Wednesday, January 2, 2013

North by Northwest

January 2, 2013 – North by Northwest

The sun is shining when I arrive to Portland’s train station. I take a seat on a bench outside and bask in the warmth. I’m content. The sunshine is like a welcoming gift from the Northwest to me; unexpected and thoughtful. I’ve got an hour or so before it’s time to get on the bus that will take me to Eugene. My friend should be waiting for me there at the end of the line and we’ll go together to the house.

I’ve had a glorious and wide-distance ranging six months, but I’m a bit travel weary and looking forward to hanging up the proverbial spurs for a little while. 

If it rains the entire two months and I never leave the house I don’t think I’ll mind at all. My introvert side has been tapping me on the shoulder and pleading for this. It’s time to accommodate that part of myself. I want to burrow in like a bear and hibernate with words.

The sun still bright in my eyes, I shoulder my bag and head inside Union Station. I’m struck with a pleasant disconnect between the outdoors and the interior of the building. There’s something about U.S. train stations that conjure up the past like well-dressed ghosts. It’s like stepping back into the 1930s or 1940s to those days my grandmother told me about when taking a train trip with her mother was the most exciting thing she could plan for. It makes me think of early America in the time when baseball meant something besides money and steroids, of black and white photos of families and old coupes and roadsters, of a patriotism that seemed noble and good, of community, of neighborhoods, of ice blocks delivered door to door, of farms and vine grown tomatoes doused with salt and eaten like apples. It’s an imaginary and idealized America I like and wish were real.  

I’m not in the past though, I’m here. The minutes tick by and, more or less on schedule, the bus arrives. I find a window seat and settle in for the ride. At the last moment a man rushes up to the bus, convinces the driver to let him on, and then, in a flurry of exalted good timing, takes the seat next to me. Practicing for my upcoming antisocial era, I stick in my earphones which is usually a good deterrent against being talked to (maybe by usually I mean sometimes).

My seatmate is a city councilor and art connoisseur. He’s just back from a museum opening in Philadelphia and knows all about the art I’ve so recently seen in Europe. “Did you go to the Tate?” he asks me. “Did you see the Peggy Guggenheim collection?”

“I’ll have to go back for those,” I tell him. “There are so many museums to see.”

We talk art and books until he gets off in Salem. Through the window, I watch him collect his bags and think that it’s nice to be able to have a conversation for once in my own language especially if it’s about things I enjoy.

The last hour speeds away and it’s a darkening sky that shows me the fields and vineyards that lay between Salem and Eugene. I stare out at the landscape that I swear I’d seen weeks before and thousands of miles away. The world is all the same. Italy, Spain, Oregon, California all so similar in their vineyards. And yet, even in the similarity the world is all so different; language, culture, expectations and rituals dictating different ways of life. I let the thoughts gossip in my head and just listen in like the eavesdropper I am.  

We’ve made several stops along the way and at the Eugene Station everyone gets off the bus except for me. I’m going all the way to the end of the line. Less than five minutes later, the bus pulls up to the curb and I shoulder my bag and trudge up to the front of the bus. “Thank you,” I tell the driver.

“You’re welcome,” he says, “bye now.”

My friend isn’t waiting for me at the stop. I turn a circle looking for the best spot to wait. Then I remember I don’t have to simply sit and wait. I pull out my phone and as I’m dialing her office number and feeling the grateful ease of having a working phone I see her walking my way. After greetings are exchanged and dinner consumed we catch the bus to Springfield and head home.

We walk across the street from the bus stop to a blue house. My friend unlocks the door and we go inside. I’ve arrived. I’ve come home. Again. For where I am, I’m home and home is a place where the porch light is on and the cat is waiting just inside the door.

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