July 1, 2013:
If you’ve kept up with my blog at all or with my Facebook statuses or Twitter updates, you’ll know that I’ve been planning a trip to Los Angeles for some time now. We’ll I’m on my way now. I’m in the observation cart of the Southwest Chief, somewhere on the eastern side of Kansas looking out onto the shanties and crumbling brick buildings. My heart bleeds each time I see another derelict brick building. They deserve to stand proudly for centuries, not slowly fall to the ground or be hit by a tornado. I’m not going to get started on that spiel, though, because that would take me hours (HOURS) to come off of. Instead I’ll focus on the train and on the first day of my trip.
“Why a train, Benjamin!” I’m sure you’re shouting out in alarm, and don’t you worry yourself one bit, I’ll tell you. Trains, to me, though they aren’t anymore, are the epitome of elegance and I long ago told myself that the only way I would ever go to Hollywood is in a train like a newly discovered starlet on her way to the studio the very first time. I long to return to those days of the past, even though I read an amazing Diana Vreeland quote this morning on the bus: “Don’t think you were born too late. Everyone has that illusion. But you aren’t. The problem is you think too late.” WELL! Did that ever get me thinking. I think my beloved Diana has a point. I’ve spent two decades of my life lamenting the fact that I wasn’t a 1930s socialite. Why? Why have I tortured myself so much by hating the modern era. It’s nonsensical, really. The past is past and it’s never going to come back the way it was. Ideas and trends are cyclical and I’ll forever love brick buildings and tasteful antiques, but there’s no sense beating myself up for something that could never be. I’m a modern gentleman with old tastes, but are those tastes therefore outdated? I’ll have to ponder this further.
Anyway, because of those wonderful old starlets: Joan Crawford and Gloria Swanson and Bette Davis who all arrived via train to Tinseltown, I knew that it was the only way that I could make my debut into this city that I know nothing of. Plus, my grandmother visited Hollywood years ago in the 1940s and I have a photograph of her on the train with her sister-in-law and their respective dates.
I couldn’t just fly into town. It wouldn’t make me a classy bitch, you know? Though, I’d appreciate it so that I could sing, “Hopped off the plane at LAX with my dreams and a cardigan!” I’m still going to do that, just not at the airport, I’ll do it at the train station. I only wish that I were draped in furs, there was steam billowing from the tracks, and that studio photographers were clicking away like mad when I made my first appearance in the hustle and bustle of HOLLYWOOD! (I’m in for an awful letdown, aren’t I?)
So, I booked a train. It was really cheap, like really cheap, and I thought that lazily sauntering through the southwest would be interesting: canyons and deserts and the like, plus, as my beloved spirit animal, Patsy Stone, once said, “If you don’t do it, you won’t have done it.” That’s my life motto. Adopt it as your own if you like. Get it tattooed on your ass. I’d recommend my tattoo artist, but she was recently allegedly arrested for drug trafficking. I don’t judge. She did a great job on my tattoo. I look at it fondly every day. Great decision, that.
I had to go the classical route on my train, and so I had to go to Chicago. It’s a whole thing in my mind that is honestly pointless, but this is my life story, so stop your whinging. Last night, my mother and my brother boarded the MegaBus with me and we were soon on our way in what was probably one of the most uncomfortable vehicular experiences of my life! It was awful! Before we could go, though, we had a late dinner with Jessica at the Village Inn where she regaled us with hilarious personal and intimate stories in which her “breasts” played a key role. I write “breasts” because most fit men have bigger chests than my poor sister. She has no milkshake to bring the boys to the yard. Sad for her.
Back on the bus, though, I struggled to fall asleep and finally did after what felt like hours later, but was surely only thirty minutes or so. It was painful. Life is hard when you have the legs of a model. CALL ME, TYRA! For all the misery I went through, though, the ride wasn’t that awful. I received a nice message, I woke up strangely refreshed, and I saw this new Karl Lagerfeld action figure that features my darling CHOUPETTE! I need it like I need air.
The bus was almost unbelievably late, though, over an hour and that was unacceptable. I was so sick of sitting there, I was about ready to lose my mind. Finally, after a traffic jam, the cityscape came into sight and it wasn’t long before we pushing and shoving off the bus, into Union Station, shoving our bags into a locker, and then heading out for breakfast.
