august train

the train had been delayed 9 hours. i had spent the last two months in the northwest, traveling with the basque man, my love, my true north. i was not looking forward to leaving, nor returning to my working life, so this extended travel delay was a mixed blessing. it was interrupting the inevitable good-bye, which would take me nearly a thousand miles to the south, to work, to the desert dry place where i live. no more clove-scented-by-wild-rose air, or wide open lush green wilderness or nights spent next to another.... scrub brush and heat and dust and dirt awaited me at the other end... but for now, nine more hours to savor michael...

eventually, amtrak arrives and i reluctantly board. i tell myself i won't weep, but i step into the car and immediately begin to leak tears. i move to the left of the door, to a large room with two bench seats on either side of the car that face the aisle. there is no one in the room, but there is a pile of luggage and two bicycles filling much of the open space. at one end of the car there appears to be a small kitchen, with a stainless steel counter stretching from window to window and a microwave on the back wall.

an attendant tells me, 'technically, you can't sit in here, but if you need a few minutes to pull yourself together, go ahead and do that, then please take a seat upstairs.' i thank her, and settle on the bench seat.

slowly we pull away from the stop, from michael, from my summer life. the tears continue to fall and i cannot will them to cease. i feel foolish, this woman of a certain age unable to rein in her emotions, but still i let the tears salt my cheeks...

a soft voice breaks the silence... 'you are sitting down here? do you mind if i come down here and practice my guitar?' i look up into the face of a young woman, pierced and beauteous and glowing. her right shoulder has an inked flock of birds upon it, soaring down her arm towards her elbow. i answer, 'no, please do; i would love that.' in a matter of seconds she returns, with a guitar and a laptop. she explains that she is trying to learn this song, that she can't get it right, that she sings it much lower than it was written, that she has to get it down pat because she is traveling to san francisco to sing this with her brother at a club. she then asks, 'would you mind if i sing?' 'no, i say - that would be lovely.'

she begins to play this acoustic guitar, her own mix of spanish and classic and more and then begins to sing 'somewhere over the rainbow.' her voice is earthy, silky, sweet, and dreamy. i close my eyes and smile and feel so blessed, as if the higher powers have chosen me to continue with the stellar summer i only thought i had left behind...

shortly thereafter, another fellow traveler stops at the bottom of the stairs. 'wow!' he says - 'can i sit down here with you two?' and he joins us, plops down on the bench seat, beaming. a free spirited 30-something, he claims he is a 'metaphysical d.j.' and regales us with some of his writing - once spoken as poetry (hinting of the beat poets) and then spoken a second time as rap. it is insane and intelligent. this long ride is now becoming an event.

soon we are joined by others - most have had incredible delays in their travels from virginia-chicago-denver and other points east. another man rounds the stairs, sticks his head into the room, and listens to the music. he pulls a capo out of his pocket and gives it to bianca when he notices she has mcgyverred her own from a zip tie and a bic pen... she hands him her guitar. he is an accomplished guitar player, beautiful sounds emanate from the instrument, but he doesn't sing. a lanky korean who barely speaks english also joins us for awhile - the music is universal and his smile is broad.

we are beginning to resemble sardines, piled into this crowded car like human luggage, when another woman steps into the room. she is in her 20s, and has been on the train for awhile, delayed at points east like so many others. she squeezes into the seat next to the metaphysical d.j. and explains she does body art and is on her way to a job. she says that she lives in the woodsy areas outside of oakland and sleeps in a hammock when there.

she jumps the counter at the back of the room and begins to investigate. 'is there any food in here?' she inquires.... she finds a refrigerator, and some cupboards, but they are bare.... bianca joins her in the food search, and they end up sitting for awhile on the counter and entertaining the crowd with their banter and antics.

things start winding down, and bianca and her guitar go back upstairs to their seat, to sleep, as do most of the others. the d.j. and the art girl remain down below with me and converse for hours. she states she found a 'ground score' in colorado and produces a large tubular container of grass. when she takes off the lid, i can smell it from the other end of the bench. the d.j. excitedly recognizes the green herb as the variety 'train wreck.' (hmmm...) she produces a pipe and packs it full; she and the d.j. leave the small room.

i fall asleep in the dark quiet. when i awake, i am covered with a blanket, which i suspect the beautiful bianca has covered me with, and the train has stopped. i am in sacramento, and still at least eight hours from home. i will now have to wait three hours for the next connecting train. but my spirits have definitely lifted.

deep inside i still dread returning home. and i already miss michael. but i couldn't have asked for a more incredible journey from north to south. it was like an electric kool aid acid trip....without the kool aid or the lsd. without prozac or prescription mood elevators. but with a healthy dose of grace and light, music and camaraderie and merrymaking. and maybe, just maybe, there was a pinch of magic thrown in, for there really is not a better word to describe what has transpired on this august night.

i think i love this life of mine.

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