Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Destination Eureka

Eureka -- More of a Place than a State of Mind

The summer of 1997 was the one before my senior year of high school. Something got into my restless little head that I should take a far-off and solitary voyage to some place I'd never been. I visited a travel agency (keep in mind this was back when people needed travel agents to "navigate" the Internet and book things for travel-planning purposes) and purchased a round-trip train ticket with money I'd saved from my part-time waitressing shindig.

Destination? Eureka, California. I had a friend there, who was staying with her sister for the summer, and she invited me to stay.

The train was to leave at 1:05 a.m. on Sunday July 13 from Salt Lake City and arrive in Sacramento at 3:05 p.m. the next day. (indiejade references her scrapbook, which has the train ticket stub and precise times). From Sacramento to Martinez via train, and then from Martinez to Eureka on a bus (train service not available).

I conked out sometime between 3 and 4 a.m., waking up at an undefined point in the harsh bright light of morning. . . I will not forget that morning. The train stopped in Reno after passing through long dry desert, eventually meandering into Napa Valley wine country. There is something almost indescribable about that sense of removal and distance layered over fascination and connection with a "place" while one is a passenger on a train. . .

But anyway.

By the afternoon, the train eventually reached Sacramento, right about on time at 4 p.m.. I exited the train and began searching for my connecting one. I checked my ticket and realized that I'd overlooked a fairly important detail:

The train to Martinez was not scheduled to depart until 6:30 a.m. the next morning.

. . .

Great thought I. There I was, stranded in an unfamiliar city overnight, and (as a naive 17-year old would be) without a clue. I cursed the travel agent who did not bring this little discrepancy of a 15.5 hour delay to my attention at the time I'd purchased the ticket. I cursed her a little more, and then decided to make the best of it.

The downtown train station was situated near a mall. Being in the time-killing mood, I visited the mall and proceeded to become inherently fascinated with the art of watching people. Indeed, some of the most fascinating observations of humanity I'd ever made to that point in life were made at that shopping mall. I think, perhaps, it even clinched my idea (at the time) to study anthropology.

For about 7 hours, I strolled, drank too much coffee: bitter coffee, sweet coffee, free coffee; mused, watched, observed and moved from point to point. All the time watching particular individuals in the crowds. . .all of them so fascinating: People in the city so self-absorbed, but at the same time, so invisible. Some beg to stand out from the crowd -- distinctive "loud" clothing/piercings/tattoos -- loners begging for attention. Others so wrapped up in their little bubbles, conveying defiance with not wardrobe, but stride and mien.

Nighttime found me in a nearby motel. Looking back, I'm surprised that this particular downtown motel was not more expensive than it was at the time. Maybe the train station people with whom I spoke about my crappy travel agent took pity or fear of lawsuit (kidding) regardless, my overnight accommodations were decent and not very expensive.

* * *

The train arrived in Martinez, on schedule, later the next morning. Unforgettable, that place is. . . my "stop over" time there was a few good hours and likewise did I make the best of it. Only, instead of strolling the crowded mall or city streets, I strolled the quiet city sidewalks. . .

One of the things that rings distinctive in my mind is the Martinez thrift store. . . hundreds upon hundreds of thrift stores, all of them teeming with old antiques and artifacts from centuries aged.

The scent of the ocean becomes a familiar and sometimes unnoticed or taken-for-granted aspect of oceanside living. . . but those that don't live nearby or become accustomed never fail to notice or to become enchanted. Salt. Salt and H20.

Afternoon brought some dark clouds, fog, and a splattering of rain. The bus traipsed up and up -- up into the redwoods of Northern CA. I was overtly awake and worried.

Indeed, after three days of the journey, I could not help but feel anxious that I'd somehow miss the destination stop. . . that the travel would have been in vain. But eventually it came. . .the final destination on the end road-map: Eureka.


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