Tag Archives: photography

Lucky to Live in the ROC (Part 3)

Previously, on Lucky to Live in the ROC (Part 1) and Lucky to Live in the ROC (Part 2), I shared two great places to visit in Rochester, New York: the Little Theatre and Highland Park. In Part 3, I reveal more attractions, including THE FOURTH-OLDEST ROLLER COASTER IN THE WORLD!

SEABREEZE AMUSEMENT PARK

Seabreeze is a historic amusement park situated in a breezy part of town where Irondequoit Bay meets Lake Ontario. It’s been a summer destination for young and old since 1879. I used to go there in the 1960s.

My favorite ride then was Over the Falls, which in those days meant a slow, creaky ride through dank, cobwebby tunnels, and a 40-foot plunge into a pool. Over the Falls eventually got to be over the hill, though (what does that say about me?), and was replaced in 1984 by the Log Flume.

Although I was daring enough to go Over the Falls, I never had the intestinal fortitude to brave the Jack Rabbit, built in 1920. It’s the fourth-oldest roller coaster in the world, but at 102, it’s also the oldest continuously operating roller coaster in America.

Jack Rabbit

Yes, the Jack Rabbit isn’t just old, it’s an antique – entirely constructed of WOOD. And if that isn’t enough to send you screaming from the park, consider this: you’ll be strapping yourself in for a wild ride full of sharp twists and turns on track that clickety-clacks like a rattlesnake (over 2,000 feet of it) , a 75-foot drop, and a dark tunnel signaling the merciful end.

But hold on a minute. If that type of cheap thrill isn’t your cup of tea, there are plenty of other rides here at Seabreeze (including swirling teacups, which caused me to have to sit perfectly still for an hour after being swirled in one of them).

Although Seabreeze Amusement Park happens to be the fourth-oldest operating amusement park in the United States, not all of its rides are old. Here are some of the other rides you’ll see there. Pictured below are the Time Machine, Tilt, Screamin’ Eagle, Revolution 360, Log Flume, Carousel, and Bobsled:

Speaking of old, seniors get in free every Tuesday. They can enjoy all rides for free that day, too. And yes, if you must know, I was there on a Tuesday.

In my next installment of Lucky to Live in the ROC, an epic road trip in search of the perfect pizza leads to some unexpected paintings in the strangest of places.

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Two Bridges and More

Inspired by a recent post by my friend Mary (“A Bridge Too … High!”), I’ve decided to post something about bridges, too.

While Mary’s article is about a bridge in Ireland; mine is about two bridges in Italy.

And, while hers is witty and thoroughly entertaining, mine is more along the lines of “here are some photos of bridges, and here is all I can think of to say about them at the moment.” Oh well. One can’t always be witty and entertaining!

I hope you enjoy the photos, and that you’ll check out Mary’s blog as well.

Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy, 2017:

Ponte Vecchio (“Old Bridge”) is aptly named; it’s over 1,000 years old! (The first written record of it is from the year 996.) These days, it’s lined with shops, and tons of tourists. I just noticed that there are at least six bridges in this photo!

Gazing at this picture brings me back to the moment when I captured it. I’d just toured the nearby Uffizi Gallery. In fact, I was standing inside the gallery when I took the photo, looking down at the Arno River. It was my first trip to Italy (first time in Europe, too). I’d flown there from Tucson, Arizona with a small travel group (only eight of us). Together, in just one week, we visited several interesting and beautiful sites around Tuscany, including Florence, Pisa, San Gimignano, Lucca, and Siena.

On my last day of the trip, I took a 20-minute bus ride from the outskirts of Florence, where we were staying, into the city, all by myself, just so I could absorb some of the local culture and language on my own time. It was an amazing experience. I could barely speak a full sentence in Italian, yet the people on the bus (who barely spoke English) helped me out when I wasn’t sure which was my stop.

My day of solo museum-hopping (which included a delicious three-course lunch – meat, pasta, tiramisu, and of course vino) went by much too quickly. At about 5 p.m., after standing at the wrong bus stop for ten minutes, I discovered my error just in time to catch the last bus back to the hotel. I wasn’t the least bit nervous. It was a friendly, warm, and welcoming place, and gorgeous, too.

