November 28: Otra Vez

Things to remember: It’s not a rubbish bin, it’s a trash can; it’s not a chemist, it’s a drug store; look left when crossing the road. Ok, it’s spelled Center – I’m definitely in America.

Yesterday was perfect, but today I must have woken up on the wrong side of the air bed. Perhaps it’s my alternate reality Monday, or just Monday. As I type this, the Giants are losing. Definitely not my day.

I felt like I got about three hours of solid sleep, and after the sun began shining from behind the screen and the cabin lights were up I dozed for another hour or so underneath my ‘Are we there yet?’ airline eye mask. It was only an hour and a half until we were to arrive and I was trying to stretch out my stiff muscles. The flight attendant asked if I was going to have breakfast. I said not yet since I don’t get hungry when I first wake up, nor after eating three times my own weight. She told me not to wait too long.

From that point I felt like she was getting a little bitter towards me and could have been a bit more polite. She may have been getting frustrated because I was asking for food outside of my requested diabetic meal, though I can’t imagine why. I was fairly certain the point of business class is to eat and drink what you want to eat and drink when you want to eat and drink it. At least, that’s the sense I got from Qantas when I flew business class. The flight attendants had looked at me a bit strangely when I asked for a beer before breakfast before we got to Sydney, but were happy to oblige.

“Aren’t you supposed to have a broken leg?” she asked me after I had gotten up several times that morning.

“No. I have a bad back,” I replied. It’s ridiculously frustrating how people don’t really understand the nature of my injury – that’s why I like to use the more correct term, ‘prolapsed disc,’ or something that brings up equally uncomfortable mental images. I really didn’t want to get into it today.

Maybe she thought I was faking an injury or something, but really, it shouldn’t really matter as far as customer service goes. The full fare was paid, and in economy class where there aren’t meal options I prefer a lower-carb, no-sugar meal and I don’t see anything wrong with ordering a special meal if it’s a freely available option.

I’m also a bit confused as to where I was supposed to find or meet with someone who was to help me with my bags, as the travel insurance had arranged. What I needed help with was my backpack as I exited the plane, since I was tired, my back was aching, and now the pack was laden with a liter of vodka. I didn’t see anyone, despite taking an extra few minutes to pack up and was the last one out of the business class area, and thought perhaps someone would be at the baggage claim to assist me instead. I wasn’t sure what to expect.

I didn’t really have the patience to wait on line to get through customs, especially since the ‘Visitor’ line seemed to be moving faster. After going through the usual business I made it out the door and into a warm blanket of California heat. Irrespective of the air being still, it was a fair bit warmer than Auckland. I was going to enjoy my days on the coast.

In a rush to try to catch the 12:25pm Amtrak, I was relieved to see the Fly Away airport shuttle bus pulling up to the curb after only a few minutes of waiting. I pulled out my phone and turned it on again, only to see the battery had completely run out as a result of struggling to get a signal in the baggage claim area. I wasn’t concerned; I’d be able to charge it at the station soon, and then tell my family I was alright. If only I had studied Los Angeles suburban geography a bit better, I would have known that Van Nuys was in fact NOT the name of the Fly Away shuttle company, but a town far north of LA’s CBD. Doh.

When I realized that the route the bus was taking had a pretty decent view of the mountains and wasn’t familiar at all (and when we weren’t in a bit of traffic where we were being cut off by assholes deserving a good horn honk) I walked up to the bus driver.

“This isn’t the bus to Irvine, is it?”

“No.”

“Oh, good. Then we’re headed to Union Station, right?”

“No.”

@&%+@#$&*(#$@

The woman proceeded to explain to me exactly where we were going, and suggested I head all the way back to the airport on the next available bus. Fortunately a woman in the seat nearby kindly offered to drive me to the Metrolink station about ten minutes away on her way home.

Ivana’s mother came to pick her up and their family is from Argentina. We had a quick chat about travel, skiing in Argentina, and how no Spanish speakers can really understand rural Mexicans anyway, so not to feel bad.

When I got to the Amtrak counter the woman was extremely polite and helpful. She printed my ticket for the 2pm bus out of Union Station and told me how I could use the local public transportation to get back to the city, but warned me it would be an adventure.

“I like adventures.” Besides, what else would I do in the 4 hours before the train from Van Nuys to Oceanside?

I must have just missed the last huge red ‘rapid’ metro bus because I was waiting outside of the Carl’s Jr, across the street from the Amtrak station, for a good 20 minutes. I felt like a fish out of water hauling my bag into the bus and trying to understand the driver’s instructions for how to get to the red line into Union Station. After a few stops he told me to get off there and take another bus. I was super confused, tried to wheel my bag off the bus without hitting too many legs, and followed a small mass of people diagonally across the road to where an orange bus had just pulled up.

The curious thing about this orange bus line is that the route is its own street, much like a railway line, yet it was a roadway, and a bus, instead of a train track. It took me several stops down to the end of the line where I met up with the red subway line. Along the way a woman in a wheel chair needed to get off the crowded bus so a gang of people standing up front, myself and bags included, needed to get off to accommodate her exit. I wheeled my bag off the ramp and after the woman was safely off the ramp as well I attempted to direct my bag back up the ramp and into the bus, only to be completely denied by the driver who didn’t give a shit.