I let Ma choose. She chose Yolk. I was okay with that. The weather was absolutely perfect and the walk had several lovely buildings along the way, so I approved whole heartedly of it all. I fell in love with this one:
At Yolk, I had eggs Benedict for the first time, and though they weren’t the most thrilling thing I’ve ever put into my mouth, they weren’t the worst. The English muffins were a bit overly toasted, but I’ll try to forgive that. On top of the muffin was tomato, allegedly grilled (I have doubt), fresh mozzarella, pesto, a poached egg, and hollandaise sauce. Decent, but too much. They also had the most amazing fresh lemonade with mint. It makes up for any other complaints I may have had!
We walked up along the lake to Michigan Avenue and it was just wonderful. The weather was absolutely perfect, the people were pleasant, there were animals all over, I was content. I love water. Then there was the absolutely gorgeous Buckingham Fountain:
BUT I ALSO HAD A SCHEDULE TO GO BY! I had to stop and admire the yachts, though, they were so lovely. What I wouldn’t give to own a yacht or have a friend who loved to take me yachting. I’M LOOKING AT YOU, MARTHA!
I wanted to take Ma up to see the Drake hotel where Queen Elizabeth had once stayed and taken tea. It’s a gorgeous hotel. Remember when I infiltrated the suites on my last stay? Good times. Sadly we didn’t have enough time to head up there, because I needed to stop at Nordstroms for a pair of pants. Remember how I was going on and on about the customer service at Bonobos? Well, I still believe in it, but they did let me down. I was supposed to get them shipped to me on Saturday, but they were never sent to UPS for delivery. I’ve been given a gift and a hearty apology. Many thanks, Bonobos, but I still don’t have pants! I’m wearing pants now, reader, don’t worry, but if I wasn’t — what’s the worry? Remember my gorgeous model legs with the great thighs? Silly me! How could you forget! Ma is going to ship them to the friend I’m staying with. I’ll have pants.
It was drawing near for our reservations at the Ralph Lauren restaurant, so we left Nordstroms to stop by a few chocolate shops and then claim our reservations. We had great seats, in the middle of all the action. I adore it there surrounded by the rich bitches and the old men dressed up as dandies and the children charmingly outfitted in all designer clothing so that they all look like the genetically modified result of Romeo Beckham’s stolen DNA.
The experience is always top notch, but the food today was lacking. The tart that I wanted wasn’t on the menu, replaced with a fresh mozzarella and grape tomato tart and arugula salad. Both good, but not what I wanted. I also had a bowl of the tomato soup, because I keep a running list of the world’s great tomato soups (1. Django, Des Moines; 2, Noodles & Company; 3, Monoprix branded soup in a box; 4, Panera Bread <–hit or miss). This soup didn’t come too close to the list, it wasn’t that great, it just tasted like tomato water. I wasn’t a superfan. Wasn’t bad by any means, but wasn’t worth repeating. A bit let down by what I felt was a massive blow to my memory, we started making our way to Union Station so that I could be ready to board my train.
The map led us to a part of the river that was impossible to cross, so we took the river taxi and that was delightful. I GOT TO GO YACHTING! Kind of…not really…close enough for a quick fix.
We were soon back at the train station and everybody started lining up and before long it was time for me to go. Ma cried, Jose seemed worried, I felt a bit ill, but I think it was these vitamins he gave me this morning that were supposed to keep me super energized and lose water weight. I think they just made me queasy, but I have been peeing a lot, so, perhaps there’s something there?
It was very easy to board the train and I was soon in a rather spacious seat. Not bad at all. WAY BETTER THAN THE BUS. MUCH BETTER THAN THE PLANE! I think I could actually sleep on here, but I’d prefer a sleeper car. I haven’t the cash flow for that, though. The whole point of this trip was economic convenience…until I booked the expensive apartment and five-star hotel…ooops. Sorry ‘bout it. (NOT REALLY, #YOLO!)
I’m about seven hours into my train ride — the surface has barely been scratched — but it’s not awful. It’s not what it was, though, you know. Nobody is dressed nicely. I haven’t seen an exclusive lounge or movie star. I haven’t been whisked off for a cocktail in a fellow passenger’s berth. Nobody is wearing a ball gown and I haven’t seen a man in a suit. I have to let go, I know, but it’s hard. I don’t want to. I really do want the world to be glamorous again. What is so wrong with a little beauty? Why must they all were sweatsuits? GIVE IS THE ILLUSION, PEASANTS, PLEASE!
