Peru

1

The first thing was that long line for money. Endless.

I didn’t have any Peruvian cash, and there were two ATMs in the airport terminal. It was hot, and the two enormous ceiling fans cooled nobody. They spun in slow motion thirty feet above as our queue inched forward even slower.  The disgruntled tourists were of varying levels of sweat and tan. There were orange white people, there were black brown people, some sun-kissed, copper, pale and all other things draped in hats, tanks, and slippers of every bright color.

The people were getting upset. Eyes were being rolled.

I was muy cansado.

I remember standing in that line almost two hours and promising myself I’d request bills at home next time. From a bank long before departure next time. And next time I’d be a better man damnit!

Come on now, I thought next, don’t start a journey of self-discovery by bullshitting yourself. You know this isn’t the last high-surcharge cash machine line you’ll see.

2

I got outside and took immediate offense to the fares taxi drivers quoted me. I mean, the fares were barely out these cabbies’ mouths and I was irate and throwing my hands up. Insult!!

This was all part of my plan to hyper-localize. My hair was slicked back to remove any trace of South Indian curls. My playlist was 100% Latin.  My hope was my terrible Spanish only suggested that I was unable to string a sentence together because I was so upset about Diego Rosales trying to charge me the max suggested fare.

My mustache accompanies me to the negotiation. It protects me from the onslaught of arrows reserved for tourists con fannypacks. Not me, commandante. El ‘Stache seems to habla just fine and we find the hermano to drive us forth to Lima.

The cabbie pulls up to my door. It’s very dark and a residential area. It’s uncannily, exactly what I love most in a neighbourhood. Leafy. Airy. Lagoons overlook city lights and some clean and modern, black and white graffiti. Lima is illuminated. I hear some European girls above me singing Cyndi Lauper. They just wanna. They just wanna.

Oops. It’s not my hotel, they say. Wrong place. El Mix-up. I’m walking round Lima at 1AM with my bags, yes I’m stuck outside-a-Barranco-with-the-Lima-blues-again. I see one of those places that does the new type of ice cream that is cut very fine and scraped off onto a cracker. Done. You just made the list.

1.Machu Pichu

2.Pisco

3.Ice Cream

I find my room, it is at the top of a black spiral staircase about four floors tall. I’m greeted by a delightful host, I am forgetting his name but we had a semi-long chat despite the hour, my Spanish and me being completely zapped. I was chomping at the bit to use the Spanish I had studied on a clearly chill native Spanish speaker, but I soon discovered Amigo was from Brazil, and spoke Portuguese. He was letting the stories come forth more boldly now after each sip of beer, language be damned as long as we could find a glimmer of understanding.

It was one of those moments when I wished my energy matched my excitement. However, it didn’t – and I had decided to be strategic about that and trust the energy.

I hung up my jacket, plugged in my charger. Somebody had left a black Cowboy hat in my closet. I hit the bed hard. I was so exhausted my eyes closed themselves shut as I debated napping and going out in an hour.

I woke, hit the lights and I set my alarm for 20 minutes before the Complimentary Breakfast ends the next morning.

I fall asleep wondering how many others did the same thing and if that’s the worst time to go to breakfast.

Hey, I’m a person offline too.

I read a ton of biographies. In almost every biography of a success story, there is a moment early in their life when our protagonist goes against the grain and shows some initiative that separates him or her from the pack.

Two weeks ago, I decided I was tired of emailing my resume out endlessly. No longer content to let my future be determined by the whims of somebody’s inbox, I printed out a dozen copies of my resume, put on some nice duds, and set out to walk into the cushy offices and environs of the people that I want to work for. I don’t especially enjoy walking into the offices of people I don’t know and disrupting their work day, so I had to muster up a little moxie to do this. I did this by drinking a stiff coffee and listening to my spirit animal Eminem’s 8 Mile Road battletrack.

