From My Isolation Outpost to Yours

Greetings from Lori’s Isolation Outpost, otherwise known as my home office. My disembodied voice is coming to you through the wonders of a website called WordPress. It’s an apt name for a space that allows me to figuratively “press” you (as opposed to shaking your hand or otherwise coming within six feet of you).

Isolation Outpost is actually my spare bedroom. It has an old oaken table, a sewing table, a dresser, a keyboard, a guitar, and a fake oriental rug where I do a few exercises each morning. (OK, maybe not every morning.) This is where I do office-y things like writing and editing photos. It’s also where I do non-office-y things like online shopping, checking my Facebook page for likes, watching YouTube videos, and researching important topics like how to copy and send mp3 files via email. No home office deduction for me, not after the IRS sees this post, anyway.

I guess since this site’s called WordPress, it would be appropriate to have a Word of the Day. Well, in that case, my word for the day today is PALPITATION. My heart’s been going ker-thump and ker-thumpity thump on and off for about a week now — in fact it’s doing it as I type this sentence. Palpitations can be brought on by any number of conditions, but in my case, I’m pretty sure it’s stress.

You wouldn’t know it to see me. In fact, you wouldn’t even know it to BE me. I look, act, and FEEL very calm most of the time. But I have a feeling this pandemic is getting to me in insidious ways. It may be my new normal. But I’m going to fight it. I’ll reduce my coffee intake, I’ll meditate, I’ll go for a walk, and I’ll watch more comedy. Yes. That’s my plan, anyway.

And I’ll keep taking photos. Here’s a juvenile vermilion flycatcher. He looks pretty chill.

Juvenile Male Vermilion Flycatcher-4

Adult vermilion flycatchers are brilliant red. (I once wrote a song inspired by one.) Young males like the one shown above look like they’ve been partially dipped in a bucket of orange paint. This one’s spreading his tail feathers to sun himself. Maybe I’ll do that today — sun myself, that is. A walkabout in the Arizona sunshine would do my heart good. And maybe it’ll inspire another song!

Here’s a roadrunner I saw a few days ago, also sunning its tail feathers.

Road Runner Preening

He or she (hard to tell the difference) seemed very content to stand still and preen itself while I took its picture, although it did warn me to stay at least six feet away.

Whatever you do today, I hope it’s relaxing and good for your heart … and soul.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Jumble of Emotions

Dear friends,

HUGS.

cartoon-1296501_1280

I hope you are well.

To say I’m going through some weird feelings at the moment because of the pandemic is an understatement. It feels dystopian. Unreal.  It’s a little like the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Some days, I experience all five. This post is going to be a jumble of emotions. So be it.

Two days ago, I think depression was winning. But I’ve been trying to cope by reading, writing, watching TV, going for walks, and taking photos. Here’s a cute black-tailed gnatcatcher I saw the other day :

Black-Tailed Gnatcatcher-2

I admire his optimism. I hope some of it rubs off on me.

I’m worried, especially when I think about those of you in parts of the world, and in my own country, who are struggling the most. Italy, New York City, nursing homes, hospitals. The unemployed, parents who need childcare, people in prisons, the homeless, the sick, the elders … it’s mind-boggling and I know we’re in for a long ride. I never imagined being here. None of us did.

And I’m sad because my family lives 2,000 miles away. I’ve even fantasized about driving there, sleeping in my car along the way so as to avoid hotel germs, and arriving on their doorsteps with sanitizer in hand (which I don’t actually have because the stores were out of it) … but I’d just be a possible carrier, adding to their problems, so it’s best if I stay away. (Which reminds me: Have you seen Mel Brooks’ video where he tells his son to “go home”?)

I guess I’ll have to rely on texting, calling, and even dreaming to stay in touch with family. I literally dreamed about my two young grandsons last night. They will each have a birthday that I will miss this year.

My city, Tucson, just closed all restaurants and bars today. I think take-out is still an option, but sadly, I’m sure that doesn’t apply to bars. Glad I stocked up on wine, but three bottles doesn’t seem like nearly enough now.