Ponte Sisto, Rome, Italy, 2019:

Two years after my first trip to Italy, I had the chance to go again with the same tour group. This time there were only four of us, and we were going to study Italian in Sicily for a week! After the week was up, rather than flying home directly from Sicily, two of us opted to spend two extra days in Rome. I mean, how could I possibly skip seeing Rome when I had the chance? (I LOVED Rome and hope to return some day.)

Ponte Sisto (the bridge pictured above) has a long history. From what I can gather from my online search, there was a bridge on this site in the 4th century known as Pons Aurelius. It was partially destroyed in 772 when Rome was attacked and taken over by a Lombard king, Desiderius. In 1473, Pope Sixtus IV commissioned the rebuilding of the bridge. It is now only for pedestrians and spans the Tiber River in Rome’s historic district. I didn’t realize it when I took this photo, but that’s the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica (in Vatican City) in the background!

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This isn’t the first time I’ve written about bridges. My post, “Bridges in Literature,” will bring you up to speed on the many appearances of bridges (or lack thereof?) in books, songs, and movies. Here’s a sneak peek at the photo I used in that article. It’s a bridge somewhere in southern Arizona:

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One last thought: The “featured image” at the top of this post is a blue and yellow banner in honor of Ukraine. These days, I’ve been thinking a lot about the bridges there, and about how so many thousands of innocent victims of the Russian invasion are trying to cross them to safety.

This post is dedicated to the brave people of Ukraine.

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If you haven’t already done so, please check out my brand new book, “Wordle Poems: A Poem a Day for Wordle Nerds,” on Amazon. It contains 30 original poems inspired by the daily act of Wordling. No spoilers! Reviews are greatly appreciated!

For more of my writing, visit my author page over at Bardsy, as well as my book, “Standing in the Surf,” on Amazon. It’s a photo journal about the Pacific Northwest area known as the Salish Sea, which includes Whidbey Island, Vancouver Island, Stanley Park, Butchart Gardens, and more.

Two’s Day/Cave Conversation

Today’s date, according to the Gregorian (western) calendar, is 2/22/22. And it happens to fall on a Tuesday! How cool is that?

Even cooler is the fact that TWO people pointed out the date to me today.

A date like that happens only TWICE every century! It took me a while to come to this conclusion. I had to write it out, like this:

            21st century:  1/11/2011 and 2/22/2022

            20th century:  1/11/1911 and 2/22/1922

            19th century: 1/11/1811 and 2/22/1822

        etc.

No sooner had I written this, than I began to wonder how far back the pattern would go. When was our calendar invented, I asked myself. And so, of course, I traveled down the proverbial rabbit hole and discovered that the history of the calendar is (a) fascinating, and (b) confusing!

What I can tell you, though, is that it has to do with the cycles of the sun and the moon that ancient peoples observed. You probably already knew that, but what might be news to you is the actual very first conversations by cave people in the process of inventing the calendar, which I’ve reconstructed here for the first time:

Cave Woman to Cave Man: Hey! Come here! Stop hunt! Look at sky! Light! Dark! Light again! Dark again! I make mark on cave wall each time! Okay, you make mark, I hold baby. Let us call marks “days.” … Just do it! Me no know why! Me just like sound.

Later, Cave Man to Cave Woman: Hey! Stop cook! Look up! Yesterday moon little! Now moon bigger! Other day moon very big! Me make more marks on cave wall! Oh, okay, I hold baby, you make moon marks. You make pretty marks. You pretty. You … okay, me go sleep now.

Much later, Cave Baby to Cave Parents: Mom, Dad! Look! Moon get big every time we have this many marks on cave wall! (Holds up both hands and flashes all ten fingers three times.) Let us call this many marks “month!” … Me no know why! Me just like sound.

Much, much later, Cave Grandkid to other Cave Grandkids: Hey! Come to my cave! We have many cool marks on my cave walls! (Flashes all ten fingers 30 times.) Marks in color! Come see marks, then play games!