The dining car lived up to my expectations. It wasn’t gourmet dining like they used to have on the old trains of yesteryear, but it was nice. I wasn’t offended, since I was expecting airplane food. It was much better than airplane food, the waiter even asked me how I wanted my gin and tonic prepared. On airplanes, they just hand me a bottle of gin and a can of tonic water. Démodé that. Here they even give you lime. #GLAMOUR! He was an awesome waiter and I hope that I have him again at lunch tomorrow. I had a vegetarian pasta, a decent salad, and chocolate mousse while I discussed The China Study, microbreweries, homicide investigations, Belgian culinary traditions, stand-by flying, and a whole lot more with my dining companions — complete strangers, but Stuart and Casey turned out to be absolutely lovely. Everybody on the train has been lovely, even if they didn’t dress up for the occasion. Who can blame them, though? This is our tragic society.
Now that the sun has begun to set (and has now totally set) the observation car has been emptying out and I’ve found a place to type away from my seat mates. They’re not bad people by any means, but I needed a break. You should have seen them dash to the dock to smoke a cigarette! I’m glad I never got addicted to cigarettes.
The Internet situation is a no-go and I’m struggling to deal with it. My phone will occasionally work and then change its mind. The train offers no wifi of any kind, not even that crappy Boingo they love to give us in airports. I’m a proud addict of technology and the Internet and I have no issue with admitting that to you.
I’m going to go grab my novel manuscript now and work on that in the relative quiet of the observation car. I wish the bar was still open. I love gin and tonics. GIN! GIN! GIN! (Oh, the Amish are all over this bitch! Where are they going? I didn’t know they were even allowed on trains. I SAW THEM PLAYING CARDS? Doesn’t the Bible forbid that? I was never clear on these issues. I took a seat next to a young Amish boy, already cruelly tan from labor and I think the combination of my phone, my iPad, my computer, and my ability to read made him uncomfortable. I’m not being stereotypical, reader! I watched Breaking Amish. And so, he vanished mysteriously.
If only he had led the rest of his crew away. Instead I began something of an awkward stand off with a crew of twenty young Amish people who kept eyeing me suspiciously. It was the scariest thing that has ever happened to me. I just knew they were going to grab me with one of their pitchforks, toss me into a buggy, and take me under cover of darkness to one of their covens where I’d never escape because there would be no signal on my phone. If I can barely connect at home, I have doubt I could in the middle of Amishland. The thought makes my skin crawl.
The night grew ever longer and they just sat there in their booths, ominously shuffling decks of cards. They weren’t playing games anymore, just shuffling. It was an obvious threat to my safety. Finally, at one o’clock, they shuffled out single file, not saying a word, not looking left or right. As their ghastly parade passed me, I tried to remain as calm as possible, and succeeded, but reader…I won’t deny that it was a struggle.
Now that they were gone, I could finish the film I had been watching in peace. Three For Bedroom C, is a Gloria Swanson romantic comedy and it was charming. She stars as a stowaway who is running away from her manager and falls for the fellow who’s room she has hidden on with her daughter. Of course they fall in love and there are silly misunderstandings and of course they are together in the end as paparazzi camera’s flash bulbs erupt. Good picture.
I went back to my seat and extended the seat and reclined and harrumphed. I cannot wait to get back to a real bed. It wasn’t ungodly uncomfortable, but I would not call it pleasant slumber by any means. I dozed and woke a dozen times and the hours didn’t seem to change. Doesn’t matter really. California, here I come!
July 2, 2013:
I woke early, about 6:30, there was no way to sleep any more. I tried, but it just was not happening. I was ever so pleased that I wasn’t robbed and that the train wasn’t hijacked in the evening by cowboys. That would make for a thrilling story, though. Now I want it to happen. Hurry up, cowboys! Handsome ones, please — none from the John Wayne mold. Danke. Can Zac Efron be the cowboy? Can this be a movie? I am going to Hollywood. I’ll be the damsel (dude?) in distress. Maybe I’ll be kidnapped by a gorgeous villain? Can it please be Matt Bomer? Call me agents, I’m already hearing Oscar buzz.
