Monday, April 6, 2009

Day 12 "Show Me The Way To Go Home!"

I wake up with the skies lightening somewhere near Erie Pennsylvania, and head to the diner car. Not as glamorous as the Empire Builder, to say the least. The Lake Shore Limited means "Limited" in many ways, including perks. I sit down, and a dorky looking guy enters the room and promptly starts whining...

"Where's the Observation Car?"

"Right here!" I reply (holding my arms out to the cheap-looking diner car) "Observe!"











A second guy walks into the diner car wearing dread locks in his hair.

"Leo!" I say aloud to him, but I get no response. He's not Leo, but he looks like his twin. Turns out, his name is Artwon and looks like something out of Milli Vanilli. He's actually another very cool guy, and we have loads of conversation about music, art, culture. etc. Artwon had just gotten back from India, where he had been seeking spiritual enlightenment, but got his laptop stolen instead.

'Ghost Rida' (not his birth name) soon comes in, and now the house is rocking.

"Oh man! did you see the guy that got thrown off the train?"

"Ummm... No, I didn't", I reply in surprise.

He produces and iPhone picture of a U.S. Marshall escort a dark skinned man off.

"I was nervous man", Ghost Rida says.

"Why?" I ask him. "You sound like you are where you are from" (Brooklyn)

"When you is a ni**a like me, who dresses like this, shoots his mouth off, and smells like he ain't showered in six months... you gets nervous!"

This sends me off into uncontrollable laughter.

I like him.

He goes on to tell me that Hip Hop is not the only music he likes, and he is a big fan of Garth Brooks, Tim Mcgraw and Billy Ray Cyrus. He also notices something about my expression around this time.

"Why you makin' that face at me?" he asks.

I don't ask him why he likes any of those bands... but ask him if he has a website, and he says he can be reached at www.myspace.com/ghostrida and I tell him I will link him up with Orange Crush.

I also warn him "don't send me any viruses."

This puzzles him, and he asks"why would I do that?"

After I explain about corrupted hard drives from bad e-mails, he relaxes a little, and laughs.

"ohhhhhh! I thought you meant the other kind of virus."

Just when you thought things could not get any crazier, a bunch of prison guards come on the train, but they are from Canada, and are heading to Boston to play in a hockey tournament for fun. They sit across from me, and ask if they serve alcohol.

I direct them to the bar car.

This should provide me with enough material for another chapter, but so far... they are well-behaved. When I step back into the lounge car, I find out through peripheral conversation that all of the Budweiser is gone! They are soon further plastered on Wisers and Smirnov. Not to worry, because these increasingly rowdy gents are being picked up by the Boston Police, who are waiting for them as escorts in South Station when they arrive (as welcome guests) for a charity hockey tournament in Boston.

We are now nearing Albany New York, and all of the NYC bound riders are getting kicked off to the other end of the train. I am able to stay however, and continue using the 120 Volt outlet to charge my laptop. Now I am having conversation with three college kids from Chicago, who are going to Boston to see the Dropkick Murphy's. I mention that I know their original guitarist, Rick Barton, and they are immediately impressed. I remember when I was like these guys. Not a care in the world, other than getting drunk, rocking out and looking for women. I am not living vicariously through them, because they are all likely sleeping on the floor tonight.

I grab my camera as we are stopped, and snap a few pictures of Albany.

A fourth gentleman is now hanging out in the lounge car. "Cliff" is from LA, and in our brief conversation between train connections, he has given me his life story. He has been kicked around by life enough times for it to show in his otherwise handsome features, looking like a shorter Johnny Knoxville from MTV's "Jackass" show.

He is simply traveling around the country, drinking Coronas... and leering at women.

"I've never been laid on a train", he exclaims lustily. The guy is a wired-up and slightly frayed ball of energy. He is staying with friends in Albany, but he has been on the train all the way from California. He played in a few bands in Napa valley ("we were a WINE band, man!") but came out of it with a nasty divorce, and no money to his name. So now he is looking for the one night stand of his dreams on a train.

But it's not going to happen for him today.

"Helllooooo.... I love youuuuu!!!!" he says through the glass door of the diner car at a pretty girl he has just spotted, but we are now separated from that end of the Lake Shore Limited, as the trip splits up for Boston and New York City. The train separates, and the other car slowly pulls away.

"Awwww! Damn it!!!" Cliff curses. "I had her!!!"

He gets so caught up in talking to me, and confessing his life's misgivings, that he forgets the train has now pulled into Albany/Rennnsalear Station and is going to leave momentarily for Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

"Oh shit! I gotta go!"

