Day 18

I couldn’t keep my eyes open at midnight in San Antonio. We were going backwards and forwards, the engines were firing and not firing, but regardless, I knew we weren’t going to be arriving in Lafayette before 10 in the morning so I curled up to sleep in my double seat.

I woke next about 3am. We weren’t moving. I checked my GPS. We hadn’t moved at all, except to run into a siding, we were still in San Antonio. We were told later that our train had had to wait for a freight train, on the track ahead of us, which had broken down. But for all I knew at the time, it could have been us that was stuck and waiting for a new engine. I went back to sleep, knowing that I’d got just as long to get where I was going as we’d had at midnight.

The next time I woke, it was three hours later and people were getting on the train. We were at Houston, which is progress, but I wasn’t jumping up and down with excitement. On the other hand, some of the people who were getting on, had got up early for their 3am train and had been sitting at the station for three hours so they were wide awake and chatty. So I came back to life, slowly, listening to the chatter of three Houston housewives pointing out which neighbourhood we were still in and reminiscing about great burger stands in the city that they had known. Oh Amtrak!

Once we were moving, it was really just a question of how soon we would get there. I enjoyed retracing my steps from the car journey I had with Taylor last year in the opposite direction, Beaumont where I bought jeans and a pair of Chuck C’s and ate at the Catfish Kitchen, the state line into Louisiana, Lake Charles, swamps and small towns.

And at last I was touching down in the charming little station in Lafayette. The first time I haven’t disembarked into a large city.  Time for some R&R.

Originally posted on Please Look After This Englishman


Random Notes: Patience & Impatience; Vacation vs Work; People not Places

Patience & Impatience

Half of my worrying time I’m thinking about the trip going too quickly and me not doing enough of the “right stuff”. The other half I’m wishing I was further along. Practicing patience is about accepting the present moment exactly as it is and trusting that the future will turn up exactly when and how it’s needed

Vacation vs Work

I really don’t think anything I can say will convince someone who’s made up their mind that this is a holiday scam that I’m actually doing some work except by producing some work.

People not Places

This thing about traversing a network of people rather than places – you know, I ended up in Milwaukee not just because it got me a little closer to Austin – it certainly wasn’t a logical choice if you only look at the map. But for this kind of journey, you have to have a look at the map and your social graph and where those people find themselves. Not only that, but where might there be people on the edges of your social graph (ie the friends of a friends you either don’t know at all or know just a little bit).  We don’t map these things, online social networking has helped us make our graphs explicit and we’ve focused a lot on real-time location which tends to be at a finer level of detail than is needed for this trip. I need to know which town people live in and whether there’s a simple way of me getting there.


Originally posted on Please Look After This Englishman

Next Step NOLA to DC via Chicago

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So what came back from my latest “Solve it while I sizzle?”  Some folk in NYC got in touch. I know I’m going to end up seeing them anyway. But nothing else during the day. After dinner, I sat down with the timetables and started looking.

There are three trains out of New Orleans. I wasn’t keen on getting the Sunset Limited back west through Texas to California. I also found the prospect of getting to the station for 7.05 to get on the Crescent up to Atlanta, DC, Philadelphia or New York less than appetising. So the City of New Orleans seemed to be the right choice. However, I’ve said again and again that this trip is about the people. Where are the people in Chicago? Who do I know there? Answer is, I don’t, really or at least they’re not popping up and saying “Oooh! Me, pick me” the way that others have so far. So I started to look and see where I could go after Chicago. Well I know I want to go and see Neal in Maine, the reality of that is going to be tricky. He lives near Belfast, ME and the nearest train station is Portland which seems to be a bloody long bus ride away at least. If I went there I’d probably have to have an overnight in Boston too. Hmmmm….

I came back to not trying to plan too many steps ahead. All I really needed to do was go to Chicago, but could I do that, not knowing what I’d do or where I might stay if I didn’t have anywhere else to go on to?