Outside of cave, Grandkids playing rock, rock, rock (paper and scissors not invented yet): Winner make up funny word for 300 marks on cave wall! Okay, how about … “year?” (Howls of laughter)

And now for a photo I took last summer in the Adirondacks, in honor of Two’s Day:

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If you haven’t already done so, please check out my brand new book, “Wordle Poems: A Poem a Day for Wordle Nerds,” on Amazon. It contains 30 original poems inspired by the daily act of Wordling. No spoilers! Reviews are greatly appreciated!

For more of my writing, visit my author page over at Bardsy, as well as my book, “Standing in the Surf,” on Amazon. It’s a photo journal about the Pacific Northwest area known as the Salish Sea, which includes Whidbey Island, Vancouver Island, Stanley Park, Butchart Gardens, and more.

The Curious Case of Life Imitating Art

The muse must have been looking over my shoulder yesterday because, unexpectedly, I stumbled upon a case of life imitating art. Or was art imitating life?

I’d spent most of the day walking my dog, talking with friends online, and reading Anna Quindlen’s novel, “Still Life with Breadcrumbs,” the story of a photographer whose career is in decline.

In late afternoon, I decided to take my car out for a spin, since the last time I’d started it up, it had been sluggish. I feared the battery was about to reach its moment of planned obsolescence. (That would be about par for 2020.) But I hoped that if I drove around for an hour or so, maybe I could revive it.

On a whim, I grabbed my camera before heading out (something I haven’t done in a while, since it’s been too hot during the day for photography). “You never know,” I thought, imagining for just a second a chance encounter with a dust devil, or maybe a space alien. The car sputtered to a reluctant start. Before it could die on me, I put it in gear and headed north.

My destination was Oracle, about half an hour up the road – an unincorporated town whose most famous resident to date has been Buffalo Bill Cody. En route, it occurred to me to plug in an audiobook that was in my phone.

Unfortunately, I’m not too good with modern audio systems in cars (or in phones, for that matter). In fact, I was surprised I’d managed to get the book copied into my phone at all. So as not to cause an accident, I turned off the main highway, Oracle Road, and onto Biosphere Road (which, inconsequentially, leads to Biosphere 2) in order to park, thumb through my owner’s manual, and figure out how to tell my car to read a book to me.

After a few hundred feet, I came to a turnaround. It looked like an ideal place for rattlesnakes and tarantulas to hang out, but I wasn’t planning to get out of the car and join their party, even if they were wearing masks. Heavy, dark storm clouds were gathering in the distance, and a few were above my head. I was anxious to queue up my book and get back on the road.

The clouds had other ideas. They suddenly moved out of the sun’s way, and a shaft of light landed on something smooth, tall, and bright along the trail: a scarred and dusty shrine in the middle of the desert.

It seemed to be a case of life imitating art. You see (spoiler alert), on page 37 in Still Life With Breadcrumbs, that book I’d been reading earlier that day, the protagonist goes for a hike in the woods and comes upon a shrine – a white wooden cross with a glittering child’s volleyball trophy lying on the ground next to it. She takes some photos.

I felt like life was trying to tell me something, so I shut off the engine, grabbed my camera, and got out of the car. Scoping out the ground for snakes or spiders, I cautiously approached the little memorial and took a few photos. As soon as I’d finished and gotten back in my car, I realized I might have made a mistake.

It was 107 degrees out, and there I was in the middle of the Arizona desert with a car whose battery was on its last legs. I wondered how long it would be before AAA could find me. I turned the key in the ignition. The engine choked for a few seconds, and then, reluctantly, it caught.

I sighed, turned the car around, and glanced back at the shrine, but by then the sun had ducked behind the clouds again; the scene was now in shadow. I’d gotten there just at the right moment.

