I miss the quiet. I miss the time to enjoy watching the country go by. I miss the small towns of the forgotten neighborhoods that people do not see on their daily commutes. I miss the intrigue of discovering the unknown joys of the day. I miss the sound of the train whistle and soothing rock of the train gliding on the tracks. You hear quiet sharing amongst strangers using their voices not the sound of technology. I miss it in a way that is hard to articulate.
Since I have been home, I have isolated myself to process the journey. This journey did something that I did not expect a few months ago. It gave time to think about spirituality, love, creative innovation, and community.
Over the next few weeks, we will visit that journey that was so close yet feels so long ago through this travel journey.
We all grew from a journey that is just beginning. Alberto and Dennislon experienced the joy of traveling without moving, and I learned… #AllOverAmerica
Revisiting Day 1 – Friday, June 1st, 2018
Word/Phrase of the Day: Ease
The day is finally here. I am headed off for 15-days on Amtrak. That is right, my friends! 15 days! How did this all happen?
A few years ago, I read an article about the Amtrak route from Seattle to Vancouver. The words and pictures to describe the experience sounded appealing to this wanderluster. I investigated other experiences on the train, and added the experience seeing America by train on my Life Bucket list. The Seattle to Vancouver route is still on my bucket list. As destiny would have it, my friend and fellow wanderluster tagged me in a social media post about a that Amtrak was offering for $186 from Emeryville, CA (San Francisco Area) to New York City. Thinking there were so many restrictions, I investigated, and it was real. I booked it not completely thinking through how I was going to California from Atlanta or home from New York. Sometimes, just going for it in life requires some additional steps. After investigating the cost of flights and speaking with the Amtrak Customer Service Representative, I booked a 15-Day USA Rail Pass to see America by train.
During a retreat I was directing, I shared with the young men how I came to Cristo Rey from being a Hospital Administrator, and my prayers to live a simpler life that is filled with experiences that told rich stories about our shared human experience. I challenged them to be men that saw the world and experienced life and all it had to offer. Two of the young men from the school I work at, Alberto Juarez and Dennilson Gutierrez, heard about my train trip one evening during the retreat. With such exuberance they said, “We want to go.” For the days that followed, they asked questions about how much it cost, if I would keep receipts of what I spent on the train so they could save for the trip, and what I was going to see along the way.
After much reflection about how I could share in this experience with them, I suggested that they plan everything. They became responsible for what I ate, what I saw, what I did during my time away. Accepting all detox recommendations when I get home…eating snacks like a teenager is going to be hard on this almost 40-year-old body. I was learning to let go of the need to control every aspect of the sometimes iron-clad grip that I had on my life. Control Crossing was born, and the teacher-student relationship line was blurred. They were the teachers and I was the willing student. They wrote the lessons, I set-up the notebook (Instogram and GroupMe) to capture the experiences along the way.
My friend Kamal gave me an A-Town Cream Doughnut, so Sublime could travel along, and I headed to the station with my travel backpack filled with snacks and a few clothes and my blanket. My first lesson in letting go…the train was delayed by three (3) hours. I sat on the bench at the station and waited patiently. I could not make the train come faster and there was a lesson to be learned. When something going on around you is out of your control, be at ease.
Finally, we boarded the train in Atlanta for New Orleans aka The Big Easy. I sat in my seat and let the rocking of the train put me to sleep for the first of three (3) naps. My body and spirit were at ease as the train passed by railroad crossings in Atlanta that I cursed when I got stuck at. As we passed an all too familiar one in Douglasville, GA, I vowed to never curse them again because most often the people on the train are on a journey. Meanwhile back in Atlanta, Alberto and Dennilson were messaging to inquire how close I was to New Orleans because they had a challenge for me.
PS: Until they make this journey, I have their photo to capture the moments with them. After all, we are crossing the country together.
Off to New Orleans…
Revisiting Day 2 – Saturday, June 2nd, 2018
Word/Phrase of the Day: Find a way
For many years I have wanted to visit New Orleans and experience The Big Easy. In 2005 I planned to visit New Orleans that October; however, I watched the levees break and completely submerge the city in August. The impact on the storm sits in the air, and people you meet from New Orleans refer to the New Orleans in two chapters: Before Katrina and After Katrina.
