Wednesday, July 30, 2008

In Manhattan

I arrived in Manhattan on Sunday evening, and took the subway to the Columbia University area in the upper west side. I stayed with a friend from college, Adam Levine, and was able that evening to see some other people I hadn't had the chance to see in some time. In the morning I went to Penn Station where I met my friends from school Seth and Jackie.

Seth and Jackie are moving to Switzerland for a couple of years so I wanted to see them before they go. Right now they're staying with Jackie's parents in Livingston, New Jersey, which is where I visited them. Monday we went back to Livingston and Jackie's dad cooked dinner.

On Tuesday, we went into New York midday and went to the Tenement Museum. However, the museum doesn't have a general exhibit, just some guided tours, and by the time we reached the museum the ones that would finish in time to make dinner and our show were all sold out. Instead we browsed the gift shop then walked around the Lower East Side. We walked around and found Guss' Pickles, an apparently famous pickle place. The pickles were good, and we continued to walk around the area. We also went to a delicious kinish place and had egg creams, and finally to Curry Hill, to a kosher, vegetarian Indian restaurant.

After dinner, we went to Times Square to see Spring Awakening. It was a really great show, and enjoyed seeing it, though I don't feel like I have any especially insightful observations about it, so I'll end the post here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Cambridge/Cape Cod

I haven't posted since I got to Cambridge, the longest I've gone so far without posting. I think this is in part because I have been in Harvard Square where I lived for four years, and in Cape Cod where I have visited for almost 20 summers (writing that phrase made me feel old). There hasn't been the same sense of discovery, of finding new things.

Dark Knight was a great movie, but I'm shocked that it got a PG-13 rating. The last vestiges of respect I had for the MPAA are gone.

I found out about Pandora Radio, which is pretty cool.

And I had a great time at the Cape. I was really nice to spend time with my grandparents, aunt and uncles, and cousins. I went to a couple of the Cape Cod League baseball games with my grandmother, which are a lot of fun. The players are college students, and there's an old-fashioned, upbeat sense of competition and sportsmanship that feels more like some kind of fictional ideal then what baseball has become.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

When the Levees Broke


I watched Spike Lee’s four-part documentary about Hurricane Katrina on the train. It is among the most disturbing thing I’ve ever seen, and it is absolutely the duty of every American to watch. Lee deals with every major aspect of the disaster (up to the time when it was made, around the first anniversary), but not based on how much coverage it got. “Heckuvah job” and “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” each garnered only a few minutes, while a number of incidents that never made the main stream media were covered in much greater detail.

Buy it. Rent it. Borrow it from me if I’m on my way to see you. However you get a hold of it, see this movie.

On the Train Again

I was scheduled to leave on the MegaBus from Minneapolis to Chicago on Sunday night. However, upon finding the bus stop, we discovered it had the combined sketchiness of an abandoned warehouse, a secluded parking garage, and an isolated underpass. As a result I decided (with the encouragement of my parents) to spend the night in Minneapolis and take the Empire Builder in the morning. I booked the train and the room while we were at dinner, and in the morning, took a cab to the train station. The cabbie drove me to what appeared to be a light rail stop near the stadium and announced, “this is the train station.” I informed he I needed the Amtrak station, and he told me that it was all right, we’d get there in time, but that everyone knew that this was the train station. If he was so sure, he wouldn’t have announced it (in 4 years taking cabs at college, I never had a driver announce a location when we reached it), and if he wasn’t sure, it would have been nice for him to check. If you got into a cab, at a hotel, in New York, and said, “the airport,” I imagine the driver would ask if you were going to JFK or La Guardia. Anyway, I got on the Builder just as it was departing, and it was a scenic, if dull ride. I got to Chicago with a couple of hours to spare, rather than 13, depriving me of the use of the storage lockers that use finger print scanning technology and had (from my informal study) a success rate of somewhere around 40%. Next I boarded the Capitol Limited, and rode from Chicago to Pittsburgh, the City of Brotherly Discord (just kidding, no disrespect to Pittsburg). From there I caught the Pennsylvanian to Philadelphia, and from there I got on the Amtrak regional. In total it’s about as long as the Southwest Chief, though in this case on 4 different trains. In a way, it’s nice to break it up, though it was tough having to get up and change trains at 5:30 in the morning, and made Tuesday a very long day (more than 18 hours). Still, I made it to my friend's apartment near Harvard Square, safe and sound.

