Got to the train station in San Antonio at 11:30 or something, got into my compartment, and fell asleep. Awoke to west Texas: a million cactuses which are not cacti because cowboys aren’t classicists and lots of wonderful abandoned structures and at one point something shaped like a wild boar trotting through the scrubby desert.
I drove through all of this in 1999 on my way to the Bay Area, and then again, in reverse, the worse for wear, leaving. It’s hard to explain why I had vowed to see that landscape again or why, upon opening my curtains in the morning on the train, I said, out loud, “oh my god.” It is purported to be a very monotonous landscape.
I drank in my compartment and conked out fairly early. There was nothing to see after 6:30 or so anyway. I’d have been curious to see the Salton Sea but we passed in the middle of the night. Have I talked about the compartments? They are hilariously tiny, nothing like in old movies, but I found mine very comfortable. The trick is to bring a small blanket from home so it’s not utterly like being in a moving utility closet.
Arrived at Union Station and, as planned, took the subway to Koreatown. I went to a Korean Spa for several hours, a pleasant place to wash the travel off. There was a water urn that had these plastic orange and lemon and lime slices on the inside of the glass in these perfectly ridiculous neon shades that real fruit does not come in and the water was flavored of citrus and then I remembered I was in California and that was actual fruit. Walking on Wilshire, looking for an ATM, I saw the Hollywood sign and, because it had rained, the snowcaps you apparently can’t usually see.
One of the things I do in other parts of the country is look at strangers in public places and want them to embody the place so I’ll really know I’m in wherever. In Texas it’s fine–you actually do see lots of cowboy hats and hear lots of accents. In LA I want them to somehow evince LA but I have no idea what that looks like. Nobody looks like Stanwyck now.
Had a purely punctuational trip to Santa Monica. Met a friend for lunch in Silverlake. It’s good to see the neighborhoods you’ve heard of! Next time they are mentioned somewhere, you will know how to picture them. I drove endlessly one day on Sunset Blvd but I didn’t once see a driveway I might swerve into and attend a monkey funeral in the home of a faded star. Long about this part of the trip, having so largely tied off loose ends at work, there began to be a dreamy quality of having moved away and being fully adrift.
I won’t talk about the part where I saw many of you because, well, you were there. I will say that Lisa took me to the La Brea Tar Pits which have that creepy “try and pull a metal rod out of tar, and imagine you are a stuck animal, awaiting horrible death” amusement, which I believe I remember from when I was four years old and we spent a summer in Los Angeles. A large rodent comforted me:
Union Station has a cheap bag check so I left my stuff and walked around downtown for an hour. Several people had told me it would be an interesting walk and it was. City Hall, the old LA Times building, finally I was plunged back into noir LA. I walked to Disney Hall (not so noir) and back. I left LA, numbered among the Near-Great:
I took this trip with Los Angeles as the endpoint because, after 35 years of never giving it much thought, perhaps because of my growing interest in films of the Studio Era, LA had begun to haunt me. Well and to have tacos with all y’all. But LA was just lovely.
I think there’s little more to say. I stopped with my friends in Albuquerque, the ones that used to live in Boston and who I would go stay with for a weekend when I needed to recharge. They lived on the edge of town, by the Sandia Mountains, which turn pink at sunset.
There’s a tram thingy that goes up the side of the Sandia Mountains that looks awfully steep and I made a note to keep us busy enough that no-one would suggest taking it. I told D that I had spent maybe 1/5 of my trip acutely anxious and she made noises of pity and I said oh it’s kind of fine, the salt on my trip in a way. This is true.
About that, sort of…people keep telling me how nice it would be if I could fly and I guess I somehow encourage them by my horribly apologetic reiterations of how strange my way of traveling is.
The fact is it’s how I travel and, factoring out some feeling of being an outsider, I can’t imagine doing or being otherwise. It makes my trips feel meaningful. Would I like to go to Europe? Sure. Would I like to have it be easy, a matter of no real thought, to cross the country? Not especially.
We got green chile bagels, because those exist. We drove to Santa Fe and walked around. I had had an endless dream where I was caught in some kind of game like Michael Douglas in that one movie, but my anxiety was subsiding. D bought me a tiny, lovely piece of local color. We had lunch at Pasqual’s, which was terrific.
Then a long walk among galleries largely filled with kitsch. Not that I know from visual art much but oh my god. Some of it was staggering, like big bronze native Americans looking noble and disappointed.
I was spent, cumulatively, so we didn’t drive through the Jemez mountains on the way home as planned. It had been few enough hours since I’d been anxious that the thought of winding roads was not doing it for me, and besides, I had suggested that drive weeks ago because I wanted to see West that looked like my internal, mythic West and I had done that already.
Maybe I’ll write one more, about getting home.