Not Snakes on a Plane…Just Freaks on a Train!

Stories from the road

Note: This piece was originally posted elsewhere on 7th November.

Not snakes on a plane…just freaks on a train!

I decided to complete an entire lap of the planet and have headed west to LA by train.
35 hrs.
2 nights in a sleeper car.
Strange happenings.

But first…

Parade Day

After the Royals won their first title in 30 years the city put on the mother of all victory parades.
I’ve never seen so much blue.
The KC metro area has a population of around 2,000,000 people.
It is estimated that 800,000 filled the city for the motorcade and victory rally.
There were 4 arrests.
Most of the area public schools closed for the day.
They had little choice…more than 400 teachers put in for leave.

KC Parade 1

KC Parade 2

KC Parade 3

Remember, remember, the 5th of November

The 5th of Nov this year made up 24 of the 35 hr train journey from KC to LA. After an amazing night’s sleep, watching the sky roll by as we crossed the plains of Missouri and Kansas, breakfast was served around the time that we ventured into Colorado.

The beauty of the dining car is that you never know who you will be seated with. My companions that morning were 2 middle aged women.
They were both heading to Albuquerque.
That is where the similarities ended.

F1 was from Ohio, a buddhist and meditation teacher of 20+ years
F2 was from parts unknown, opinionated, angry and hated everything that you ever did, said, or thought of doing or saying.

Her mouth would smile, but her eyes were full of nothing but contempt.
In the short time that we were together, she expressed her disdain for:

– the Dalai Lama
– the music scene in Austin, Texas
– Warren Buffett
– F1
– Me!

F1 excused herself first.
I asked F2 what she was going to do with her morning.

“I’m going to read and meditate to try and get over her (i.e. F1)…”
(Pause)
“…and you for that matter.”
I wished her the best for the exercise.
“Oh, I WILL be successful”, was her reply.

I know it takes all kinds…but does she really need to be one of them?

East Bumfuk, NM

Later that morning, somewhere in New Mexico (middle of nowhere) we made an unscheduled stop.
The train had hit a herd of deer.
After a quick check the engine was judged OK to continue.
Bambi was not.
They won’t be making a sequel to that movie anytime soon.
(Sorry kiddies)

Other notables

I had lunch with a group of Amish from Indiana.
They were getting off in Flagstaff (AZ) before catching a bus down to Phoenix for business. One couple is planning to take a cruise from the US to Australia and NZ.
They asked me about kangaroos.

And then there was Amtrak Tom.
Tom was the conductor responsible for my sleeper car.
Tom is large and loud.
Tom told me about his 8,000 slide ViewMaster collection.
I didn’t notice his ring finger, but I’m guessing that Tom is not married.
Tom is too much of a ladies man to be tied down.

(Hands up all those old enough to remember ViewMaster. All those with hands down…ask Google.)

In LA now.
Home on Monday.

Manhattan Beach, CA
Manhattan Beach, CA – “There’s never a mankini around when you need one!”

Don’t Fear the Reaper…Do Fear the Squirrels

Stories from the road

Note: This piece was originally posted elsewhere on 2nd November.

Don’t fear the reaper…Do fear the squirrels.

A squirrel update will follow, but first:

Baseball in Kansas City

The Royals are one win away from clinching their first World Series title since 1985. This could happen as early as tonight in New York, which would mean that my tickets for Games 6 & 7 would not be needed.

If my Game 2 experience is to be it, what is World Series baseball like in Kansas City?

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Imagine going to a picnic with 40,000 members of your extended family.
You’re all there to celebrate your great aunt Ethel’s 90th birthday.
Everyone is relaxed, friendly, familiar.
Then, after a few beers, one of your uncles (and a couple of cousins that nobody talks about) commandeer the stereo so that it pumps out nothing but ACDC and Van Halen for the next 4 hours.
In the midst of all this a baseball game breaks out.
Win, lose or draw, everybody goes home having had a good time.

Lessons for the AFL

Things I liked about baseball at the ‘K’ more than football at the ‘G’:

– With my ticket I could enter the ground at any gate. ANY gate!
– Once inside I could walk the concourse the entire way around the field. In either direction. As many times as I liked.
– The area around the outfield bleachers is home to fountains, outdoor bars and family play areas.
– The ground staff were sooooooo friendly. Greeted with a smile and a hello, it took less than 2 minutes to enter the stadium, even though every spectator was checked with hand held metal detectors. The same staff were at the gates when leaving (with another smile) to wish everybody a safe trip home and a “hope to see you again soon”.

