It’s Amazing! A Tale of Travels Part 5

Mar 13th, 2012 | By | Category: Misc

Monotony of farmlandOn the Tracks Again

The train rides, aside from the gorgeous Americana out the window, have been generally quite dull. They’ve only been kept enjoyable by earbuds and my book of e. e. cummings. That is until the sun went down on the California Zephyr rolling overnight from Chicago to Denver, a long haul to say the least.

The trip had silly written all over it right from the start. This was the first leg of my journey with assigned seating. Assigned next to me was an eight-year-old kid who was “shy”. He told me he was shy. Let me rephrase, he told a total stranger he had just met on train he was shy. He then proceeded to tell me he wants to be an artist, and showed me his scraggly, yet creative, sketches. I honestly couldn’t tell you what any of them were, but they did look like he might do something brilliant in ten or twenty years or so. His observant and sensitive parents lured him to the views of the observation car to give me a break. Their timing was impeccable. I was just about to get tired of the kid, and then, poof, off he goes. After a while of music, writing, and solitude, I decided to check out the observation car myself.

Walking through to pick my seat, I was already able to select who I’d be hanging out with that night. I read my cummings and swilled my Beam for a while waiting to get to that loose point at which I could make friends as easy as my earlier eight-year-old neighbor. Look who is actually shy. In the waiting place, I glanced now and again to make sure we were still rolling through monotonous farmlands in Illinois and Iowa. Of course we were. It just keeps coming. But just when you think it won’t ever end, hey presto! The conductor announces the approaching Mississippi River. The river crossing was pleasant, but paled in comparison to what immediately followed. As soon as we crossed the Mississippi, the trees were all filled with Bald Eagles. I’ve maybe seen five to ten of these majestic creatures in my entire life, and here were at least twenty in a single view. Breathtaking.

Within half an hour of crossing the river, the sun nestled itself under the horizon. That was my cue. Fortunately, my work was half done. The two folks that looked like I could relate to were already only a few seats apart listening to music, ignoring each other. I swept in, sat down in the middle seat between them, and opened conversation with the guy on my right. Some contrails in the sky sent us on a brief overview of conspiracy theories that we have found proof of, debunked, or had found no significant evidence to support or refute. We agreed that “chemtrails” belonged in the latter category. Man, do I know how to pick ’em.

Upon realizing that people were being social, the girl to my left pulled out here earbuds. Being from Europe, she was pretty fascinated with our American conspiracy talk. After a while of exchanging names, ideas, and travel plans, out comes the whisk(e)y. I had Beam, of course. Monica toted a pint of Jameson, and Paul had friends. We sipped and shared and talked and laughed. Enter Holt. Holt was military fella, honorably discharged and traveling aimlessly with his dad. Holt brought the party. Dude had a half-gallon of what I think was brandy. There was a half-gallon of it, so you can figure out why I’m not sure.

We continued on our drink, talk, and laugh cycle until a voice came over the intercom, “Hi, this is Frank down in the snack bar. If you have an acoustic instrument with you, I’d like to invite you down to play a few songs. If you have an electric instrument with you, leave it where it is. I hope to see ya soon!” You don’t have to ask me twice to play in the snack car of a train. I snatched my guitar from above the sleeping eight-year-olds head, and made my way down to tune up. By the time I was tuned, a cellist was to my right. Oh, this is about to be a blast. He was talented to the point that I only had to play four bars, and the he knew how to play my whole damn song. We played three or four tunes. A couple of folks had their smart phones out recording us. I hope I gave them my name (don’t forget the half-gallon), so I can see if I played alright. After a few tunes, I passed off my guitar to the usual questions. “Is this strap a belt? Is that a Sharpie holding it in there?!” Yep.

After Frank made last call, we all collected our instruments and libations and headed back upstairs.

A Bridge I supposeAfter a while, we found out that Paul (remember Paul?) was trying to get to Grand Junction, but only had a ticket to some tiny town before Denver. We gave him our best advice for how to make it there, and let’s just say it didn’t work out. Poor Paul got dropped out in the middle of the cold Denver night in who knows where. C’est la vie. Holt, Monica, and I were still on, and still partyin. After a few more drinks, Monica decides it’s her bed time too, and Holt and myself kick it for a while. We got drunk enough on that ride to think it was a good idea to sneak down to the snack car, which was blocked off, and each have ourselves a cigarette. About halfway through the smoke we got the signal call from our rando lookout above, put ’em out, and stumbled back up the stairs. Within about two minutes, there’s one of the conductors.

“Guys, you know there’s no smoking on this train. Everyone else is asleep, so I have a pretty  good idea who was smoking on this train. If you do it again, I’ll have you fined and dropped off at the next road crossing no matter where it is. Also, having any open liquor from off the train is illegal. If you have any, put it up. If I see it, I’ll have you fined and dropped off at the next station no matter where it is. Understood?”

“What? But we weren’t…”


“Understood, sir.”

Exit the conductor, enter a high five between Holt and myself. We definitely should have been put out in the cold with some big Federal fine, but we weren’t. We were happily toasted with satisfied nicotine addictions. Given the option, whether I would repeat that instance would depend on a guarantee for the same outcome. I know for sure that I will absolutely not try to pull some shit like that ever again. After a couple more drinks and stories, followed by “one last drink,” and Holt giving me tips on story-telling (apparently my delivery is not so great when I’m three sheets), I carefully stumbled back to my seat. Oh, right. There’s an eight-year-old here still. Well, hell. I climbed over the kid, and passed out cold for a nice two hour nap before Denver.


Mat Masterson spent an eye blink of five years in Greensboro playing in a number of bands, most notably Israel Darling, Friend House, and The Painted Skulls. On any given night you could find him at a number of local dives sippin’ cheap beer and bourbon, and mingling with the regulars. He grew anxious for the road, and is now traveling the country by train, stopping in a number of cities of cultural importance (New Orleans, Memphis, San Francisco, etc.) on his way to the tropical paradise of Hawaii. Nevertheless, he has vowed to one day return to Greensboro… with a vengeance!

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