Alberto and Dennilson, issued me a challenge to eat one (1) Dozen oysters at Acme Oyster House in the French Quarter. Accepting the challenge, we made it into New Orleans at 12:58am and Acme closed at 10pm. I found a place that was open until 2am in the French Quarter called Pier 424. I put down my luggage and hopped in a Lyft to make it there before they closed. Finding a way to meet the guys raw oyster challenge. I ponied up to the bar, and as luck would have it…they were sold out of raw or grilled oysters. I sort of met the challenge by ordering an Oyster Po-Boy.
Before I left Atlanta, I text a girlfriend from graduate school about staying some place for the night since my original sleeping plans fell through. Thankfully, she made a call to her mother and I stayed the night in a house in the historic Treme neighborhood in New Orleans. Not only was I taking a train trip across the country but I was staying in Treme. The Universe was finding a way to make all my dreams and wishes become reality. By 3:30am, I was back at the house to take a short rest.
The next morning, I was up by 7am to visit the world-famous Café du Monde for beignets and Café Au Lait. Who knew when I called the Lyft, I would meet an uncle as my Lyft driver named Larry. Larry was a Commissioned Officer that was born and raised in New Orleans, 6th Ward to be exact. We talked about growing up African-American in New Orleans, and how he found his way back to New Orleans before Katrina. He was the proud owner showing off his home to a guest, the City of New Orleans and its rich history and the culture of its culinary cuisine. As we drove past the crews cleaning Bourbon St., he said “At 4pm, the streets begin filling up with people that want to find their way to be easy and enjoy a few hours of their life. It’s a dance..the dance of life is easy if you allow it to be.”
After collecting my luggage from the backseat of his black SUV, he stopped and looked at the house I called home for a few hours. With a huge smile, he shared with me that he saw that house being built when he was a little boy. Two worlds now collided, his childhood and the flood of memories it carried and the present with a stranger that was just passing through his home.
As we drove to the train station, he gave me advice like any good uncle would that I must be open to what God directs for you. We reached the station and he gave me a hug and wished me well on my journey and to live a life of easiness because our paths may never cross again.
Walking away to enter the station, I turned to Larry and said, “See you soon.”
Off for the long journey across Texas…
Revisiting Day 3 – Sunday, June 3rd, 2018
Word/Phrase of the Day: Off
For several days, I have not had the convenience of WiFi and technology. At first, I was thinking how was I going to entertain myself for a several days on the train. When other passengers moaned and groaned about the lack of WiFi, the gentlemen in an Irish/Southern accent, “We are going to do what we used to do..have conversations with one another.”
Getting to share life experiences and stories about our respective journeys from fellow travelers on the train has led to more meaningful lessons than what I had expected. This journey has been a deeper, richer look at simplicity. What does it mean when you are choosing to take three days traveling to Los Angeles to see family instead of four hours. Sonny, a retired postman living along the Florida coast, asked me over a shared meal in the Dining Car, “What are we all rushing for? Enjoy and see things that you don’t get to see every day.”
This is a wealth that is not tallied on economic charts, the wealth of happiness and simplicity.
This ride is revealing another important lesson, the power of occasionally disconnecting to answer some fundamental questions about life. Beginning this journey, these were the ones I wrote in my journal and floated through my soul:
- When or what are you doing that makes you the happiest? Sharing a meal with friends and family; Exploring
- Where is your go-to place when you need to recharge? Museums or Movie Theatre
- What are you completely and unapologetically selfish about? My time.
How would you answer them?
Off to Los Angeles…
Revisiting Day 4 – Monday, June 4th, 2018
Word/Phrase of the Day: Resourceful
As the sun was beginning to rise over Los Angeles, the train pulled into Union Station at 6am. We felt the LA early morning breeze and started making our walk into the hub of the station for the traveler dance. We passed by one another with a rhythm that tells the story of human travel. It was the dance that we are familiar with people moving about for their work week to begin, and we were travelers that for the next few hours or days or weeks would call Los Angeles home. I watched the video again from Alberto and Dennilson about my next challenge: eat at Nickel Diner, visit Chinatown, and take a picture with a celebrity.