He asks me just before he shakes my hand and bolts,

"what's your name again?"

So now it is just me, my camera, my laptop, and a train full of Amtrak's finest.

I am now just one person living in the final moments of a small story - built upon a whim, and involving a little-known novel first published over 60 years ago. These moments are winding down, as I am swaying on a rattling train, slowly descending the Berkshires and picking up speed through Westfield. We are passing familiar landmarks on Route 20, and with one more stop to go... I am coming home.

Where is home?

I come to the birthplace of children's author Doctor Seuss, of Blues musician Taj Mahal, of Smith & Wesson Firearms, and of Basketball. Springfield is a city with a colorful past, an underachieving present and a questionable future. I could go on about what I think could be done to make it a more welcome city to explore and discover, without the fear of crossing paths with random violence on the way. But it marks my final stop, and for that reason, I am as glad to see it as I was to see first Eastend, Saskatchewan, Canada.

Because of the story I now get to tell everyone.

(Sun setting on Catskills and Hudson)

Day 11 "Let's Cut It" (Making a record on a train headed for Chicago)















I spent much of my time on the Montana to Chicago run recording in my sleeper cabin. Sequestered all the way in the front, away from everybody. I recoded dozens of songs, and got quite a bit of work done. I also slept very well - although I woke up every time the train stopped. There was a delay somewhere around Fargo. Just before the sun comes up, I get up for some coffee and breakfast in the diner car, and then go back to my roomette to record for several hours. Around Minneapolis, I emerge from my bunker.

Later on in Wisconsin, I take a picture of the Mighty Mississippi, as we cross over the bridge.

Around Milwaukee, there are hardly any people on the train. Because of the delays earlier in North Dakota - some people missed their connections, and would have to take a bus. I have 4 hours to wait in Chicago, so I am fine. I tip my servant, Dennis a $10 bill and a couple of guitar picks (he is a beginner on guitar, so he tells me.)

Once I make it into Chicago, I start taking tons of photos. I instinctively start walking in the direction that leads me to the "cool stuff"... and I find it!














After a few hours, I head back to Union Station, and get some Mexican food and a few beers. I call my wife, and she tells me that The Valley Advocate is running a full column about my trip, complete with photo!

I celebrate with a can of Guinness.

While at the bar, I encounter a drunk fellow named Jamie. He claims to have been a huge part of the metal scene somewhere... but has just gotten his card declined to pay his bar tab, and they are having difficulty confirming his other card. A policeman is hovering close by, and the situation is growing tense. He leaves to get some money, and almost leaves behind his iPhone. He's a mess!

I finish up my beer and decide it's time for me to get moving. I get my bags from the locker, and get aboard the train that will take me back to Springfield. As I wait in line I meet two people who are into music. One is a dreadlocked guy named Leo. He talks about Metallica and Pantera with great passion, but is heading to NYC to visit a terminally ill relative. Very sad story, but he's a nice guy, and we wait together for the line to move.

I soon meet a second guy who is a hip hop artist from Brooklyn named "Ghost Rida".

The front half of the train is for people going to Boston, and the rear is for everyone going to NYC, so I don't see those guys after we board (or so I thought... more on that later). My car is one of the older, and kind of crummy looking one's. It rocks around all over the place, and makes typing very difficult. I turn off my laptop, and fall asleep without too much problem. At this point, the rocking of the train is like being in a locomotive-powered cradle.

PICTURES can be seen at www.RETURNTOBIGROCKCANDYMOUNTAIN.com

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Day 10 - "Living The Hi Life On The Hi Line"

(Room #20)






















I may never fly again!

After I spent 2 days riding coach on the way out here (and not getting a whole lot of sleep, or back, shoulder, neck, or leg comfort) I decided to upgrade my coach ticket for a sleeper cab (or "roomette"). At first, the cost of $150-$175 may seem daunting, but you have to consider a few additional perks, which you don't truly appreciate until you actually try it.

Well, let me tell you what you get, and then you can try it yourself.

First: Rather than sit with the rest of the riff-raff (which in my case, would have been a family sharing the same cold sitting next to me) and experimenting with sleeping in different positions across two uncomfortable seats, with a crease in the middle that will, without fail, find your hips or ribs at a pressure point, and render them numb (if you are lucky) - You get a private cabin, with two seats that fold into a very comfortable layout, and additional bedding and mattress that make it the best futon you have ever slept on!

Second: Rather than pay for hot dogs and nuked sandwiches at over-inflated prices (which I did coming out here on coach) - you get a FREE dinner, breakfast and lunch (my dinner alone was salmon, baked potato, salad and a peanut butter chocolate torte, which I could not finish).

