from 2008, part 2

14   4    8


Then, around midnight, we finally arrive in Tucson. Wind through downtown streets. Bus directed to park on the dirt hard by the tracks in front of the station. Unload. Stand around. Use the station bathroom. Get a free plastic cup of coffee and plastic-wrapped danish.

The train arrives. The beautiful lumbering train of shining steel cars. Climb onboard. Our car attendant is named Mike. I hope you don’t mind, he says, but I already but the bed down.

Later, Mom settled in and relieved we finally found the train, our train, any train – I think I’m feeling better, I’m starting to itch again; later, two cars forward in the view lounge with pen and paper and leftover gangreenthly hamburger from six hours gone by still in its own wrapper paper printed with CHEESE; later, gazing out the tall windows, over the station rooves and trees, touch the dark towers of downtown Tucson; later, Daniel I wonder if it’s really true – did we come all this way in bus after bus? Are we finally on the train or am I still asleep and dreaming somewhere on the roads of Arizona? And… when will that last, other bus get here so we can finish loading up, and go?

Three idle workers sit around an electric cart in the round service door, looking toward the monkey writing upstairs on the train behind glass. He cannot hear them. Only the hiss of air conditioning. Now he must go to the bathroom.

Not too long ago he was standing right out there, behind the iron fence, with the small crowd of passengers, waiting for the empty tracks to be filled. Now is is onboard that fullness, listening to the air-con, watching the little electric cart come to life and roll alongside, trundling away on some errand or another. Perhaps the last, errant bus has arrived?

No sign of it.

Oh – something else. The monkey has discovered that the friendly (don’t bite!) courtney keanu wannalike looka-be couple from LA are LA = Louisiana, not Los Angeles.

They have a bedroom in the same car as.


Two a.m. and I think we’re leaving. Yes.

But… not the direction I expected. I suddenly realize I had east and west mixed up backwards !

The wailing of the horn echoing over the southern suburbs of Tucson…

It turns out they’re from Alabama, not Louisiana.

I never seen old boxcars look so short before, gazing down from the second level of a superliner lounge.

The city fades away. Darkness with scattered, distant lights, covers the earth. These windows are full of reflection. Waaaa… waaa-waaaa….

There. I can see the moon, setting in the distance, behind us and off to one side. So we are headed south east. All is well. This working brain re-established its geographic, egocentric, equilibrium.

The doors to the next car have closed. I am alone in the lounge with the Alabaman. He is smiling at his computer. I am scribbling on my paper. Ah, the moon. Sinking lower, lower, lower. Disappearing. Then bending toward the other side as the train turns a huge loop toward north. Reappearing momently from trees and hills and falling behind us as we bend turn back toward the east. Disappearing and reappearing above and then behind the limb of this moving earth, the moon, the waxing gibbeous moon setting at 2:30 and 3:00, playing games with our train and my pen and this page, yes yes yes there she is no no no she is gone again until at last he copper red blob does not return we have moved on into the east and she is fully set in the west.

I feel a change, a shift, wait! There she is again – darker, duskier red, nearly as low as the window line itself, hugging the earth longer, winking briefly in and out of existence, until…

I feel a change, a shift, a transformation. She is gone but I cannot see the stars – the lights in the lounge – even reduced for night – are too strong. Only reflections of these tables and chairs echo back at me, like when I try to see you, ____ _______ reader, and get only stats and numbers and 30 seconds, five minutes, an hour reading time, until one or three of you actually write.

Danny wants to move from Belgium. I warned him they are murdering and kidnapping on the streets of Tijuana. I warned him because he does not speak Spanish. If he did I would feel better. If he would go live where he already has friends I would feel better for him.

Waaa… waaa-waaa….



The taxi from Greyhound to Union Station gives us a smooth, straight shot up one of those streets, Alameda or something, past the crumbling industrial blocks and trademark office monuments of downtown. Four minutes, ten dollars. A rip off but what can you say he was polite about it. An El Salvadoran. We spoke a lot of Spanish. Thirty years and his English is still… fragmentary, at best.

BENSON, ARIZONA. One minute, no more. Then the superliner must stop twice, to let first one, then another set of cars, touch the station.

Breakfast in the diner as we approach EL PASO. Our two fellow breakfasters are from New Zealand, getting off here, to go into Mexico. Take the CH & P trén from Chihuahua, continue on to Guadalajara where they’ll spend a month with their daughter who lives there now.

How long you been with AMTRAK?

Since 1988.

Ah, then you remember when these superliner cars were new.

Yes, and they were a pile of metal trash even then.

Forty-five minutes at the station. Old passengers go, new passengers come. At last we go. Mom and Daniel sit in the view lounge car, watching south El Paso go by. City gives way to towns give way to orchards and fields. Long lines of trees wach straight moiré patterns into this valley distance. Goodbye valley of the great river of the north. Turn away, roads and train, into the sandy stretches of west Texas.

Cattle gather around a waterhole. No word today. No crowd word today.

Into the hills and barren, stony peaks. After awhile we join a highway. Pass a freight train (there were others, there will be others, stay on schedule, stay on schedule) and another tiny west Texas hamlet. Sierra Blanca Avenue says the sign on highway.

VAN HORN 32 says another, pointing ahead with name and number. Dirt road tracks away into sagebrush. Vast open valley. Nearby barbwire. Telephone pholes measure the distance.

Some kind of yucca appears everywhere.

“Ruins of an old adobe school” look like someone’s melted shack. Hot Wells (no stop, nothing).

Through a narrowing strip between hills around a small corner and then another huge, wide valley basin.

Add VALENTINE ghost town to list of sights.

Pass by Marfa with its courthouse. Outside of town, east, a few minutes gives the Marfa Mystery Lights Official Viewing area, with its lovely astral phenomenal spectator stand and picnic area.

The beautiful, hilly passage along twisting little canyons between Marfa and Alpine.

Another valley, ALPINE  2:20 pm depart after fifteen some minutes wait (we were ahead of schedule).

Hills and mountains, more basin valleys. Cows and bushes.

More peaks. Narrow valleys. Dry, rocky streambeds.

The Brit from the bus comes and sits in the moving window with me. We talk about Indians hunting and gathering, raiding south into New Spain for horses, and he spoke of how the Queen sent him to Belize when it was Brit Honduras and the swampy inland and beautiful palm shady cais off shore and the Maya ruins.

SANDERSON, a seemingly worn out west Texas town, sailing under a sunny sky. The broken down train depot has metal roof sheets ripped off by fierce winds, but not today – all is calm.

The highway comes and goes, paralleling us, old and new. The canyons smooth out into a vast flatland. Somewhere out there in the distance is the Rio Grande. Broken old houses cling to wide spots along the road. Melted adobe. Broken wood. Stripped metal sheets.

EAST 90 .

We slip into a gully again, twisting, turning, growing mile after mile until it turns away south toward the greater river. An older RR bed follows the south canyon, cut lower into its sides than our present route. From time to time you can even make out old stone abutments where the older road crossed little side gulleys as it followed the larger. We, meanwhile, cross the dry stream on a large trestle, but then… as I said… it leaves us for the Rio Grande still hidden in the south.




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