Amtrak: Orlando and onto WDC .

triprptpeopleJust Plain Nuts! That was my departure, running out the door, a day late, sleeping off a migraine, carrying an untested telephone. I had eight weeks to get my act together and this was a most unceremonious departure.

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Father and Son

The Reason Rally in Washington was the following Saturday, but I wanted three days in the city. There were various atheist events, including “meet your representative” appointments like I had experienced in Tallahassee. Plus Washington is simply full of things to see, and it was already high season for the November presidential election. Who knows what would be going on.

My AirB&B host had really broken his rules for me. He ran essentially a boarding house for young unmarried executives. He had a policy of a one-week minimum stay, and you had to be … young … and either a grad student or newly employed in the government. The concept is called a “business incubator” and I wheedled and cajoled and got him to finally accept my stay, to see his operation. I literally, at one point, sent him my resume and current experiences. I had, and still have, the notion of running a similar incubator; to use an AirBnB but serve some kind of higher social purpose for young people starting out in life.

However, for me to meet his one week minimum stay, I would have to travel over the memorial day holiday week-end and Amtrak tickets were sky-high. So I wheedled some more, weeks of emails going back and forth, and I got him to break every rule he had ever made. He let me arrive on Wednesday and stay only 4 days, as a process “observer”. I absolutely had to depart DC Sunday morning to arrive in Detroit in time for the CNU conference. Such crazy bad luck.

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No Idea What is Ahead

I have many friends in Orlando that I visit when passing through town. I participated in Central Florida atheist events and several Tampa Bay friends relocated. There was a period in the late 90’s at Oracle where I worked from the Orlando office two or three weeks per quarter. And every visitor wants to go to the theme parks.

I attended FreeFlo, the Freethought Florida convention, the previous November and the “Atheist cruise” in February, just three month previously. With Lyn and I already moving toward separation, I booked a single ticket, and was assigned Jack as my cabin mate. His friendship was so quick and enthusiastic that it led to his tenacious facebook invitations for me to visit him in New Jersey and stay at his place.

I also met Belinda, an interesting character. She popped out of nowhere, like a toaster pastry, at the last evening Karaoke event. She was very nervous and agitated about the very bad weather that had canceled our shore excursion. The ship was heaving and rocking voraciously and, despite my own vertigo and seasickness, I tagged along and helped on her quest for information and comfort about the bad weather. It was much more fun than moaning in my cabin drinking ginger ale. During the adventure I told her all about me and going to the previous Daytona Biketober and returning for BikeWeek in a month.  She offered me a free overnight in her guest room, extending it to whenever I passed through Orlando. THAT was cool!

In March I overnighted and stayed an extra day at her place. I paid for my keep doing some manly man chores for her without letting on that it was outside my skills, that I almost had to check YouTube how to operate a wheelbarrow. I had reached the conclusion that if I was going to remake myself, it wouldn’t be by reading about it; it would be by jumping in the deep end and stretching my skills. So returning to her place in May I got to enjoy a tour of her yard, when her tropical flower garden was in spectacular bloom. Thanks, in just a little part, to me.

She is naturally nervous, so not a type of person I normally tolerate. But she has a strange knack, I say a hobby, of patiently taming the feral cats that inhabit her large natural backyard. She patiently spends months to attract them and earn their trust, using her reassuring soft voice and bowls of cat food. Once close enough, she snatches them up to be “fixed” at the public shelter, then returns them to the feral pack to help lessen breeding. Its a labor of love to these animals that I respect, and was utterly fascinating.

Watching her patience with them struck me as a metaphor for the long calm dance a lover would use to seduce a skittish mate. This thought was odd for me and unexpectedly intriguing, since she herself was skittish, and Lyn and I were in the middle of negotiating our separation during my March visit. To this day when I interact with an unknown but nervous or high strung woman, I call to mind her patient style. I have even referred to these others with the pet name “kitten”, as an homage to my host in Orlando.