Anyway, I need to find somebody to seduce that has an extra bed in a sleeper car. I’m okay with that.
Everybody was drinking coffee, so I finally found the lounge. Now, the walls aren’t paneled in dark wood and there isn’t a martini shaker in sight, in fact there isn’t even a bartender — just a nice man who sells microwaved food and premixed drinks. I’m trying to deal with it, reader, I am. But, would it kill them the class it up?!?! Is there a first class area I can infiltrate? Do they have a nicer lounge? This one’s okay, actually, and I have commandeered an entire booth of it. I have a wonderfully comfortable seat — shockingly better than the coach seats — and a better view of Colorado passing by.
I never thought about it, but Colorado is stunning. The colors are so nice. It makes me want to go buy some colored pencils and scribble away pathetic imitations of the scenery passing by. It’s really so gorgeous. The gnarled old trees and wooden posts and brush and vultures. Am I in the Old West? I’m really excited for the desert. I love me a good desert. I love sand and sun and cactuses and vultures and the oasis (do we have those?) and pyramids and ancient tombs…hold on, I’ve gone all Sahara on you. I don’t even know what the desert is called here. I haven’t been to the desert since 1999 (which doesn’t seem like an eternity ago, but it looks so ancient written without a 2000. I was born in 1989. SWEET JESUS, I’M A DINOSAUR!) when my family flew down for a New Year’s Eve bash in Phoenix. I have few memories of that trip. What I recall consists of the following: animatronic reindeers stretched over the streets on clearly visible strings, pandemonium about Y2K as we counted down to midnight, fear of crashing planes, my first experience with what I call “magic sidewalks,” driving by cactuses, and arguing with Jessica about what CD of Native American music to buy when we were at the Grand Canyon. I don’t recall much about the canyon, either, just that it seemed vast and terribly unsafe. I heard tale that this train cuts through a canyon of some sort. We don’t go directly through the Grand Canyon, so I’m not sure what this would be. I suppose I’ll find out later this afternoon as we enter New Mexico and Arizona. Tomorrow at this time, I’ll be in Los Angeles. I don’t know why, but I’m particularly wary about this. I just don’t know what to expect! Hopefully good things.
Time to look at the brush and work on my novel editing. I’ve got to finish that bitch! Oooooh, there are hills in the distance, is it a mountain? (It wasn’t a mountain.) [Update from one hour later: MOUNTAINS!] Reader, I want to climb a mountain. How hard could it be *said in Ina Garten voice with a shrug.* As a matter of fact, I’ve often assumed that I will eventually scale Mount Everest. I don’t have a lot of things that I don’t think I’ll ever do. The list is limited to a few things you don’t want to hear about anyway. These are gorgeous mountains, reader! Snow peaked and whimsical. I adore them. I haven’t seen many mountains, now that I think of it. I’ve scaled the foothills of the Alps, but that was no big deal. I’ve flown over the alps and I’ve seen the Appalachian mountains, but these…THESE ARE MOUNTAINS! They’re almost too perfect to be real.
I’m still in the lounge car, they haven’t kicked me out, yet. I ordered a gin & tonic and that finally scared the Amish away. They don’t seem to realize that I understand what they’re saying in their silly little gibberish language. I speak enough German and more than enough English to put together what they’re saying. They called me “headphone boy.” I DON’T APPROVE OF YOU EITHER, BITCHES!
Now, I’m in the middle of a mountain or underground or something . We’re in a tunnel going from Colorado to New Mexico. Now I’m in New Mexico — that was a short tunnel.
I’m starving for lunch. I wish time would speed up. I’m excited to see Albuquerque in about five hours. I’ve always wanted to go to Albuquerque (what a crazy name, what’s the origin?) since watching one of the greatest episodes of I Love Lucy — “Ethel’s Hometown” — where the whole city thinks she’s famous and not Ricky. Good for her, I say! Ricky had far too much attention with his silly bongo drums and glittered guitar. Besides, Ethel puts on a bitching version of “Shortnin’ Bread.”