What’s been remarkable is not the differences in different legs of the journey but the consistency along the way (although cocktails went up from $5 to $6 somewhere between Chicago and Philadelphia). Though in many ways the Northeast Regional couldn’t be more different than the Empire Builder, there is a distinct feeling of train-i-ness that connects them. There is a comforting inevitability about a train, on a set track, headed for a location, not to be diverted. It’s comforting it what ever more seems like an uncertain world.

In Chicago, we passed alongside a train that had probably 100 large box cars with small holes, which were filled with cars (automobiles) and trucks. I’m used to seeing those on trailers, not trains. On the train to Philadelphia, we pulled aside for a freight train that had, among other things, about a dozen flat cars with truck trailers on them. These seem like things that previously would have simply be transported by truck before the sharp rise in the price of gas. There’s been discussion of increased ridership on the train, and more funding. The snack car attendant on the Pennsylvanian said he was running out of food. And the New York Times printed a great pro-Amtrak editorial.

That's all for now.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Herzl Camp

We arrived at camp during lunch. Herzl, like many camps, does not go on standard time rather than daylight savings time. As I understand it, the purpose of this is to get the kids to bed earlier (they do not want the extra hour of daylight). This can be confusing, though especially when one’s cell phone (roaming) is ones main form of timekeeping, and cannot be set to the “proper” time. We saw Jonathan (my brother), and there was a good deal of hugging all around. Additionally, my parents know about 1/3 of the people at camp, so there were frequent greetings throughout the day.

Once we had gotten settled in, we showered and dressed for Shabbat. On Friday night, it is the tradition of the camp to wear white, which ranges from buttoned-down collared shirts to sleeveless tee shits to sports jerseys. The program (age group) in charge of Shabbat that week gathers in an open space near the chadar (dining hall) at 6:45 for what is known as caravan. The group walks around camp, hand in hand, singing, along the main path, and are joined by each group they pass. They arrive at the central field around the flagpole and the line circles back on itself, forming a huge ring. The lower the flags and sing the national anthems of Canada, the US, and Israel, and then sing a string of other (parody) songs, each prepared by a different program.

After that was a boisterous Kabbalat Shabbat. Since the sky was threatening the service was held indoors. Afterward was dinner, which was the standard fare: matzoh ball soup, chicken, potatoes, and salad. After dinner, there was a song session which, according to my brother, lasted twice as long as it usually lasts. As it turned out, during dinner a huge storm had hit camp, downing a number of trees including one that fell onto a bunk, and taking out power to much of the camp. This caused quite a stir, though there was no serious damage to the cabin (though the girls did sleep elsewhere that night), and most of the campers slept in bunks without power.

Saturday saw morning services in an outdoor sanctuary overlooking the lake (it had dried by then), and was an abbridged but spirited service. Shabbat was fairly quiet, though there was a large Ultimate game between the two oldest groups of campers. At dinner, there was a play called 12 Gates which happens every week, and is a very popular tradition. Afterward was a wonderfully choreographed havdallah put on by my brother's program. They sang "Lo Yisa Goy" and walked in circles carrying candles while dressed in all black or all white. It was very cool.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to walk into a musical? Not a play or a movie, but some sort of real-life situation where everyone broke into song/dance. The closest thing I’ve ever come to that happened when I walked into breakfast on Sunday morning. There was music playing, and about 70% of the people in the large dining hall were on their feet, doing a huge, ecstatic dance along to some very upbeat music. The dance was nothing brilliant, and the dancers far from perfect, but it was more than compensated for by the fact that, expecting to go in and eat, I instead found hundreds of people dancing. Moreover, it seemed completely natural to all involved: those dancing, those eating, and those doing both. What was even more spectacular was about twenty minutes later the whole thing happened again, and it was no less amazing, even when I was (somewhat) expecting it. This seems like a strange diversion from my usual themes, but the very heart of travel writing is the report of the spectacular and hidden. Later my brother told me that the Ozos (essentially councilors in training, the position is highly coveted and a huge amount of work; the word presumably derives from the Hebrew ozair, meaning [to] help) choose a song and do a dance to it, which everyone learns over the course of the summer. This may be the case, but the extent to which I am impressed has not been deminished.