By May we were good friends, and she was a great confidant to my emotional upheavals. We had dinner with her nearby best friend. But my stay would no longer be for two nights plus a full day to unwind. No extra time to tell stories, giggle, go see something, and allow for my mental transition from “frazzled home brain” to “focused travel brain”. I had wanted to step onto that train Tuesday after having a full day of cleansing quiet, organized and prepped. Spending that extra day with my confidant from the cruise sounded so very cool. I was totally frustrated that my Amtrak tickets were locked into a Tuesday departure Wednesday arrival in Washington. With my delays at home, I would now arrive at dinner Monday, and be on the train at lunch Tuesday. My brain would still be dazed and confused, running from fire to fire.

It was interesting how she had come to personify Lyn’s final frustration with me and my behavior after my retirement from full time business travel. As the end neared for our marriage, Lyn had pushed harder and harder to tame me, forbidding me (among other things) to even have coffee with any woman she did not first meet and approve. I was dragged to marriage counselors that explained this demand was “normal” and “expected”. Oh, OK. When the escalation led to my putting a passcode on my cellphone, Lyn even went though our phone log and called numbers she could not identify that aligned to my travel dates. I started referring to Lyn as “my ex-wife” when two women friends from church told me they had received “strange” and “accusatory” calls that “he is married” and to “leave him alone”.

Once I decided the marriage was over, I started taking extended holidays without guilt (the atheist cruise, Daytona Bike Week, a trip to Tallahassee) First and foremost they were to shake down the bike (and my own bones) for a potential summer trip, but also because I decided I could. I was being true to Lyn throughout, my personal standard, and I would not permit her to require that a chaperon follow me around. My policy is that you trust your mate or you let them go. For instance, I was salaried my whole life, and never once punched a time clock. I simply told my boss I arrived and left on time and that was that. The tighter she pulled the collar, the more outrageous my outings became. I had fully expected to go on this three month trip, leaving and returning married. But by then the marriage was circling the drain. After 20 years of traveling on business, I expected to sleep in a hotel, or have an intimate cup of coffee with either gender, without raising the constant suspicion of breaking my marital vows. Right up to the day we filed our divorce.

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Way Overpacked

This was my first day of travel, so I did not have any plan or system of what went where. It would take three weeks to work that out. For now, everything I touched had to be mentally noted, unpacked, repacked, memorized, and handled two and three times. I would still lose my pills, my toolbag, my spare keys, my liniment, my pen and paper; what a nightmare! And my train pulled out in 18 hours. I also wanted to pack a special carry on bag, so I could leave the rest of my stuff with the bike. Amtrak is very explicit that if you leave something in your car (or bike) you may NOT retrieve it during the trip.

Belinda and I laughed a lot during my two visits to her place, and shared moments of amazing poignancy. We have tremendously different backgrounds and I find her lifetime of experiences personally fascinating. She has lived many places and done many things. But mostly she looks at life very totally different than I, and I always got up from the table with my head swirling from new insights. So it was a short confusing evening, a night of repacking and brief restless sleep, then her smiling company for a morning coffee and out the door for my first ever auto-train trip, my brain still abuzz.

The Sanford station was a confusing swirl of motorcycles, with over 20 bikes heading north with me. A long line to load the packing dollies left us all loitering in the hot summer Florida sun in our motorcycle regelia. I fell in among a group of NYC Harley riders returning from a vacation to Miami. Their integrated group was three quarters young husky black guys (either cops or outlaws) that suggested to me the offensive line from a semi-pro football team. I tried to force myself to make small talk; as that lone nerdy grey beard with the red scooter, among those 20 plus big-ass Harleys. But I had not yet found my confidence so I mostly looked at my shoes, spoke only when spoken to, and gathered and organized my stuff. But I did carefully study their equipment, how they packed, what they carried, and I repeated my schooling when we departed the train in DC.

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My First Travel Buddy

With my gym bag, laptop, and phone in hand I found my seat. My seatmate was Frank, a guy my age that looked like Santa’s little brother. I have always been jealous of guys that can grow a full beard with a strong and curvy mustache. Frank wore a tattered ballcap and laughed easily. To my surprise he was also from St Pete, not Orlando and not a tourist. Unlike me, he drove over that morning. He had been commuting north so many summers that he didn’t need, or want, a day to “settle down” before hitting the train. He intended to sleep on the way.

