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Riding the Train Coast to Coast

The Train

I decided to take the train for this phase of the trip, and was able to get a rail pass good for one month. And so I hopped the Zephyr one morning in May, bound for New York City by way of Chicago. The train is a lot softer than the bus in terms of the travel experience, though the problem of sleep still looms. At least they give us little pillows, and there is plenty of leg room. It is also possible to walk around, to eat in the dining car if you have the inclination and the money, to drink a civilized glass of wine with dinner, and to get water when you get dehydrated.

There are other advantages as well. The people are not only less likely to be crazy than they are on the Greyhound, they are often wonderfully interesting.  I decided to try the dining car just to see what it was like, for the evening meal. They sat me with an older black couple, both retired from working in the medical field in Washington DC. I told them the purpose of my travels, which got us on the subject of the new American depression. They did not disagree with my contention that this is a depression, that it began around 2007, and that it will take a long time to get out.

Emboldened, I went on to discuss this with many other of my fellow passengers. None disagreed. In fact, I began to listen to the conversations around me and many other people were discussing t along the same lines, with no prompting from me. I do believe we have reached the tipping point, and that the public will soon demand official acknowledgement of this depression. All I can say is it is about time.

Categories: The Road Tags: ,

Crossing the Country by Greyhound-Detroit to San Francisco

April 13, 2011 2 comments

 

Leaving Detroit

I arrived at the Detroit Greyhound station at ten PM though my bus wasn’t scheduled to leave till the wee hours. Bill and Shirley gave me a ride, and I didn’t want them navigating that neighborhood too late at night. Besides, once I was in I was safe. Modern Greyhound stations are like forts, with lots of security. The first stop would be Chicago, at the crack of dawn. I spent the time discussing progressive and Detroit politics with a lovely educated woman. Once on the bus, everyone either slept or tried too. Sleep is a very valuable thing on a long haul by bus.

 

Chicago

I had a five hour layover at this station, the largest of all the Midwest hubs. This may have been the most uncomfortable five hours of the trip, but a person gets to watching people. It is dangerous to relax completely because of the luggage situation. I found a seat close to my gate and hunkered down. A party of three, an old man, a girl, and a young man, all tumbled in and dropped their bags. I thought they were together, but when the old guy and the girl took off (he was her grandfather) the young man said that he “didn’t know them from Adam” and that the girl had been driving him nuts. He was from Kentucky, going to North Dakota for work. He said he had tried every fast food place for miles around his home and come up empty. His mom had something for him to do in North Dakota. Times are hard when a willing seventeen year old can’t find work in a fast food joint.

At last the bus pulled up, an older model with no electricity and no internet.

Through the Midwest

I was surprised at the beautiful scenery across parts of Iowa and Nebraska. I had no real knowledge of the fact that

Iowa City

both the Mississippi and Missouri rivers cross the Midwest. Davenport in particular looks like a good place to explore further. An old river town. The sun set over the plains as we headed for Omaha. It was then that I realized that there was a contingent of people going to San Francisco. We formed a little mutual protection society, making sure we were all aboard when the bus left a god-forsaken “rest stop” at a convenience store in the middle of nowhere, watching each other’s stuff on layovers, and hunting for the ever elusive plug. My favorite was a tattoo artist from Wisconsin who was heading to Sonoma County, my home.

I started counting the Walmart trucks in Iowa. There seemed to be hundreds of them. This began to make sense considering the number of giant Walmart super stores we passed. I know we have them in California, they are just hidden better.

Riding the bus is a little like jail, except you can walk away. They remind you over and over again that you can be arrested for one infraction or another. One driver claimed that if anyone were caught with a bottle of booze, everyone on board would have their luggage searched and warrants run. I doubt it’s true, but I was fantasizing my constitutional search and seizure suit, if they tried that on me.

 

 

The Rocky Mountains

We reached Denver at daylight. There is a great charging station there and decent coffee. I will not eat most of the food proffered by the outfits associated with the bus-line. Normally what I bring keeps me from outright hunger. But coffee is a tricky thing, and I was glad to have it.