“I got every ingredient, all I need is the courage…”

I repeatedly found myself twenty feet from my destination, taking a deep breath and wiping away the beads of sweat from my brow. I checked my clothes in the semi-reflection of the glass office walls next door, and I walked into my possible bright future, all perfect posture and clean-shaven polite smiles. Not a single office would even look at my resume. I was polite. I wasn’t asking for an interview. I simply wanted to leave a paper copy of my resume and cover letter in an office of people I respected and wanted to work alongside, and people looked at me as if I was a billigerant and pantsless drunken door-to-door salesman with his fly open. (I know that’s technically not possible)

A few people were visibly uncomfortable and behaved as if by putting a resume on a desk I was littering. Time and again, the security personnel or the person at the front desk of said company would tell me that “All our hiring is done online” and direct me to their homepage. I would counter politely that since I was physically in the room now, could I just leave my information? However, our online society of 2014, this handless brainless army we’ve become, these people’s somewhat calm exteriors morphed into palpable discomfort at my suggestion. More than three people literally put their hands up in the air in a display of graphic exasperation to illustrate to me the depths of my demanding boorish behavior. Walking in was seeming to have the opposite effect of what I anticipated, rather than give me an in due to my initiative, it was taking me out of consideration because they thought I was outside my damn mind.

I wondered what the biography subjects I had read about would have done. Well, Einstein probably would have laughed and ridden his unicycle home. But what would the late Youtube commencement speaker Steve Jobs have said to the gentleman who told him to only contact them through their website or LinkedIn? In his biography he repeatedly told prospective employers he was not leaving their premises until they hired him. I appeared to be running the risk of incarceration if I inquired one more time if they could direct me to the person in charge of new hires. The irony was not lost on me that the very companies and industries that were built around ideas of thinking differently, built by people who chased uniqueness and persistently at that, their successors seemed to all be thinking alike now, and not courageously. These days, people celebrate thinking differently as their cover photos and profile pictures but in an ever-increasing number of actual human interactions, something as simple and harmless as asking to leave a paper on a desk can get you treated like a pariah and any deviation from the mundane order of the day appears borderline anarchic.

You may say, the system works fine, dude. You apply online, present yourself as best you can online, that gets you in and then you are there in person. So why did I want to visit these places in person first? It’s because I don’t have any connections, and I feel like I am consistently losing out to those who do (not sure of this but it’s possible), and it’s also because I think my online self is a shell of me. I’m better off paper. Online Me is significantly less charming, impressive and three-dimensional as my real self. The only thing he has going for him is a certain mystique but offline me? I’ve spent every hour of every job of my adult life dealing with people. I used to be terrible at it. I was deathly afraid of speaking to strangers when I was a teenager and only a little better till my early twenties. I could have looped the equator thrice with my long line of “I shoulda said”-s. I eventually improved at talking to people, picked up lessons from others I admired and after years of sales jobs, I became attuned to quickly finding common ground with people and cutting through the false pretenses most put up. Now I’m continuously disappointed in the people I MEET! And I think talking to people is one of my biggest strengths. That’s mainly only because I genuinely love talking to folks. That does not translate online. I can claim that as a “Skill” on my LinkedIn but so can every person on LinkedIn. By being refused the opportunity to speak to people at my dream job headquarters, I began to think that in a way, for the first time, my physical human presence was now being devalued as a result of my online presence constantly becoming ever more influential.

Online Me is only supposed to be a cardboard cut-out, a 2×2 inch screenshot that is a flat and broad clue that could hint at the possibilities of the blood, spirit and joke filled person behind him. But he’s boring. He used to simply be a virtual Driver’s License and now he’s apparently got the keys to a better life for me. I’ve gotta be responsible for this guy, now? I’ve always been averse to technology and while I realized long ago that I would not be a Software Engineer with my lack of appreciation for all things tech, it was hard to foresee that connection between people would come to dwindle so much that our internet representations would come to mean much more than our voices on the phone let alone our presence across a desk.

Isn’t something lost if we are exclusively dating people chosen for us by algorithms on Match? Are amazing new restaurants declaring bankruptcy prematurely because we won’t try them because they have no Yelp reviews? I worry that the era is upon us where our reliance on the Web and our digital selves will cost us the joy and pleasures of connecting offline. There’s no denying that the world has changed and being tech-savvy is very important but let’s try to always hold onto the fact and celebrate it, that Hey, we’re people offline too. We should use technology for conveniences we could not have without it, but if we continue removing human interaction from things that we personally did pre-internet, we run the risk of becoming useless sheeple and that bothers me. I asked someone for directions the other day, and she confided to me that she felt silly asking people for directions nowadays, because it was expected that people should check their phones for maps first and foremost. I told her what I’m telling you, I’m always going to ask people because I love talking to people and it gives me a reason to do so, even if they send me down the wrong streets much too often.

