Thursday, February 03, 2011

Homeward Bound

Jay gave me a lift to the train station in his GENRE-mobile. We hugged good-bye as well as possible from the front seat of a car, and I thanked him for the visit and ride.

As I entered the Union Station Amtrak Depot, a voice made some sort of announcement over the station's speakers. I had a feeling I didn't want to know what the announcement was about, as the only words I heard clearly were "delayed over four hours." I sauntered to the boarding podium hoping that if I believed hard enough I could hop onto the homeward-bound train. But denial isn't a Pegasus Ranger tool, or at least it doesn't work with Amtrak, and I had a choice between waiting for a much later train or taking a bus back home. If the restaurant attached to the station had been open and if it hadn't meant getting home around 1 AM, I would have waited.

Most of the passengers in line to board had a resigned look, but no one appeared to be especially cranky. The Amtrak bus wasn't so bad, but it didn't have a table to work on and it didn't have a whole lot of space in which to stretch. Still, everyone found seats. The bus was not as crowded as I feared it would be, and I had the luxury of storing my heavy bag on the seat next to me.

The bus launched into Interstate traffic. In front of us, a river of red lights. On the driver's side, a river of white lights. It was dark, and I wasn't expecting to see much anyway, but the trip on the interstate seemed more ordinary than the morning's interstitial journey along feral yards, pastures, and building posteriors.

The bus driver announced the reason we were "riding wheels of rubber instead of steel" was that someone in Seattle had been struck by a freight train and the authorities had shut down the rails. I hoped the person was okay and wondered how many people's lives had taken a different branch as a result of one person's encounter with one coal train.

I pulled out my blank sketch book, compass, and straight edge. I wanted to inaugurate the book during the trip, and how better than to construct a pentagon using Euclid's Method. The dim light inside the bus made accurate placement of the compass difficult. Also, I made my initial circle too wide, and when I tried to bisect it, the top point for the bisecting line was off the page; so I had to use the hole in the circle's center from where the compass point had poked through the paper instead. Because of the missing referent, little errors added up. The resulting pentagon was a little off -- the bottom points in its base were too close to each other, and the inscribed pentagram was skewed a bit to the right.

I consoled myself with the knowledge that I've used the method successfully before. And maybe Art could rescue Craft. It wasn't something that a little color and some creative pencil use couldn't mask: I constructed a Penrose Dart and Kite using the pentagon, shaded them with red and blue colored pencils, and labeled one of the ratios for one to phi.

The bus pulled in front of the Salem Train station. I noticed two white, humongous, Beaux-Arts globes suspended from the ceiling and illuminating the station's interior. The spheres were sectored into meridians and latitudes by a metal frame. I couldn't tell if they were made up of little flat rectangles of white glass, or if the glass was curved. Outside, flanking the station's entrance, were two electric, low-energy fluorescent bulbs; the glass globes around these lights were one piece, sandblasted to mimic the grids on the larger lights inside. I wondered if the outside lights used to be miniature versions of the larger globes within -- they seemed to be a retrofit, and I sensed a story.

I wished there had been time to get out and snap photos as the bus pulled out of the parking lot; but traveling by bus was slower than by train, and getting out at every stop would have made the journey about an hour longer.

At last I saw the familiar lights of Eugene, the most prominent being a red neon 5 inside a circle by the fifth street market. The bus made a few zig-zags around a mostly empty downtown, through a dark restaurant parking lot (the restaurant features meals served in decommissioned railway dining cars) and stopped in front of the Eugene Station.

We dispersed. Some of us walked up Willamette Street and were lost in shadows. Some of us climbed aboard taxis. I walked through a round-about and past its milliarium, an octagonal stack of spiraling black and white tiles. It's too dark to clearly see the curled bars of the directional vane on top of the column, which looks like a sleeping cast-iron flower.

I was almost home.
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