For some reason, the reservation guy never showed up, so I had no sitting scheduled and I wasn’t having it. I’d had it…officially! [Holla at the Ru Paul’s Drag Race reference!] Ermahgerd! What if I bump into Ru in Hollywood? I’ll fall to my knees in prayer, probably. So, I decided I’d have lunch when I effing wanted to have lunch, and I did! I stormed the place with a bunch of people who were in sleeper cars to their side of the dining car. Sadly, there was zero difference between sides. The only differences were that sleeper car customers get their food for free (a decent deal that I wasn’t aware of, makes the room look a bit more reasonable. Probably around one hundred dollars worth of food and a bed and a shower. I would do anything for a shower right now. I’m going to go wipe myself down with wet paper towels tonight after the rest of the passengers have turned in. Maybe I can seduce an employee? What? What’s with your judging eyes and comments?)
When the woman sat down across from me, I had to hold in a squeal; reader, she looked like Ina Garten’s more unfortunate twin. You know, the one that didn’t marry Jeffrey and become a nuclear consultant and then a culinary guru? She talked like Ina. She laughed like Ina. She had Ina’s haircut. She was wearing a black denim top. I couldn’t deal with it and made a fool of myself by constantly saying things like, “I like good sorbet,” “How bad could that be,” (in response to descriptions from the waiter, and “Mmmmm, I can really taste the butter, and oh, the salt!” She didn’t play along. Or, she was tired of being compared to her more famous sister. I would be. I chatted with her and her husband about surfing and beaches and celebrities, and then the last member of our dining party arrived and I’m more than convinced that he’s a serial rapist/murderer. I have evidence. First off, he told us about the hotel room he had booked in Los Angeles. He made sure that he had the one where a singer had died. He paid extra for this, reader. (Which, admittedly, I would, too, but I don’t have beady sunken eyes.) Later on, Ina (we’re calling her that, alright) was talking about her grandson who just broke his arm. Her husband (not Jeffrey) wrapped his arm in a plastic bag and then covered it in duct tape. At this, the murderer’s eyes flashed eagerly and he shouted, “YES! You have duct tape!” This was never explained. Ina and I looked warily at each other and we carried on with our dinner discussing impersonal matters until he vanished into his car loaded up with chopped up bodies. Horrifying man. We said our goodbyes and I returned to the lounge for another gin and tonic. I LOVE GIN AND TONICS! GIN! GIN! GIN! What’s that game where people shout, “GIN!” Never mind, I don’t want to know, I hate games and if I knew a game, I’d be forced to play it with somebody sometime in the future. I ain’t got time for that.
Back in the lounge, I’ve been enjoying the scenery and trying to get some editing done, but I’ve been awfully distracted. About an hour ago, we picked up an entire troupe of boy scouts. Nothing annoying about this initially, but there’s one of them. He must be a troupe leader or something, but he looks just like my husband, Zac Efron. I’m trying not to stare too much. It’s uncanny, the resemblance, reader. I’d take a picture, but he’s already seen me ogling him half a dozen times. I should just get back to my editing. Wish me luck.
Tired of sitting in the lounge for hours, I headed back up to my seat so that I could make reservations for dinner. This was soon accomplished and I was getting ready to get off the train for a few minutes in Albuquerque. There are a bunch of vendors there that sell Navajo objets d’art and such, so I thought it would be fun to take a look at a few thing. They weren’t that great, but it was nice to be off the train for a bit inhaling the delicious air. It was warm and dry and I was in love with it. Sadly, the Amtrak doesn’t take you through the more pleasant parts of town as the trains seem to speed through the shady bits of town. Albuquerque seemed to be more of the same. I later learned that it wasn’t, but I don’t know that from a first person’s perspective.
After boarding the train, it was nearly time for dinner reservations, so off I went at 5:15, not pleased about the early time I’d been given, but whatever. I was hungry. I was hungry for pizza, but they wouldn’t give it to me! So what if it’s off the children’s menu, adults like pizza, too! I wanted a slice of pizza and a glass of wine — what could be more classy?
I dined alone for about ten minutes before my next table mate arrived and we instantly became best friends. Her name is Leslie and she’s older than my grandmother. I LOVE HER. WE’RE TOTES #BFFS AND SHE AGREES. We started out talking about Hollywood and all the things I should see. General touristy stuff to begin with, you know, since we were both complete strangers. She thinks I’d like seeing Josh Groban at the Hollywood Bowl tomorrow, and I probably would. I love celebrities. We gabbed and talked and chatted our way through three courses. We talked about Albuquerque and California and forest fires and earthquakes. Did you know that during an earthquake, glass will explode inwards and bricks will explode outwards? I didn’t. Leslie did. Did you know that gin was made from juniper berries? I didn’t. Leslie did. Leslie is awesome.