On the bright side, scientists, medical professionals, some political leaders, small businesses, ordinary people are actually pulling together and making sacrifices for the sake of the greater good.

And I’m actually pretty impressed with how many of us humans are acting humanely, and are even finding and spreading humor on the internet. Is there a reason that the words “human” and “humor” are so similar?

By the way, here’s what made me laugh today:

90357626_10156672820196326_781163901562650624_n

In the days to come, I hope to continue with my emotional outpourings. In the meantime, please let me know how you’re doing. Are you coping? Do you need a virtual shoulder to cry on? If so, I’m your person. Comment away.

 

 

 

 

20 x 20: A Chart to Inspire You

My friend has come up with a brilliant idea for the year 2020, and I think she should patent it. But since she hasn’t done that yet, I’ve stolen borrowed the concept — and today I’m passing it along to you, free of charge!

I’m calling it a 20 x 20 chart. Here’s how it came about: One day, my friend got to thinking about the year 2020. She liked the fact that it was a “double year.” Double years are rare. Since the year 1 C.E. (A.D.), double years have occurred only 20 times.

Yep, there’s 11, 22, 33, 44, 55, 66, 77, 88, 99, 1010, 1111, 1212, 1313, 1414, 1515, 1616, 1717, 1818, 1919, and 2020. (I admit it, I counted them. Duh.)

She especially liked how 2020 looks in Roman numerals (MMXX). Don’t worry, I’m not going to try and write out the other 19 double-digit years in Roman numerals. My brain hurts just thinking about it.

Anyway, my friend wanted to do something special in honor of the year 2020. She quickly discarded the idea of making one grandiose New Year’s resolution, since resolutions tend to get broken, and once that happens, that’s it for the year. Instead, she decided to do something more ongoing — and something she could actually accomplish. The result is her 20 x 20 spreadsheet, seen below. (Side 2 would have columns 11-20.)

20 x 20 Spreadsheet

At the top of each column, she wrote a mini-goal for herself (20 goals in all). Each goal was something challenging, yet do-able — to be done 20 times during the course of the year. (For example, “Write a letter to a friend.”) As she accomplishes each task, she places a check mark in the appropriate box. By year end, she should have 400 check marks.

I’ve decided to take the 20 x 20 plunge, and you may want to try it as well. If you do, I’d love to hear what challenges you’ve come up with. Here are mine. Remember: My goal is to do each one of these 20 times by December 31.

  1. Send a card to my grandson
  2. Learn to play a new song on guitar
  3. Watch a movie
  4. Read a children’s book
  5. Learn to say “I love you” in a new language
  6. Attend a yoga class
  7. Write a poem
  8. Learn the capital city of an African nation
  9. Write three things I am grateful for
  10.  Contribute food to the local Food Bank
  11. Listen to a classical music piece
  12. Watch a Ted Talk (5 of them in Spanish)
  13. Read an article about an artist whose work hangs in the Louvre
  14. Give up social media for a day
  15. Walk 12 miles (20 km) in a week
  16. Practice piano at least 20 minutes
  17. Try a new type of tea
  18. Read a short story
  19. Visit the gym
  20. Write a blog post

So far I’ve managed to check off 20 boxes — wait, 21, counting this blog post! Only 379 left to go. Hugs to my friend for inspiring me, and hugs to you for reading this. Happy 2020!

Oh My Gluten (Free)

My sister is flying across the country tomorrow to visit me. She’ll be staying with me for five whole days. YAY! I love family visits. I don’t get them very often, so I hope to make the most of it, with the usual food, fun, and frivolity.

