I'm in the Venetian in the luxury room where I’ve lived for almost a week. The bed is large, the tub is spacious. Housekeeping comes every day and lays my things in nice neat rows. Untangles my jewelry. Neatly lays out my vitamin pill bottles. Finds the cord I left in the corner and puts it in a safer place where I would actually find it. I got to sleep every night with 4 pillows, all mine. On the tiny breaks I get from work I order one of three dishes deemed food allergy safe- Wedge salad, gluten free fried chicken, or Sunday Night pasta- gluten free pasta with the kitchen sink. You can order this food any time of day or night. The sticker shock of food prices wears off after the first day or two, once you realize that things just cost what they cost here.
In the casinos, time passes at a speed I’ve never experienced before. The lights are always on. 2 am could be 10 in the morning, could be 8 at night, you would have no idea. When the conference ends, before I leave, I go to the rooftop pool and look out over Las Vegas. Hundreds of pretty people sunning and listening to the music pumped in from the even more exclusive pool party next door. Across the street I stare open mouthed at dolphins and watch them do tricks spinning into the sky and swim together in packs, smiling. I watch two tigers cuddle up together protectively. I see the lights from the dancing fountains.
I am at a greyhound bus station. Its 7 in the morning. Because of all the conference swag my bag is 3 pounds over but the nice woman gives me lee way. She gives announcements calmly and forcefully. She is a small but dominating presence, and speaks kindly, but is respected. People at the greyhound bus station are mainly tired. We carry multiple bags. We follow orders and directions- moving from line to line. We avoid the dirtier spots in the station. We keep to ourselves. We don't really talk. Groups of people huddle around the phone charging station. A few well-dressed couples seem very out of place. When I travel on buses, I dress down. I want to blend in. There's no luxury here.
Its 1:30 PM and I am standing in Union Station, ready to transform again. It's LA and I need to at least try to look the part in cut offs now and a tank top. I stand in line to see an art exhibit downtown I've wanted to see for years. I had changed my plans for my 8 hour layover last minute. If I went as far as I had planned to go, I wasn’t getting back. Art students and tourists fill the halls. The staff is friendly. We are surrounded by carts serving vegan ice cream and tropical fruits and food trucks that all have pictures of celebrities eating their tacos and smiling broadly. I sit at an outdoor restaurant next door, read my kindle. Eat fries. The seat is comfortable, the fire pit is warm. My outfit- good for the 7 am heat, is quickly becoming inappropriate as it gets unexpectedly cold.
My phone dies. Without my phone, I am lost. I bought a fancy portable charger but had left it with my checked luggage. I ask questions of fast paced businessmen until I find a Starbucks where I charge and charge. I return to the art museum where I sit and read "Option B" by Sheryl Sandberg and wait for my turn to enter the art exhibit (It’s a 3 hour wait.) And cry. I’ve always loved a book that speaks of loss. The title of the art exhibit "The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away” resonates especially now. For 45 seconds flickers of light reflect across the 10 X 10 mirrored room and me. I film it, but ignore my camera, soaking up everything. The concept is beautiful, the title of the experience, even more so.
After, I stand outside and am approached by a homeless man I don’t realize is homeless. Until I do. He wants to know why no one looks at him, no one talks to him. They look right over him. He gets kicked out of the park for sleeping. He gets yelled at because of his sexuality, he says. His grandmother won’t speak to him anymore. He doesn’t say why. But he’s a good person. Why doesn’t anyone see that? My Lyft driver has rerouted 4 times and then cancelled his plans for picking me up. I don’t want to be that person scared of this man because he is homeless. Who does exactly what he says everyone does. But I can tell something is off. And I’m alone. I wish him luck and I take a taxi instead.
I’m in little Tokyo now. And interspersed with small shops filled with fluffy toys and small Buddha’s and cheap but beautiful kimonos and bustling restaurants serving noodles and gluten free poke bowls around the corner is a live karaoke experience. I sit and watch the singers. I write wishes for myself and my family and tie them to a wishing tree. At the end a man tells me, “Girl, you look cold.” I agree. My husband says I should head back to the station. And I do. LA at night is not for me.
On the train and my seatmate appears last minute. 10 minutes later, he reappears. 15 minutes later the conductor confronts him about smoking in the bathroom. He denies it vehemently at first. Then he claims he didn’t know. Then he knew, but what was the big deal. Then he was sorry, but he didn’t hurt anyone- he’s been traveling all day. Over the loud speaker the conductor’s announcements always let people know that if they are caught with booze or smoking inside that they will be removed at the next stop.
The conductor asks him if he wants to willingly get off at the next stop or wants the cops to do it for him. He says he’s not going anywhere. He sits back next to me and talks briefly about Seattle, where he came from, and Phoenix, where he wants to go. I feel like maybe I should help. I ask if he is familiar with the city we are approaching, believing he will be taken off. I think- maybe I can give him the number of a nearby hotel, or help him make a plan. “I’m not leaving this train,” he says. I am back to my book now. The woman across the aisle lectures him about arguing with the conductor. She tells him not to fight. To be apologetic. 5 minutes before the next station stop he leaves and walks around the train. We aren’t clear if he is doing this on purpose, trying to evade the conductor or the cops. When he returns, he is escorted off. They bring him to a room outside with 4 cops. We all watch. And then the train leaves the station.
I google “roomettes on Amtrak”- trying to figure out if the added cost of getting a space to myself is worth it for future travel (more expensive then when my mother and sister and I did it once 10 years ago) till I drift off.
When I wake up at 5 am, the sun is rising high in Maricopa, Arizona, and flickering light over the faces of the travelers.
I am 29 hours from home.
And all out of stories now.