funny, curious and grateful, adventurers. Of course, they have their own business to attend to and my wife can't retire for a few more years. I do, certainly, miss many of my friends, some of whom have died and others lost to the vestiges of time and vagaries of life. The worst part of traveling alone is wanting to share the singular experiences and the astonishing scenery. I take pictures, lots of them, in my attempts to share. This website and blog is another effort to share with my friends and family the places I see and visit.
There is, however, something peaceful and poignant about traveling solo. I can reflect, muse, and do all things that I damn well want to do. If I like a place I can stay- if I don't I can move on. After spending many hours researching I go where I want to go and see what I'm curious about. As the Buddhists suggest, I eat when I'm hungry and rest when I'm tired. I read voraciously. I listen to music and spend hours preparing a long playlist specifically designed to complement the journey. I hike. Occasionally I fish. I write. I meet strangers and share travel stories. In the evening I make a nice dinner, perhaps start a fire, and watch the sunset. Afterwards, I crawl into the back of the truck- get comfortable and listen to the local radio stations, contemplate the doings of the day, and plan my next day's activities. I nod off while listening to the songs of the coyotes or the pure quiet that can only be found miles away from cities.
I do miss the people that I love. I think about their qualities- the reasons that I miss them. I remind myself that all things are temporary, I will die, and I must use this time in the most meaningful way possible. I worked, for a lifetime, trying to change the world and make it a better place. I attained a doctorate and rose to the top of my profession. All those years of work, putting my career first, ironically didn't work out as planned. Now, I try to live my life the right way and let the Universe decide if my life will impact others positively in any way. I can only do my best for my family and friends and this beloved earth. I try to be an example. I choose to surrender the rest.
This precious time in my life, when I have the freedom to travel the West, is a profound gift. Perhaps, some day, I'll connect with former friends, become a better guitar player, write beautiful stories and poems, work publicly to save the planet, demonstrably help the poor and needy, but, for now, I'll travel alone and contemplate, learn what I can, and be the best father, husband, friend and man I know how to be.
This solitary travel helps me ground myself, clarify what's important, and find and explore my humanity. I enjoy myself. I experience a powerful spiritual connection to nature and, in particular, the Southwest. It is my sacred home.
All I can truly offer the world, in the end, is my humanity and experience - if I can stay true to a life of empathy, compassion, tenderness, and love, then, perhaps, my life will be of some worth. I can't think of anything else to do that has more meaning.
The one song I have listened to more than any other the last several years is "'Cross the Green Mountain" by Bob Dylan. The lyrics resonate deeply in me- like a soft breeze of pure, cool air in the late desert afternoon.
He expresses it perfectly:
Pride will vanish
And glory will rot
But virtue lives
And cannot be forgot
Let them say that I walked
In fair nature's light
And that I was loyal
To truth and to right
See you on the road, in fair nature's light, soon.
I'm Utah bound in a few days.
September 07th, 2014
Notes From The Road- Ready To Go?
Hi friends. I'm getting ready to take off early, early tomorrow morning. "Pre-trip" is an odd emotional time. It's an exciting time usually tinged with some sadness about missing my wife and family. I also start to anticipate the first day's drive which means dealing with Southern California traffic until I get "out there". The older I get the more I abhor traffic and the lack of scenery in SoCal. As I leave I can't seem to put it behind me fast enough. In addition, my mind gets cramped with details. Did I pack everything? Food? Personal items? Do I have what I need? Am I ready?
Tomorrow I'll take the good old Interstate 15 through seedy, gaudy, tawdry, Las Vegas and then head toward Zion on my way to Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. I'm interested in the state park and anxious to explore it. I hear it's a place a lot of the land maulers, aka Quad riders, visit. The noise, partying, and general attitude of those people aren't usually my cup of tea. We'll see. My hunch is that it will be more than fine.
It's a long drive (442 miles) but not as long as Tuesday when I drive to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison (476 miles). When I arrive there and get a camping spot my trip will settle down into a more relaxed mode. I work at slowing down constantly the first few days of any trip. Once that calm kicks in the trips can start to become tranquil and magical. After rushing around for 35 years slowing down is a daily challenge. I'll explore the new National Park at the Gunnison River and then head for fishing and hiking grounds near Silver Jack Reservoir, the Rio Grande and, eventually, the Arkansas River.
I will try to write from the road but that may not be possible given the typical lack of cell reception in the more remote and mountainous areas. I purchased a small digital tape recorder to perhaps more easily take notes. I also got a monocular for the camera and it will be interesting to see how that works. The playlist is ready- lots of Bob Dylan, Calexico, Neil Young, Gourds, Jon Dee Graham, Beck, Drive-By Truckers and Alejandro Escovedo. I'll be reading "Go In Beauty" by William Eastlake and bring lots of Edward Abbey & Terry Tempest Williams to supplement. I'm also bringing the classic, "Land of Little Rain" by Mary Austin.
May you all slow down and enjoy the simple things while I'm "on the road".
This will mostly be a journal of my travels. I may include other items that interest me. Feel free to join in.