You’re So Vain 2013

Re-discovered Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” from 1972 and it’s been in the rotation since. Have always loved the details in the lyrics, though I couldn’t help but notice that some are a bit outdated now. Since it’s been more than forty years since the release of the song, I thought I would try to re-write this tune with a modern slant because while some of these references have gone by the wayside, vanity has survived quite nicely. I looked up the song on Wikipedia and it’s fascinating how much the world has pined for Carly Simon to reveal the identity of who she wrote this song about. Candidates include a who’s who of 70s hunks from Warren Beatty (who actually hopes and insists it is about him) to Nick Nolte (who has probably never cared one iota) to Mick Jagger (who contributes backing vocals to the song) to a random non-famous person or perhaps even that the song is about all men in general and written from experiences with several different dudes. I am happy to however report that Carly Simon has gone on record and said that it is 100% NOT about her recently divorced ex-husband at the time Mr James Taylor. Not JT! I couldn’t handle Sweet Baby James acting like that!  I love how she begins the song by whispering “Sonofagun” like she’s been hurt and screwed over by this guy. So I guess that’s where I’ll start: 

Ssskank (whispered) 
You walked into the club like you were walking on the ramp
Your top strategically dipped below your arm
Your sunglasses were extremely camp
You had one eye in the mirror as you watched yourself duckface
And all the dudes dreamed that they’d be your boo They’d be your boo, and…
You’re so vain, you probably think this status update is about you
You’re so vain, I’ll bet you think this status is about you Don’t you? Don’t You?
You had me several years ago when I was still mad naive
Well you said that we should be In A Relationship
And that you would never leave
But you constantly upgraded the things you loved and one of them was me
I had some dreams, they were bubbles in my tea Bubbles in my tea, and…
You’re so vain, you probably think this meme is about you
You’re so vain, I’ll bet you think this tweet is about you Don’t you? Don’t You? Don’t You?
I had some dreams they were bubbles in my tea Bubbles in my tea, and…
You’re so vain, you probably think this email is about you You’re so vain, I’ll bet you think this thread is about you Don’t you? Don’t You?
Well I hear you went up to Coachella and naturally got backstage VIP
Then you flew your lear jet down to Ibiza
for a David Guetta underwater party
Well you’re where you check-in all the time
And when you’re not you’re with some start-up tech mogul or your cigar buddies
Your cigar buddies, and…
You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you
You’re so vain, I’ll bet you think this #hashtag is about you Don’t you? Don’t You? Don’t you?
You’re so vain, you probably think this blog is about you
You’re so vain, you probably think this blog is about you… _______________________________________________________________________________________
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What I’m Listening To:
Isn’t it obvious? Didn’t you just finish reading an entire blog post about that very subject? Oh what the hell, since nothing’s ever enough for you people:

The Lassi Man

From the time I was 10 until I was 16, my school bus more or less took the same route everyday. Barring a few months of changes here and there due to bus strikes, bus burning, reversals of one-ways or big ditches in the road, we always passed along the length of RT Nagar main road en route to and from school. On the way back, towards the end of the long road, we’d approach a speed bump and slow down to assuage it.

The back of the bus, the footboard and the floor space behind it, lined up and paused directly in front of a Sreeraj Lassi Bar. One random day when I was twelve or thirteen, a few of us were sitting on the floor, daydreaming out the open doorway, when we found ourselves making eye contact with the Sreeraj Lassi Bartender. We gave him a thumbs up. He gave us one too, immediately. He did not hesitate. I think we had been trying to mess with him. The bus came down the other side of the bump and we were hurdling toward DD. The next day, we yelled out for our buddy and this time he threw in a complimentary Sreeraj smile with the thumbs up.

Two weeks later, he had become a mild phenomenon on the bus and we were counting down the minutes between Hebbal Main Road and the best damn Lassi bar in town. Vying to get his attention and see what he’s going to do today. We didn’t care how busy he appeared, how many customers were in his bar, whether he had his back to us or whether he was in the middle of preparing a Sweet Lassi.  When the bus driver began breaking for that speed bump,  we were standing up. The front tires climbed the sleeping policeman and that set in motion three seconds of excited anticipation before we would be shouting for the Lassi man.

Oye! Oye!

Without exaggeration, we yelled at him everyday for a year. Maybe longer. And without fail, he would acknowledge us. A wave, a thumb, once in a while an exasperated look.

These fellows again?