All I could think of on the drive home was the phrase, “life imitates art.” So today I looked that up and learned a thing or two. The idea has been around since at least the time of Plato, who believed art was a poor imitation of life, and for that reason could be dangerous. Aristotle, on the other hand, welcomed art’s imitation of life. And Oscar Wilde’s take was that life imitates art more often than art imitates life. Even Dostoevsky got into the debate, describing it as more of a codependent relationship, where art imitates life, which then imitates art, causing life to owe its very existence to art.

As for me, I was totally flabbergasted by the way my life (finding the shrine) seemed to be imitating art (the book I’m reading). Or maybe art (the book) was imitating life (its pathos) which in turn was imitating art (the shrine). It’s something I thought was worth pondering, especially when I realized one more thread:

In “Still Life With Breadcrumbs,” the protagonist doesn’t notice a certain, possibly significant, detail on the cross until she gets home and enlarges the photo. That same thing happened to me – I didn’t notice the coins at the base of the statue until I got home. Can you spot them?

Shrine 5

I’ve searched online for other photos of this shrine but couldn’t find any, so I don’t know who it’s for. I wish I did. In any case, I think I’ll return soon and add some coins to their collection.

 

 

Do You Have a Muse?

Do you have a muse? Someone or something that inspires you to create? I guess I do, because it seems that every time I decide to post a photograph, I end up writing. Take today, for example.

I sat here at my desk with the intention of posting a photo of a hummingbird, one I’d seen while out for a walk yesterday. I usually write a few words to go with my photos, so I wondered what I could say about this one.

Before I had a chance to start typing, though, I heard a voice (my muse?) telling me what to write.

“Write a poem,” the voice said.

“About what?” I asked.

“Well, what are you thinking about right now? What are you feeling?”

“Well, duh,” I said. “I’m thinking about the pandemic, what else is there to think about?”

“Okay, but are you sure you want to write about something so intense? Maybe just write a poem about a bird.”

“I have to write about what’s on my mind,” I countered. “Maybe I can work the little bird into the poem somehow.”

“Alright” the voice said, “it’s your blog. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

You see, I’d been lying on the sofa today, feeling a sense of unfocused inertia. I’ve been feeling that way on and off for the last couple of days. Have you been feeling that way, too?

For the past month, I’ve been busy doing things like working from home, writing, making masks, talking to friends, figuring out how to safely get food, and, of course, watching Netflix. I’m not a total nerd. But I’ve also been glued to the news, and that’s okay, because I want to know what’s going on. I think it’s important that we stay on top of things. But sometimes I try to do too much, and then it seems as if my brain just shuts down and all I can do is crossword puzzles. And that’s okay, too.

Anyway, I was feeling very foggy-brained and distracted by (a) my phone, (b) a crossword puzzle, (c) my Spanish flashcards, and (d) thoughts about the pandemic. (The correct answer is all of the above.) I had  just told myself to focus on only one thing at a time when I got up to get something (I forget what) and I found myself sitting here at the computer. I know, I probably need meds more wine.

And while I’d been on the couch, I kept thinking about something Billy Collins said recently in one of his live-from-home poetry talks. In speaking about social isolation, he said we’re  living under a “futureless condition,” not knowing how long this situation will last or what life will be like afterwards. He compared it to being in 4th grade, where the only future you can imagine is “5th grade.” I thought that was a great description of how I’ve been feeling. And again, it’s okay to feel that way. I guess another way to describe it is how Bob Dylan would have put it: “no direction home.”

Then I looked at my little bird photo through the “futureless condition” lens, and I could imagine how that bird must feel, clinging to a tiny branch, swaying in the breeze, not sure why he was there or where he would be heading to next. And I knew I wanted to try and put all of those thoughts and feelings and images into a poem.

I did write the poem, but I have no idea whether it’s “any good,” so I’m going to let it steep for a while before I publish it. Meanwhile, here’s my little muse, the light little bird that inspired all this heavy thinking today.

And before you go, if the spirit grabs you, don’t forget to leave a comment and let me know how you’re doing. Do you have a muse?

Black-chinned hummingbird watermarked

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

 

TRAIN TRACKER, Season Two: Episode 3

(Note: For previous details about my train trip from New York to Arizona, see TRAIN TRACKER: Season One, TRAIN TRACKER: Season Two, and TRAIN TRACKER: Season Two, continued.)

