So I had this dream last night, I was walking through this series of buildings, this complex if you will. It started with me walking up a balcony in some sort of theatre. A real steep balcony, with soft lights on the stairs, and red velvet at the top; glowing from another series of 4 or 5 lamps of soft light. It was elegant, but dirty at the same time. Contradicting the red velvet on the walls was a dirty, grimy, sticky cement floor. Old dried up soda, and chocolate covered raisins. Cigarette butts, and dank beer smell. There was a group of people sitting in one of the aisles. 5 or 6 people that looked familiar. No faces whatsoever, but they looked real familiar. As I passed them, they started blurting my name out. Right at this moment, I was all of a sudden with a girl with no face, no personality, nothing, just “a girl”. We were rushing by them, and I seemed to feel particularly embarrassed by the whole situation for some reason. We made our way out into this courtyard type are that was real European looking. Lot’s of real old buildings with amazing stones, and windows and doors. The doors. The fucking doors. No, not Jim Morrison and his motley crew of “Doors” Doors I kept opening. Looking in the rooms and hallways for something. One doorway would open to a wall. Another doorway would open to a long hallway with more doors along the walls inside it. There was one door that held the room I always see in my nightmares. A big room with huge ceilings, and a floor that is basically big rusty beams. Real damp, and dark this room. I always end up in this room. Scaling the walls, trying not to “fall in”. This room is huge, probably 20 yards wide by 30 yards long. I opened this door and shut it immediately. The next door I opened there was a man there. There was a stairway that looked exactly like the one in this old apartment building I used to hang out at. Four stories high, old wood banisters. Doorways with apartments you’ll never see. So I open this door, and this tall blonde guy with a Hawaiian shirt on. I pick the guy up by the collar and heave him down the stairs. I run down after him swearing. I throw him down the next stairway. I run down after him, and do it again. I do this until he’s at the bottom, and start kicking him in the stomach over and over. I go back into the courtyard. The alarm clock goes off.
The best vacations I have taken have all revolved around me seeing a band, usually it was the Grateful Dead. I don’t look like a “hippie”, but I learned years before, when I spent time in the punk rock scene for years, that it had nothing to do with what you looked like. Well, unless you are a punk rocker and you judge everyone who isn’t punk rock. Anyway, I just remembered my first trip by myself twenty or so years ago.
I bought this book listing every single Grateful Dead show available on tape from 1988-1995 or something like that. I opened it to February 25th 1990, in Oakland, California. I was twenty years old at the time. I was going to take a train from Boston all the way to San Francisco, and meet my best friend at the time, Derek there. He flew. I had never been away from home by myself for a long period of time, so this two week journey to see two Grateful Dead shows would prove to be a stepping stone to what I would still be doing ten years later, and define when I really feel myself. On the road, by myself. Previous to this show, I saw the band in the summer of 1989 and then a “famous” show in New Jersey in October of 1989.
So I get on this train in South Boston and I’m immediately feeling elated to be leaving, seeing the band, and seeing parts of the country I had never seen. I was a painfully shy person, but being on a train for four days straight will make even the most timid person a “life of the party”. I think we were maybe two hours into the trip, we stopped in Springfield, Massachusetts. The train was relatively empty, and I was lucky enough to score two seats, so I could sit at the window. In Springfield the train sort of filled up and I see this character walking down the aisle. About five feet tall, cowboy boots, denim jeans, a denim jacket, long black “ZZ Top beard”, and sunglasses (it’s 9:30PM in the dead of winter), a duffel bag in one hand, and a guitar slung around his shoulder. I of course make eye contact with him, and he immediately sits down next to me.
“HOW YA DOIN BUDDY, I’M JIM (I can’t remember his name at this point), WHERE YOU GOIN!!?”
“Ummmm, San Francisco.”
“WELL IT LOOKS LIKE WE’RE TRAVELING TOGETHER, I’M GOING TO DENVER!!!”
Yeah, real excellent.
So he starts talking and doesn’t shut up about music and traveling. It was interesting, but his voice, and overall demeanor made it a little hard to take him serious. The best part was yet to come though.
“YOU LIKE VODKA???”