It was clear that the waiter wanted us out of the restaurant, so we headed out to the lounge car to carry on our discussion that went from our devotion to Hillary Clinton, our ghost experiences, green energy, her foreign exchange student sons from Germany (reader, they pooled their money together to buy her a ticket to Germany for one of their weddings. I was weeping!)
Then Leslie said, “I’m getting you a gin and tonic,” before scurrying down into the bar for another glass of wine for herself and to get my drink. No stranger has ever bought me a drink before. I was so touched. Then we talked about her experiences on Homo Hill, the gay district of Hollywood in the 195os when she moved there for the first time. She was invited out to a nice dinner and didn’t have a dress. Thankfully, her drag queen friend had one that looked gorgeous on her! We cracked up. The entire lounge car loved us. We discussed gay rights and had a pride parade and made fun of children.
“Do you want another wine, Leslie?” I asked.
“Yes, I do,” she replied, then added, “wait for it!”
Boom! She pulled more wine out of her purse! She’s my kind of lady! She once owned a canyon! She ran for city council! She was hit on by a transgender lesbian! Her mother knew Molly Brown and broke her thumb at her house! Her house exploded in an earthquake. She has a secret family! She is devoted to old hotels! She made self-deprecating jokes! She owns a German Shepard named Chardonnay! Her son is besties with the son of Charles Schwab! LESLIE IS QUEEN OF THE TRAIN!
I’m not going to say that we were slizzered, but we were rowdy and loud and having a great time. Then we started talking about her boyfriend and the reincarnated Aztec princess! ALL OF THIS IS TRUE, READER! She is dating a fellow that she went to high school with and this gentleman has recently come out of the mountains and rejoined society after being a hermit for several decades. He still believes it is the 1970s and has taken up with another woman besides Leslie because he still believes in communes. Leslie is pissed. The other woman’s name is Bertha (HA!) but she insists on going by Xikan, because she is the reincarnated spirit of an Aztec princess. I was dying! What an amazing story! Xikan and Leslie were at one of their shared boyfriend’s poetry readings at a library and I’m not going to relate the entirety of the story that involved trains and cake, but it was amazing and ended with a romantic reunion in the rain. We talked for six hours. It was so much fun!
I love the train. You meet such fun people. Homicide detectives, dietitians, murderers, Ina Garten in disguise, and my beloved Leslie. I thought that I would hate the train, and if I had to sit in a chair for 40 hours, I would, but it’s more than a chair. It’s cars full of interesting people and gin and Leslie(s) and decent food and alarmingly handsome boy scouts. Well, just one alarmingly handsome boy scout. He asked me where we were once. “Flagstaff,” I replied in my most alluring voice. “Thanks,” he said, then went back to some dumb game he’s playing with children. I will feel disgusting if he’s just a mature-looking youth.
You should all take the trains everywhere. They may not be the fastest things in the world, but since we retired the Concord — WHY NOT? You get to see mountains and crumbling pueblos and amazing canyons and the entirety of a thunderstorm looming on the horizon and meet the most wonderful strangers. I’m turning into Joe Biden!
I arrive in the KINGDOM of LOS ANGELES in eight hours. Please send me prayers via the Holy Mother, Beysus Christ, the fruit of her womb, the come again savior, Blue Ivy, and to my patron saint, Miley Cyrus. May they keep and protect me from harm. It will all be fine. Leslie and I saw a double rainbow while in the dining car and kept shouting about it. It’s a good omen. #sanasa
July 3, 2013:
This morning when I woke up, I was in California. I oftentimes put myself back into unconsciousness because I didn’t want to bother with the child sitting next to me. There was always somebody new sitting next to me. This one had a passion for kicking me in the side. I wanted to go sleep in the observation car, but that was frowned upon. Whatever.
So, at about five, I decided to just sit up and listen to “Party in the USA” for three hours on repeat, and so I did. I enjoyed it tremendously. I love that song and it will never get old. NEVER, I SAY!
Finally, we starting rolling into Los Angeles and I had my eyes peeled for the Hollywood sign, but I never did see it from the train.
I’ll continue on later. I’m with my friends now.