It turned out they had routed us over a gorgeous stretch of the Rockies, through Steamboat Springs. It took several hours longer than taking I80, but it was worth it.

Salt Lake City to Home

We arrived in Salt Lake City in the early evening. It seems like this is always the case. I would like to see this town by daylight one day. By this time everyone on the bus was sleep deprived, and I was a little hungry. I had powered through my apples, cheese, nuts, and most of the candy. Note to self-bring more food next time. The only big stop was at the Reno station, a true pit. No coffee, broken vending machines. But, by then I was close enough not to care.

 

Categories: The Midwest, The Road Tags: ,

Help send Annabel to the Netroots Nation Conference in June!

My friends—would you do me a favor? I am trying to get a scholarship to be at Netroots Nation, a very large gathering of bloggers, in Minneapolis this June. There are only 40 scholarships available. The top three in each round go for sure and the rest are selected by committee. Would you give me your vote? Just click the link and fill out the little form and that is it. There is a place to say something nice about me if you want, with an unknown character limit. I am very excited about this! Thanks to all of you who vote.

http://www.democracyforamerica.com/netroots_nation_scholarships/1187-annabel-ascher

 

Good Bye to San Francisco-For Now

Great Poverty Exists

San Francisco has had a large income gap for a long time. For as long as I can remember, shapely high heels would step over the prone, nearly lifeless bodies of the homeless to get to their meals of Filet Mignon and Chocolate Decadence. It is a good thing I am coming back here in a few weeks because I was not able to meet with even one of the people I had

Side by Side with Great Wealth

hoped to. On my last day here, Wednesday, I made it to the Food Cart Wednesday under the Chronicle Overpass at 5th and Minna. I sat with a large crowd of the neighborhoods workers at lunch and listened to music in the sun.

At midnight my friend gave me a ride to the Greyhound station on Folsom and I started out towards Madison by way of Salt Lake City and Denver. The Greyhound station is new. It used to be a very scary place, dangerous even in daylight, situated in one of the city’s

At the Greyhound Station in San Francisco

worst areas. Now it is in an industrial area, and is under guard. You can’t come in to the lobby without a ticket.

The bus itself is cleaner than I remember from another long ago trip east. There are no rowdy drunken men in the back of the bus. But, it no longer stops at stations with diners. Instead it stops at Chevron Mini-Marts. I am very hungry

Salt Lake City View from the Bus Station

right now because I could not find one thing I consider to be edible in any of these stores.

Now I am enduring a three hour lay-over in Salt Lake City. I was lucky to find a plug. There is no food here either. By dawn I will be in Denver.

 

Revised Itinerary

January 2, 2011 2 comments

Planning the Journey

I have rethought my itinerary a bit. There are six major east-west routes across the country starting with the I-10 at the farthest south, and ending with the I-94 running along the Canadian border. At first I was concerned about going to close to Juarez, but I will not even be getting off the bus. So I think it will be O.K.

I plan on making three passes, going out on one interstate and back on another. I can take north south routes to explore an area or follow a lead. Hopefully I can get down some smaller highways as well.

 

San Francisco January 9th, 10th

Santa Cruz January 11th

Los Angeles January 12th, 13th, 14th

Phoenix January 15th, 16th

Tucson January 17th, 18th

Austin January 19th, 20th, 21st

New Orleans January 23st, 24th, 25th

Mobile January 23rd, 24th, 25th

Panama City January 26th, 27th, 28th

Miami January 29th, 30th, 31st

Jacksonville February 1st, 2nd

Savannah February 1st, 2nd, 3rd

Fayetteville February 5th, 6th

Raleigh February 7th, 8th

Atlanta February 9th, 10th

Shreveport February 11th, 12th

Dallas February 13th, 14th, 15th

Amarillo February 16th, 17th

Albuquerque February 18th, 19th, 20th

Flagstaff February 21st, 22nd, 23rd

Las Vegas February 24th, 25th

San Francisco February 26th

 

Annabel’s Odyssey Initial Itinerary

December 30, 2010 4 comments

Planning the Journey

I am looking at the Rand McNally Road Atlas for the USA, that first big map of the lower 48 in the very front. I am concentrating for the moment on the southern states. The even numbered highways go east-west, and the odd ones go north-south. I am trying to stay on I-10 and I-20 for the most part. How long I stay in each place will depend mostly on luck and the people I meet. And if I hear of a contact with a good story I will veer off course temporarily. That is the beauty of the Discovery Pass.

