East Coast Coasting
It's time to travel once again; we just can't help ourselves. Julia and I head to Orlando (The City Beautiful), Savannah (The Hostess City of the South), and New York City (The Big Apple) for two weeks of coasting the East Coast. Here is a map of our trip.
Julia will be working in Orlando at a seminar related to her PhD. My plan, while the poor dear has to work, is to visit Universal Studios, Kennedy Space Center, and perhaps even take a golf lesson; who knows.
The trip is train based, that is, we plan only to fly from coast to coast the rest of our transportation is via train. From Orlando we'll take a day train to Savannah Georgia. From Savannah we'll take an overnight train (with our own sleeper cabin) to the Big Apple. What will traveling via train on the east coast be like? Standby and I'll let you know.
Hot and humid. That's about the most direct description of Orlando at this time of year I can make. But if you like swimming in body temperature crystal blue pools, then this is the place and time for you. It's the kind of swimming you don't get a cold shock stepping into the water. And the kind of swimming that you don't get a blast of cold when you step out of the pool. Of course it's a tropical climate and that means rain. The kind of rain that, out of nowhere, down-pours from the sky drenching everything and everyone. But, it's our vacation, and you want something different (not like home) on your holidays; right?
Traveling anywhere in the world means that I'm cut off from Julia's brilliant and healthy cooking. It means that I'm beholden to the food environment of that country, town, or place I find myself in. It's sad, but oh so true that the good old US of A has one of the worst food environments in the whole world. I guess I should be thankful that it has food at all; some places don't, but the Standard American Diet (SAD) is one of mass-produced food-like substances, made for profit, with no love, full of sugar, fat, salt, and so many other chemicals it could make your head spin; no literally it will make your head spin. But, when traveling this great land you must eat the Modern American Diet (MAD) or starve. Using the tobacco industries' favorite slogan â€œharm reductionâ€ Julia and I venture through the maze of fast-food and factory food labyrinths. Oh for some fresh food that hasn't been enhanced by sugar, fat, or salt; and those other unknown, head-spinning, and inexplicable chemicals. The one redeeming thought to hang on to is we'll be home soon and back to our fresh food diet.
Humans are endlessly fascinated by excitement, horror, and suspense. I guess that's why Orlando and its theme-park world exist. For myself I am drawn to these attractions like everyone else, but once there I soon become overwhelmed by their clichÃ©, tacky, and consumerism baseness. Once you've ridden one insanely gyrating rollercoaster why do you have to do it again? But, on the Universal Studio's mad and frightening rollercoaster I found myself once again. I suppose this is due to my miserable meat-based-memory that seems incapable of remembering anything that falls into five, or four, or maybe even three years in the past. Because of my faulty memory I keep repeating these same experiences over and over again. And the theme-park industry continues to be profitable.
When I was a child I loved watching on TV and was a great supporter of space exploration. And let's face it the USA was by far the leader in this area. And so I was a lover of the idea of America indirectly because of their great achievements in space. Today, within my poorly formed organic memory remain only vague feelings of my love for space exploration. It was these feelings that drove me back to the Kennedy Space Center. I had visited it in 1985 and like so many of the places I've returned to after 30 years or so things have changed. Back then the awesome and massive Satin V rocket lay on its side in an open grassy field. Today, the humongous machine is housed in its own building surrounded by exhibits, cheesy audio visuals, and the obligatory gift shop. But of course back when I was a child and watched Neil Armstrong step out on to the lunar surface there where only three billion people on this small blue dot. Today, we are at seven billion with no end in sight. I suppose that's progress?
We had varied expectations about catching the train from Orlando to Savanah and then on to New York. Julia and I have travelled extensively on trains in Japan, used the train system somewhat in England, zipped along at high speed from France to the UK, risked our health on an Egyptian train, I have experience long distance train travel in Australia, and only I have frequented Amtrak in the good old US of A; this will be Julia's first time.
I have only twice rode the Amtrak and my very first experience was skewed. A friend invited me on a journey to Reno from Oakland, on his own classic 1930's and fully restored private carriage. It was towed by an Amtrak engine, but that was about all that connected us to America's main train system. Okay I admit it wasn't a normal modern American train experience to have your own private chef, on your own private carriage, as it wound its way through the snow covered Sierra Nevada Mountains.
My second experience with Amtrak was a trip from Oakland to San Simeon at the insistence of my dad. For some reason he wanted to take the train and not drive. It might have been a measure of his confidence in my driving skill. I've tried to convince myself that he wanted to experience America rather than avoid my driving. As you can imagine this second experience was nothing like my first, but it was: okay.
So why take the train up the Eastern Seaboard? Good question and I guess the only answer is once again the limitations of my meat-based memory system. Seeing all of my past train journeys were taken long ago it's not surprising I was convinced this would be a good idea. On the positive side of this systemic failure in my memory is the far distant feeling and very faint positive recollections I have of traveling on the Japanese train system. In Japan trains are the main source of country-wide travel. And the Japanese place value on their trains and supporting infrastructure. Because of their pride in this most efficient of public transportation systems traveling on Japanese trains is a very pleasant experience indeed.
In England their once mighty train system has fallen into private ownership and, as to be expected, become overpriced and second rate. Today if you want a cost effective public transport in England I would recommend you take a bus. Of course buses are not efficient, but it seems the British place private ownership over environmental efficiencies.
The worst train trip I have ever taken was a ride from Cairo to Luxor. I'm not sure if Third-World has any meaning these days, but if it exists you'll find it for sure on an Egyptian train. It wasn't that the carriages were Spartan and lacking even basic amenities, or even the conspicuous absence of female passengers, but the restrooms. It's difficult for me to describe to you the state these primitive closets started out in. But, the condition they were in at the end of our trip is just too horrifying to explain in a polite correspondence.