Since my next destination was the Bay Area, I had a figure out what was the most efficient way to get to these destinations…Lyft. The driver, Dewayne, pulled up in his Black Dodge Charger. Before my arm let go of the last strap of my backpack, I looked him in the eye and said, “Are you in a hurry because we need to go on a small adventure for the next few hours.” With a puzzled look on his face, he said “No”. The backpack plopped off my arm and we began. First stop, Chinatown Central Plaza.
The plaza was empty and all the shops were closed. It was a ghost town, but then again it was 6:30am. It was even too early for the parking meters and we parked for free. Dewayne had never been to the Plaza, so I made him come along. Since we were hanging together, he had to come and experience this with me. Dewayne and I walked through the streets of the plaza marveling at the architecture of the buildings and the vibrant colors as the lanterns dangled from the clear blue sky. We spotted our first celebrity, a statue of Bruce Lee. Okay, I do not this the guys meant statues…I figure if you have a statue made for you that puts on celebrity level.
We saw these vibrant colors of the Chinese silk dresses and peeked in the window of the Chinese bakery that had not opened yet to allow the smell of anise and green tea to fill the air.
We were pulling out of Chinatown and passed by the sign for Homeboy Industries and Homegirl Café on our way to a few stops before I ate breakfast. As we whizzed through streets, the massive Disney Concert Hall and people making their way to work filled the streets. We passed by this beautiful ornate plaza with flowers and taco trucks and street sweepers that were holding space until tourists arrived. As we passed by a tent community along the city streets, Dewayne and I noticed how resources were being shared between our brothers and sisters. One man was sweeping the sidewalk in front of each tent, and one person was sharing the news of the day like most people were doing in their homes as they had their morning coffee.
We arrived at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Standing tall along the busy street, you are greeted by a large black gate but a gold angel with her arms extended open to welcome you. I have never seen anything like this. The iron looking black doors had what I would describe as religious hieroglyphics that fit the building’s aesthetics. I could not stay for long, but if the building looks like this, I can only imagine the powerful homilies. It was time for breakfast.
There are no accidents.
The dining destination from Alberto and Dennilson’s video message was Nickel Diner. As the Universe would have it, they are closed on Mondays. Joy filled my heart because I was finally going to dine at Homegirl Café, which is part of Homeboy Industries. Homeboy Industries was founded by Father Gregory Boyles, SJ. Kinship and Community fill the hearts and souls of the “homies” and “homegirls” who come to Homeboy Industries. Read “Tattoos on the Heart” and “Barking to the Choir” to learn more about Homeboy Industries or follow their Instagram. As Father Gregory Boyle, SJ will encourage you , if you go to a retreat he’s leading, to visit Homegirl Cafe where kinship is served on a plate. When I walked in the door, I was greeted by warm smiles and mouth-watering smells. I looked up and there he was…Miguel. I met Miguel when he and another homie spoke at the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice in Washington, DC this past November. During the Teach-In, I saw a man find his voice. He spoke with our students extensively one evening about his own journey and displayed interest in the students. I was in awe that through a series of occurrences when I got to LA, I found my worlds once again converging. This time, I was standing in front of people and in a place that resided in the pages of books or on the stage at a conference. I marvel at the little miracles that happen every day.
The guys challenged me to only spend $12 on breakfast. When I dine some place for the first time, I ask the staff what their favorite dish is. Leticia directed me to the Chilaquiles. With a warm to-go box and a steaming cup of Mexican Hot Chocolate, I checked another item off my personal bucket list. Oh, Leticia’s recommendation of the Chilaquiles just might be one of the three best dishes I have ever eaten.
After having DeWayne participate in this quick adventure in LA, we parted ways and I handed him one of the delicious cookies I got from the café that Jose selected for me. You did not think I was going to leave those behind… I found a park outside the station and savored every bite of my delicious breakfast under the Los Angeles morning sun.
