Posts Tagged ‘travel’
San Bernardino, CA
Before I knew it, I was at the train station in San Bernardino, and Barnhart, my host out there, was ten minutes away with his girlfriend, Gigi. “Don’t go exploring, you’re in gang territory,” says Gigi over Barnhart. “Gang territory?” (It kind of felt like a shady place to stick around.) “Yeah, you know, the Bloods and the Crypts do business out there. Don’t wear anything red.” I look down at my red plaid shirt, and I start to panic. “I’m wearing red. Come find me, now.” Gigi takes the phone and says, “Get yourself inside somewhere. We’re on our way,” and before the line cuts off, I hear her say “shit” under her breath.
I waited at the Doughnut King nearby. The nice Asian shop owner gave me some extra doughnuts with my egg, ham, and cheese sandwich order. It was terrible. I picked at it enough to get my fill just as Barnhart and Gigi arrived. I was so glad to be leaving that area; some kids were loitering outside the shop, giving me funny looks. Barnhart was driving a big white truck, holding a 64-ounce cup of diet coke from Circle K. We had a quick hug and shake, and I threw my bags in the backseat. Barnhart had a ruffled look about him, as if hadn’t slept much lately.
Barnhart used to work in real estate back east, but was originally from California. After a two-month solo adventure in Cambodia that almost got him arrested and killed, he returned home to begin more lucrative ventures. He started a delivery business that covers most of the area, and that has been his most recent passion project. For as long as I’ve known him, he has always worn Berkenstock sandals, in every occasion. Even in the midst of winter, he’d wear those sandals.
The drive was comical. Barnhart kept the 64-ounce cup of diet coke in his lap, and while driving with his left hand, he played the drums with a bound bundle of chopsticks in his right. The radio was not on, but still he kept a beat while asking me how things were going. The conversation was nice enough. On occasion he would drift into a separate conversation with Gigi, who sat in the back. The highway drive was dangerous like this, but I didn’t mind. My eyes were too busy looking out at the mountains ahead.
A blind man who travels by way of
sound and stick
may never know the beauty of
paths less traveled.
He may not stray from ways laid down by
form and function
but inside will always yearn for
risks more rewarding.
My exodus from Chicago was bittersweet. I was in love with a new city, and wasn’t ready to leave. I picked up my bags from the hotel after relaxing at the Cultural Center, and walked slowly up West Adams Street to Union Station. My train was waiting for me, and I boarded it like a commuter on a subway. My companion on the trip to New Orleans was a man named Lee. He was a big, portly black man with a sunny disposition and a mild twang in his voice. He told me he was on his way to a funeral somewhere near Jackson, Mississippi. It’s an odd thing; we dress so well to celebrate the passing of loved ones. Our “Sunday Finest” has purpose on the grassy knolls of buried siblings. He was pensive, despite his friendly nature. He listened with quiet, observant eyes and ears to the folks around us, telling their stories and commenting on life. He did a cross-country ride like mine before, when he was younger. Now, he told me, he was doing it out of necessity. He won’t fly in airplanes anymore. He remembers the sacrifices of long-distance travel, but keeps a good mind about it. He was raised in Amish country. He fought in Vietnam – saw some terrible things on those recon boats and helicopters – and came back in one piece, to live his life one day at a time from then on.
Lee had little else to come back to after that war, except for the lucrative jobs that were labor intensive. He went where the wind took him. He worked on a fishing boat for a few days, catching fish, shrimp, whatever the oceans provided, but along the way his experiences at war came back to haunt him. He quickly washed his hands of a life at sea, and became a man of the earth. He worked on a wheat fields in rural America for a while, earning a living with crops, and adjusting to a simpler life. One day, he found a car for sale. It wasn’t for sale; it was free, as long as he could fix the engine. He spent his free time fixing that engine and got it working within weeks. It was an old car with no top, red, and he took it across the country, picking up some of the beatnik generation along the way. I smiled and thought of that conversation I had with Epstein on our way to the Washington Monument. For all I knew, Lee was the one who drove those great minds across the country.
I went to the Art Institute after a late lunch at the Artist’s Café, and got to enjoy a photo exhibit on level 1. The entire floor was dedicated to the works of Margaret Bourke-White and Bernice Abbott. Both depicted wholly American cultures during the onset of the Depression. Their collections captured values of authenticity and balance. While Abbott’s set, entitled “Changing New York” was a portrait project of the city, Bourke-White’s set focused on the struggling conditions of rural farmers. Both delivered iconic themes and experiences that emphasize the presence of human struggle during a period of cultural and social transition. It was an eye-opening display of our nation’s history.
The city walk continued after the museum closed. Gigantic skyscrapers, nestled in a dense neighborhood of commercialism, made the city atmosphere feel organic despite the lack of natural zest. It’s what a city ought to look like, timeless, historic, but always evolving with innovation. I was exhausted after circling the downtown area for hours. My mind was full of emotions and sensations from the new experiences, and despite my intentions to see a jazz show at the famous Green Mill Jazz Club, I stayed in the city to eat the best ribs in town and get drunk off an array of local microbrews.
Waking up the next morning, I was not upset that I would spend Valentine’s Day without a lover in my arms. The trip and this journey would be me ethereal companion, and with Epstein’s help, as with everyone else’s help on this trip, I would make the most out of this fleeting moment on the train. Happy Valentine’s Day. My gift – a memorable walk up and down the National Mall, a two hour excursion, full of discussion about our nation and our beliefs. Half the walk was dedicated to the beatnik wisdom of Alan Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, and the other half, from the monument to the capital building, was wholly devoted to the connections and differences between Buddhism and Judaism.
“Buddhism elaborates on the concept of compassion. Infinite, everlasting compassion.” Even as I said those words, I coughed or hiccupped at the unbearable truth that I don’t know a damn thing about Buddhism. I only know how to be compassionate. It’s a hard concept to tackle, especially when Epstein knows so much more about Judaism and spirituality overall. All that aside, I know now how fundamentally different the two dogmas are. It opened the floor to a discussion about forgiveness, and Epstein was having a hard time finding the divide between forgiveness and condonation. There is a difference, but more importantly, to forgive is to personally relieve oneself of the stress induced by another’s wrongdoing. Whether or not you condone it is individual of your ability to forgive the negativity influenced on you… Epstein dropped me off at Union Station after that, and my odyssey through unknown frontiers would truly begin.