The Empire Builder arrived just about on time, so I caught a cab and went straight to my hotel. It wasn’t even eight in the morning, so my room for the evening wasn’t ready. I checked my bags and headed onto the campus of the University of Minnesota. Rather than ask for directions, I followed the people who looked most like students, and was led to the main campus. Eventually I found the student union, where I was able to check my email, kill some time at a bookstore, and eventually have lunch at a bagel place I like in Kansas City (Einstein Brothers) after checking in to the hotel. On the way back I got caught in a huge storm and was pretty well soaked. I spent much of the afternoon waiting for the storm to pass, after which I took a cab to a nearby laundry mat.

The laundry mat was interesting. It appeared to be in a largely Somali (Muslim) area, as indicated by the Halal market down the street and the Somali attendant at the laundry mat. When I first arrived and tried to use the change machine, he accosted me, insisting that I only use it to get change for the laundry mat. Once I showed him I had dirty clothes to wash, he let me use the machine, and I began washing my clothes. Meanwhile, he settled into a chair, and began asking me questions in new, unpolished English. He noticed my kipah and asked if I was Jewish. I told him I was, and this led to a discussion about religion. He felt that one couldn't really change their religion, that it was somehow "in your blood." Usually when I meet someone with a radically different worldview, my Midwest insticts kick in and I politely smile and acknowledge the things they say without agreeing with them. However, when he listed gays and lesbians as two of the four things that were wrong with America (lack of religious conviction and disrespect for parents were the other two) I challenged him on it, asking why exactly it was bad. He insisted that such attraction was impossible, and was simply wrong. I worked him for a while, and got him to the point of saying that he couldn't understand it. The conversation was much more interesting and less awkward than I expected, at least until he threw a guy out for trying to use the bathroom and made a dispariging remark about "African Americans."

I spent the evening in, tired from both the train trip and the laundry. I did go out to find some Boulevard Beer. It is a local Kansas City Microbrew, and my favorite beer in the world. I knew it was available up in Minneapolis, and decided to take the opportunity (this is the closest I'll get to Kansas City) to have some while I could. I ended up the University Liquor store, where I was able to get some Unfiltered Wheat, one of my favorites.

In the morning I met my parents for breakfast and a meeting (their meeting, I just sat in and fed the parking meters with my leftover quarters from laundry day) with some people from Herzl Camp. After that, we left for camp, which will be covered in the next post. It was really wonderful to get to see my parents, as the traveling can get lonely.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Empire Builder

First of all, what? The Empire Builder? Which empire is that? So, I don’t like the name. The train is a different story. The Cascade mountains were gorgeous, and while the vistas weren't as breathtaking as in Southern Oregon, we passed over and alongside a number of spectacular clean, fast moving rivers (or perhaps just one a number of times). Then we got into Montana and "big sky" country, which was underwhelming. I don't see how the so-called big sky country is any different than, say, Kansas, which is more known big empty country. It's the same thing, just not as well marketed. Which isn't to say that it wasn't nice, just that it was not as nice as, say the Coast Starlight.

For this stretch of the trip I was in the small sleeper. It's two seats across from each other that fold down into a bed, with a fold-down berth above. It also has curtains and a door that locks, allowing for privacy, which is nice. With the bed down, that's about all that fits in there. There's a closet wide enough for two hangers, and the area between the bed and the door was about the width of my shoes. Still, the bed lay flat and compared to the coach cars, was luxurious. Other perquisites include a mini-bottle of campaign upon boarding, an attentive attended, and the inclusion of the three meals the dining car served every day. The dining car has limited selection, though there are at least two things I can eat at every meal.

What's nice is the opportunity to be placed with other people from different parts of the train, and to get to meet them and hear where their from. I met a middle-aged couple from Montana who loved camping but were headed down to Chicago to see their son. I met an older woman who was going to Mayo Clinic for laser back surgery before taking her family on an Alaskan Cruise. I also met a couple from Los Angeles, who worked for a prominent talent agency (I didn't ask the name but the represent some big stars), he on the business side, she for the company's foundation. They were traveling to Glacier National Park (another area we passed through with some beautiful views) to see it before the glaciers melted. They were fellow travelers, at least to some extent, and were interested in alternatives to flying and other ways to help reduce global warming.