The second worst train trip I ever took was the over-night train from Melbourne to Adelaide in Australia. The problem with this journey was fumes. For some reason, I guess I will never understand, the giant diesel engine pulling the long collection of carriages and cars poured noxious fumes into our sleeper car all night long. This was so nauseating that I could not resist the urge to throw-up and eventually I felt the best thing for it was to hang myself. Fortunately for me the train arrived in Adelaide before I had time to execute my urge. I disembarked without sleep, sick as a dog, grumpy, and swearing never again to travel on a train.
So as you can imagine it is hard for me to understand why I sit on a train traveling to Savanah writing this note to you. Life is a twisty curving thing. But, today's journey is not at all bad. As compared to some of my train journeys it falls somewhere in the middle. If we were to fly we'd get there faster, but we'd have to put up with airports and airplanes and all of their associated nuisances. If we were to drive we'd still get there faster, but I wouldn't be able to write this blog, or read my book, or drink my tea in comfort. So the train is slow, but it's efficient and I'll take that over fast anytime.
When the first European explorers began to move up river, leaving the Atlantic Ocean and their perilous journey from the old country behind them, they saw what looked to them like a vast savanna. The vast savanna turned out to be a massive wet lands, but the name stuck and so the Savannah River and the settlement of Savannah were born. Whether the naming was a spelling mistake or just an embellishment to add distinction Savannah did not turn out to be a mistake. Since its beginning it's been a busy seaport and even today it's the good old US of A's third largest port next to New York and Los Angeles. This long history of import export has shaped the city and added layers of complexity and richness to this most lovely Hostess City of the South.
One of Savannah's many attributes is its architecture and the design of the city itself. Incorporated into this design from the beginning were many parks, which are still here to this very day. There are 23 small parks that act as a focal-point for residential and business neighborhoods. This is in addition to Forsyth Park a large and manicured common in this most green of American townships. Each of the many smaller parks is filled with its share of gigantic Live Oak trees all draped, as if by a phantom gardener, with light green Spanish moss. The upshot of this tree and moss arrangement is beauty, serenity, and peace; so unlike most modern US cities. The present city planners added to this unique feel by banishing, or at least restricting, the normal assortment of chain stores and other monopolistic retailers. You'll find a few big-guys in town, but mostly you'll experience many small privately owned businesses; capitalism at its best.
Of course Julia and I could not resist walking to every park in this eminently walkable town, and the benefit of our wanderings was to experience close-up the old and unique architecture along with the scenic pleasures of this exceptional city. Along the way we also enjoyed visiting several of Savannah's many colorful museums. And what visit, to this old port town, would be complete if you didn't walk the River Walk filled to overflowing with tourist shops and packaged tours.
Food is the other distinctive characteristic of Savannah. Unlike Orlando, which is the epitome of everything bad about US food, Savannah is everything good about American food. Every restaurant we went to was small, privately owned, and many were highlighting locally grown produce. This makes Savannah's eating experience far superior to many other US cities.
And Savannah's southern roots adds another interesting twist to eating here.
There are no perfect travel destinations and Savannah is no exception. Although its travel pluses far outweigh its minuses Savannah is very hot and very humid. And where this kind of weather is king live mosquitos, hundreds, and hundreds of blood thirsty, filthy dirty, mosquitos.
As Julia and I sit scratching and nursing our welted arms and legs we cannot forget the great time we had in Savannah Georgia and await longingly for our chance to visit again.
It's hard to describe my feelings of New York City. The first thing it has against it is it's a big city; and I really dislike all big cities. Let's face it, all large metropolises are overflowing with people, traffic, smells, dirt, filth, excess, greed, capitalism, advertising, and human pollution. New York City is no exception to this big city profile.
But NYC seems to have more of its fair share of what I refer to as a: Vegas feel.
By Vegas feel I mean a kitsch, glossy, plastic, disingenuous, bright-lighted, vulgarity that acts as a thin veneer coating its big-city-ness. Surely NYC is all of these things and at the same time it is hypnotic, magnetic, and irresistible to most humans. The draw of NYC has on humans is like a moth's unending attraction to a flame. It can't resist coming closer and closer until eventually it is consumed by the very illumination that drew it to its demise. New York is our human flame.
Of course there is Central Park, a tiny island of nature surrounded on all sides by humanities' worst excesses.
The park is a small respite from the big-city-ness of NYC, but it's really not enough to get the bad taste out of your mouth.
So if I dislike the place so much why in the name of Darwin am I here? Good question and the answer is the: People's Climate March.
This was a pivotal event in human history and Julia and I both felt it important to be physically part of it.
We marched in protest of our government's lack of interest in creating policies that would force all of us to break our insatiable, addictive, and destructive want of fossil fuels.
With us, as we strolled through the heart of a city that is synonymous with the incorrect capitalistic philosophy that all resources on the Earth are endless and must be exploited and sold for a profit, were 400,000 others with a generally similar interest to our own. It was a mighty expression of some people's desire for humanity to stop polluting and destroying our shared home: the Earth.
But alas, my belief is that the march will change nothing. The reason for my pessimism is mostly mathematical.
Only one percent of the country's total population attended the march. I'm sure there are a few more percent that did not attend the march and are like-minded. But, one or two percent of the entire population of the U.S. is not going to change our direction. I am afraid we'll continue our addiction and ultimately destroy our civilizations. The good news is that it is typical human avarice for us to think such puny and insignificant creatures like ourselves will have any truly long lasting effect on this wonderful and precious planet. It's been here for four billion years and I'm confident it'll still be around for another four billion, long after the human race has passed into nothingness.