Sometimes he would point at us and start explaining to his clientele:

These school fellows simply shouting hello everyday this time. Crazy fellows.  Look, that big fellow is still shouting something…

There were times a crowd of Lassi regulars would turn and wave at us – but their faces revealed they thought we were absolutely jobless.

We weren’t, you know.

In fact, it was my job to remember to give this guy a thumbs up five times a week.

When we’d get lost in other things, someone would say “Shit! We forgot that guy” and you’d know you dropped the ball. Terrible guilt when you came upon the TV tower and realized you missed the stranger. What if he saw us pass by and threw up a thumb? Getting sloppy old chap.

It was an exercise in discipline. To get him every day, for him to catch us, one of god knows how many buses on that road, for that many days in a row – was the prank in itself.  Except it wasn’t even a prank now. What had begun as a playful prank had become an inside joke between strangers. It eventually turned into a legendary streak which in turn became a sort of ritual. A brief tradition, even. While I always enjoyed jokes and pranks, this was something else. Nothing beats a running joke between two people.

Today, when someone fails to run with a joke, and it happens all too often – I sometimes think of how game the Lassi man was. When I recognize a stranger making a return appearance in my daily routine, my thumb flies up in accordance with the RT Nagar Main Road tradition. But these clowns get confused. They aren’t on his level. Lassi man was up for anything, anytime. Nothing psyched him out. I’ll bet anything you could roll any creature real or fictional past his shop, and he’d wave at it and sell it a goddamn Salt Lassi.

We finally made it in there one day. And the Lassi was damn good too, by the way.

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If you’re ever in the mood:

The inimitable taste of tradition.  http://www.sreerajlassibar.com/

Magazine Life

This isn’t about the magazine Life. I haven’t read it. I feel like that’s one of those magazines that people used to buy for photos of the moon landing or royal weddings. The internet probably ruined them. I however did buy a magazine this week. It was Men’s Health. Remarkably, it’s a decent rag. I was stuck in a train station for an hour and after looking through every domestic and foreign magazine for forty-five minutes, I went with this because it seemed to have a lot of content and not too many ads or filler. The thing is that when I turned back the cover, I was immediately confronted by a black and white photograph of a very stylish young man and his two pale girl friends. They were pushing his motorcycle across a New York street and as my eyes moved downward they fell upon the letters DKNY. I instantly got a flashback to when I was 17 and I used to buy every issue of Rolling Stone and Premiere. I didn’t consciously realize it back then but I must have devoured those ads. For the force to be strong enough to flash me back more than a decade later? Yikes. God, I used to think those people in those ads were so damn cool. I clearly remember thinking some of those girls were so attractive and that I was not on the level of those guys. I actually remembered the ad campaign that stuck out at the time, it was that Tommy Hilfiger sh*t when they would show all these blonde girls on a beach in Nantucket with these white dudes with black curly hair (Simon Rex?) and there’d always be one token black dude (Tyrese?) SMILES FOR MILES, Holy hell, I wanted to be at that party.

I turned the page from DKNY to the next glossy ad and the one after and the one after. Perry Ellis, Aldo, Armani Exchange, each scene weirder than the last. If each of these two-page ads was a party, I’d walk right out on sight. They pay these models and photographers to make these layouts appealing and now I’ve gone from envying them to being completely disgusted by them without them changing the formula even a bit. I just don’t give a crap about their $285 scarves and weird make-up. When I was a kid, I thought that growing up meant becoming a part of that world. I thought if you didn’t, you were corny. Once again proof that you didn’t know Jack teenage Siddharth! I’ve grown up now motherf*ckers and I’ve got better jokes than any of you boring douchebags. I’m a better person. Well, yes, I am completely assuming they’re boring and shitty people but you can’t blame me when they all look so bored and nonplussed in their fancy duds. Come on, they’re hardly sympathetic figures.

So then I got to thinking about how much these magazine life images are projected on us when we’re kids. These car ads with their smooth jazz music and serene countryside backdrops. How everybody always has teeth like those marble slabs at Coldstone. So there’s magazine life and then there’s life. Life comes in all shapes and sizes. It’s teeth are sometimes yellow and frequently misshapen. It’s cars are usually in stasis in between thousands of other cars. In life, when a guy is pushing his bike across the street, it’s normally a piece of junk and he’s normally not dressed like the world’s richest beatnik. He’s probably dressed in beat up corduroys and a tattered old T-shirt and that guy’s much cooler than anybody you’ll ever see in a magazine ad. Magazine life is the pipe dream that keeps people on the hamster wheel. They’ve got to get that job to pay for that stuff, do what they don’t want to do just to get things they want but don’t need. Jonesing to keep up with the Joneses.