They also told me that some scientists now say that there is a 50-50 chance the Artic Ice may be gone THIS YEAR. This is very bad. On a scale of one to ten, with one being George W Bush/Exxon Mobile's fake science, and ten being The Day After Tomorrow's fake science, this is like an 8 1/2. At the beginning of his term, the total loss of polar ice was seen as a disaster, but one no one expected this century. Even a few years ago the most pesimistic outlooks were for 2012. To be upon this marker so soon should raise the concern of everyone who cares about the future of the planet. I did not intend for this blog to preach on the subject of global warming, this is truely terrifying new information, and ever effort must be redoubled to stop the spread of warming.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Art to Artifact, Artifact to Art

Unfortunately I didn’t have time to post this while I was in Vancouver. I went to UBC (University of British Columbia) Museum of Anthropology on Monday. Generally, I don’t like anthropology museums, since they tend to make cultures, usually those that were wiped out by the white people who created and now run the museum. This is supposed to have gotten better in the 60s or something, but if you go to the Anthropology museum at Harvard, every third caption is something like “this is the (item) that (armed white male) took from (unarmed person), Chief of the (group) Tribe, (white guy) shot the chief in the back of the head and ordered his slaves to take all of the chief’s stuff.” Yay!

The museum at UBC felt different. Yes, there were numerous artifacts taken from a variety of cultures, most prominently, there were a number of totem polls. However, the most prominently featured item was a giant redwood sculpture by an artist who is a member of an indigenous group. It was huge, made of wood, and portrayed the story of his tribe’s creation myth. After the Great Flood receded and there was again dry land, Raven, the trickster, flew through the air surveying the damage. He found a (giant) clamshell, and prying it opened, discovered the founders of the tribe, the first humans. The fact that this piece of what is clearly art
Why is the Sistine Chapel, painted in 1512, or the Mona Lisa, painted in 1503 considered art, while a totem poll carved in 1884 is considered artifact, a relic of history? When a civilization is destroyed, the humanity of that group disappears. The Mona Lisa was painted by Leonardo da Vinci,while the totem poll was made by "native Americans." What was different about the totem polls at the museum (and the ones at Stanley Park, which I forgot to mention) is that they are contextualized in the living, continuing history of the cultures to which they belong. The museum at UBC had a declaration of rights signed by a group from one of the First People tribes asserting the right to their land. At Stanely Park, totem polls from before the potlatch ban (the most serious form of persecution against the indiginous peoples of British Columbia) were mixed among more modern ones, which served as art, and in doing so, restored to their fellow pieces that status.

Monday, July 7, 2008



In the morning I took the SkyTrain into downtown and walked into Stanley Park, a large park adjacent to downtown. It's bigger than Central Park in New York, and really well maintained. The park is almost an island, surrounded mostly by water, but connected to downtown. There are walking/running lanes around the outside of the park along the water, and inside that, a pair of biking/rollerskating paths.

Walking around downtown, it was a pretty cool place. I went to the Vancouver Art Gallery, which was a very contemporary museum. There was a large, two-floor series dedicated to comics, cartoons, and video games. Another exhibit was showed the work of a Chinese performance artist who worked with forms of the body. There are pictures of him and others, generally naked, doing unusual things. It, along with some of the other exhibits were not exactly my thing. There was a large exhibit of paintings by female Canadian artists that contained some more conventional forms, some of which I really liked. I also enjoyed the work of an indiginous artists, which included some instillations and an exhibit about a project where she took a giant megaphone she took around the country, having people talk to the land.

