It was 20 years ago today,
That my train pulled in across the bay ♫
I was here to start a west coast life
And I brought my handy pocket knife
Rode a bus and then a yellow cab
Inhaled some Cheerios and took a nap ♪
My San Francisco adventure began!*
Yep, that’s right. Twenty years ago marked the beginning of my residency as a San Franciscan and a Californian. When people ask what brought me here, I usually respond with one word – Amtrak. It’s true, but that’s not what they expect.
I boarded the train in New York’s Penn Station on a Tuesday evening. Three days later, I arrived at my destination. The decision to take the train was simple: I was stepping into a dream and the unknown. A flight could get me there in six hours, or I could feel and witness the expanse of physical space between “home” and what would become “home.”
Saying good-bye to family and friends was one of the hardest things I’d ever done, but their support and my strong inner compass led me to the land of fog and what I most looked forward to most – escaping the heat and humidity. I was ready for year-round autumn-like coolness and sweater weather…just like today!
A friend who saw me off gave me a very special handmade gift: a journal for my journey. A piece of cardboard backing with unlined white pages bound by a piece of cotton string is all it took. Assorted drawings and photos related to our shared experiences are sprinkled within, and the volume came wrapped in an envelope tied up with string from a favorite (no longer in existence) bookstore. Upon arrival in SF, my ticket stubs decorated the front of the envelope, and I stored the cards and well wishes that came my way inside.
And yes, I’ve kept it and will continue to keep this in my box of memories. A transcontinental move is a momentous happening, and this little bundle is a document of the biggest life transition I’ve yet to undertake. It’s a sweet little time capsule.
I sat down with the journal on Sunday with my ritual morning cup of tea. I laughed when I read my notes about the relative quiet of nighttime on the train being occasionally punctuated by music leaked from a stranger’s Walkman. While I remember traveling with a large backpack filled with several days worth of necessities, I was reminded that I carried a cloth shoulder bag filled with food – fruit, peanut butter, and bottled water. It seems my seatmate had the same idea and he and I had quite a feast and shared our home-packed goodies. Back then, it was unusual to see someone carrying their own water, even if it was a large plastic bottle or two of Evian. My how times have changed. To this very day, I still use that cloth bag for groceries! It was purchased from a family farm in the town where I grew up.
Reflecting on that handful of days on the rails provided chuckles and introspection. I met and talked with a lot of strangers, read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Dreams, and watched the landscape change from industrial to farmland and everything in between. I saw my people-focused and observational inclinations in my younger self. It’s good to know some things don’t change. They only get better!
A week or so before moving, I triaged, packed and shipped five boxes of my most important and useful belongings for starting a new life to my great aunt’s house. She, at a mere 89-years-old, was to be my first west coast roommate, but only until I found roommates closer my age. I perused ads in the newspaper on a daily basis, and I moved six weeks later. (Now that I think about it, this was my second to last pre-internet and pre-craigslist move!)
The boxes were stacked where she asked the UPS delivery man to place them – at the front of the garage. What did I need to have with and around me as tokens of comfort, reminder, and importance in a state of uncertainty and transition? It turns out books, a handful of photographs, and a favorite blanket were among my noted possessions. I spread these things around my temporary room the day after a good night of sleep.
Tonight, my sweetie and I will be dining in a favorite restaurant a few blocks down the street from where I unpacked those first boxes and realized my dream had come true. I’ll have just spent the day unpacking the boxes of a client who is a brand new east coast arrival. I’ll be blissfully tired and hungry.
And to quote some of my favorite lyrics by Woodie Guthrie, whose birthday was July 14, the day I left for the west coast:
I’d like to rest my heavy head tonight
On a bed of California stars
I’d like to lay my weary bones tonight
On a bed of California stars
When I crawl into bed and rest my head tonight, that very blanket (in the photo above) will warm me. It’s going to be a typical chilly San Francisco summer night.
* In homage to The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper Lonely Hearts Club Band!