Half-drunk iced coffee from Cafe Smitten on the tray table. Empty seat next to me. Empty seat, iced coffee and fields of green alfalfa rolling by.
If I were Sting, Bruce Springsteen or Merle Haggard, I’d write a song about this but I’m not. Rather than writing about the train, I planned on enjoying the train. Allowing the train and the music that it makes to spin its therapeutic magic.
“Magic.” A train ride is like a spa day. It’s time recovered rather than time spent.
A bus, too, since the first leg of Amtrak’s trip from Bakersfield to San Diego includes a ride on a bus. A comfortable bus. A cool bus with generous picture windows.
A “cool bus” becomes the Surfliner train at Union Station. The Surfliner has a good ring to it. The Surfliner promises everything but a dip in the ocean and a bucket full of sandcrabs.
Five and half hours of found time is a chance to do everything or nothing at all.
Newspaper, iPad, novel, to do list, user instructions for the VTech land line phones that are proving slightly beyond my reach? I had them all but if I wanted to, and I did, I could put the jumble in the empty seat next to me and let them stew in their very important juices.
Doing nothing has a certain appeal. Ignoring important does, too. Rather than moving forward with lightning speed, leaning backward. Settling into one’s skin and becoming comfortable again.
I could meditate. I still remember my mantra from Transcendental Meditation — “ah-ing.” It cost me $120 but you can have it for free.
I could meditate, but why? A train ticket includes its own meditation and no one knew better than Steve Goodman in “City of New Orleans.”
“Mothers with their babes asleep
“Are rockin' to the gentle beat
“And the rhythm of the rail is all they feel.”
Everybody should ride a train once a year. More than once a year. Monthly, weekly, every other day.
I’d had my blood pressure taken the day before.
“You know your blood pressure is a little high,” said Dr. Dave.
My blood pressure is high? I’m not surprised. I’m in a doctor’s office. People are getting shots, hearing life extinguishing news in whispered voices, discovering they weigh more than they thought they weighed even after removing their shoes and their five-pound wallet.
High blood pressure? I’d be shocked if it was low. I’m surprised that rather than a regular checkup, this isn’t an autopsy, a wake and a funeral.
Take my blood pressure now. Now, with Fort Tejon looking so pretty on my right. Frazier Park giving every indication that it’s the place to move to. If you took my blood pressure now, it would be so low I could be declared legally dead.
The only thing that could make my blood pressure rise is the thought this trip may end. Already, I don’t want it to be over. Can you slow down? Change a tire? Stop at Pyramid Lake so maybe we can spot some bald eagles?
The young dark-haired woman sitting across the aisle from me was reading a book on health while she sipped on a green drink. That’s one way to do it. A train ride is another.
In fact, toss the drink. Green is not a good color for a drink. Not unless it’s a pistachio milkshake.
A train trip is all rainbow, but occasionally there is a pot of gold at the end. This time there was: Lillian Kate Oliver. Born July 13.