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.




from 2008

13   4   8


We should’ve been on a train. But no.

Rail service is cancelled today. “They” are working on the tracks north of Oceanside. The one patch I was most looking forward to, Camp Pendleton. As I write this we’re on a bus rolling right through there. Here.

And there are the tracks, empty, alone. Damn you, Amtrak! I can see Catalina. Someone’s riding a bike (here). Campground beach parking lot on the old highway slaughter alley.

The hills are green and golden, covered with wildflowers and fress grass. At 11:46 am, the megalopolis of Calangeles swallows up up.

The face of a man staring out the window. Look! It’s me! Look! It’s him! Look! It’s you!

Long Beach. 12:23

Compton.     12;52

Los Angeles. 13:30


Union Station          13:46


Oh guess what? A freight derailment. Yes. Another bus, this time to Tucson.

Pomona. But then we don’t stop in Ontario.

Old Baldy – Mt San Antonio – crawls by, its barren rocky top fleshed with a faint dust of white snow. I admire the shifting shape of mountains, but only wish we were riding in the train and I were watching from the view lounge car, not a bus. At least the bus is classy and has a decent suspension.

I fall asleep briefly and then wake myself with a snoring snort. We are still crossing the vast inner valleys behind Los Angeles. Drawing near to Riverside and San B’do. The great dry rivers have specks of water here, there. Freeways stack below the mountain peaks. I worry about my mother. She worries about me. I got so upset when the train couldn’t take us from San Diego. By now it has just become one, big joke. When they told us no train in LA, I burst out laughing.

Union Station was beautiful, and I was so happy to finally arrive there, and… then….

“You’re joking,” Mom said when I told her.

One of the sights I most miss seeing is that canyon valley away from the freeway where the train tracks run alone through open land. We aren’t seeing that from the bus.


But the earth is lovely nonetheless, decked in green fading toward yellow.

Back in the city, approaching the Los Angeles Greyhound station, I wrote on a scrap of paper:

The bloom of wet spring is starting to fade under the hot sun. The green trees turn dark, the fresh grass yellows and dries, the wildflowers wither and die. Still plenty of electricity marching around in wires and towers. This city drinks water from beyond the mountains.

There be many windmills generating power in the great pass just northwest of Palm Springs.

And then we are in the desert. I had looked forward to eating dinner in the desert, and now… nothing. But this view of development after development scattering its blocky stamp across the rolling, sandy floor of Coachella valley. Golf courses wreathed in trees, then barren scrub fields of no irrigation. Backed up trains waiting on the tracks, thorny tamarisk trees whispering the truth that no air conditioning can deny, only hide.

We will not be going by the Salton Sea. Another disappointment. Only catch a glimpse of it in the distance before we turn with Interstate 10 into some low and dusty hills.

the splendor of the burnt and burnished rocks

heaped up into jagged hills

turns and slides






outside our bus windows

hurtling east toward Blythe


I almost forget I would’ve rather been on a train


it is

a good thing


I like busses



yes .


Takes the bruise off this rather rotten luck fruit


_          _          _          _          _


There be some pipes over there

lancing halfway up the mountain

someone’s aqueduct feeding the monsters on the coast


pity this busy monster





Mom – look – there’s a piece of the old highway over there…. see the old bridge?

Oh, yeah!

Wow… that brings back memories….


_ _ _ _ _


I can’t stop reflecting, with prejudice and bias and discrimination, that this is a classier bunch of people than you might find, for example, on a Greyhound bus.

Because the people on this bus did not choose to be here – we chose to be on a train.

The dark young mother with her three children so happy to play with playdough. The shortpant homeboy with a diamond stickpin in one ear and a cellphone on the other. The courthey-keanu wannabe lookalike couple from LA who sleep and read in separate seats. The tattoed fat man who is so obese that a bubble roll of fat buckles up from his neck and doubles under onto his shaved scalp. A smattering of retired couples who wanted to take the train for adventure and look. Here we are, sidetracked onto a bus across the desert.

I hope we stop for dinner soon. Maybe in Blythe.





do not pick up hitchhikers


instead of a table rolling beside

a desert view of the Salton Sea


we wolf down a burder and shake

in the Blythe local gag in the bag


surrounded by burnt desert cholos

and a sprinkling of semi-gabachos


from our bus


out of time



. .  .   .     .       .           .             .                 .                   .                       .


winter January 1981

Daniel always liked to get away by himself. Many evenings he would walk halfway home from work, missing dinner with his wife and sister-in-law and kids, only eating re-heated dried-out chicken two or three hours later, just so he would have some time alone without anyone except the crowds on the street telling him what to do or where to go. Especially in that winter when virtually no one was walking through the waterfront parks alongside Lake Michigan.

It did not snow very much that year, so he had a lot of walking time, after leaving the office tower downtown. He went straight east to the edge of the towers, and met his first landmark: the dead fountain. Along paved sidewalks he passed between the sleeping trees, their barren branches reminding him of his hunger for solitude. No leaves obscured his view of the Chicago skyscrapers on his left, as he slowly made his way north through Jackson park toward the river.

He would have to go back to the streets, then, and take the Michigan Avenue bridge, and follow the big street north through the Gold Coast, until he finally reached the lake shore again, and could cross into the narrow strip of parkland beside the cold, almost frozen water of the great lake. By the big sea shining water or something. Except no salt in this one.