Personally, I can’t even imagine a scenario where I would even be able to have a conversation with these people, let alone be in this photo. I’m just going to skip the ads from now on, obviously my kind are not their target market.


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wormhouse

A man sees a worm moving inside his half eaten apple. He and the worm eye each other menacingly. The man’s toddler son says “You ate his house.”

Perspective.

mi casa su manzana

_______________________________________________________________________________

Post Scriptum: It is this author’s belief that the Etch-a-Sketch is one of the best toys ever invented and it was in fact named one of the hundred best toys of the twentieth century along with such luminaries as yo-yo, slinky and Mr Potatohead. They’ve got 99 toys and a b*tch ain’t one.   http://www.allbusiness.com/manufacturing/miscellaneous-mfg-doll-toy-games-games/5673984-1.html

The Inner Child

Press Play.

14 second mark:

Was born invincible,incredible, infallible

and kept laughs coming like jimmy fallon do

and supremely unflappable too

– but now I get flapped

like the wings of the gulls do

Back in the day things were never dull

and my problems were strictly math-e-matical

A man has 3 times 2 apples and gives 5 away

and the remainder kept the doctor away

Life made your spirit soar every single day

The spirit was contagious and kept all the kids at play

Excitement -was never an issue either way

hey it’s back to school busting out new pencil boxes day

Instinctive – There was a guide in each of us

Cruising on autopilot and nobody was reaching us

Used to fall down and get up all damn day

and didn’t get play out of it like D-Wade

you’d just get up and dust off your chin

never even think of missing the next thing

the next game, the next eats, the next care

driving breakneck speeds without a rearview mirror

Now this car is sputtering and I’m not stuttering

you know this sh*t I’m uttering is the straight butter ‘n’

this is the new trajectory and it’s no tragedy

but nowadays I’m seein’ too many maladies

and not hearin’ near enough melodies

and man I sure could use a mill o’ deez

instrumentals -hell- just for my mentals!

to cool me off from this heat from my parentals

It’s like I’m in one of those questions

two trains headed in opposite directions

different speeds and on different tracks

Run for cover cos these are the facts

this looks like a possible collision

and there’s only one plausible solution

Walk like an Egyptian

into your own revolution

Used to be an open book

written doses- of proses I wrote

but now it’s come down to statuses and post-it notes

so I’m trying to turn

the direction of this story ‘n’

go back to the future

hit 88 in this delorean

get that righteousness all up in me

like Mayor Goldie Wilson of Hill Valley

Eye of the Tiger, I lost it Apollo

but come see me this time tomorrow

Done with just going through the motions

my magic potions’ll be causing a commotion

Gonna be unstoppable full josh n’

dreamin up things like Billy Ocean

The world was my sandbox and now it’s a sandtrap

they busted us now we bust BACK

cos we’re innocent and we’re still hellbent

on getting blissed out so don’t miss out

on what you can be

It keeps happening to me

All these screens you keep looking at

all these dreams keep slipping past

I’m declaring a war on everydamnthing

And I won’t stop till the fat lady sings

cos guess what I remembered

that I want to be remembered

and my voice won’t be heard

If I ever surrender

SO I’m turning back the clock

daylight savings

lighting my fires

straight blazing

Channeling

my inner child

Navigating

this river wild

I’m back fresh as ever

no additives, straight clever

give up? not now ‘n’ not never

The diamond in the rough

and diamonds are forever.

-SC

The Day I Caught the Train.

Cantonment Railway Station, Bangalore

Maybe it’s because I grew up in the shadow of Cantonment Station but I love trains. In fact, the rails are easily my favorite form of transport. So without further ado, here is my comprehensive train blog of the year! All aboard! Come on ride the train choo choo ride it!

I recently caught the North Coastal Amtrak train which runs along the west coast from San Diego northwards through Los Angeles and Santa Barbara and ultimately all the way to Seattle. I rode the train from Los Angeles to Oakland which usually accounts for a  twelve hour ride but due to mudslides(the natural disaster, not the cocktail) it took about fifteen hours. Ever the planner, I boarded the train with ample entertainment.