Episode 3: The Good, The Bad, and The Good

They say bad news should be sandwiched between slices of good news. Here, then, is today’s Train Tracker Sandwich.

The Good
After riding through the industrial northern edges of Ohio and Indiana, we arrived in Chicago. It was 9:30 a.m. The sky was overcast and the architecture looked just as bleak. The train pulled into a dungeon-like underground terminal.

left: Whiting, Indiana (between Gary, Indiana and Chicago, Illinois); top right: unidentified building near Chicago’s Union Station; bottom right: lower level, Union Station, Chicago.

But then, like a rainbow after a storm, a Starbucks appeared, and they were playing one of my favorite tunes, “Lovely Day” by Bill Withers. Suddenly, as the song says, “the world’s alright with me.” I did a happy dance right there in the station.

While sipping coffee, I planned out my four-hour layover with the help of my new best friends, TripAdvisor and GPS.

First, I walked a block or so to the Willis Tower (the second tallest building in the U.S.).

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Willis Tower

Next, I hailed a cab (something I love doing because it makes me feel like I’m Elaine in Seinfeld) and visited the nearby Art Institute of Chicago.

I’d learned from Trip Advisor to buy my admission ticket in advance to avoid long lines. (Good advice. I got to skip the long line, scan a bar code, and walk right in.)

I’d also read on Trip Advisor that luggage and bags could be checked at the museum for only $1. This was also true. Goodbye duffel bag, for a while, anyway.

Unencumbered, I dashed around the museum for about an hour, lingering over some masterpieces, taking quick photos of others. I focused on the Impressionists and a special Manet exhibit that I paid $7 extra for.

I then hailed another cab for the trip back to the station (this time imagining myself as Carrie on Sex and the City). Both cabbies were friendly and very helpful. One, from Nigeria, even explained to me the layout of Chicago’s city streets.

I made it back to the train station an hour before my scheduled departure time and headed for my gate.

The Bad

The gate was crowded with confused travelers. There already were dozens of people in line, and the line wasn’t moving. Within minutes, dozens more had joined the line. At least 50 other travelers were clamoring about. Some were waiting for train number 21, others for number 421. At least three people approached me and asked if they were in the right line. I trusted my gut and told them,”Yes, but I could be wrong!”

I didn’t want to be attacked by an angry mob. They just might have pushed me down the Union Station staircase, as in that scene in The Untouchables.

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After about 20 minutes, we were herded into a seating area where we waited for the boarding call. We waited. And waited. An hour later, we were still waiting when I decided to check my email. I had a new one from Amtrak: “Your train has been delayed, but don’t worry, we’ve already set up alternate transportation for some or all of your route.”

A passenger began loudly complaining; she’d heard the train wasn’t going any farther than Little Rock because of bad weather. We were assured by a harried Amtrak employee that we would all get to our final destinations. Finally, we were given the go-ahead to board our train, which turned out to be both number 21 and 421.

Once we’d started moving, though, there was an announcement: Flooding from Tropical Storm Barry had damaged certain portions of the track. We would all have to get off the train in Little Rock, Arkansas at 3 a.m. Those who were traveling beyond Little Rock would then take a FIVE HOUR bus ride to San Antonio, where they’d board another train for the rest of the journey.

Our train continued on, but not for long. Soon it was stalled for TWO HOURS, due to a signal problem with a freight train up ahead.

The Good

When we arrived in Little Rock, we learned that the flooded track had been repaired. No bus would be needed after all!

And even though we are now three or four hours behind schedule, there’s more good news to report. The new train (the Texas Eagle that I boarded in Chicago) is nicer than the Lake Shore Limited (the one I rode in New York State). The window curtain works, for one thing, and the bathrooms are cleaner. (There are FIVE bathrooms per car!) There’s a real dining car, too, with actual food, and an observation car with big windows.

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By the way, a talented musician friend, Don Armstrong, wrote a beautiful song about the Texas Eagle train. Of all the songs I’ve heard him perform, I think it’s my favorite. You can hear him perform it here or here.