Off to Emeryville…
By 10am, the next train was leaving Los Angeles for a beautiful ride along the California Coast with a window seat. As we made our way from Los Angeles to the Bay Area, the beauty of the Pacific Ocean greeted me on my left side. Riding along the California coast line, you get lost in the beauty from the crashing waves and surfers of Southern California to the vast farmland and farmers in Central and Northern California. Navigating through California’s farmland, you develop another level of understanding of the land and human hands that bring food to our grocery shelves. It added a human face to the labor required to bring food to our tables, and my mind began also thinking of Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez’s work for farmers in the 1960s.
Dennislon messaged me that the next video was waiting for me with a new challenge to eat at Summer Summer Thai restaurant and visit Shellmound Memorial. Although, I love Thai food and hang out comfortably in the curry section. They challenged me to step out of my comfort zone and try something new…What!!! I was on the train what else did they want from me. Seriously, I was excited for the challenge because I am a foodie. There was a bigger problem in front of me because the restaurant closed before the train was set to arrive in Emeryville after the restaurant closed due to a delay.
Think, think, think… Call in the order!
Then a flurry of messages were sent between Eva, a sorority sister from Emory, and myself to somehow order from the restaurant. Alas, I ordered food from Caviar and had it sent to Kafi and Macheo’s house. Hoping service would last long enough in farm country, I sent a text letting them know food was on the way to their house.
Thanks to modern conveniences, I was able to eat a delicious meal from Summer Summer Thai. I ordered the Rib-Eye Salad because I am not a fan of steak…stepping out of my comfort zone.
I took a good shower and slept peacefully in a bed.
Off to Chicago…
Revisiting Day 5 – Tuesday, June 5th, 2018
Word/Phrase of the Day: Exploration
This morning, we began the journey east to Chicago for the next 51 hours.
Through traveling for a few years, there is one thing that I love…exploration. Exploration of communities, exploration of food, and exploration of new discoveries. Each new discovery leads to an unexpected encounter that helps me grow as a person. Mary and William with the California Rail Road Museum as part of a volunteer program called Amtrak’s Interpretive Program that gives guided tours on Amtrak’s California Zephyr. As the Observation Car filled up with fellow travelers, we were drawn to the wealth of knowledge and joy fillig the train car. They are both retired and have found joy in retirement by exploring lifelong learning as docents in the museum and through Amtrak Interpretative Program (AIP) through the California State Railroad Museum. You hear and feel it as they joyfully tell the history of the California Railroad and historical landmarks along the way. I wanted to be close to them because something about their presence was captivating, and want to understand what was their secret to life in their Golden Years. Mary smiled and took off her glasses. As she sat up taller, she told me three things:
- Travel and see the world
- Keep learning
- Find a person or organization that will sponsor both.
William agreeing with her added, “There are two types of people in this world. Those that travel and those that don’t. Even if it’s in your state, be the person that travels.”
We arrived in Reno, and they departed the train. Mary, William, and I said our final goodbyes. I hear you and receive it.
Off to see the Colorado River….
Revisiting Day 6 – Wednesday, June 6th, 2018
Word/Phrase of the Day: Community
The rocking of the train rolling along communities that the GPS seems to have forgotten is a peaceful distraction as the move through this country.
What I notice about each community we pass through is that the same thing happens…strangers stand with their hands on their hips and wave to the passing train from front porches or backyards where people are sharing a meal or from the farm workers working under the bright late Spring sun. As we waved back from the Observation Car, there was something beautiful occurring in our rolling home. Community was forming.
We shared snacks. We shared meals. We exchanged books. We played Uno and checkers. We gathered at the tables and sang along to classic American songs that everyone seems to know. We talked politics, travel, our past and our future. As we stared out the window watching the country roll by along the Colorado River, the only distraction was the train whistle announcing our arrival in a new city.
The community respected the quiet when the sun went away for the night, and the stars came out over the horizon. We were a community of strangers that called the California Zephyr Amtrak Train home.
Off to see the middle of America…