She’s gluten-free (and I’m not), so that just adds to the fun of preparing for her stay. I’m not being sarcastic. I actually enjoyed my gluten-free scavenger hunt at Trader Joe’s tonight. I googled “Trader Joe’s gluten free” and found a list that included these yummy items. (I can’t wait to try that almond cashew macadamia drink.)

d2

For dessert, we can snack on Lara Bars. I love the cashew/date ones. I hope she leaves those for me. Actually, they’re the only ones I’ve tried. That lemon bar looks good right now. Hope I can wait till she gets here.

d6

I also bought some fruits and veggies, and made a centerpiece to welcome her into my home. Luckily, my sister gets my sense of humor.

d1

Is wine gluten-free? Oops. I just might have to consume these all by myself.

d4

I KNOW these aren’t gluten free. Impulse purchase!

d3

Tucson is an International City of Gastronomy, which means we’ll definitely be going out to sample some gluten-free tacos, tamales, burritos, salads, baked goods, and Margaritas while she’s in town. I’ve got my Best of Tucson issue on the coffee table so we can find all the best places.

d5

Needless to say, I might not be posting anything for the next five days. But after that, I just might have some food photos to share!

nanopoblano2019 Badge

This is post #5 (but who’s counting?) of NanoPoblano2019. Don’t know what NanoPoblano2019 is? Just click the link! It’s gluten-free, too!

 

The Hourglass

A massive granite boulder stood erect and solid on the shore, gazing at the
distant line where sea and sky collide, deep blue below and pale blue above, azure
edges bound together as if stitched with an eternal thread: a border on a quilt that never
ravels, never wears. And as the boulder watched, it felt the ocean’s salty waves,
until it cracked and crumbled, turning into shards and stones, and then,
like sea and sky, the rock and water merged, becoming sand.
One day a child with pail and shovel scooped the sand
into an empty hourglass. It glittered as it trickled
from past to future, pulled by force of
gravity, swept along
from end to end
drifting
down
in the
one direction
it could possibly
go, without knowing how, or why,
until a wild and random white cap plunged
itself upon the shore. It flipped and tossed the hourglass
as if it were a fish, until it was no longer standing as before,
but now its top was bottom, bottom top, and the unwitting sand began to
travel back through time, not knowing it had made the trip before, not realizing that
the hourglass was its eternal home, neither half-empty nor half-full, only a vessel
carrying moving energy, the kind that’s made when sea and sky collide.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

This is a rough draft of a poem I’m working on. WordPress messed up the formatting a bit, and I’m not sure about the title. Suggestions welcome! (I’ve never written a shape poem before.)

This is post #4 for NanoPoblano2019. Click the link to see great stuff by other wild and crazy November bloggers!

nanopoblano2019 Badge

Dona Nobis Pacem

The Roman Colosseum, built between 72 A.D. and 80 A.D., is a symbol of brutality.

It is widely believed to have been built by tens of thousands of slaves. During some of the spectacles, it is said that 10,000 animals were slaughtered in a single day. Gladiators fought to their deaths and criminals were executed, all for the sheer entertainment of crowds of 50,000 or more. It is not my favorite place.

In fact, I never was very interested in Roman history, or in seeing the Colosseum. But when I was in Rome for two days in September with someone who did want to visit the Colosseum, I said, “sure, why not,” and went along.

It’s big. It’s old. And it’s kind of shocking to be strolling along on an ordinary cobblestone street, turn a corner, and there it is, looming over everything. Kind of spooky, actually.

Colosseum 3

But for me, the most compelling part about the Colosseum was the fence around it — a fence that was covered with children’s colorful drawings calling for peace. I loved the contrast.

Maybe there’s hope for this world yet.

Colosseum 2.jpg

This is post #3 for NanoPoblano2019. Click the link to read some other posts from a wonderful bunch of dedicated bloggers known as “cheer peppers.”

nanopoblano2019 Badge

 

 

 

A Little Play about a Little Prince

Have you read The Little Prince, by Antoine De Saint-Exupéry?

(If you haven’t, I highly recommend that you stop reading this, go find a copy of The Little Prince, and read it. It’s much better than this blog. But then please come back!)

Do you have tears in your eyes now, the way I did tonight when I saw the stage production of The Little Prince? My eyes started watering with the VERY FIRST LINE and were still wet when the actors came out to take their bows.

