New Mexico

Some people say that the best way to readjust to your own country is to travel again. I would say that this is just postponing the inevitable. But then again, I'm guilty of it too.

A week after I arrived in LA, I went to Albuquerque, New Mexico for some church business. I've been going there for an annual conference since 1999, so every year I get to track the changes in the town. I've seen a lot more new homes go up, more shopping areas and a revitalized downtown, and some local attractions that have been added. It's a funny feeling to go to a city for one day a year: you feel familiar and attached to the place yet you don't get enough time to soak up the daily culture and relationships. Albuquerque is along the famous "Route 66" which was the main route to the West before the Interstate Highway system was created. Plenty of kitschy motels lined the "Mother Road" with eccentric designs local to the area. Here you can see the "El Don" motel as a salute to the Spanish Conquistadors and American Cowboys who roamed the Wild West.

The city has a high population of Hispanic and Indigenous people. One of my favorite places to visit is a barber shop that still gives "shave and a haircut" treatment to its customers. Men may not go to a beauty salon, but they still need some pampering in the form of steaming hot towels and a straight-razor shave. Have a cut so close that you don't need to shave for two days is quite a luxury for those who otherwise have to shave daily! Also nearby is Old Town, where original Adobe-style buildings survive from the 17th century. Most people don't realize that while the English colonies were just getting started on the East Coast, Spanish colonies were thriving in the southwest. With four centuries of Spanish heritage here, is it really a wonder that there are so many Spanish speakers here?

On Sunday I traveled up to Santa Fe to visit the local art museum. It features a few pieces by Georgia O'Keefe, whose watercolors reflect the soft pastels of the desert landscape. Most of her works are in the eponymous museum, also located in Santa Fe. Also on display were some woodblock prints from an artist in the 1930s when times were tough and the government sponsored public works projects to employ artists, boost morale, and document local culture. Santa Fe, and Taos further North, host thriving artist communities that make for a very interesting visit.

I knew I would be in for a disappointment when I decided to take the train from ABQ to LA. Having experienced the Japanese train system in all its grandeur, I figured that I should try out Amtrak just to have a fresh experience to compare it with. It started with the train arriving 90 minutes late. This happens so frequently that Amtrak has programmed its customer service phone number to feature "train status" as its first option. I had called earlier in the day to check, so I knew this, and got to the station about 20 minutes before the train arrived. Japan's trains are mostly one level, run by electricity, and compact; Amtrak has gargantuan double-decker cars powered by diesel locomotives. More train, more to maintain. Shortly after I boarded the train, the lights went out and the A/C stopped blowing. This would be the beginning of a 3-hour delay to replace a bad engine. I don't mind the train being late or going slowly as much as I mind sitting on a train in the high desert that isn't moving when it's supposed to. My hopes to see the beautiful desert landscape at sunset were dashed as night fell and we still hadn't left the station.

Thanks to my sleeping mask and inflatable pillow, I was able to get some sleep through the night. I woke up at first light and watched the sunrise over Western Arizona. There's something about the barren desert that sets your mind to wander up to the soft blue sky for comfort. I got to thinking about my job and life prospects in LA which hadn't come together yet. Then I started reading some children's books to take my mind off questions that I didn't have answers for yet.

After almost 21 hours on the train, I arrived in Los Angeles. The slow way to go (trains) really needs an investment boost to become a viable alternative to airplane travel. Many train trips are marketed in the USA as preserving the "golden age" of train travel: luxurious dining, sleeping cars, and steam engines. Other people love trains, warts and all: I saw a few train buffs on my trip who had scanners to monitor the communications between engineers. The USA uses commuter trains pretty well, but intercity travel doesn't really compete with airplanes. It can. I've seen it in Japan. I will be closely following the developments of the California High Speed Rail Authority to build a bullet train between SF, LA, and Sacramento by 2020. Only 55 years after Japan. There ARE things the USA isn't the first and best in. Check it out.

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Countries I have visited

Where I've been in the USA