1) Mad Men season 4 (One of my favorite TV shows ever. Amazing. 9.3/10)

2) The League season 1 (I thought it would be funnier. 6/10 so far)

3) Ham & Cheese Sandwich (Satisfying at the time. 7/10)

4) Turkey & Cheese Sandwich (Waited too long to eat, got soggy. 5/10)

5) Two Spectacular *Brownies* (Made the trip even more of a pleasure. 10/10 ^_^)

6) The New York Times (Didn’t read it but hey it was comforting to have. 8/10)

7) A copy of Esquire magazine (7/10)

8 ) Drugstore Cowboy (1989) (Early Gus Van Sant starring a peaking Matt Dillon. Hats on beds. 8.5/10)

The ride started on what seemed like the 100th day in a row of pouring rain in southern California. I stood wet at the Norwalk bus station waiting for a bus that would take me to the city of angels (Los Angeles, not Bangkok). I was soaked because everyone under the tiny bus stop roof  inexplicably had their umbrellas open, thus pushing my umbrella-less self out into the downpour. Chinese water torture was no fun but still I promptly arrived in LA- only to be reminded that Amtrak is never ever prompt. Oh well, sank into an oversized wooden armchair in Union Station, an old timey station similar to the one from The Untouchables (1988, Kevin Costner is Elliot Ness and his incorruptible team vows to bring down Al Capone’s racket in prohibition-era Chicago, 8/10 “Thash the Chicago Way!”)

Union Station, Los Angeles, Don't be surprised if Andy Garcia is waving a gun.

I eventually boarded and scoped out my car, number 16. It was about half full and I seemed to be one of two people without gray hair. The other was an Agitated Hipster yelling on his phone. I figured he must have been on the no-fly list. I took my assigned window seat. A few minutes later, a man in a tweed blazer complete with elbow pads and a very impressive mustache sat down next to me. We nodded and said hi to each other. He immediately pulled out the NY Times and proceeded to destroy the crossword like Drago destroyed Apollo. He housed that crossword, he really did. I kept looking at his paper out of the corner of my eye, trying to figure out one damn clue before him but it was useless. I wondered if he could sense me looking on but of course I was too stealthy. He was like a Jeff Foxworthy from a Royal Tenenbaums universe.

For the next hour or two, I had a great view of rundown storefronts, some awful graffiti and some dumpsters. I went for a stroll. As I was walking, I heard an announcement over the intercom. A man named Pierre said “Hellooo everybody, hope you are enjoying your Amtrak Starlight EXPERIENCE so far and I wanted to remind you that I am in the dining car and we are now taking appointments for lunch. Someone will come through your car so please choose a time slot and I look forward to meeting you in person.” I didn’t like Pierre. He sounded like he was trying to suppress his accent. I wish he would’ve embraced his Frenchness and come full on like Chef Gusteau from Ratatouille. I reminded myself that he probably had to stick to a script as per his job demands.

Gusteau>Pierre

I walked though car after car and what seemed like waves and waves of old people. Each car seemed more quiet than the last. Except for Pierre. This clown kept up his schtick not for an hour, but for HOURS. He kept up the reminders to sign up for a slot for lunch and then for the coup de grace, Pierre kept announcing who was due for lunch every 15 minutes complete with updates on who was late. He had become the most hated Frenchman of my life by voice alone.  At one point, between announcements 65 and 85, he came on the intercom sounding embarrassed and thoroughly defeated “…Uh…Ladies and gentleman…I’m so sorry…It’s me Pierre again…from the dining car…truly sorry to bother you all but…Larry, you’re 2:45 lunch appointment has come and gone, it is now 3:20 and we’re still waiting for you so feel free to come by Larry…better late than never heh heh…once again, I do apologize…” I decided I would not visit the dining car on principle. My two halves of a sandwich would have to suffice.

Getting back to my car, I told Foxworthy I was moving seats in order to give us both more room. He barely lifted an eyelid as he marked up his crossword with cryptic hieroglyphics that I didn’t bother trying to decipher. Get er done, stranger. I sat down and looked out the windows again. The windows were nice in that they were large, I would guess 5 feet in height and the entire length of the train. What wasn’t nice is that you can never open your windows on trains here. The number one thing I miss about trains in India is the open windows. Although they’re smaller there, you get the smells and you get the breeze through those windows. That’s three senses being turned on as opposed to one.

