Setting sail on the Zephyr

“Come my friends,
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.”

Ulysses, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

I pulled my 1980s bicycle from my sister’s SUV in Schaumburg stacking a small backpack, sleeping bag and bicycle pack next to it on the train station sidewalk. Kissed my sister goodbye. Took the Metra to Union Station in Chicago. Used tools to break down the bicycle before packing it into a box in the station’s basement baggage department.

Later, putting my packs on the wooden pews in Union Station’s Grand Hall, I felt like I was on a movie set, with grand hall’s Corinthian columns, high ceiling and barrel-faulted skylight roof. Several movies have been set there, including The Untouchables’ scene of a baby carriage rolling down its stairs during a shoot-out with Capone’s men.

This is the start of the day, my voyage. I’m reminded of, “Introibo ad altere Dei,” (I will go up to God’s alter). It is the start of the Latin Mass and part of the classic beginning to James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” a favorite novel of mine.

For much of my life, I’m reminded of favorite passages, a habit I keep mostly to myself given that it seems so pretentious. “I’m reminded of what the Bard said about that …”

Nevertheless, literary passages spring up like popular songs did to Studs Lonigan on his odyssey around the South Side of Chicago (see what I mean). They will do the same in this blog but it’s part of my inner monologue, which thankfully also includes self-mockery.

I led this ‘episode’ with a Tennyson poem about Ulysses because it about the hero wanting to return to the king of his youth and set sail. I pursued hitchhiking, bicycling and travel chasing meaning and now I’m returning to the carnival road as a 54-year-old man. An older man returning to his self-glorified past.

Back at Union Station, with nothing else to do, I switch topics and start thinking about the two golden statuettes perched above two hallways, one of a woman with a rooster and another with an owl. The statues are meant to symbolize the fact that, here in Union Station, night or day, this is a place of transitions.

Everyone is on journey, from commutes to personal sagas.

People in jeans, sweatpants and winter coats sit in steal chairs near the California Zephyr’s gate. I can’t decide who to follow onto the train. About a dozen Amish people in their black robes and suits attend to their children. Most people are quiet.

Then I spot a 30-ish man dressed like mountain man, so I follow him onto the train and the seat across the aisle.

I set my laptop and a backpack next to my seat. I’ve got clothes, mixed nuts and beans, and two books – a ‘guide’ to writing and publishing, and a get-rich-quick book. Beans and nuts are all I will eat for two days.

So I’ll be in clean clothes with ‘how-to’ books on my lap as I fart my way to the Pacific Coast.

The train whistle blows and we pull out into sub-zero weather and an oncoming winter storm.

I’m headed to San Francisco to work for and write about an amusement company/carnival that serves the Bay Area, including Silicon Valley and Napa Valley.

Because it is February, I know I have to head toward warmer weather to start my carnival year and I chose Silicon Valley because I thought the young Google and Twitter “marks” a an economic and tech dimension. The contrast being low tech carnivals in Silicon Valley. Carnies living in trailers at night, serving tech wunderkinds by day.

I’m on the Zephyr for the spectacular views of the American West but also for the stories of its travelers, a major portion of whom are also between the lives.

In the next two days, I’d talk and film the mountain man, who calls himself Puma Cabra (I later found out is his name is Shawn Plumber). He’s got a reality series in the works with the Discovery Channel. He’s got a following for his survivalist and philosophical ideas.

There were also travelers I only knew by their first names, Jim, Verne, Alysha and Mark.

They would eventually tell me stories of divorce, financial ruin, separation from children and starting a new life after being diagnosed with AIDS.

Such were the first moments of a long, uncertain journey – a potential saga or a shipwreck.

What have I done.

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