IMG_6710

I’ll admit I’m a little biased. I’m a huge fan of the book, and I’m not alone. It’s sold 140 million copies worldwide, and it’s been translated into 300 languages and dialects.

In college, my very good friend Margo gave me the hardcover edition (shown above) as a gift. I love the book on its own merits, but also because it reminds me of Margo.

Several years ago, my daughter, Katie, gave me a Little Prince kitchen magnet.

IMG_6718

She also gave me some Little Prince postcards. I’ve got one of the cards tacked up on my wall at work.

The other day, I found a Little Prince plastic cup in my work mailbox. I asked around and found out it was from a teacher, Ms. S.,  who works there. “Ms. S. does things like that,” someone told me. “It must have been her.”

Sure enough, it was Ms. S.  “I noticed the card in your office,” she said. “I love The Little Prince. He’s been my inspiration for years. I even have a Little Prince tattoo!” Wow. That’s some serious inspiration.

The next day, a pair of Little Prince socks appeared in my work mailbox, from — guess who? Ms. S. strikes again! I wore them to the play tonight.

The character of the prince was played by seven different actors who took turns wearing his royal blue costume seen above. I don’t want to give away the plot, but this is perhaps the sweetest, most poignant story ever told.

The first line of the play, the one that made me start crying right off the bat, is this quote from the book:

“One truly sees with the heart; what is essential is invisible to the eyes.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

(This is post #2 for NanoPoblano2019.)

nanopoblano2019 Badge

 

 

 

Grandma’s Friendly Village

My grandmother Angeline was born in central Sicily, in a small village with the beautiful name “Villarosa.”

In 1910, at age 8, she emigrated from Sicily to America with her own grandmother, got married at age 16, quickly had five bambinos, and was widowed at 30. She later remarried and had a good life, but she never got to see Villarosa again.

Here she is at about age 30 (I’m guessing).

Grandma Armenia

I liked going to Grandma’s house. She always seemed cheerful, and she served us plenty of macaroni, ice cream, and raspberries, saying the word “mangia” practically as soon as we’d walked through her door. Her house was decorated with colorful starched doilies that she’d crocheted herself. I wonder if she crocheted the collar in the above photo. I have a special memory of the two of us sitting in a summer garden next to some pansies while she taught me to crochet.

Although Grandma never talked about her childhood (probably because I never asked), I’d always wondered what Villarosa was like. About a month ago, I finally got to see it for myself.

I’d signed up for a 5-day Italian language immersion program in Taormina, Sicily, mainly so I could learn about my Sicilian roots and visit Villarosa. Luckily, our group leader and two other students also were interested in seeing more of Sicily, so we rented a car on day 6 and headed for my grandmother’s home town.

Villarosa (pop. 4,824) is on the outskirts of Enna. The two cities couldn’t appear more different. Enna (left), seen from a distance, was a glittering city on a hill, while Villarosa (right) was its poor, dusty cousin. But Villarosa, as it turned out, was AMAZING.

I’d Googled “Villarosa” the day before we set out and learned a surprising fact: It’s kind of well known for its man-made lake, a popular fishing destination. And the man-made lake was the result of the building of Ferrara Dam. OMG, I thought. Grandma’s maiden name is Ferrara!

Here’s the dam, the lake, and me:

After parking in town, we looked around, hoping to find a place for lunch. Directly across from our car there was a restaurant, complete with group of Italian men deep in conversation. It looked like something out of a movie. Then I noticed the sign above the doors: F.lli Ferrara (Ferrara Bros.). And on the doors, the initials “LB.” Grandma’s maiden name, and my initials!

Men

We didn’t want to interrupt the men (OK, maybe we did feel a little intimidated) so we walked on down the block. Seeing a small, elderly man nearby, one of our group asked (in her newly-learned basic Italian) where we could eat. The man pointed down the street and rattled off directions in Italian. Then, probably realizing we didn’t capice, he escorted us all the way to tiny “Casa Mia.” It wasn’t open yet, but they welcomed us in. No one who worked in the restaurant spoke English. I ordered bruschetta and risotto (in Italian).

