I invented a new holiday for myself this year; one that I think I will be celebrating every Fleet Week: The Annual Blue Angels Hightail! Would you like to read my rant on the irresponsible, egregious, and wasteful propaganda called The Blue Angels? Click here!
But first, a note on one of my long-held and admittedly strange infatuations: public transportation. There’s something about moving along the earth; rails and roads and dirt. I have a notion about traveling across-country exclusively on public transportation. I would like to make this happen in the next couple of years, but the logistics and expense are massive.
When the Blue Angels are in town, I’m very unpleasant to be around. So, this year I decided to hightail it out of Oakland. As a precursor to my transcontinental trip, I thought I should see how far I could make it on public transit in one day; maybe I could even make it to Alabama or Detroit.
By Any Means Necessary
I went to Jack London Square via AC Transit, and said, (possibly out loud), “I’m either taking a train, a boat, or a bus out of here today.” This is the essence of the Hightail. Make no plans. Just go, and go quickly.
The first transportation apparatus set for departure was the train. Let me say this in my full Philly impediment, “Amtrak is a fucking classy way to travel.”
I scouted several places along the Delta to set up camp when the zombie apocalypse comes. In many places, the old wooden structures are still standing, remnants of the wild west. Some have large square flat fronts; the architectural detail I associate most with that time frame. The orchards approaching Stockton are breathtaking. One property has a well-curated fortress of trees that happened to have been in the process of manicuring when we sped past.
The train slowly heaved past the waters’ edge where people where both camping and fishing. Possibly abandoned houseboats, too far from shore to accurately tell, were calling. These are Sirens.
From the windows, you could see many people racing the train, and in many modes of transit: trucks, boats, and a horse. The train always wins. Train-Racing should definitely be a recurring activity on The Hightail.
My plan for the day was to ride to train from Jack London to Merced, then immediately return to Jack London. But I missed the connection, and found myself alone in Merced with several hours to kill.
Knowing When To Walk Away, Knowing When To Run
There were lots of kids playing flag football in the street (car!) and riding bikes. The sun was already low. I knew I found Main Street when I saw the throwback hand-painted wooden 7-Up sign and the sold out, (sold out!) Kenny Rodgers marquee.
The entire back half of restaurant where I had dinner was reserved for a private event. If Kenny Rodgers had walked in I would have taken it as an omen that I was to move to Merced.
After dinner I had about an hour to kill before the train. I walked down Main Street, and was surprised by the number of musical instrument stores, bookshops, and art galleries. What is this witchcraft, Merced? At a vacant corner, I stopped and observed a tree which was perfectly centered over a row a shops. I let myself daydream of theater conversions, public gatherings, and civic spaces free for everyone, especially young people… and possibly Kenny Rodgers.
Other Days And Whatnot
I walked back to the station at sunset. I tried to take note of everything I could. The look of the short houses, the paint colors, porches, lawns, the unexpected swans and sandlots, the golden sun that was about to reach its pink and red relief as it slid off the the edges of the leaves of trees recently dappled.
Halloween decorations were mounted as I walked by, and reminded me of walking through a field as a teenager on the way to a close, yet unfamiliar neighborhood. All of it. All of these things reminded me of the details I would remember from other solitary days I have traversed in my life. The details knot them together.
The station was too noisy, so I sat outside and waited for the train. There was a middle-aged guy on his cellphone trying to clear up some sort of service error. “That’s not what I wanted,” he said in frustration tinged with more weariness than anger. Then he abruptly stood up and threw the phone into the street with neither ceremony or profanity. It shattering into dozens of pieces, and he calmly walked away. It was a triumph.