Riding the Rails Through the Night
The scene out my window is just like a Christmas card: snow-covered pines, a thick quilt of snow on the ground, occasional cabins with smoke coming out the chimneys and dogs running around the yards. Above, the sky is blue, dotted with clouds, but the snow appears to be done for the moment. As I watch, I’m snug in my “roomette” on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight train heading north through Oregon. The train runs from Seattle to Los Angeles. I'm getting off in San Jose.
When I left South Beach Nov. 23 to catch the Coast Starlight in Albany to spend Thanksgiving in the Bay Area with my family, it was snowing on the beach. It fell harder and faster as I headed east. The lines on the road disappeared, and my tires slipped. I wasn’t sure I’d make it to the station. But I did, snow falling steadily outside, passengers in heavy coats and knit caps huddling with their backpacks inside.
Fred and I rode the train several years ago in the coach section. Sleeping there proved challenging, and we found that the passengers in the sleeper cars grabbed up all the meal reservations. This time, I decided to go in style with a “roomette.”
Ah, the roomette. It’s basically two facing seats that turn into one bed below and a bunk bed above. There’s a tiny closet that holds exactly two hangers. Occupants get bottled water, a mini bottle of champagne, a bag of shampoo and soap, a morning newspaper and first dibs on the dining car.
Sleeping in the roomette is a bit like sleeping in a moving camper. The train is constantly speeding up, slowing down or stopping, the whistle blowing, everything rattling. But you can watch the view all the way. At the stations, you peek out to see people waiting to board just a few feet from where you lie cozy in your jammies.
Restrooms down the hall resemble those in airplanes or buses, but meals in the dining car or the adjacent parlor car are served elegantly on white tablecloths with fancy china and silver. The food is tasty and included in the sleeper price.
Sound good? It certainly beats driving one’s car through the snow, but beware that it’s pricy and the train is almost always late, sometimes hours late. Still, it’s an adventure. On our return trip, we were delayed in Sacramento for a couple hours because of a drawbridge that got stuck in the up position. I heard that a barge hit hit the bridge. I slept through the whole thing.
We had 900 passengers onboard on the southbound trip, 1,200 coming north. Although we were isolated in our roomettes, we shared tables at meals with other passengers. I met an interesting array of folks from all over North America and also discovered that Lipton makes good herb tea. Who knew?
Of course it wasn’t just a train trip. In San Jose and Santa Clara, I enjoyed an orgy of family, thanks to Aunt Suzanne. We had a wonderful feast, and she managed to assemble nearly all of the maternal side of my family in one place. Then we met again for leftovers. I had a nice long visit with my dad, who had lots of memories to share, and I got to see cousins I have been visiting on Facebook for the last year. Lots of hugs, too much food, chilly sunshine, good times.
Thank you to everyone who bent their schedules around to see “Aunt Sue.” Please come up to Oregon--after it stops snowing.
We’re chugging slowly into Chemult, north of Klamath Falls. The snow is deep and blowing in the air. A few days ago after my slip-sliding drive to Albany, I didn’t want to see any more “freaking pine trees” or snow, but now, I’m glad to be almost home and glad to see the trees again. I suspect I’ll hear the whistle and feel the rocking of the train in my bones for a long time to come.
This is Fred's second holiday season at Timberwood Court. The change since last year is dramatic. He has lost a lot of his ability to speak, think and function. He rarely knows who I am now, although he is glad to see me. He still loves music and still gives great hugs, but Timberwood has become his home; he doesn't remember any other home or any other life. For him and others like him, Christmas is just another day to be lived moment by moment with no future and no past.
Alzheimer's is a cruel thief that steals everything that makes a person who they are. If you know someone with this disease, know that the best gift you can give is your love. It's the only thing they can hang onto. And don't forget a little love for the ones they leave behind.
Contributions are always needed to support patients and their families and to find a cure for Alzheimer's. Visit the Alzheimer's Society site at alz.org to find out more about the disease and what you can do.
If I didn't mention it last month, I won second place in the poetry competition at the Write on the Sound Conference in Edmonds Washington.
I participated in the November Poem a Day challenge. It's quite an adventure when you force yourself to put out a poem every single day, but once I got started, it felt good. I like what I have written. In a way it's a record of my life during that time.
Non-writers are always asking me if I'm still writing. It's like asking if I'm still breathing. Of course I'm writing. I'm working on lots of things and will report what happens as they blossom.