Suddenly, a family of about 20 people entered. It was an 80th birthday party! We smiled and nodded at them. A woman (angel?) from their group approached our table and asked (in English!) what had brought us to Villarosa.

“My grandma’s from Villarosa,” I said. “I was hoping I might find some family here.”

I’m an interpreter!” she said, handing me her business card. “I can help you.”

After I provided my Grandma’s name, and what I was pretty sure were Grandma’s parents’ names, she made a few phone calls, and within an hour I was sitting across the table from Gaetano Ferrara, owner of the Ferrara Bros. restaurant that we’d seen before lunch. His grandfather and my great-grandfather shared the same first and last names. It’s possible we’re cousins.

Gaetano spoke no English, but, with the help of the interpreter, I was able to ascertain that his brother, Pietro, owned a gelato/cannoli shop in town, and would be there at his shop to meet us! Mamma mia! It doesn’t get much better than that. But then it did. On our way out of the restaurant, the owner treated us all to shots of grappa and limoncello, on the house.

When I learned that the limoncello was homemade, I asked if they’d be willing to share the recipe … and they did. And yes, that alcohol is 90-proof.

The hospitality didn’t end there. When we got to Pietro’s store, we were all treated to free gelato and cannoli. Here I am with Pietro Ferrara, another possible member of my family tree.

Connolo Cousin

After returning home, I discovered that Ferrara is a common name in that part of the world, so I’m not sure if Gaetano and Pietro are my cousins, but it doesn’t matter. It was an amazing trip, one I’ll never forget. I’m so happy to know that my roots include such a warm and welcoming town. And I’m still in touch with that lovely interpreter, who has offered to translate a letter for me so I can get in touch with the folks at the Villarosa town hall to learn more about my relatives.

For now, ciao until next time!

P.S. This is my first post for the 30-day November blogging challenge known as NanoPoblano2019. Our challenge is to write for 10 days, read others’ posts for 10 days, and share our posts on other blog sites for 10 days.

Please click this NanoPoblano2019 link and read some of the wonderful posts from other members of our little writing group.

nanopoblano2019 Badge

 

 

TRAIN TRACKER, Season Three, the thrilling conclusion

Note: This is the final episode of TRAIN TRACKER, my version of a travelogue by train. To make any sense of it whatsoever, you’ll probably want to go back and read all the previous thrilling episodes, namely, TRAIN TRACKER: Season One, TRAIN TRACKER: Season Two, TRAIN TRACKER: Season Two, continued, TRAIN TRACKER, Season Two: Episode 3, and TRAIN TRACKER, Season Three: Stranger Things on a Train.

And now, for the final, thrilling conclusion of TRAIN TRACKER!

Season Three, Episode 2: I Want My Wi-Fi!

I’d just left Chicago on a train bound for Tucson when I discovered, to my horror, that my train was not equipped with Wi-Fi. I took the following selfie as proof of my misery:

face-306159_1280.png

I wanted my Wi-Fi! I wanted it as badly as Mark Knopfler wanted his MTV. But did I write a chart-topping song about it, like he did? No. I was too bummed out to be able to think of anything that rhymed with Wi-Fi.

Of course, now that I’m home, it’s clear to me that “sci-fi” rhymes with Wi-Fi. So, with apologies to Queen, here’s the first verse of my new song, “Cross Country Rhapsody.”

Is this the real life?
Is this just sci-fi?
Caught in a train car
Ain’t got no wi-fi.

I’ll let you know if I win a Grammy.

Meanwhile, I can tell you right now how I managed to get through the 66-hour train ride home without any high-speed internet access:

I read a book. Namely, Andrew Sean Greer’s Pulitzer-prize winning novel, Less. It’s a comedy about a gay man named Arthur Less who’s on a trip around the world. Entertaining and enjoyable.

If you’re going to bring a book on the train, I recommend the type with actual pages. You never know – an attractive stranger might notice it and start up a conversation with you. Or, you could use it as a fan in the event of A/C failure. If it’s thick enough, you might try wedging it behind your back for lumbar support. I actually did try that.