Third: On a trip that lasts for over 24 hours, and leaves you momentarily shivering anytime someone comes thru the cars (and it was NINE BELOW ZERO when I left Havre Montana that afternoon) - you get a climate controlled room, complimentary water, and a door you can close, making it quiet and secure.

Fourth: when you have a battery draining away on your laptop, they provide an outlet for you to power your devices (so I can write this as long as I want!)

Fifth: Rather than stew in your own funk, after sitting in the same unchanged clothes and unwashed skin - you have a shower you can use, and upgraded bathrooms that don't look like an outdoor port-o-let at a Phish concert.

All of these things are presently making this experience much more enjoyable, as a blizzard is raging outside somewhere in Minot, North Dakota. I have a private window showing me just how miserable it is out there right now. Earlier I had an amazing view of the wildlife in Eastern Montana, as Pronghorn Antelope grazed on prairie grass.

I was enjoying the company of three women from different parts of the country. (St. Paul, Oregon, and Montana) and I split a bottle of Columbia Crest Shiraz with one of them... for $7.00) and I am living the high life.

Just thought you all should know, because the next time you find yourself on a cross country trip, and decide that the extra money is a wasteful idea... think again!

A side note: I am in the extreme front of the the train, and it is quiet as a mouse. Most of this car is reserved for the staff, but they decided to give me a roomette with them, and there is less than 1/4 of the 20 rooms taken. Hope they are not too surprised when they hear the sound of a banjo being played tomorrow somewhere in Minnesota!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Music Video From Day #11

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Day Nine - Part Two ("Road To Nowhere")



















Day Nine (Road To Nowhere)

I'm doing it in reverse today. Sort of.

After the rough ride I experienced outside of Climax last week, I decided to take a different route on my way home. Shaving 20 minutes off of my drive, but much of that on gravel or dirt roads.

At least they are maintained roads.

For the part of my trip that goes past Robsart, I experience nothing new. I pass the ghost town, and then head towards Consul.

Another grain tower.























Arriving in Consul. The road splits to either Alberta, or to Montana. Neither are paved, and neither have much traffic, houses... or anything!

But there's plenty to see. There's nothing in the way.

















I see a prairie dog.








Hey guy!







I'm nearing the US Border, and after my last go around with the border officials in Canada, I was a little more relaxed. I have nothing to hide. But still, I always end up feeling interrogated. It's their job, and I respect that. I just hope they respect me.














The temperature reads around -2 degrees as I pull up to the gate.

I am greeted by a serious-looking gentleman, with an important job to do.

"what were you in Canada for, sir"

I hand him my passport card, and the poster for the show I just played.

"Business?"

"More like a vacation."

"Any firearms?"

"No, sir."

"prescription drugs?"

"Nope."

"Alcohol?"

"I left two cans of Guinness behind me that I brought in last week."

(smile)

"any fruit?"

"Just a couple of snack packets"


"are you carrying any cash over $10,000.00?"

"Nope.

(I wish!)

"so what do you do for a living, Scott?"

"I'm a musician."

"mind if we search your bags?"

"Go right ahead."

The windows and lift gate have been open for awhile and it's freezing cold. I'm starting to get a little bored. It's around this time that I decide to earn a little official respect, as I recently took a part time job back in Hadley, Massachusetts, but usually don't bust this fact out on people... until now.

"I also work at the US Department Of Fish & Wildlife Services."

"Woah."

The man looking through my stuff immediately stops, and stands straight up. He's fairly impressed by this news.

"It's no big deal, I just move a few boxes and sweep up a bit around the offices."

(the questions stop - they are all done with me here)

"Good to see you sir. Have a good day."

Descending into Havre... I get some nice mountain shots.














"Mountains come out of the sky... and they stand there..."


Tomorrow: I will get back on the Empire Builder (in a light snowstorm, with wind chills of -35) and head back home to Massachusetts (via Chicago). I plan on upgrading to a sleeper car, and that will be the last part of my story. This has been an experience to remember for a lifetime! I have been welcomed back to Eastend anytime I want, and the Stegner House is mine to live in when that time comes.

That time will come soon enough.

Day Nine ("It's A Wrap")






















"What The Heck Are You Thinking"?


It's coming full circle, now.

I asked myself that same question 6 months ago, when I bought my train tickets, and confirmed that I was indeed coming thousands of miles across America, into the most remote area of Southern Canada. Now it is for a different reason that I again ask that question of myself.

It's 4:00AM... and I am up and working!

