Monday, December 5, 2011

Traveling Adventure

December 4, 2011

On Thursday, my transmission decided to die, or at least give a loud and clear message that it had had enough. Most especially, it was tired of moving the vehicle in reverse. Since I am a big fan of cars that can go both backwards and forward, my mini-van and I are not seeing eye to eye. Here's the problem: the van is both a lemon and a money pit. It's a lemon-pit, essentially. I already put my foot down on spending $1500 on replacing the air conditioning last summer (it was mostly a financial protest, rather than one of principle, but it feels much better to say I refused to drop $1500 into the tin can, rather than that I simply couldn't), so to spend $2100 to replace the transmission is something I'm having trouble wrapping my brain around. I can almost hear the van smirking. (Serves her right; if she had just listened to me when all I needed was frosty air in July, maybe I wouldn't be quite so tired of the reverse gear just yet..)

Being a soccer mom taxi driver (for oh so many activities, not limited to soccer), not having a vehicle is simply not an option. On Friday, to address my immediate concern of getting the kids and myself to school, my grandma was kind enough to lend me her car for the day. It's not a long-term solution, though, since Grandma needs her car on most days. Luckily, my sister happens to have two cars--one that she primarily uses to transport the army of girls comprised of her daughters and all their friends, and one that's smaller and gets much better gas mileage for her commuting. As it turns out, her commuting will be down to a minimum over the next couple of weeks, and she can let me borrow that car to get me through until Christmas break. (I have the best sister ever, by the way!) That gives us a little leeway to figure out what we're going to do with the van, thank goodness. All I had to do was take the train down south to pick up the car.

I had never traveled by train to Lisa's. The journey is actually split into three parts: the first part is a train trip, then we all get picked up by buses to journey over the Grapevine, and then we get back on the train to head for our final destination.

The first leg of the journey was delightful--I had free wi-fi and was able to catch up on my blog posts, which I have been neglecting for a few weeks. The third part of the trip was also pleasant--I met a young college girl who was traveling from L.A. to San Diego by herself for the first time, who looked relieved to see a friendly face. We chatted amiably for the half an hour I rode. It was a lovely way to spend the half hour.

The middle section of the trip, the one by bus, was the one that was a little dicey. On the first leg of the trip, the train makes a few stops on the way to Bakersfield, one of which happens to be Corcoran. Corcoran, the home of the state prision. Home to such characters as Charles Manson and his ilk. I didn't think much of it, but I had heard that that was one of the stops on our trip. When the train stopped in Bakersfield as night was falling, we were all directed to various buses that would all end up in different destinations. I was relieved to see that there would only be eight or so passengers on our bus, so I figured we'd all spread out and have a peaceful trip over the Grapevine. You know how people tend to expand their personal bubbles in a situation like that? That's pretty much what I expected. I settled in and was in the process of sending Doug a text to let him know I was safely ensconced on the bus. Suddenly, I heard a voice from behind me.

"What is that? Is that that 'Facebook'?"

Oh man...I didn't see anybody slide in the seat behind me. I turned and looked in the small space between the seats. I could see only one of his eyes. Beneath that eye was the tattoo of a teardrop, with some words inscribed just underneath. I looked away quickly, a little intimidated. I didn't want to make eye contact long enough to read the words etched into his face.

" I'm just texting my husband."

"Texting? How does that work? I haven't been out for seven years. I don't even know what that is."

Corcoran State Prison suddenly flashed to the forefront of my brain. Seriously? My bus mate was a newly released inmate? And what was that I've always heard about the significance of teardrop tattoos? Wow. I briefly described texting, and then made motions to put on my iPod--universal sign for, "I want to be left alone." I mean, I was polite, but I was not trying to engage in conversation with this guy. Plus, there was a slight aroma of old alcohol, and the unmistakable smell of pot emanating from the backseat. Not strong, just...lingering. The guy had clearly been 'out' long enough before catching the train to find a way to celebrate his release. Unfortunately, the universal sign for "I want to be left alone" was lost on this guy.

"Hey--can I use your phone?" I pulled my earphones out.

What am I going to say? Uh...I don't have one? Clearly he already saw me using mine. So, "Uh...who do you want to call?"

"I haven't been home to L.A. for seven years. Imma finally get to go home. I need to make sure someone's there at Union Station to pick me up."

Even as I'm thinking to myself, 'What would I tell Bree if she was in this situation? I'd say Don't give your phone to this stranger!' I was handing over my phone. He looked at it, perplexed. For a dude who 'hasn't been out' for seven years, a Droid is a foreign object. I took it and put the dialer touchscreen on. I handed it back, and suddenly he said, "Hey, what happened? What's it doin'?"

I grabbed the phone. He had managed to hit 'last dialed.' "You're calling my ex-husband." I ended the connection.

"Aw, man, I'm sorry."

"It's fine. You want me to dial the number for you?" He nodded, and proceeded to give me the number he was trying to dial. When it started ringing, I handed it to him. He had a brief discussion, during which time he learned the person at the other end of that call would not, in fact, be picking him up at Union Station. He asked me to dial one more number for him, and he was successful in ensuring he had a ride. His final words to whoever was on the line? "Don't forget to bring ma drink." Lovely.

He handed me back my phone, and I proceeded to try the universal sign again. One earbud in.

"So, how many times you been married?"


"Two, huh? Well, how old is ya?"

"Forty-four." I still wasn't trying to converse with this guy. Short and sweet responses. Moving seats at that point would have been somewhat conspicuous. I put the other earbud in.

"Well, where is you travelin'?"

"Um...I'm visiting my sister. I'd better try to get a nap in before we get to L.A." Eyes closed, iPod on, cue visions of hostages and hijacked buses. Very uncharitable thinking on my part, but suffice it to say, I did not get a nap on the bus ride to L.A. Who knows--maybe he was a perfectly lovely man, genuinely trying to make a new start, a clean slate. Single girl traveling alone, though? I didn't so much feel like I was in a good place to give the benefit of the doubt and get too chummy, especially since we were all getting off the bus together at Union Station, and I didn't really know how much time I'd have to loiter about with my new-found friend at the station before my next train was scheduled to appear.

Also, just to round out the adventure, I realized that there were two other guys, also newly reintroducing themselves back into society, who were sitting just behind my new 'friend'--his buddies. Honestly, I'm glad I didn't see them until we were nearly at Union Station. They were both bigger and more tattooed than the first guy.

So what did I learn from my little adventure? Nothing much, except that I think I'm going to advise Brianna to find a kind-looking couple to sit near, or at least to sit close to the bus driver, rather than finding a solo seat in the back the next time she makes the journey from college back home. It had never dawned on me that the State Prison was even a factor for consideration, but I figure she'll be less likely to be approached by folks she might not be comfortable with if she doesn't look like she's alone. Even if it doesn't make her feel safer, it'll definitely make me feel better.

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