The video game section was curated by Will Wright who created SimCity and The Sims. It featured eight video games that were important to the field. What upset me about this exhibit was that two of the video games were The Sims and Spore, a game Will Wright is currently making. What role exactly he had in choosing the games and coming up with the copy I don't know, but in more than one places it described Spores as highly anticipated and predicted it would change the industry forever. Additionally, The Sims is described as being important because it took as it's subject every day life. I would surely agree that The Sims is an important game, and maybe for the reasons he talked about, but I have some real issues with the exhibit. First and most important, the text on Spores and the images of the coming game looked a lot like an advertisement. These days video games permere to first weekend grosses comperable to big budget movies, so for a promotion for one of them to come in the form of art exhibit feels like what is sometimes refered to as corporate creep, the sense that private corporations are making their way into all aspects of our culture. Naomi Klein talks about this in No Logo in the section No Space.

Another issue I had with the exhibit is that I have never seen the video game read as a form of art. As a recent student of the liberal arts, I don't reject the possibility, but there should certainly be some sort of standard for evaluating each work. What consitutes the game? The game art? The standard play of the game? Secret levels? Cheat codes? What about modifications (mods)? One of the games featured was Quake, in part for the numerous mods made for it. What about MMORPG or other linkable games. Is the online interaction part of the form? When you play Super Smash Brothers Brawl, it warns you that content is not rated by the ESRB. What about Second Life, which may not be a game at all, but rather a platform. Video games are a form of performace art performed not by the artist but by the viewer. It has the potential for a very interesting dialogue about the nature of art, but none of this was discussed. Rather, there were eight short reviews, two of which featured the work of the curator, one of which he will soon be trying to sell to all those people who came through the museum.

Still, I enjoyed the exhibit, and walking around downtown Vancouver, and definitely had a good day.

Friday, July 4, 2008

First Day in Vancouver

So, I was definitely profiled at the train station. Of all the passengers arriving, three of us were pulled aside. Canadian Customs does not like men traveling alone. The concern according to the customs official, was that I would run out of money and be unable to support myself. Presumably they do not want poor Americans taking advantage of their generous social welfare system. I assured the official that I had adequate cash on hand as well as plenty of reserves, but he still took nearly every article of clothing out of my bag, which makes me think he may not only have been concerned about me supporting myself, unless he was looking for unpaid bills.

I walked around the Mt. Pleasant area, where my hotel is. There are a lot of independent shops including two Indian markets, three Ethiopian restaurants, and a single-screen theater called The Rio. It's not the hippest area, but it's nice. I had planned on taking the sky-rail (a raised mass transit system) but it looked very crowded. Also, wasn't thrilled with the height of the thing, and didn't know how long it would take to go and come back.

Shabbat is approaching, and not much else has happened, but I want to try to keep up with the blog unlike in LA, where I waited until the end to post.

Coast Starlight / Cascades

In my last post discussing the more existential elements of my trip, I neglected to discuss the more concrete elements of my travel. The Coast Starlight was supposed to be 34 hours, and ran about 2 hours late. The biggest difference from the Southwest Chief was that the Coast Starlight did not have electrical outlets at every seat (the same is true with the Cascade, which seems to be a similar train model). This restricted my activities somewhat, as I was unable to charge my electronic devices, so I had to ration power. There were outlets scattered throughout the train, but I they were inconveniently located and often in use.

As a result, I finished A Wrinkle in Time, which I had picked up at my parents house and started reading. I also read Ella Minnow Pea, a really creative novel I’d heard reviewed a while ago (I don’t remember when), and finally got around to reading. It’s set on a fictional island off the east coast of the United States, where the founder is venerated for his creation of the pangram “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.” But when the tiles that make up the pangram begin to fall, letters become outlawed, and a struggle begins to save the language and the island the characters so love. The story is told in a series of letters, which must abide by the restrictions of the disappearing letters. As language becomes more strained, the one of the word-loving characters becomes more desperate. It’s a worthy read about tyranny and the power of language to combat it.

My seatmate for the entire trip was a high school teacher from a small southern California city named Jim. He was going to Seattle to take an Alaskan cruise. Jim was friendly, and we got along well, but what surprised me was that he had no books, no music, no diversions at all. Perhaps it has to do with him being from another generation, but he spent the whole 36 hours, most of it in his seat, looking out the window or sleeping. His patience impressed me a great deal, and I wish I wasn’t so wired to need constant stimulation.