I'm a musician, not a farmer!

I fell asleep around 10PM last night, so I got my minimum 6 hours sleep. Thoughts had been racing through my head all night about all the things I still need and want to do. I need to clean the house; I need to record some songs; I need to photograph "Scotty The Dinosaur"; I need to get posters from the show I played, and then I need to pack. That's just a sample of the activities I have to accomplish before I can relax, and do the rest of the things I feel are necessary in the final day at the Stegner House.

A few days ago - I went to The T-Rex Museum to see their exhibit on several dinosaurs (including "Scotty The T-Rex" - found right here in town, and the sole reason the state-of-the-art museum exists in a town of only 600 people). I was so busy preparing for the show, I forgot my camera, and I also forgot the extra money I needed to buy things at the gift shop there.

So I return for a few minutes.

Every kid loved dinosaurs at one time in their lives, and I was one of them. I used to draw them all of the time. Many of my friends have kids now, and they love dinosaurs too! It would be a shame if I did not take a bunch of pictures, and buy some gifts here and there.










Check!












































I have brought a banjo with me out here to Eastend to record music I have written for the record for "Return To Big Rock Candy Mountain", and many of those songs I played at the concert for the first time. It would be a crime, if I did not record the folk song that got me going on the concept - the same song that inspired the book by Stegner. I got a crazy idea of using some of Stegner's voice off of the video tape here in the house. On it - he recites a spoken word verse of the song. It's supposed to be a happy song about a hobo, but when he delivers it... it sounds like a eulogy.

I think he got it right actually. I tape the song off of the television, and then transfer it to my lap top recording studio... and then play the music over it.

Check!




















I started cleaning the house last night, so that part wont take long. Same with the the laundry. But then I am in the basement using the washer and dryer - I come across all kinds of things, and my imagination starts to run wild!

I get my camera, and take pictures of the reset of the house I have not photographed yet.

Check!















































At the far end of the house, behind the kitchen, there is a tiny guest bedroom. I don't recall anybody in the book sleeping here, since Chet and Bruce (fictitious names for Wallace and his brother) shared the room upstairs that was my study for the week. But I take a quick shot of that as well.

See why I am up at 4AM?

It was 18 degrees below zero when I woke up. It is now around the balmy temperature of -2 degrees! The sun is shining, the wind is low... a good day to travel. I was thinking of staying overnight one last time, but I would have to leave around 8AM (just after dawn) and a snow squall is coming in overnight, so I decide to leave today.

I call Ethel on the phone, and tell her goodbye, and thank her for taking me out to dinner when i arrived last week. She sounds sad to not see me one last time, and I confess that i feel the same. I assure her I will be coming back soon with my wife, to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary in less than 2 years.

I take out the garbage in the back yard, and I snap a picture of the water pump that has been restored. The car is packed, and idling, and I take a few pictures of the porch, and the front entrance. I make one last idiot check, and decide one more picture needs to be taken.







(sigh...) Check.










I slowly drive away, and say goodbye to Big Rock Candy Mountain.

Day Eight "Sunday"






I thought I would get a lot of stuff done on this day.







But it's Sunday... and everything is closed.







I took a quick drive around town, and took a couple of shots.





Then I went back inside, and covered the previous day's events.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Day Seven - House party



















This is the concert/dinner/event that celebrates the 100th anniversary of Wallace Stegner's birth. When I negotiated coming out here in the near-dead of winter, it was only because that was when this event was taking place. Artists residency and performing the show made perfect sense. It gave me a special motivation, and was the prime catalyst for planning the journey.

I also thought that it would be a small group of people gathered in the house, and I would play in the living room.

Not in front of 300+ people!

























The PA was supplied by a local band "The Ranchmen" (who practice in an adjoining rehearsal space). We hung out the afternoon before, and got to know each other - Darrell, Duane, James, & Boyd - and we jammed on some rock and some country flavored stuff. I got to play a Fender Stratocaster with them, and promptly ripped it up... Clapton style!






























The name "Ranchmen" is aptly applicable - all of them work on farms except one (who works in an auto garage). Some bands might pose as rugged country types, but these guys walk the walk with their way of life!



















Among the early crowd were Ethel and Ken, and I did a sound check about 4 hours before I was to go on. Afterwards, I went home and got changed. Later on, I came back and watched as the people started filing in.















"woah..."