I watched part of a movie. Before my trip, I’d rented three movies on iTunes, but somehow I’d only downloaded one of them. (Silly me — I thought renting and downloading were the same thing.) When I tried to play the movie I’d downloaded, I discovered that my iPhone headphones (the only ones I’d packed) didn’t fit my new laptop.

So when we stopped in Chicago, I bought a $10 pair of headphones. Problem solved — or so I thought. One problem, though: the right earbud was dead. Undeterred, I tried watching the movie anyway, in mono, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I needed subtitles to understand the British accents that were buzzing through my one and only cheap earbud. After fifteen minutes, I gave up.

OK, I thought, I’ll just watch one of the other two movies I’d rented. But this was not to be, since, as you already know, and as I was finally realizing, there was no Wi-Fi on that train!

offline-525700_1280.png

I watched an intelligent stand-up comedy special. I had a link on my phone to Aziz Ansari’s new show, Right Now. I was able to watch it on my phone because I “had data.” (I don’t really know what that means. All I know is, it worked!) Aziz Ansari has had some bad P.R. lately, but he addresses it honestly right at the beginning of his special, and he comes across as genuine, sensitive, and “woke.” It’s really good, and funny, too.

I tried Zen train walking. About a week before my train excursion, I happened to come across a strange little book, Zen Driving. It’s all about how to drive a car in a more calm, aware manner, using Zen ways of thinking (or not thinking). I decided to try applying the techniques I read about in Zen Driving while making my way down the aisle of a moving train car. I tried gliding, I tried focusing straight ahead, I even tried bounding down the aisle. I think maybe it helped, because I never fell in anyone’s lap, not even once.

I watched the scenery go by. This could be done from my seat, which had a pretty large window, or from the observation car, which was practically all windows and also had tables where people could eat, play cards, etc. I saw the Gateway Arch and Busch Stadium in St. Louis, the “burrito lady” in El Paso, rainbows, sunsets, forests, flooded fields, farms, cattle, goats, sheep, vultures, pronghorns, cattle egrets, and more.

I listened to classical music on YouTube. I’m trying to expand my musical horizons by working my way through the book, Year of Wonder by Clemency Burton-Hill. It contains one-page descriptions of 365 pieces of music, one for each day of the year. I listened to James Ehnes performing Paganini’s Caprice Op. 24, and I was absolutely astounded at how good it was. Check it out!

I interacted. I met interesting people from all walks of life, usually in the dining car:

One woman from Chicago told me where to find the best pizza, corn bread, jerk chicken, and soul food in that town.

Three women (including the one above, her stepmom, and a lady across the aisle who wanted to join our discussion) talked with me about politics. We all supported the same candidates!

A grandmother who was born and raised in Texas shared her love of books, her koi pond, her grandsons, and her dogs. As I got up to leave, she added, “I hope you have a blessed trip. My name’s ___, and I’m on Facebook.”

A man explained to me the reason for his trip: he was returning home after having achieved his goal of riding on the “Big Boy” – the world’s largest steam locomotive.

train-2401406_1920.jpg

I translated a few sentences for a woman who spoke only Spanish and needed some help. Another Spanish-speaking woman helped me out in turn. I had asked her in English “which way to the dining car.” (I told you I have no sense of direction.) But when I realized she spoke only Spanish, I switched to that language and she understood, even though I’d made mistakes. People just love it when you try to speak their language.

As in real life, it wasn’t all pleasant. Four teens almost got kicked off the train for getting into a heated argument among themselves; a tipsy woman lifted her shirt and showed off her gall bladder scar. An older woman trying to walk through the observation car suddenly lost her balance and crashed violently into a seat when the train lurched suddenly. (She wasn’t hurt, but I really think trains need to be made safer for people of all ages and for those with disabilities, as well.)

Friends have asked if I’ll take this trip again. I probably will. It was nice to sit back and enjoy the ride, knowing that I had three full days ahead of me without any obligations, without having to be anywhere or do anything else.