“Doh. This bag is fucking heavy,” I mumbled, and as I often find in these situations, a nice man was willing to help me lift my bag back up onto the bus. He was also kind enough to help me get from the bus down to the subway – an easy task, yes, but I didn’t want to lose time by making any more mistakes – and helped me get a ticket out of the machine.

I was again confused about the ticket since the paper tickets weren’t set up to be swiped through the turnstile and he opened the handicapped doorway/emergency exit to let me through. Apparently it’s another on-your-honor system where you get a hefty fine for not having at ticket. Yet if you swipe your card through you get let through the turnstile. Ok, LA, I just don’t know.

So yes, I did have an adventure, a learning experience, and made a new friend. I have the mentality in my life now of trying to look at the positive aspects of seemingly negative events; what did I lean from this experience? What can I do differently next time? Today I was definitely trying… very, very hard. I still can’t quite look at my day in a very positive light, but I’ll give it a neutral – that’s all I can muster.

When we arrived at Union Station it was only ten minutes past 2pm but I was fairly certain the train had already left and I was resigned to inquire about changing my ticket then head to Little Tokyo. There was only one gentleman ahead of me in line, but only one window open. There were two other men behind the glass doing who knows what for at least another ten minutes before opening up another window. I was able to change my ticket to a later train, as the teller at Van Nuys had promised, but I had to pay the difference in fare that I had saved by booking ahead of time online and using my AAA discount. Really guys? Like missing my train wasn’t enough?

A $3.30 American Express charge later I was all booked for the 5:10pm train. I decided to skip the 4:10pm option because I wanted time for lunch in Little Tokyo and the 5:10 train had checked baggage service. I was forced to hold up the line to take 2 lbs out of my bag, and when I tried to put the small lock back on it wouldn’t open up properly, thus wasting more time and making me feel even more incompetent. Heh.

Mannie introduced himself when we got up to the track for the gold line, and decided to explore Little Tokyo with me since he had never been there before and had plenty of time before he needed to head to LAX for his flight. We walked through the small plaza with Japanese shops and into the bakery where they had a very unique spirulina roll. It looks like a normal sized dinner roll but is crispy on the outside, softer in the middle, and basically full of air, but also full of flavor and whole grain seeds.

We (when I say we I really mean ‘I’) decided on a sushi restaurant called Tenno Sushi just around the corner which had happy hour specials between 3-6pm. I wasn’t interested in the specials since they were just on alcohol, until hot sake was mentioned. $3.50 for edamame and a small hot sake – can’t go wrong there. I was also amazingly impressed with the sashimi salad I ordered – cubed bits of tuna, salmon, snapper and yellowtail sashimi over salad greens. I asked them to add avocado as well. The dressing was a delicious wasabi ginger; there was nothing I didn’t like about this salad. It was even a good sized portion of both salad and fish, all for $11.95 plus an extra dollar for the avocado. Sometimes I love huge American portions.

The sake was poured, the edamame disappeared, and we had a great chat about living life to its fullest. I tend to run into a lot of like-minded individuals and travelers who really seem to understand the way of life that embraces freedom, in spirit and emotion, and in work and ingenuity. I learned a lot from just a small conversation, because Mannie isn’t the kind of person I generally find myself talking to. If you keep an open mind towards opportunities, you can meet great people in your own back yard. America is a huge country, full of more than just ski bums and science geeks.

We arrived back at Union Station at 4:45pm, my advised ‘boarding time’ for my train and what followed next, moreso than anything else I experienced today, really blew my mind. I sort of wish I had taken a photo of it. Union Station Amtrak trains have two boarding gates, E, and F, which are comprised of signs stating their lines and destinations, underneath a rectangular framework. I stood at the back of this ‘line,’ the front of which was underneath the gate marked ‘E.’ Staring in front of me, past the short line of people waiting to board a train was…. no train. Directly through the so-called gate was a small gap followed across the way by a pretzel shop. At the appointed boarding time, we were allowed to walk through this ‘gate,’ into an adjacent hallway, along the corridor, and up the stairs to track 11. No tickets were checked at this ‘gate,’ and no direction was given to the exact location of track 11.

Now, in New York, where I come from, when it’s time to board the train, you don’t line up in front of a pretzel shop. You board the fucking train.
Capisce?

Well, after all that I finally did board the train, and got to charge my cell phone in the socket at my seat, and called my parents. I made it to Oceanside safely, and was definitely soothed by the calm reassuring nature of the conversation with my father. I told him how I was feeling about everything at the moment; life, philosophy, having to move around all the time, some ideas of what I wanted to do in life, my frustration with trying to get my degree from UCSD now that I was back in town again. We seemed to be in agreement with everything, and he told me to follow my passion. “If you want to be a dancer in New Zealand go be a dancer in New Zealand. Just be safe.” Maybe I will, dad. Maybe I will.

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