That’s when an e-mail pinged into my inbox from Anne. Anne is another friend of Jo Mitchell (in London) and Ann Cummins (who I stayed with in Seattle). We’d had a non-committal conversation back when I was in California. She lives on the Virginia side of Washington and was mailing to see whether I might still be including DC in my plans.

Missing piece of the jigsaw.

I could take one of the trains to DC early evening on Thursday and arrive on Friday afternoon. She’s going to something in Philadelphia on Sunday and is happy to have me tag along. So I could go on from there to Boston (and do the trek into Maine) or hang out in Philly and then move on to NYC. Or anything actually because that’s Sunday and this is Tuesday evening.

That’s my planning process, working yet again. It rocks.

Originally posted on Please Look After This Englishman

What to do in Chicago

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I have a little layover on this leg of the trip and I’m looking for company.  

I arrive in Chicago at about 9am (Thursday, March 24th) if the train is running to schedule. My next train, to DC, is after 5pm. So I have at least 7 hours to hang out and do stuff. So what to do? I’d love to meet anyone, talk about what they’re doing talk about what I’m doing, hold a conversation circle, drink coffee, have lunch, work on something together, play ukulele, I don’t know what, just anything really that will pass the time and create some social art in the process. Is there a drop-in-friendly coworking space that’s easy to find?

I can always just sit in Union Station on my own all day but it would be nice to share the day with someone interesting.


Originally posted on Please Look After This Englishman

Day 17

Here’s me, frowning into the sun at Austin Amtrak station.  I wasn’t really that frowny, just had the sun in my eyes.  I wasn’t as euphoric as I had been exactly 1 year earlier though either.  Then I was humming “Homeward Bound” to myself.  This time I knew I was only just half way through and I had as much of a challenge ahead of me as I’d had getting this far.

St Patrick’s Day for me started with breakfast of scrambled eggs and sausage with the Higginbottoms and then my first bus ride (still $1 even that far out) into Austin.  It was interesting to see everything getting “weirder” as we got downtown.  Also had my first little ride through the UT end of town.

I spent the morning sitting in the Chevy Lounge at the conventiion centre. Recharging my device and personal batteries and getting a little writing and tweeting done.  I got talking to @hiphopchronicles (who lives in Ealing, of course) when we were approached by a booth babe for a backpack manufacturer called Slappa.  I had to ask her twice to be sure that’s what she was saying.  We explained that that word had some connotations for English ears.  She was a little surprised, but didn’t seem worried.

It became clear to me sitting in that corner, watching music artists being interviewed that there’s a real opportunity for some consulting at the crossover between the festivals.  The music people are crying out for help with understanding how to use these tools to support their work.  Some more of those social media “experts” should stick around and pick up some big-haired or well-blinged clients instead of hopping on a plane straight back to whichever coast they came from.  Hmmm….

I managed to find Nat and Julia for a goodbye thankyou and hug before I walked through the crowds of green-clad music fans and got a health power-up by eating  at Whole Foods and stocking up for the journey ahead.  Then it was over to the railway station to sit and wait for the hopefully not too late train.

Which is how I came to be frowning into the sun.

We rolled out of Austin only half an hour later than scheduled.  However, I’d somehow gotten onto the kiddy car.  I shared my 3 hours or so down to San Antonio with little Luciano and his sister and their grown-ups.  They were all excited  but only the kids were screaming in the high-pitched way that goes right through you.

Off at San Antonio to wait for the Sunset Limited coming through from Los Angeles.  It was on time.  If anything it was early.  It didn’t stay that way.

Originally posted on Please Look After This Englishman

Solve it while I sizzle #2

Not quite sizzling yet.  I haven’t been out so I’m air-conditioned, but my computer tells me it’s only 72F just before 10am 🙂

So, weather chit-chat aside, where next?

Strike that! *Who* next – this is a journey across a network of people and while the places I’ve been have all been hugely interesting in themselves, it’s really been the people that have made it. That said, I do need to engage with the Amtrak network to get to these people… so I’m not totally unconstrained.