The view out the windows was beautiful. There was a lot of agriculture in California, but also a lot of beautiful mountain vistas, a few of which were on fire. I’m not kidding, we passed no less than three wildfires, which put out huge columns of smoke that blanked the sky. The reason the trip takes so long despite being a much shorter distance (I think) than the chief is that there is a great deal of curving to get around the geography. There was one mountain, identifiable by the fact it was on fire, that we seemed to circle all the way around, presumably because crossing over on through it was not, to the railroad’s planners, worth the effort. Waking up on the second day, I saw the day breaking on some of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever witnessed. In the pre-dawn glow, huge mountains covered in thick forests stretched all around us, towering above and plunging down below. As the light grew, the scenes became no less spectacular. It was around the California-Oregon border (our last California station was at 1:00 a.m., and our first Oregon stop was at 7:00). The California coast (which was much earlier in the trip) was also quite a sight to behold, and at one point we passed a nature preserve and saw sea lions lounging in the shallows. But for me, the Puget Sound was the superior body of water, not as vast as the ocean, but hauntingly serene. The scenery so far on the Cascade has been typical of the Pacific North West, which is to say, glorious.

On the Coast Starlight I got even less sleep than on the Chief due to the fact that a person nearby was snoring like a buzz saw. Seriously, I’ve slept alongside snorers before, loud ones, and I can sleep through almost anything (including, my family will tell you, storms that shake the house), but I’ve never heard sounds like these made by anything that wasn’t mechanical and high-powered. I also had an aisle, making it that much harder to find a comfortable position. The experience convinced me to spring for a sleeper on the Empire Builder (from Seattle to Minneapolis, though it goes on to Chicago).

The passengers on the Starlight were a bit more interesting than on the Chief. There was a pair of Buddhist monks in full orange robes. There was a couple who appeared to be Mennonite or some other traditionally dressing, technology spurning sect (though I guess since trains have been around a long time, they’re okay). There was also a very goth looking couple. Each pair stood out brilliantly against the backdrop of a wash of “average” Americans. Which is not to say that those riding the Chief and the Starlight weren’t racially and socioeconomically diverse. Rather, that diversity has become, beautifully non-noteworthy. When a the children from a white family and the children from a black family were playing together in the aisles of the car in front of me, no one, myself included, seemed to take any note of it other than, look out, kids coming through (or perhaps, damn kids, make noise on the train…grumble, grumble). I think it may have been these pairs, each standing out from the crowd, yet each with someone to share the experience with, that brought on my bout of loneliness expressed in the last post. There is a kind of closeness in joint isolation, where you and the person you are with are brought that much closer by having no one else to take a share of your attention, perhaps a reason for travel I neglected.

I just went to the food car in the Cascade, and it is outrageously good. There are gourmet-sounding food items like spinach quiche and foccacia margarita pizza, and more importantly, a selection of 3 PNW microbrews, including two of my favorite beers, the Pyramid IPA and the Windemere Hefeweizer. The closest thing to a microbrew on the Chief or the Starlight was Heineken, a far, far cry from what’s being offered here. Since it’s a morning train, there will be no beer consumption, but it’s a promising sign that there is at least a potential for quality in Amtrak food, even if it is for the time only regional. Even if I don’t get to try any of the food, it’s one step towards my dream of sitting on a train to Boston eating curried quinoa with roasted vegetables and toasted almonds while discussing politics with a businessman enjoying a t-bone steak. (I’m eating the quinoa for health reasons; I would have rather had the sustainable Pacific Cod/Yukon gold potato fish and chips. The quinoa is very good though, and goes great with the 2009 Red Diamond Cabernet Sauvignon I’m drinking. Also, McCoy, the businessman, chokes on his steak after claiming Reagan helped curb the budget deficit and has to be given the Heimlich maneuver by the RN from Worchester sitting behind him. She went into medicine after her son’s life was saved because under Massachusetts’s universal health insurance system, her son’s life was saved when a melanoma was caught early.)