A new year is a good time to start fresh. I'll be offering a new round of online classes starting Jan. 12. Prices will remain at 2010 levels for one more session. Click here to see what's available. Remember, I'm always available for individual coaching, mentoring and critiquing at ridiculously reasonable rates.
Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver, HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2001. You know how you sometimes feel bereft when you finish a book you loved reading? That's how it was with this fat, dense, wonderful novel. We follow three stories in the Appalachian mountains: Deanna, a loner who is working for the Forest Service and living alone in the woods, where she is fascinated by the coyotes she has found there—creatures all the farmers want to kill; Lusa, a city girl who moved to a farm with her new husband and was suddenly widowed in a world unlike anything she has ever known; and Garnett, a crusty old widower who is trying to restore a lost species of chestnut tree and has an ongoing feud with his strange old neighbor, Nannie Rawley. Kingsolver threads all these stories not only with each other but with a beautiful study of nature and the ways of prey and predators. The language is lush, the situations realistic, and the story written in a way that you know it goes on far beyond the last page.
House Rules by Jodi Picoult, Atria Books, 2010. I have a new favorite book and favorite author. I read all 532 pages of this novel in four days. This is the story of Jacob, an 18-year-old boy with Asperger's Syndrome, a high-functioning variation of autism. He is obsessed with crime shows and recreates crime scenes for fun. His mother has devoted her life to helping him function in the world, losing her husband and ignoring her 15-year-old son. Jacob doesn't understand other people, and they don't understand him. So when he is accused of a horrible crime, it's hard to know the truth. Did he do it? Picoult drives this story in present tense with short chapters that move among the viewpoints of the various characters but never stop the forward stampede of the action. Instead, we feel as if we have lived the events in the hearts of every one of them. Don't be daunted by the length; just savor every page. Then move on to Picoult's 16 previous novels to catch up on what you've been missing.
A Slipping-Down Life by Anne Tyler, Ballantine Books, 1988 edition. Evie Decker is a plump teenager with a dead mother and a distant father. She mostly reads and listens to rock 'n' roll on the radio. One day, she hears an interview with an unknown singer-songwriter named Drumsticks Casey. Fascinated, she grabs her fat friend Violet and they attend a rock concert where Drum is playing. They follow him to a nightclub, where something strange and awful happens that sets off a wild chain of events. As always with Tyler, it's an easy read about people who seem just like you and me. After the startling conclusion, I wanted to read on. I didn't want to let Evie go.
The Writer's Guide to Queries, Pitches & Proposals, second edition, by Moira Allen, Allworth Press, 2010. If you're a writer wondering how to submit almost anything to anywhere, this is the book to buy. Allen, publisher of Writing-world.com and author of Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer, tells in detail how to pitch articles, columns, books, talks, classes, and even grant proposals in this updated second edition. She not only tells how to do it but offers examples to show exactly what she means. All you have to do is follow the directions. She draws from other authors (including me, chapter 17) for their expertise and offers lots of references for more information. It's logically organized and easy to read, a worthy reference for all writers.
How to Marry a Divorced Man by Leslie Fram, Regan Books, 2003. It used to be bad news to marry a divorced man. Used goods and all that, but these days, with so many divorces, a lot of us find our happily-ever-after-mates in the used-husbands section. In a frank, often funny how-to, Fram advises single women on how to find and marry a divorced man. Chapters address potential problems with his ex-wife, his kids, money and other rough spots that are likely to arise between you. Aside from a few minor irritating language quirks, this book is well done. For those of us who have already married our divorced men, we can still get some insight on what we did right or wrong and why he acted that way. A few pages toward the end deal directly with the decision of whether or not to have children together. Your divorced man is likely to be older, to already have children, and perhaps to not want to start raising another child with you. How do you accept this proposition? Can you change his mind? Overall, while it’s not at the top of the to-read list, it’s worth a look.
It's December, the end of the first decade of the 21st century. It was a tough one for us, but I am hopeful for the future. On Dec. 3, I’m having cataract surgery. When I can see, I’ll launch back into work and Christmas activities, staying close to home. Meanwhile, it's time for decorations, food, fun and friends. I wish everyone a joyful holiday season. If you're having a birthday, party even harder. Stay warm, stay safe, see you next year.
All contents copyright 2010, Sue Fagalde Lick
If you would like me to send you a link to this newsletter every month, e-mail me at email@example.com. Feel free to forward the newsletter to friends who might be interested. Also contact me if you want me to stop sending the link.
I have taken the 2003-2006 newsletters offline, but if you see something interesting in the list, I will provide free PDF copies on request.