The train ran along the coast now. Sand and waves took turns coming up beneath my window as I listened to Ratatat by Ratatat. Cherry, specifically. We were now in Santa Barbara. The sun shone through slivers in the clouds and it was drizzling. I ate a sandwich. The drizzle gave way to rain from time to time and I looked out on the surfers getting wet from all sides. We came to a stop. Someone other than Pierre introduced themselves and told us we would be here for 15 minutes. I got off for some fresh air.

Santa Barbara. The one from the soap opera.

I stepped off the iron horse and I was surrounded by cigarette smokers hitting their stoges harder than Foxworthy hit his crossword. I noticed a lot of hippies. One dude had hair down to his ass, hemp bag, the whole kit and caboodle. I listened to a song and decompressed. I was daydreaming when I saw this girl with huge eyes sort of wave at me. I waved back but all I could hear was Clipse in my ears. For some reason, I don’t know why, she unnerved me. Not in the way every girl unnerves me, she was different. Bad vibes. I think it was the way she wore her shawl – I got a sudden jolt and remembered Roy Hobbs meeting a girl on the train in “The Natural“. They hit it off. And then she shot him. I finished my song, got back on the train and sat behind Foxy again.

I sat and wondered if I had jumped the gun on “The Natural” connection, was I being paranoid? Since when am I paranoid? Is it wrong to distrust someone because they look eerily similar to a murderer in a movie? At that moment, some girl sat next to my crossword-ing friend. He didn’t even look up. Suddenly, I felt a tap on my shoulder and Hemp Bag was standing there with his girl. “Hey dude, like, I hate to bug you man, I didn’t even know Amtrak did assigned seating, but you’re sitting in my seat. I hate the whole thing man but I guess I should sit in my seat. I just don’t wanna deal with any drama later.”  Too true and well said. I got up for them but now this redheaded dame was sitting in my old seat. Foxy took it upon himself and before I could say anything, he said to her bereft of emotion “You’re sitting in his seat.” Perhaps it was his delivery but she took offense to it and said “This is MY SEAT.” She said it as if she had given birth to it instead of just sitting there seconds earlier. I explained to her the who, what and where. She said she wanted Amtrak to tell her to move. I grabbed my bag and went to the back of the car.

The back was completely empty. I wondered why I hadn’t sat there the whole time. I opened up my *Brownie* and waited for my life on the rails to get even better. It did. Soon I had forgotten about the red-headed stepchild and I was looking out the windows ON BOTH SIDES while listening to Band of Gypsys.  Feet up, swag UP.  At some point, Red brought the conductor to me and said her piece. I didn’t even bother switching off the music. I waved them off and said “No big deal”,  “It’s all good” et cetera. Red walked away and the conductor gave me the look as in the look that says “God. What a tool.” I rolled my eyes appropriately. Happy as a clam, I seemed to be winning all my little battles on this train.

Sunset was somewhere over some mountains. I looked out upon it all and wished I had some of those Andes mints. Do they still make those? Darkness came. I switched off the music and decided to watch Mad Men. I was flying high and ready for some witty barbs from Draper, Sterling and the boys. The episode turned out to be one of my all time favorites (“Waldorf Stories“) and I was feeling unstoppable now. I took off my headphones and Pierre was asking about someone again. This time, I laughed at him for a good five minutes and decided to sign up for a dinner slot simply so I could make him call on me endlessly too. I filled out the form and gave it to the conductor. I used my favorite alias for such situations, Mbubu. It’s pronounced mmm-bu-bu, NOT muh-bu-bu. I wondered how Pierre would react to such a name. It had stumped the girl at Panera but maybe French people are more exposed to exotic names than Americans? I would find out.

I was standing by the bathrooms downstairs when the train came to a stop. I stepped out into the dark and the girl with the shawl was standing there again. This time, I handled that sh*t with aplomb. “Oh hey! I saw you earlier heh heh.” She asked me how I was finding the train ride. I said “Oh, it’s quite a splendid machine”. That dumb joke went right over her head but she didn’t turn out to be the threat I anticipated. We made small talk and then I got back on the train all the while trying to spy which car she was going to. Shawl girl wouldn’t surprise me again.

I was holding court in the back of the 16 car when I decided to spice up the party. *Brownie* number two. Don’t mind if I do. I gazed outside while listening to tunes, the most therapeutic thing I can do for myself. Some Rolling Stones, I think it was. It should have been, anyway. At some point I listened to You Can’t Always Get What You Want and that choir seemed to fill up the whole damn train.