I had several hours to ramble to him with my crazy story. It was still new to me. I talked about my 40 years of marriage, the separation and divorce, my scooter and planned summer trip. His is advice came down to “chill out” and “find yourself”. Frank had grown kids and a summer place in the countryside outside of Buffalo. He made me promise to come visit him during the summer, and stop in next fall when he and I returned to Florida. Like an idiot, I never took his information or gave him mine. Maybe he’ll read this and drop me a note. At the last-minute, before departing in Washington, I had the presence of mind to take my first “selfie”, a ritual repeated a hundred times across the summer. But my feelings of untethered confusion was why I wanted that extra day in Orlando to settle down and focus.

The train ride was amazing, yet unremarkable. I was like a kid on his first greyhound bus, everything was new. We had electric outlets at our seats, and the dining car was open 24 hrs so I didn’t sleep a wink all night. Frank selected the early dinner, and I the late, so I was seated with 3 other “single” passengers. Two men and a woman. It was fun to meet strangers, talk about their homes, how often they take the train, but dinner was very unremarkable. I did notice my flirting with the woman, to no avail. I had all summer to refine my technique. I also noticed I was completely at ease, comfortable in my own skin making small talk around these three strangers. That made me smile. The one businessman lead the meeting, having each of us to give our names and cities, then divvying up the time with open ended questions of equal time. At dessert I impishly took a spin at leading, stealing the invisible gavel flawlessly, with a smirk on my face. As I invoked my long dormant group skills, pushing the conversation my own snarky ways, I was struck with the thought that this summer was going to be a lot fun, in ways I could not guess.

I toiled over the run down screwed up phone all night, trying to update needed software using the train’s wi-fi. It was a no go. Then, over time, the phone overheated and would randomly shut down. After working tirelessly all night, I gave up on the phone, and arrived in Washington with a GPS that worked only 10 minutes at a time. I talked a bit to Jesse (via good old-fashioned email) and agreed I would head from the train station and go pricing a replacement phone at a T-Mobile store or buying a cheap phone at the Wal-Mart for temporary use while he ordered me a good one on Amazon (with a protective otter box!) and had it overnighted where I was staying. I’d go shopping first, and if needed, he’d take an extra day to shop while I got situated and figured out how to coordinate the delivery. In any case, I’d just keep swapping my SIM card from device to device so my phone numbers, phone book, emails, and internet access would stay intact. If we did buy a cheap temporary phone, I would keep it all summer as backup, and use it as a radio while my primary phone charged.

Because of the craziness working on the telephone I had no time to start my blog. I left home expecting to set up my account, learn how to login, create my system of categories and tags, and even make a post about Orlando; all overnight on the train. But with all the confusion, I only posted some sparse updates to Facebook and it would be several weeks before I could give my blog enough time and concentration to even START actually writing stories.

Upon arrival in DC, I ducked into the men’s room, swapping my shorts for my jeans over protective armor. I wore my sneakers but my heavy boots and safety jacket were with the bike. Halfway though the cars, the dozens of bikes were unloaded creating a bottleneck at the tiny bike ramp. I then needed to unpack and repack, secure the laptop, finish dressing, and boot up the flakey phone to get directions. The group of riders from NYC, and another group of 3, plus 2 individuals traveling by themselves were all long gone by the time I finally headed out of the lot, phone on the fritz. I stopped for some lunch to let it charge and had an overpriced under attended disaster. I eventually found the T-Mobile store where I was ignored, then offered a total ripoff deal for my needs. On to Wal-Mart.

From being up all night, I spent a dazed hour picking among the dozens of cheap phones, calling Jesse a couple of times. But I also bought my guest helmet and the auxiliary mesh netting I saw the NYC riders using. That netting would be my extra emergency storage all summer long. I bought a tire gauge and a bunch of cleaning compounds too, thinking I’d take time to finish the prep I didn’t have time to do before leaving home. By the time I finally left Wal-Mart I was contending with Washington’s heavy afternoon traffic. I fought my way to my AirBnB, in Arlington near the Clarendon Metro station, skittish from being unaccustomed to the top-heavy luggage and still only having intermittent phone and GPS directions.

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