“No, I don’t really drink at all”
“WELL IF YA DO, I GOT PLENTY”
He opens his jacket and has two fifths in each inside pocket of the jacket, two nips in each breast pocket, opens his duffel bag, and he literally, no joke, had a little bit of clothing, and what looked like 6 more bottles of vodka. I got up and went to the restroom, and he showed up in there.
“OH THERE YOU ARE, HEY YOU WANT A SWIG OF THIS OR WHAT????”
“No really, I’m all set”
So we get to Albany and I know what I have to do. I knew that we would be switching trains in Chicago in the morning, but I really couldn’t deal with him anymore. I got out of the train and went into the station and asked if I could get a room for the night on the train. It would be eighty bucks. I forked down the money and got my upgraded ticket.
I went back in and told “Jim” that they fucked up, my ticket stated I was to be in another train. A likely story, as anyone who knows Amtrak, you buy a cheap ticket, you sit wherever the fuck you want. I went to my room, and it was literally about the size of a stall in a restroom…okay the handicapped stall (which begs the question I often ask myself when I perpetually use the handicapped stall, can I get arrested for using this, or get a ticket? I mean it does seem to me the same crime as parking in one of the handicapped spaces, but the room in there is great, you get those railings in case you’re sick, drunk, or handicapped; it’s a whole new world in there. I imagine the women’s room to have a similar affect on me if I was to ever walk in a “good one”[as opposed to the one I was in at Saratoga Springs, New York, which was so dirty I thought I was in the men’s room]). It was tiny nonetheless, enough room to stand, and fold down the bed which was right against the window.
Waking up in Ohio the next morning was an absurd feeling. Ohio. Who lives in Ohio? Guided By Voices. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and ummmm…some other people that apparently love corn. So Ohio is pretty boring…on the train at least. I won’t ever just say a state is boring if I haven’t stepped on the soil there. Driving through Nebraska is as boring as watching ice melt, but when you get out and walk around a little, late, in the middle of a chilly, damp night you realize there’s nothing like it in the world. Nebraska.
So we arrive in Chicago, where you get to get on the double decker train. Much bigger, much more exciting. I still hadn’t seen “Jim”, but I was aware we was around. I did see him in the middle of the night actually for a couple of minutes at the bar (“why is he buying drinks with all that he has on him?”…I figured it out, he was just making his drinks even stronger, that’s apparently what you do or something when you’re a big drinker. Up the ante a little). The next time I saw him was in Denver where he was getting off. I went up to him and, knowing he was getting off for good and said:
“Hey Jim, I was looking for you the past day and a half to see if you wanted to hang out, we were supposed to be traveling together and all that…well, hopefully I’ll run into you again…have a good life”
It’s funny, all of the people I met on that first train ride it always ended with “Have a good life” What a strange departing phrase. There was no internet, well, not that I was using anyway, so there was no e-mail exchanging, and I was certainly not going to write anyone letters. I met a lot of great people. The most memorable after “Jim”, were the two old black men from Mississippi who got me drunk and told me stories about segregation, and John Lee Hooker and that kind of stuff. I have an amazing picture of one of the men reading the newspaper at dawn that I will post on here some day when I remember to scan it.
The other guy was an African fellow who was with me from Denver to San Francisco. He didn’t speak very good English, and he had a ton of money. He owned farms, had a big family, and traveled the world from time to time. Sam was his name. When we got to San Francisco, neither of us had been there before so we sort of hung out for a little while, until we got our shit together. I took a good photo of him at the San Francisco train station that I’d also like to put up here. I love meeting new people. I especially love it when I’m traveling though. You can’t really rely on small talk at all. You don’t have to make impressions though either. I like to put on an act from time to time when I meet people traveling. “Yeah, I’m a policeman in Boston” So this first trip was the first of a dozen of these, most of them small ones with friends, but I did three summers where it was two week excursions by myself that were both healthy, and bad for me at the same time. I had this a little on the first trip.
The train ride home got tedious. “Shit, Indiana again”
For subsequent summers, I will probably not be going on the same type of excursions though. There are no tours to follow around at my age. I am going to go somewhere though.. Either way, I need it again, and it can’t come any fucking sooner. That’s it, I’m going across country again.