I lost track of time.

KTX Seats in Korea

I thought of the KTX train in Korea and how pleasant a ride it had been. The seats were a burgundy felt that I loved. It relaxed me on sight, it really did. Plus, every half hour, give or take, a beautiful immaculately dressed Korean girl would enter your car, bow, and walk a cart full of snacks right by you. She would reach the back door, bow and leave. Easily one of the best snack presentations I’ve ever witnessed. I would have squealed in delight if that had happened at that moment in the middle of the California night.

The entire vibe of the train had become different. No more vistas. No more views and definitely no more views of the vistas. No more people, it seemed. All was quiet and dim. We had been on the train for 10 hours and due to delays, I had another 4 to go. I put on Drugstore Cowboy. It’s in my personal top 40 movies of all time. First time I saw it, I gave Matt Dillon and Gus Van Sant a lifetime pass for that one. However, being all brownied up and watching that movie on a 3 inch screen disoriented me a bit.  Suddenly I was hungry and the silence in the train struck me as very odd. I hadn’t had a real meal all day and so it was I asked the conductor why Pierre wasn’t making any announcements for dinner. She said dinner had ended an hour ago. Hmmm. Could Pierre have chickened out and refused to even try to pronounce Mbubu? Did he call Mbubu and I didn’t hear him? Could he have called on Mbubu only for me to forget that was my alias? I don’t have the answer.

I had the munchies now and I wandered off in search of some grub. Upstairs was crazy, the length of the cars seemed to get longer. And wider. Or narrower. It was like that Virtual Insanity video by Jamiroquai but with old people moving around instead of furniture. I went downstairs and it was empty. And noisy. It was another world down there. The humming sound of the train on the rails echoed off the walls and restroom doors that stretched on the length of the whole car. Every ten seconds or so, there was the semi-loud crash of the chains between the cars. I grabbed a pole to keep my balance. For a second it felt like this.

Wait, is this car 16?

I scrambled back to my seat. My mind could have outrun the train at that moment. Thoughts of the train rides I had been on. Faces and landscapes. Conversations with strangers. Trains from Paris to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Berlin, Seoul to Busan, New York to Boston, Bangalore to Madras. And now, Los Angeles to Oakland. I was nearing the homestretch. I listened to every song I had about trains or the songs with ‘train’ in the title at least. There was “This Train” by Bob Marley. There was “Stop the Train” by Peter Tosh. There were others but it seemed like musicians only used trains as a metaphor. I thought of a song my mom used to sing when I was a kid, “If you miss the train I’m on, you will know that I am gone, you can hear the whistle blow a hundred miles.”  At least that was about a train.  By the 14th hour, I was exhausted. I laughed at how the flight for the same distance was 45 minutes AND cheaper. Still, given the same choice, I’d take the train again. What was it about the rails? It was something about time. Not saving it, but savoring it. And space. And leisure. A completely different vibe from flying and a different purpose too. And then I realized that one of my all time favorite songs captures the spirit of a train ride better than I’ll ever be able to.

Never saw it as the start
It’s more a change of heart
Rapping on the windows, whistling down the chimney pot
Blowing off the dust in the room where i forgot
I laid my plans in solid rock
Stepping through the door like a troubadour whiling just an hour away
Looking at the trees on the roadside feeling it’s a holiday
You and i should ride the coast
And wind up in our favourite coats just miles away
Roll a number, write another song like
Jimmy heard the day he caught the train

He sipped another rum and coke- and told a dirty joke
Walking like groucho sucking on a number 10
Rolling on the floor with the cigarette burns walked in
I miss the crush and i’m home again
Stepping through the door with the night in store whiling just an hour away,
Step into the sky and the star-bright feeling it’s a brighter day

You and i should ride the coast
And wind up in our favourite coats just miles away
Roll a number, write another song like
Jimmy heard the day he caught the train

You and i should ride the tracks
And find ourselves just wading through tomorrow
But you and I when we’re coming down
We’re only getting back
and You know I feel the sorrow

We’ve got the whole wide world !

When you find that things are getting wild, Don’t you want days like these

When you find that things are getting wild, Don’t you want days like these

When you find that things are getting wild, Don’t you need days like these

When you find that things are getting wild, Don’t you want days like these, like these!