Friday, 17 October 2008


Today is my second day in Guadalajara and I feel quite sad and rudderless. Later on I will have to work out how to do a polite shuffle from Darcy and Abraham's flat in the north of the centre to Gustavo and the familiy's place in the West, whilst hopefully catching up with Hugo downtown. We'll see.

But for now I'd like to give myself something else to think about, so I'll return to my trip through the states.

We pick up the story with our hero still in Seattle, on Sunday 21 September, having said goodbye to Rachael and planning to head to Sacramento that night:

This day gave me my first experience of Amtrak and Greyhound. What a grey day it was. (I'm not talking about the weather. In the afternoon the sun finally shone and it was a pretty Sunday in downtown Seattle.) First I walked to the Amtrak station, about 12 blocks east of the hostel and right next to the football stadium. The Seahawks were playing at home that day so I drifted through the crowds, idly debating if it would be worth forking out around $100 to scalp a ticket (no) and found the station. More reminiscient of Warsaw than Washington, the station had a board with the 5 or 6 trains that would be leaving that day. There was none to Sacramento until early the next morning, and I think that was fully booked anyway.

So I turned round, picked my way back throught the crowds of football fans and walked about 25 blocks to the greyhound station. More Clapton than California, this place did at least have a variety of buses available heading south. I plumped for the 1815, slated to arrive in Sac at 10am the next morning, changing once in Portland, Oregon.

I can't remember much of what I did in the next 5 hours or so. A bit of wandering around town; a cup of tea; some more War and Peace; and a bit of book on screenwriting, now that I think about it, and I was back in the greyhound station by 5pm.

Everything I had heard about greyhound buses had made me incredibly anxious, so I waited with a lot of trepidation. The first bus couldn't have been more comfortable though. I sat on my own and probably slept 4 out of 4.5 hours.

Then, changing in Portland, I was assured my bag would be transfered so I should just wait and get on my next bus. I should never have believed the woman who said this. I did check with the driver of the next bus, who seemed altogether more competent, but again should not have believed his lukewarm guarantee that my bag would be loaded.

So, after a 12-hour ride to Sac (I studiously sat next to an old lady near the front of the bus, a decision that paid dividends when the bus was loaded with 25 extra, irate, passengers from another greyhound that had "broken down" along the way at 3am), I was only half-surprised to find my bag wasn't there.

I agreed with the people in the baggage reclaim place that I would return later that day to see if my bag would arrive on the later bus and set out to find the hostel I had earmarked to stay in.

This place was a 150-year old manshion converted into a generic HI hostel, in a sleepy bit of sleepy downtown Sacramento. I checked in - after having to kill some time in yet another Starbucks - and found that most of the residentsof this hostel were local residents with learning difficulties, on a programme to provide them accomodation and some work. Not understanding anything about this at first, I was slightly terrified to be stuck in this town with only Tolstoy, my glasses (thank God!), my wallet and passport, in a hostel where the only other guests grunted at me as I walked past them. It didn't help that as I left that morning to wander around town, one of the guys in the hostel (a carer, I later learned) stopped me to ask what cologne I was wearing. After 16 hours greyhound, no change of clothes and no shower, this should have been a smart-alick wisecrack. Which I would have appreciated. It wasn't.

I went back to the bus station that afternoon and instead of getting my bag, I was given a claims form, which asked me to describe my bag, where it was lost and EVERYTHING IN IT. I started to fill this out, then thought better of continuing. Either the bag would be there tomorrow or I would be totally fucked. I bought some food, a toothbrush, socks and underwear and had a quiet evening in the hostel. Lonely, and stuck in a city I didn't really want to be in, in a hostel I hated, with almost nothing of my possesions, faced with the prospect of losing almost everything I had, I cried dry tears in the cold shower that Monday evening.

