2008-12-24 - 10:18 a.m.
K, Susi, and I have finally returned from our 10-day trip to SF, where I attended a conference and K bonded with our friend SFDad over teething, baby food, and how to train babies to get a beer from the fridge. (We also bonded and had great fun with Heddy and her little SFBaby, which was equally fun). There is soo much to tell, so I'll just try to hit a few highlights for now.
First of all, it was very fun to watch Susi interact with SFBaby - two babies in a room full of toys, "creating artificial scarcity" by pulling one of the thousand toys back and forth between them. But they are both too young to get upset by the legal issues surrounding property rights - so when one baby grabbed a toy, the other baby just grabbed it back, and both remained smiling. It was pretty fascinating. Anyway, for two babies engaged in parallel play or tug-o-war, I really think that they enjoyed each other, crawling all over the place and making happy cooing sounds.
It was also fantastic to see Heddy. Because of all the activity we really only got one evening to sit up too late and catch up. That was too little time, but it was fabulous. I am amazed that I can meet someone for such a short time in Germany, and live apart from her for EIGHT years, and then get together and talk about everything as if there were no separation. hee.
The conference was also very good. I was pretty relaxed about attending talks, and didn't worry if I missed THE best talk of the session. I saw what I could and focused more completely on seeing people. I do feel very isolated out here in Funcouver, and so it was a great opportunity to talk with my buddies.
I also managed to see over half of my former colleagues from Dutchess who were all at the conference. It was an interesting contrast. Dutchess was a Vale O' Tears, in terms of its level of dysfunction. But there was something rather nice about seeing all of your colleagues at the same meeting, so that you could potentially TALK with them about science. But then of course, I wouldn't be talking to more than half of them if I were still there...so I still think that I'd rather work in a department that doesn't understand what I do but likes to have me around...
The conference came and went rather quickly, and then the teranika family started on their return trip journey on Saturday night - the night that snowstorms swept across the entire country. We planned to take the Amtrap't train from SF up the coast to Seattle. We would then stop in Seattle for a day and a half to visit with family before journeying onward to Funcouver.
Our 20-hour journey full of views, and comfort, movies, wine-tastings, and food turned into a 31-hour journey of sitting on a train that occasionally moved, occasionally had power, and occasionally had working toilets.. There were quite a few issues. We were supposed to arrive in Seattle at 8:30pm on Sunday night. We finally tucked ourselves into our hotel bed at 6am on Monday morning. Once we arrived in Seattle in the freezing cold, it took 45 minutes to remove our bags from the train car, and another 40 minutes for a cab to arrive - there were approximately 3 cabs running in the whole city, and we were lucky to get one of them.
In fact, even though this trip was rather harrowing, we have the good sense to feel lucky about it. We were the last train running before Amtrap't shut down all trains in the Northwest corridor. And then, after our day in Seattle, our Cascades line train was the first one running again - before this NEXT blizzard hit Funcouver (there is another 30 cm expected to fall on us before tomorrow morning. And since we can walk to the grocery store, we are taking it all in stride!)
Also, we were lucky enough to have a sleeping car on the train, so Susi was able to take a couple of substantial naps that kept her going for the whole trip, and kept her smiling to strangers.
A lasting memory that I will take with me was in the train's parlour car. I had taken Susi down so that she could stretch her legs and crawl around (something that she and SFBaby had done endlessly together in SF, and so she was used to the activity and getting rather restless). I took her down and sat in one of the big comfy chairs and put her on the floor. Within minutes, the train had come to a complete standstill, with no power, somewhere near Klamath Falls. The only noises left was the iPod of one of the passengers, playing beautiful and serene Christmas music. We were stuck in between towns, looking out at evergreens that were heavily laden with thick sticky wet white snow. It was quite pretty, even if it was a bit frustrating. Susi got down on the floor and crawled through the entire train car, smiling, chattering, and cooing at all of the grandparents who were taking the train to see their grandkids for Christmas. She charmed them all - even the crew was making comments about "the baby in the parlour car" - who had so much energy that they were going to take her out and have her pull the train to the next station.
K made a game of tipping "Alan" - the host in the parlour car, which wound up getting us quite a bit of extra wine and cheese (from the tasting that had to be canceled) for dinner. He was a bit disgruntled, but he stayed in fairly good humor. In fact the crew had a great time making fake announcements:
"Ladies and Gentlemen, it's now 2 o'clock and time for the adult swim in the swimming car. We would like to ask all children under the age of 12 to please leave the pool area."
"We also would like to remind you that the shark feeding will take place in the aquarium as scheduled at 3:30pm."
"For those of you using the arcade, we would like to ask you to PLEASE refrain from putting quarters in the slots - please ask your coach attendant for the appropriate dollars. I repeat you MUST USE DOLLARS in the arcade machines." (this last announcement sent several people - almost K as well - scouring the train in search of an arcade).
There were also little train dramas that took place over the intercom - the harrowing search for a vacuum cleaner hose that had gone missing. This one lasted about three hours before the part was found. But the updates gave us something to look forward to when we were stuck sitting in the dark...
So yes, it was a kind of frustrating, 3rd world rail experience, definitely exhausting, and a little depressing when you see how US Rail has deteriorated to nothing. But we knew in advance that it was going to be an adventure. In fact, that was the overall attitude of the people on the train. Everyone was fed up with being there, but the ambience was positive - one of taking it in stride. It probably helped that the average age of our car was 65 - these people had all seen a lot in their lives, a few extra hours on a train don't mean very much.
When I emailed with my Ph.D. supervisor yesterday, I could picture the smile on his bearded face as he said, "You now have a great story to tell Susi about how she charmed the passengers on a stranded train when she was 11 months old."
And now we are home, watching the snow, and the robins and chickadees all puffed up on the tree outside our window. Snow is harrowing, but it is sooo beautiful, especially on Christmas. Merry Christmas, everyone.
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...they are just words, Suzi... - 2011-08-29