The route is a concession to the weather, though I gather it has been freezing the last few days at some points along the route. Being poor is hard work, much harder when is is freezing cold. And I am not talking about the homeless necessarily. Taking public transportation, getting food, and standing in line are all harder in the winter in the north.

If you know someone around those parts that is a member of the new poor that I should meet or if you know any local news jockeys that would talk to me about the project please let me know in the comments.

San Francisco January 9th, 10th

Santa Cruz January 11th

Los Angeles January 12th, 13th, 14th

Phoenix January 15th, 16th

Flagstaff January 17th, 18th

Albuquerque January 19th, 20th

Dallas January 21st, 22nd

Austin January 23rd, 24th, 25th

New Orleans January 26th, 27th, 28th

Mobile January 29th, 30th

Panama City January 31st, February 1st, 2nd

Miami February 1st, 2nd, 3rd

Jacksonville February 5th, 6th

Savannah February 7th, 8th

Fayetteville February 9th, 10th

Raleigh February 11th, 12th

Atlanta February 13th, 14th, 15th

Memphis February 16th, 17th, 18th

Little Rock February 19th, February 20th

Oklahoma City February 21st, 22nd

Las Vegas February 23rd, 24th, 25th

Project Overview-In Search of the “New Poor”

December 30, 2010 5 comments

Welcome to Annabel’s Odyssey, the story of my trip across America in search of the “new poor”, formerly the great American Middle Class. The purpose of this trip is to create a book/documentary of the current depression. I know that the media has, for the most part, been calling the economic events since the financial melt-down of 2008 the “Great Recession”, and that they are claiming that the recovery began in June of 2009. Apparently no one notified Main Street USA of this recovery.

There are some well known economists that are calling this a depression, or at least hinting at it. Paul Krugman of the New York Times, on July 27th 2010 stated “We are now, I fear, in the early stages of a third depression.” He goes on “… unemployment — especially long-term unemployment — remains at levels that would have been considered catastrophic not long ago, and shows no sign of coming down rapidly.” People around the country are still looking for work for years sometimes, only to find a “job” that pays one tenth of what the lost job paid, not even a living wage. People that bought houses, all full of hope and belief in the American dream are being foreclosed upon, sometimes completely illegally. And the statistics that are used to calculate unemployment don’t even include self-employed people that are down by 60% or lose their businesses completely. Bankruptcies are on the rise across the country.

Now the report is that the state and local governments are being forced to dismantle the social safety net and cut services to the poor, because they too are going broke. This, just as the former middle class are turning to the system for basic needs, such as food.

I will be setting out in early January, the heart of winter, in search of the failed American Dream. I fear I will not have to look hard to find it.

I will be criss-crossing the country by bus and rideshare, couch surfing and researching the book. I will seek out and interview people that were doing fine just a few years ago, were comfortably middle class, and are now struggling to make ends meet. They may have lost a job or a house or both. Many are just a paycheck away from being homeless. The savings that were meant for retirement have been used for survival, and are almost exhausted.

Where there are strong-holds of the uber-rich along my way I will check those places out as well. The income disparity between the richest and poorest in this country has not been this great since the Gilded Age. For the uber-rich, there is no depression. In fact they are profiting from the pain of the middle class in unimaginable ways. No, this story cannot be told without including the super-rich.

If this project resonates with you, check back as I post my stories and pictures along the way. If you know someone, including yourself, with a story to tell, let me know. And if you would like to help, check out the donate button. Even five dollars will help. I sold the only asset I had left, my car, to make this happen. I hope to see you here as I check-in along the road. The first stops will be Santa Cruz and Los Angeles, then on to Phoenix and the Gulf States. Eventually I will visit every state. I hope to see you on my journey.