The next day I woke up, had some fruit for breakfast and went straight to the bus station. Before I even asked José, the supervisor, if anything had turned up, i could see my bag waiting behind the counter. I almost kissed the guy as he handed it to me. Instead I mumbled some thanks in Spanish and set up, with the proverbial skip in my step. It was a beautiful, sunny California morning, and I was in a charming, quiet city, where people say hello to each other on the street (Sac's population is bigger than Edinburgh's) and I could go and do whatever I wanted.

What a difference a day makes;
24 little hours....

...I whistled to myself walking around town that day. I got my laundry done (first time on the trip), spoke to an 80-year-old Australian backpacker who had onced played cricket against Richie Benaud (at under-16 level, mind you) and booked my ticket back north about 100 miles to Chico for the next day. I was in a great mood that day, and got together a game of monopoly with the minimal hostel residents for that eve. Will from California took the moral victory, but I did have a considerable empire of hotels and capital by the time I conceded defeat to go to bed.

The next day I was in Chico by mid-afternoon, reunited with my old buddy Brandon. B is a Californian who I had known in Hamburg, where he spent a year. I hadn't had much contact with him in the past 2 years but facebook had kept us close enough. He was happy to put me up for a couple of nights (in fact one night less than planned, thanks to Greyhound) and show me around his town.

As soon as I got to B's place I realised I was in for an experince I either hadn't bargained for or thought about: the classic US college party students. The flat was littered with empty bongs and unwashed dishes, and I met Mike, one of B's two flatmates. B and M took me for a walk around the small town, which meant going past the high school football practice into the campus itself, then walking through the park, which itself was littered with sunbathing students.

After chilling out playing Nintendo 64 for an hour or so that afternoon (I had never played Super Smash Brothers. I had been missing out) we went to B's buddies' place for a game of poker. $20 in, these guys played with two decks of cards, so one was always shuffled and ready, and even for a poker-lover like me, the pace of the game was breathtaking.

Now, sometimes in poker, you have a night where nothing goes right. My last proper game before Chico, months previously, had been one of those nights in Shoreditch. Every time I reached for my cards, I had eight-four looking back at me, or jack-three, or two-three. Horrible.

But some nights everything runs your way. Every flop seems to help you and ace-queen is more common than queen-four. Chico was one of those nights for me. Two hours into the game I was about $60 up, but the last hand made my night. It was about the last hand we had time for before heading out drinking, and I picked up two eights. Raising pre-flop I was called by the second biggest player. An eight came out on the flop and I had three of a kind. Hoping to get some last-hand-histrionics going, I tossed $5 into the middle. The re-raise from my opponent was $35. After a sharp intake of breath from all at the table, I debated for about two minutes and called. I had three eights, he had two pair, my triplet held for a pot of about $85, and I had won about $120 in 2.5 hours. I doubt I'll forget that game.

We went out after that for "buck night" in a couple of bars. (every drink costs a buck) and even though the drinks were on me all night, I don't think I spent more than $25. I also made my authority felt on the pool table of one of the bars for an allround excellent night of hustling.

Several beers later, Mike and I had a game of cricket in the parking lot accross from the house with a croquet ball at about 3.30am, and I woke up the next day shortly before 1pm with a considerable headache. B took me to Inn-n-Out Burger, a Californian tradition, before he went back to class, leaving Mike and me to chill out for a few hours. Leter that evening, B and I went out for a relaxed few drinks before going home for a civilised chat about politics and religion (at least a lot more civilised than the previous night's effort) and we spoke by computer with Elena in her uni library accross the Atlantic.

My alarm went off at 4.45am and B dropped me off at the Amtrak station for the first leg of my trip down to LA. We said goodbye and I felt quite confident that we would meet again in similar circumstances. Perhaps not doing the college experience (B will graduate this winter) but I'm sure we will always be able to hang out and have a good time.

And so began my trip to Los Angeles. Bus, train, bus for about 13 hours. I dozed intermitently throughout, not quite exhausted enough to sleep solidly, but not awake enough to read.

I'll pick up the story in my next post.

1 comment:

Richard Smith said...

Maybe you could pay your whole way playing poker. Your qualities as a poker and snooker player must be a tribute to our parenting skills.