It made a nice change from the steel barriers and segregation of the MCG.

Fun Fact: Since 2011 the mayor of Kansas City has been a guy named Sly James. If his administration is ever toppled as a result of a corruption scandal, nobody should be surprised. Its right there in the name people!

All hail our tyrannical squirrel overlords!!!

I’ve written previously about the incalculable number of squirrels that inhabit Independence, MO. Turns out that it is much worse than I first feared.

As near as I can tell, squirrels are the dominant species in the local ecosystem.
They are organised into gangs that control entire neighbourhoods.
Each house within the operating zone is allocated a minimum of three squirrels.
You simply cannot walk by a front yard without seeing them at work (i.e. frolicking).

278505836_b2970a96

Why is this a problem?

I’m glad you asked.
Aside from the ever present threat of nut shortages, the squirrels are responsible for:

– bombarding parked vehicles with unwanted food and plant matter
– causing road accidents by gleefully prancing in front of traffic
– lost productivity by enticing passers-by to stay and watch their antics, thus delaying vital economic activity (hey…it happened to me)

From an outsider’s perspective, it is clear that the resident human population lives in constant fear. However, after discussions with a number of locals, it seems that they remain largely ignorant to the oppressive rule of their tyrannical squirrel overlords.

Its amazing what you can get away with if you are cute and cuddly.

fbc4998dafefb23d7e0f2de2db85c072  evil-squirrel

muscle-squirrel

More to come.

Living in a basement: “It’s for the government…we pack bullets!”

Stories from the road

Note: This piece was originally posted elsewhere on 30th October.

Living in a basement…
(Sub title: “Its for the government…We pack bullets”)

Now, where was I?
Ah, that’s right…breakfast at Dennys.

After eating, I messaged Colton (my airbnb landlord for the next 9 days) to let him know I was heading to his address to check-in. When he found out I was on foot he was blown away.

Lesson

People don’t walk around here.
For starters, there are no footpaths.
Secondly, on the morning I arrived it was raining…hard.
Much harder, in fact, than I thought it was when I set off to meet Colton.

I graciously accepted his offer to come pick me up.

Home during my stay in KC is the basement of a share house.
I like basements; and this one is now stocked with enough trail mix, muesli bars and beef jerky to fuel me during the World Series.

As for housemates, aside from Colton there is:

– Gary, can’t say anything except he’s a young black guy, he doesn’t ever seem to be here. (UPDATE: Ok, so Gary’s name may actually be Dennis)
– Kelly, 19 yo Illinois farm girl who moved to the ‘big smoke’ of KC a year ago.
– Meggs, at least I think that’s his name. 50-ish. When I asked him about his work all he said was:

“Its for the government. We pack bullets.”

So…I’m not likely to be asking him any more questions.

Independence, MO

Technically, I’m not staying in Kansas City. Rather, my basement home is just over the city line in Independence. From what I can gather, Independence is notable for 2 things:

1. It was home to President Harry S Truman (33rd Prez) from the age of 6, and
2. It is now home to a simply incalculable number of squirrels

Truman
“Dewey defeats Truman”

And, being the US, it is a living shrine to the cult of the drive-thru.
Drive-thru ATMs.
Drive-thru pharmacies.
You name it…they’ll drive through it.

Personal Challenge

I’ll share some observations re: baseball in KC at another time and close for now with a personal challenge. One temptation that I need to resist is the pull of having breakfast at the local ‘Steak & Shake’. Their morning special:

Pancakes
All-you-can-eat
$3.99

How do you say no to that???

More to come.

From the Road…

I recently had cause to make a last minute trip to the US to watch my beloved Kansas City Royals win their first World Series title in 30 years, which as it happens is precisely the length of time that I’ve been following them.

Whilst I was very much looking forward to seeing live baseball and exploring Kansas City (a city I’d never visited before), I had no idea the breadth of people and experiences that I would enjoy on my first trip to the US in more than 20 years.