I started to get a little nervous... I had a bunch of original songs scrawled on a paper, but I was not sure what order I was going to play anything. After a few Cokanie's (Glacier Lager) some salad, and lots of meat and potatoes, I got a coffee and some cheesecake. I met tons of people and I made them all sign a copy of one of Stegner's paperbacks ("Living and Writing In the West") Everybody was very nice, and I was the ONLY American in the house. Some people were familiar with where I was from, had been to Massachusetts. Some were even familiar with Northampton! Just as I was starting to relax... I heard a thick Norway/French Canadian accent on the
PA system announcing the event.

"Pleese Wilcomb Scowet Loweson Powemiroy!"

I brought my half finished coffee with me to the stage, and got down to business.














SETLIST

Little Live Thing
Elsa (Westbound Running Train)
Room To Roam
Closer To The Fire
Ring Of Fire (Johnny Cash)
I Still Miss Someone (Johnny Cash)
----short break----
Nothing Left To Talk ABout But The Weather
Black Sheep Son
Whitemud


And like a flash... it was over!

We got a few pictures, some video that is still being processed, and I taped the whole show direct off of the board (it came out a little too hot) and probably can salvage a few tunes for some streaming audio. It was well-received by the mixed-age (but mostly older) crowd. I had no idea what to expect.















Afterwards: When many had gone home and the tables and chair at the Eastend Memorial Hall were put away... music was still echoing thru the empty hall.












The remaining gang were buying me drinks of Rye, which I graciously accepted, but I was pretty wiped out by 11:30PM. I had to shut it down.

However, I have made so many new friends, and was reveling in being the "toast of the town", I am already contemplating making it back someday with my wife (when the weather is warmer).

They won't let me say no!

Day Six - Ghost Town













It's time for me to take advantage of this weather.

No, it's not warm out (it was when I first got here, but the last couple of days have been chilly and very windy) but the sun is shining bright, and the wind has calmed down.

It's still cold... but it's a dry cold.

I hop into my Vibe (mine for another week, at least) and drive out to take photographs of the next town to the West of Eastend. Robsart.

Recent census reports have put the population of Robsart at anywhere between 11 and 8. Locals think that is a stretch. They only know of one family that lives there, on a farm. (Livestock outnumbers people in this area, and possibly in all of the province.)




I start up the hill, and see the cliffs on either side of me. As I rise to the plateau, I can see the valley spread out before me, and the prairies that go on until the eye can no longer see.

Robsart is over 40 miles away, and I have 1/2 tank of gas. I should have no problem getting there and back (I end up only using less than a quarter tank round trip, and have 700 free miles for my rental). But, as I see desolate flatness, and near total lack of civilization, I start to worry a bit.

"What if the car breaks down, or I get a flat?"
"Will there be anyone who can help me out?"
"How many cars will pass by?"
"Will there be anyone at all?"




There is a little bit of traffic. Once every 5 minutes or so, a car or a truck passes. They often wave at you as they go by... which I found confusing the first time this happened (when I was in Wyoming in the early '90s) Instinctively, I stopped the car, got out and checked my tires... nothing wrong.

They were just being friendly.

What is this friendliness thing?

In New England, when someone waves at you from their car, it's usually not with the whole hand... it's just with on finger!










My fears are subsided when I see the sign for Robsart. I almost miss it, because you can barely notice there is a town at all. But I slow down, and I turn left to discover a cluster of old houses. Most of them look dilapidated, and some are boarded up. I notice some of the derelict abodes still have Christmas lights hanging outside.

"For how many years?" I wonder.



































The outside temperature reads 2 degrees, but the sunlight is deceptive. It seems like it should be warmer, but it's not. I still inside my car to take my shots. I roll down the windows to get a clear image, and feel the cold on my face, and in my nostrils/lungs. I had thought to go inside a few of these places to get intimate photos of the ghost houses, but not in these conditions.

I do notice one car idling with an old man inside. "Somebody does live here" I thought. He doesn't look too friendly. he wonders what I am up to, I'll bet. many artists and passers-through take pictures of this area, so he probably does not have to wonder much.

I'm not a vandal... there's nothing to steal!

I keep driving slowly, and shoot more pictures.

Just as I reach a spot where I discover a yard full of old junk cars on my right... I am startled by a large black dog, that comes out of nowhere from my left. Behind this animal is a house that has 2 functional looking cars in the driveway.

"okay, there's one more confirmed resident, at least."


















I stop the car, snap the dog's picture, and slowly back the car up... which now convinces the dog that he has the 'upper paw' on me, and keeps up it's dogged pursuit.








I take a few more pictures of an intersection to nowhere, and head back to Eastend. (seeing a herd of 50 deer in one field, and a white horse against the white landscape... which I would have missed, had it not been for the dark object behind it!)