Descriptors for my and Amber’s recently completed trip to San Francisco: enjoyable. fun. exhausting. heartbreaking. inspiring.

It was all that and more. We enjoyed each other’s company. But let’s talk about Amtrak first. Two and a half days on the train (a total of 116 hours or so round-trip—but who’s counting?) was hard to take—though it was almost entirely due to the lack of good scenery in northeastern and north-central Montana, the miniscule number of food choices for vegetarians on the Empire Builder, our inability to really, um, go anywhere on the train [other than in the direction it pointed, without any effort on our part], the disturbing lack of facilities for washing oneself in “coach”, and not in any way due to the company. I take that back. It was great fun being with Amber, but some of the other people were not so companionable.

Example: the woman who felt it necessary to discuss her legal problems [including an interstate custody battle for which she did not want to go to California] with a (conceited) country lawyer, right behind us, very loudly, at 11 pm, two days after we first got on the train, when we [and several others around us] desperately needed sleep. That was unpleasant.

On the trip back, the Coast Starlight was 2 hours late getting to Emeryville (near Berkeley), CA, and we were scheduled only 1 1/2 hours of layover time in Portland to catch the Empire Builder on the final leg of our journey. This wasn’t the worst part. We were stopped somewhere in rural Oregon, nowhere near a station, when the conductor announced that there was “a minor medical emergency” and that we would wait for the paramedics. Rumors quickly spread of a man who was suffering heart attack symptoms. We never saw an ambulance, however. Instead we saw a woman arrested outdoors by three law enforcement officers, after her luggage was seized from our car and searched. I personally saw the cuffs being put onto her wrists. The medical emergency seemed to have been a weak cover story.

The results of the lateness of that train: we had to take a bus from Eugene, OR to Portland; we basically had to run from the bus to the train, which was departing mere minutes after our arrival; we were therefore unable to replenish our supply of trail mix, fruits, and vegetables in the (very palatial and pleasant) Portland train depot; we were therefore forced to eat more pre-packaged “vegetable patties,” complete with bun and egg-white binding agent, than we ever would have wanted to.

116 hours.

SF was great though—Haight-Ashbury, Guided by Voices (such super-skilled rock musicians!) free at Amoeba Records (a surprisingly great show for free!), a sunny day in Golden Gate Park, an incredible wealth of great art at SFMOMA (including a brilliant site-specific installation by Sarah Sze called “Things Fall Apart” made of a chopped-up Jeep Cherokee, strings, wires, and a sculptural collage of organic and inorganic elements that I can’t do justice to here). The food was great and cheap—Nick knows where to go. Don’t miss Intermezzo on Telegraph in Berkeley, among others.

We got to get out of Minneapolis as well—a good thing, except that the Bay Area has a way of making Minneapolis look brown, boring, and uptight, and feel very, very cold. Sigh.