I just returned from a solo 18-hour Amtrak train trip to Washington state to visit family, and I’m still processing a number of thoughts and experiences. The first lesson I learned is to reserve a private sleeper compartment next time for a trip that long. I met interesting people in coach, but I was seated next to an extra large man who was not my husband who snored all night.
The scenery was spectacular with more redwoods, mountains, rivers, lakes, bays, and sounds than I have seen in many moons here in drought stricken California. It was visually refreshing to see fewer automobiles, fewer people, and more natural bodies.
Speaking of moon, the train ride north was packed with excited eclipse viewers headed for Oregon, the best site to view eclipse totality. Where I was headed to southwestern Washington, the eclipse certainly created a puzzling darkness in the middle of an otherwise sunny morning. That just added to my sleep deprived disorientation.
One of my bucket list items had been to visit the Kurt Cobain Memorial in Aberdeen, Washington, a timber and fishing community at the edge of Grey’s Harbor. Cobain lived in Aberdeen prior to his fame with grunge rock band Nirvana. My aunt told me she had waited on his grandfather who patronized the Busy Bee Restaurant in nearby Montesano. That man was the one who answered all of Cobain’s fan mail and outlived his grandson.
Curiously, the residents in the area have been slow to acknowledge Cobain for his musical contributions, instead denouncing his drug use. I was reminded of the biblical verse saying that no prophet is accepted in his own land.
The memorial at the base of the Young Street Bridge over the Wishkaw River includes a cement guitar sculpture with a plaque bearing Cobain’s likeness along with some of his lyrics. It’s a beautiful but melancholy site. I’m glad I got to pay my respects.
This was my third trip to Washington within the last 15 years, and I did notice many more Latinos than in the past. El Rancho restaurant now sits on Main Street Montesano, but my cousin says the salsa isn’t as picante as in California. When my aunt first moved there from California’s San Joaquin Valley, she was among the few Hispanic people in the small town. She married a white lumberman/fisherman who now devours her albondigas and enchiladas con gusto. Another saying comes to mind: The way to a man’s heart… you know the rest.
By far the saddest sight was the number of homeless encampments I saw throughout my trip. From California to Oregon to Washington, tent communities filled riverbanks and freeway underpasses. Among the most shocking inconsistencies was the expanse of modern apartment buildings in downtown Portland with balconies overlooking the homeless in sleeping bags and camping tents.
I know these lamentable conditions exist in San Francisco, Santa Rosa, and Sonoma, but they are avoidable if one chooses to look elsewhere. Seeing them repeatedly from a passing train car forced me to confront the poor living conditions that may be only one paycheck or medical emergency away for any of us.
I had not traveled alone since I was young, so I’m happy to be home in reasonably good shape and grateful for the wider awareness gained from wandering. “Come As You Are” keeps running through my head. Sounds like a good mantra.