Saturday, October 15, 2011

Autumnal Breakin', Day 1

Hola, lovely peeps! This fall break, I’m embarking on a wee little adventure to D.C. Thirteen of us (oh for a Bagginses to round out the number) are travelling together, exploring the city, and eating together. And, most importantly, we’re figuring out what it means to for humans to live with dignity. What it means to have a right to life, who determines the quality of life, and how our society- cultural morés, technology, and human development-has impacted our view of life issues.

We left ND at 9:00 yesterday, and boarded an Amtrak train. The ride was absolutely, positively glorious. You could see the twinklings of stars and patches of clouds blotted against the pitch black night. We were all huddled out on the platform, breathing the crisp fall air, waiting impatiently for the train to come. Then, out of the still night came a shrill whistle. We all perked up, looked up, and saw the train barreling towards us. Then, we piled into the last car, handed our luggage to the attendant (who made mock sounds of annoyance everytime a student handed him another “brick”), and clambered up the stairs to our seats.

I settled down into a window seat, which was absolutely perfect. My Gypsy Mermaid friend sat down next to me, and we chitter-chatted away. We discovered how to lean the seatback back, and how to pull the footrest up-little triumphs, my friends, little triumphs. [Tangent: Those moments represent too well my attitude towards technology and machinery in general. Basically, every single piece of machinery poses a challenge to me-it’s a puzzle that I have to crack. It’s laughing at you saying: “Haha, stupid human, try to figure out how to work me. You might as well just give up, because it’s nearly impossible.” And then when you do find out how it works, a thrill of triumph fills your soul, and you want to proclaim: “I am human, hear me roar! My natural intelligence, innovation and creativity can conquer any freaking challenge posed to me by man or beast! Take that, Amtrak train seat!”]

Anyhow, we were graced with an attendant by the name of Jerry. GM and I decided our goal for the 16 hour train ride was to become best friends with Jerry. I think we succeeded. Jerry gave us his “taking-care-of-business-introductory-speech.” After learning the rules of the train, we settled down for pre-sleep chit-chat. After an hour or two of soul-sharing, it was time to hit the hay. Easier said than done. I think everyone tried at least five different sleep positions that night, as we tried to make ourselves comfortable on the extremely soft and cozy but awkwardly shaped seats. The ability of the human body to doze off more easily in an uncomfortable lecture chair at 1:30 pm rather than a soft lounge chair at 11:00 pm astounds me.

Next time, I’m sleeping in the observation car.

At 7:15 am the next morning, we awoke to the melodious sounds of Jerry’s voice announcing that “breakfast is being served in the dining car and has been being served since 6:30 this morning.” [Translation: “Breakfast has been being served for over an hour. Get the h-ll into breakfast.”] After spending a few minutes gathering ourselves together and admiring the beautiful autumn Appalachian scenery, we obeyed Jerry’s commands and wandered through about four cars until we finally found the dining car. There, GM and I had a lovely breakfast with our new friends Jennifer and Katria. They were heading into D.C. for the dedication of the MLK memorial. I felt like I was in the middle of an Agatha Christie novel-there we were, eating potatoes, eggs, and buttered biscuits with jam, chatting it up with two delightful elderly women, who were full of the bustling energy of active minds and spirits. They spoke about their philanthropic works, about their sorority work, and about their university life. It was delightful-it was the camaraderie of travelling. Much to our delight, Jerry sat down for his breakfast at the table next to us, and we talked with him after our lady companions left. Although he’d only slept two hours, Jerry didn’t drink a single drop of coffee with his food. I was impressed. Although GM only drinks water, the other three breakfast-ers of us at the table had all downed cups of the awfully watery coffee. Jerry’s drug of choice was Diet Coke. “I know you’ve got a stash of it back there,” he warned us. We protested that we would never withhold diet coke from our friend Jerry. Never.

GM and I wandered downstairs to the lounge car, and met Mike the Snack Shop owner. Mike asked us why we were going to Washington, and we explained the purpose of the seminar. Mike told us the story of his best friend’s dad who died in a car accident. He was brought life by the EMTs not once, not twice, but five times. And after he was left paralyzed, the family decided to put him to death. After withdrawing medicine, then oxygen, they finally upped the morphine intake and then cut-off the nourishment supply. Mike said: “It makes my skin crawl just to think about it.” I was so humbled and honored that he shared his story with us-that he shared the story of his friend and his dad with us. It was incredible to hear from a man who is frightened by the choices that technology puts to us. That was horrified not only that his friend’s family starved his dad to death, but the medical staff did so after resuscitating him five times. He kept on saying: “It’s not natural.”

After having the “best conversation of the week” with Mike, we went upstairs and sat gaping at the breath-taking scenery of the moutains. Craggy rock fixtures, brilliant fall colors, rivulets and mini waterfalls falling through the rocks, and brilliant sunlight streaming through the clouds gave the whole trip and air of complete wonder. Jerry came back to visit the car of rowdy Golden Domers, and GM offered him a Twix from her private stash. Jerry scorned the chocolate, and we spent a good half and hour becoming best friends with Jerry. Success.

When we arrived in D.C., there was a whirlwind of activity as we hustled off the platform, into Union Station, out of Union Station, across capitol hill to our little bug-infested seminar building. There was a spider in the bathroom, a dead roach by the TV, and a cricket named Henry on the couch, but hey, it’s home. It’s a home that had to be stocked with groceries. After visiting an adorable green café/fro-yo shop, we all split up, and I ended up with the grocery-buying clan. You learn so much about people when you grocery-shop. Grocery shopping says so much about your background, where you come from, what you value, how you grew up, and your lifestyle. It’s a side of people you rarely get to see on a college campus. It was fantastic. I was sorely tempted to buy a big box of Uncrustables, but I resisted. I’d rather spend the money on more localvore fare like the SweetGreens restaurant.

Day One of a fantastic week down. 5 more to go!

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