Heading to Vancouver now, I feel better about the trip. Seattle was nice, and though I was only there a few hours (less than 1/3 the time I was on the Coast Starlight), it seems like a nice city and somewhere I would like to visit. I missed dinner on the train, and walking to the hotel, I passed a place called Mideast Mix (or something like that). It was one of those places you can just tell is good (how else could an unstylish ethnic restaurant survive and be open past ten in an uber-hip neighborhood like Pioneer Square. After checking in and getting settled, I returned to the eatery, not three short blocks away, and discovered the secret of its success. In addition to selling really good falafel and (disturbingly) cigarettes, his menu included gyros, cheese-burgers, and something called a cream cheese [hot] dog. They were open late to cater to the hungry and intoxicated, who the man behind the counter treated with shocking rudeness (possibly due to the fact that they were obnoxious and drunk; he was perfectly polite to me). The food was, as predicted, delicious and the service was fast (if not, as stated before, always friendly).

This far north, Shabbat does not begin until 9:00, so I may blog again this afternoon. If not, I’ll try to do so on Sunday. Shabbat Shalom to all.

On Travel

As I’ve sat aboard the Coast Starlight over the past dozen or so hours, I’ve thought about why it is that people travel. There are the old reasons: to find a new home, to find food or a livelihood, to conduction business, to buy or sell goods. Then there is leisure travel, conducted by those with means not for survival or to earn a profit, but rather to gain pleasure or enjoyment. Yet this is not a simple distinction; today’s resorts are descended for European sanatoria, which were health resorts in climates seen as more favorable to the treatment of disease. And the modern cruise infrastructure was built from old transatlantic transport ships.

So why travel? One reason is to go to a more favorable climate during some season or another. Certain parts of the country see their populations cut by half or more come Labor Day and the cultural end of summer. A variation on this would involve going somewhere to do an activity available only part of the year: skiing, boating, hiking, etc. Other destination activities like gambling or shopping are available indoors year-round. Another reason to travel might be to be at an event such as a festival, world premiere, or fair. One might visit an individual who lives in another city, state or country. Or they may simple wish travel with people they know and love, and by being away from the distractions and responsibilities of home, get to appreciate those people’s company. There are also more problematic reasons for travel. Medical tourism (an ironic anachronym in a post-sanitarium world) in which people go for procedures that are prohibitively expensive or, more often, illegal in the places they reside. And sex tourism almost always involves human trafficking and sex-slavery.

I pose this question because when I set out, I answered the question of why train travel, but I never considered why travel. Having traveled all my life, it seemed a given, yet now as I approach Vancouver, I’m not quite sure why I’m going there. Many people have told me they liked visiting the city, and I’ve researched a number of places to go. Yet spending time in LA the best part was the time I spent with my friends, not the very interesting places I visited. I’ve traveled alone before, and I’m not someone who minds doing things like eating out or seeing a movie by myself. Yet as I visit a new city in a (somewhat) foreign country, with the real possibility I’ll leave having not really met or known a single person, is somehow a lot lonelier then riding solo for any length of time. Perhaps the fatal flaw of my trip, revealed just 10 days in, is that I didn’t try to find a friend will and able to take the trip with me. Having planned this for months, it seems likely that I could have found someone willing to share with me the journey.

More so, I think this underscores my own concern that living in Kansas City over the passed year, I have failed to create any kind of peer social network, and whether that is due to inaction on my part, or if living there is not socially viable at this point in my life, something I don’t want to think about, as living elsewhere would make it extremely difficult to maintain the level of closeness with my family I value, especially given my decision not to fly.

These questions stray from the original topic, but delve into the heart of what this blog is about. A week from Friday, I am to meet my parents in Minneapolis and accompany them to Herzl Camp to visit my brother on Visitors Day. However, if the Empire Builder is as late as the Southwest Chief was, the plans won’t work. Transportation connections, business travel, and event start times (including the Sabbath) are just a few of the massively important reasons why a form of transportation needs to be reasonably punctual if it is going to gain wider use, especially when trains leave just daily. A weekend visit is made much more difficult (and may in some instances require an additional 24 hours of leeway) when the potential window of lateness is 7 hours or more. Taking a train to Houston for my friends’ wedding was simply not possible given my work schedule. Until these things improve, train travel may be relegated to a quaint old practice. But in a classic Catch-22 dilemma, it may only get the infrastructure improvements it needs if it can make itself more relevant. Rising fuel prices and concern over global warming may help, but there is work ahead if we are to have a rail system that is worthy of our place in the world.