Over the coming days I will reproduce the travel updates that I sent back home, from my adventures on the road…

Stories from the road

Note: This piece was originally posted elsewhere on 28th October.

From the road…

After an epic transit (even for me) I am settled safely in Kansas City for Game 1 of the 2015 World Series. No, I’m not at Kauffman Stadium watching live – I wasn’t certain that I’d arrive on time so didn’t buy a ticket – that will have to wait for Game 2 tomorrow.

The Transit

50 hours.
Nuts.
That’s what you get when you’re organising on the fly at the last minute. Summary:

14 hour flight…
3 hour layover…
15 hour flight…
3 hours to clear US immigration and make it across town for a…
12 hour bus ride, including a 2.5 hour layover in St Louis before catching my connection to Kansas City, which departed at…2:50 AM.

Fact: You witness some very strange behaviour when hanging out at a Greyhound Bus Terminal at 2 in the morning.

Greenland Arctic 2
Over Greenland, during flight from Dubai to Chicago

The People

On the flights, there weren’t any.
Both legs were < 1/3 full leaving lots of room to stretch out.
Appreciated.

Shout Out #1 goes to the Emirates ground staff in Dubai (name unknown) who allowed me to complete my US visa waiver registration at the boarding gate…using her iPhone. Thank you!
(I knew I forgot to do something before I left home.)

Shout Out #2 goes to Stava, a Russian-born taxi driver – living in Chicago for 15 years – who got me to my bus on time. When asked, Stava was proud to say that Vladimir Putin is a good President for Russia. He is from Crimea and has a lot of family that is still there. They all love Vlad. “Crimea should always be a part of Russia”, said Stava. “Kruschev was an idiot to give it away.”

Shout Out #3 goes to Rob, a 50 yo black guy who was my travel companion from Chicago to St Louis. The son of a baptist minister, Rob had just spent 48 hrs on a train from Seattle on his way to St Louis to visit his sisters. It took 5 minutes to work out that we were likeminded souls; we spent the next 5 hours swapping stories.

Shout Out #4 is for Jabar, my taxi driver on a rainy first morning in KC. Jabar is from Afghanistan, but has been living in KC for 32 years. He came here in 1983 with his brother and uncle. His father was killed in the war following the Russian invasion in ’79. He thought it was really cool that someone would travel all the way from Australia to watch the Royals play in the World Series. “You’ve made my day” he said. Actually, he made mine…by dropping me off at the nearest Dennys. I was famished!

Fact: People are people wherever you go. They like to tell their story…and sometimes they’re interested in yours.

All that before I’d even made it to my accommodation.
More to come.

Greenland Arctic 1
Above Greenland
Greenland Arctic 5
Somewhere over Canada

More than just a race

A mighty impressive effort from my friend Michelle! Read a little about her adventures running across the Sahara Desert…

One step at a time

Marathon des Sables was more than just a race. It was incredible. There is so much I could tell you about it, but here is an overview!

During a six hour coach ride from Ouarzazate airport in Morocco to the start point of the race we were presented with ‘the roadbook’. The coach avidly scanned the book, I think many to see how long the longest day in the history of the race would actually be (92km)!

Eventually we pulled off the road, into the darkness……with head torches on we made for the bivouac to find our home for the week. Tent 115 ‘Yorkshire tent’ turned out to be a very happy place. The eight of us shared highs and lows and made fantastic memories – some painful – together.

So, these are the distances which we tackled and a few of the high and low points of each day.
Stage…

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Travel Plans for the New Year

This blog is a must read for all Dilbert fans…

Morning Story and Dilbert

Morning Story and Dilbert Vintage Dilbert
November 24, 2004

I have been in many places, but I’ve never been in Cahoots. Apparently, you can’t go alone. You have to be in Cahoots with someone.

I’ve also never been in Cognito. I hear no one recognizes you there.

I have, however, been in Sane. They don’t have an airport; you have to be driven there. I have made several trips there, thanks to my children, friends, family and work.

I would like to go to Conclusions, but you have to jump, and I’m not too much on physical activity anymore.

I have also been in Doubt. That is a sad place to go and I try not to visit there too often.

I’ve been in Flexible, but only when it was very important to stand firm.

Sometimes I’m in Capable, and I go there more often as I’m getting older.

One of my favorite places…

View original post 72 more words