Seventeen degrees by the electric sign on top of the playboy tower and he was alone, bundled in five or six layers, the heavy down coat on top, three pairs of socks and hiking boots, long underwear and wool pants, with the hood over his head and scarf wrapped around his face, leaving only a narrow slit where his eyes peered out into the crystaline, frozen world.

For obvious reasons, he preferred a day when the wind was not strong. The vapor plumes rose up from the crowded buildings, and faintly, slowly, leaned toward the west. A Canadian high was rotating in the north, bending back above his head, marking out winter as its prey and feast, measuring the continent under a slowly twisting hand of climate.

The lake did not freeze, except along the shore, where mounds of frozen slush piled up, built by the constant splash and spray off the cold, disturbed waters. He did not walk out there. Stayed on the hard, concrete sidewalk just inside from the beach. But as he walked, he followed the twisted collar of ice, and constantly heard its siren call urging him to come closer, slip and fall into the grip of death.

Weird enchantment lay face to face against the great city.

2017 May 22

Morning returns the shift from shadow into light sweeping around our world like a rhyme, like a rhythm, again and again and again it seems to come and go –

But no.  We are moving, not it; I, and not they; you, not not.

If I could hear the Earth growling on its axis, would it sound any different? This breath of wind, this breeze from the sea, this sunlight veiled by morning clouds, how. Your whisper of good morning. My eyes, opening. Water on my face.




If I remember to wash my hands, then I smile in pleasure. God says –

Today. Yesterday. Tomorrow.

We are an unfolding cube, time. Somewhere else, is not here. This –

Monday .

Tijuana gringo

2017 May 19 – Friday

Yesterday I received an email from a man who has been reading my beloved website, Tijuana Gringo, the labyrinthine matrix of poems, stories, essays, and translations which I basically worked on from 2000 through 2007, after which time I moved back to San Diego and pretty much stopped writing new material for it. It has, however, lingered on in several incarnations, most specifically in three locations, the latest iteration being tijuanagringo dot com, the middle age site being at yahoo geocities, and the earliest pages appearing at gastown dot com xanadu (a website I began writing in 1995 and 1996).

He said he had enjoyed it but advised me that I should update it.

It is sometimes embarassing when your old age comes back to haunt you. Or, wait, I mean the opposite, don’t I? Well, I was so much younger then. Ten, even fifteen years ago when I could still walk five miles across town without batting an eye, so long as I had some water to drink and a bite to eat and a place to sit along the way. Years later, I lose my breath so easily I can scarcely climb onboard a bus without gasping in momentary exhaustion.

I miss it. I miss Tijuana.

The people. The food. The language. The art of life on the frontier of time and space, between two worlds, two languages, two empires, two systems of money.

They have cash registers there that are programmed to ring up your sale in either dollars or pesos.

Not quite inconceivable, but getting there.

You understand me, I hope.


there used to

be a hut

it was






. . . for a long time now – I am not certain how long, months, years, decades – I have been obsessed with recreational vehicles.

How so.


Recently – this year, last year, at least – I have crawled around the internet webs, sniffing out tidbits and clues and data and

trailers, truck campers, motor homes, and even simpler outdoor lifestyle technology, such as tents and portable stoves, folding tables and cots, shovels to dig six inch deep holes for poop, and


you get the idea.

This is prose. Not poetry.

Or not.

(capital letter begin sentence







wait – don’t forget – a bow saw

and hatchet










( quote$  from the 1996 Bounder motorhome manual)



















18 April 2017

for :   Pompeii

We struggled through the darkness, our bodies beaten by falling stones, our faces smothered by the drifting rain of ash. Pillows covered our heads, their corners tied down with long scarves under our chins. Other cloths covered our mouths and noses, with only a slit between cheeks and forehead. Even then we could hardly see, so thick was the ash, so black the world around us, covered in darkness, full of the utter absence of light – it was like when you go into a small room at night, without a lamp, and close the door behind you. Except the air was thick with ash and stones and the screams and whimpers of women, children, and men, crowding around you, struggling together toward the gate of the city.

All the while the falling stones pelted us. Smacking on our arms and shoulders, thudding against the pillows covering our heads, clattering and splattering on the walls and rooves around us. We struggled on. Somewhere, somehow, we got to the gate, shoved our way through, and staggered out into the open countryside, almost losing the road.

In that dark, there was only the sputtering of other people’s torches around us, and the faint, helpless glimmer of oil lamps – which were constantly snuffed out by the falling ash… yes, strange, but to this day I can still hear that one woman begging for a light from a nearby torch flame… well the gods only know why that one voice sticks in my mind… and so I wonder what became of her? Did she make it all the way to Sorrentum? Or like so many others, did she give up, hide somewhere, trying to rest under a roof, out of the falling stones and choking ash, and then find herself smothered in the next morning, by that horrible cloud of burning flame and smoke that came down from the mountain, just as dawn was finally bleeding in from the east, somewhere, in those thin, feathered cracks under the dark cloud….

No. I don’t know. I don’t know what became of her. But I can still hear her voice, begging for a light, a bit of flame for her small lamp.

We almost lost the road ourselves. But I knew it too well. The last few years, after coming home, I have followed that road many times, walking or riding back and forth between Pompeii and Stabiai, and often further on, to Sorrentum.

But I never traveled it like we did that day and that night.