In a way, I think it was as close to a Zen experience as I could have asked for while crossing the continent. And you know what? I’m actually glad that I didn’t have my Wi-Fi!

 

TRAIN TRACKER, Season Three: Stranger Things on a Train

Episode 1: Banging and Clanging and Pronghorns, Oh My!

As you may recall from TRAIN TRACKER, Season Two, Episode 3, the post ended with a cliffhanger. I was somewhere outside of Little Rock, Arkansas, heading west, and I was eavesdropping on the passenger behind me as he discussed the intimate details of barbecue sauce with a woman he hardly knew. Would I ever get to hear his secret recipe? Well, no … I fell asleep.

music-1813100_1280.png

I was jarred awake at 1:30 a.m. by a sudden lurch, accompanied by loud banging and clanging. I later learned that we were coupling. Now, don’t get too excited. It’s not what you think. 

We’d arrived in San Antonio, Texas — the end of the line. Most of the train would be reversing direction, heading east again, but some of us (including the car I was in) were continuing west. This required a feat not unlike the mitosis and miosis that I vaguely remember from high school biology. The train split into two, each part with its own engine (or nucleus, if you will). So, basically, I got to witness train reproduction from inside the train.

It was a slow process, more like how I imagine turtles doing it. We sat still for hours, and the lights and A/C were turned off during this time. I started to doze.

Sometime about 2 a.m., two conductors came striding down the aisle with flashlights blazing. They stopped at a seat up ahead. “Sir, wake up. We need to see your I.D.,” they said. I was instantly wide awake.

They demanded that the sleepy man produce either his I.D. or his ticket, and they announced in front of everyone that they’d been told he was supposed to have gotten off in St. Louis. Several minutes passed before the poor guy could find his I.D. The conductors loudly read his name and then left. I think they must have made a mistake, because they never came back or ejected him from the train.

After another hour, I saw a conductor and asked him why we weren’t moving. “They had to fix everything and change the train,” he stated, continuing down the aisle. Not exactly reassuring, but he said it so matter-of-factly that I assumed it was all going according to plan.

Finally, at 4:45 a.m., we started moving. “Why are we going backward?” someone said, looking panicked. It was the lady to my left. She was looking to me for an answer.

I don’t know why people think they should ask me questions about directions. I’m the last person they should ask. I once drove 50 miles in the wrong direction before noticing I was heading west, not east. But I did happen to be holding my cell phone when she asked me, and she looked so worried, so I decided to “phone a friend.” In other words, I consulted my GPS. Indeed, we were heading in the right direction, and I said so. But I didn’t tell the lady that I was just as confused as she was. How the hell were we still going west when we were also going backwards? Where was Einstein when I needed him?

About five hours later, the crew came along and reversed all of our seats. We were moving forward again, and we had survived the strange night. I moved to the observation car and took in the views.

IMG_5794

Taking photos of scenery from a moving train is a challenge. To avoid reflections, I held my phone against the window and hoped for the best. The result was often blurry, but I like being reminded of how fast we were going (about 79 miles per hour).

A few specific places were announced along the way.

IMG_5799

The Amistad Reservoir, straddling the U.S./Mexico border, was pointed out as we zipped past. It lies 12 miles northwest of Del Rio, Texas. “Amistad” means “friendship” in Spanish.

IMG_5798

The famous Pecos River also was announced. It begins in New Mexico and empties into the Rio Grande River in Texas. I’m not sure, but I think we were on the Pecos River High Bridge. Yikes!

And then there was a scene I’ll never forget (and didn’t get to photograph): a herd of wild pronghorns galloping swiftly next to the train! I feel so lucky to have been at the right place at the right time to see them. I made a note of where I was (on the north side of the train, just after Alpine, Texas). Pronghorns, I’ve learned, are often seen in this exact spot. You can read more about them here.

In tomorrow’s episode (“I Want My Wi-Fi”), I’ll tell you how I passed my time on the train without a high speed internet connection. Believe it or not, it can be done!