OK.  Well I have just over a week left.  I’m going to stay here in NOLA tonight and travel tomorrow.  I have to be in NYC next Thursday evening to catch a flight from JFK.  But all else is up for grabs.  How long I take to get to New York and how much time I spend there is yet to be decided, although it’s such a highly-populated area I’d like to arrive there next Wednesday at the latest so that I have at least one night in the city.  

As usual i’ll lay out the facts and see what comes back.

Who do I know on the Eastern side of the country and where are they?  Well I have quite a few (I need to clarify that, some I’ve spoken to already but I can always find more) in the NYC area.  I had an invitation to visit Huntingdon PA from Jagir Patel when we met in Austin.  And I would very much like to get up into Maine to visit one of my oldest internet buddies that I’ve never met f2f, Neal Foley (@podchef)

I have six segments left on my rail pass – a segment is on one line so if I went to say Cincinnati via Chicago that would count as two segments.

Here’s some information about trains:

There are two trains that go North and East from NO.  

The Crescent is the one we took last year down from DC via Atlanta – it actually goes all the way to New York with a stop in Philadelphia too. (leaves NO at 7am!)

The City of New Orleans goes up to Chicago via Memphis.  (leaves NO at 1.45pm)

I think it’s important to focus on the next right step rather than trying to map out the whole thing. I think I could go either way but need some input to help think things through, keep me on track, drag me back to principles.  So I think the simple questions are “Crescent or City of NO?” and “Where do I get off and who can I stay with?”

I’m going to need to make a decision this evening (I’m on CDT still – GMT -5 so before UK people go to bed works!)  Let me know what you think or if you need more information to make suggestions.

Originally posted on Please Look After This Englishman

A little miracle of mindfulness

So just thinking about moving on from New Orleans, I thought I’d get my Amtrak timetable out.  I looked all through my bags and I couldn’t find it.  i simulaneously found that I could locate my rail pass.  Uh-oh! That’s (part of) my ticket home.  I’m not at all sure about getting to NYC without it.  It’s definitely not here, I check and double check.  I go through every pocket of every bag twice, three times.  It’s not here.

And I have this nagging thing in the back of my head that Amtrak won’t issue a replacement.

So where did I have it last?

At the place i stayed in Lafayette at the weekend.  So I ring them and they say “Well if you left anything in the room, housekeeping will have picked it up, you’ll have to call them at 8am tomorrow” Breathe…  OK so I also call the person who gave me a lift over here yesterday in case I left it in the car.  No answer, leave a voicemail.  

My impatience and lack of acceptance of this situation is rising.  I’m distracted, I can’t think about what’s right in front of me.  I’m becoming obsessed with what’s gone wrong and what terrible hard work I’m going to have to do to make it right.

Thankfully, Ray was taking me to a networking event tonight, so I had something/someone to take my mind of my own petty troubles.  I’ll write another time about the event.  For the purposes of this story let’s just say that I tried my hardest to focus on what other people were saying and getting stuck into being useful to the group, but my mind was still drifting to where on earth this pass could be.  Likewise when we went to eat at The Camellia Grill.  Great conversation but I was only 80% there.

So when we got back to the house I went to my room and had another look through.  Then I pulled out my phone to call the Amtrak helpline to see whether I could get a replacement issued.  I went through the rigmarole you have to in order to talk to a real person and sat waiting while agents attended to people who’d been sitting here before me.

And I slipped into my well-practiced groove of noticing my breath when I’m doing that, trying to keep my focus on that, rather than what the hold-music is and what I was doing the first time I heard “Knock on Wood” blah blah, just rmembering “I take a long breath in…. I release it” etc.  

And I’m doing this for maybe 5 minutes and I’m still on hold.  And I open my eyes and on the chair in front of me is my copy of “The Miracle of Mindfulness” by Thich Nhat Hanh.  And then something within says “What if?  What if there was one place you hadn’t looked.  What if it’s tucked inside the book?” 

But of course! That’s exactly where it is, slipped in between the pages of the little book is my little rail pass..  Which came back to me as soon as I came back to the present.

Originally posted on Please Look After This Englishman