Amazingly, I’ve still got two seats all to myself. It’s been a smooth, quiet ride with plenty of leg room. The only downer is that there’s no WiFi.

The most interesting thing about this trip is the people. Take, for example, my dinner partners (assigned by the servers): a 50-year old teacher who claimed to own over $1 million in Chicago condos, his four-year-old son who’s already been on four train trips, and a 70-something active retiree who travels everywhere by train.

Or consider this young man. His face, neck, arms, and hands (and perhaps more) were covered in mint green tattoos to match his hair. When someone asked him where he’d gotten his tattoos, he replied, “I did them myself.”

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And then there’s the talkative guy sitting directly behind me. His phone conversations are hilarious. He’s already told one of his lady friends that he plans on visiting her “on Hollywood Boulevard” as soon as he gets his restaurant up and running. This restaurant, he claims, is the best place for ribs in Detroit. Actually, he goes on, it’s the best rib joint in the country. When he comes to see her, if she doesn’t happen to be home, he’ll camp out on her balcony — in his sleeping bag. When she apparently protests, he assures her it’s no problem because he is “the original cat burglar.”

Another woman just called him. He didn’t remember who she was at first, but now he’s telling her about his barbecue sauce.

To quote Dave Barry, “I can’t make this stuff up.”

TRAIN TRACKER: Season Two, continued

Episode 2: Eight Is Enough (but Four Isn’t Even Close)

It’s 4:28 a.m., and I’m wide awake after somehow managing to get 4 hours of sleep. Now all I need is a cup of coffee and 4 more hours of sleep, and I’ll be able to smile again.

I had tried to listen to a podcast before “bed,” but it wasn’t working. If you think your Wi-fi at home is slow, you should try it on a train. After several failed attempts at connecting to the internet world, I called it a night.

Then I gathered my toothbrush, toothpaste, and sweat pants, mustered up every ounce of courage that I had, and paid a visit to the rest room. Thankfully, nobody had urinated on the floor (see yesterday’s post), but it wasn’t a bed of roses, either. I changed into my sweats, brushed my teeth, and was out of there and back in my seat before you could say “aromatherapy.”

I put on my neck pillow (which happens to be red, hence I’m calling it my redneck pillow) and invented various new sleeping positions: The Foot Rest, The Fold, The Sitting Squat, and The Lower Back Torture. Oddly enough, I was not able to fall asleep in any of these positions. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that none of them even vaguely resembled my favorite at home, The Dead Man Float with Pillows.

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Hey, does that person have 4 feet?       Photo credit: Pixabay

I then moved my duffel bag and purse off the seat next to me and onto the floor and attempted to lie across both seats, which together span approximately 4 feet. This was a challenge, since I am a full-grown human.

First, I curled up on my left side. My head was pressed against the arm rest and my feet were sticking out a little into the aisle, so I switched to my right side. Now my feet were on the arm rest and my head was out in the aisle. Not any better, but at least I couldn’t be accused of tripping anyone as they stumbled across my head.

I curled myself tightly into The Turtle (or maybe it’s the Pill Bug). My head was now protected by the arm rest, which was digging into my scalp. I adjusted my redneck pillow to relieve the pressure. There. As snug as a bug on a train.* I hoped I wouldn’t uncurl myself in my sleep.

*Ew.

Soon, I felt myself slipping into an altered state of consciousness while listening to the droning voice of the man standing in the aisle one row behind me. He was speaking Pennsylvania Dutch. (He and about six other people in my train car are Amish.) I think it helped that I couldn’t understand a word he was saying. It was like a lullaby.

It’s now 5:30 a.m. I have a slight coffee headache, a sore neck, and tired eyes. My earrings (which I forgot to remove last night) are being squished against my ears by my redneck pillow, which I am still wearing tightly around my neck even though I’m sitting up now. I think I’ll sign off and try getting some more shuteye. At least I’ll be in Chicago in a couple of hours. Hey, maybe I’ll miss my connecting train and have to fly home! Stay tuned.