Earth Traveler

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Posted November 15th, 2008

I was recently invited to join some friends for the Monday Night Football game taking place in Arizona. Or as I like to call it: The AZ. The game was an American football match between the Arizona Who Gives A Shits and the San Francisco Couldn’t Care Lessers.

As most of you will agree, when one is invited on an out-of-town excursion by a group of men, one is compelled to accept. And I am no different. Obviously there are the exceptions that end in a ritual killing, but those are quite rare. And so I accepted.

The other gentlemen on the trip chose the easy route of flying into Phoenix on Monday and flying out on Tuesday. Boring.

What follows here is what happened to me on what started out seeming like really great travel ideas and quickly turned into a regrettable series of events.

TRAIN

I have recently become quite enamored with train travel. Many people do not even know that this mode of transportation still exists. But I am here to tell you that it still exists and it is alive and kicking. Hold on – I need to change songs on my 8-track cassette player.

People on trains are different than people on planes. Planes usually provide one with a cross-section of social and economic variations common in society. While trains really only represent the bottom half – though I’m sure there are many in the bottom half that are offended by this statement.

On this particular train trip, I met a few very interesting folks who I hope to never come across ever again. Ever.

Harry – He sat next to me in my assigned seat. I am not sure if he was totally insane or totally adorable. It’s a fine line. He brought his own loaf of bread and peanut butter and jelly for his day and a half journey.

College Guy – Moving into the observation car, I met this fellow who seemed nice but cheapened the whole thing by talking to anyone that came into the area.

Tex – He’s an older man headed for Houston, Texas. He goes on and on about how he can’t stand being seated next to young people in the other car. I am offended by this statement and refuse to speak to him the rest of the trip.

The Coug – Trolling the trains for dudes. Las Vegas shirt. Las Vegas sweats. Las Vegas vibe. She jumps into every conversation going on nearby – hoping that someone, anyone, will jump her.

If I get on this train in Pomona, I can say that I am catching a 3:11 to Yuma. Of course, I may be the only one who saw that movie. So never mind.

Our train stalls outside Palm Springs for about 45 minutes. "Switch malfunction." I assume that’s important and not something that we can just power through. As darkness descends I feel like we will suddenly be involved in some sort of slasher film slaughter. Maybe that’s just wishful thinking.

Admittedly, this is not a very well-planned trip for me. I’m not really sure where I’m sleeping tonight. I’m not exactly sure how to get from the train stop in Maricopa, Arizona, up to Phoenix and then what to do in Phoenix to meet up with the guys.

And so we come to dinner. Normally I would just grab a sandwich in the café and hope that somehow my body could manage to process SOME of the preservatives. But tonight my curiosity is piqued by the dining car. 

I am not even sure how to explain what happened in there. Community seating – I was seated with two frisky newlyweds from Louisiana and one REALLY old dude. Really bitter waitresses (unionized). BBQ Brisket that the chef recommends. The chef was wrong.

I think it’s safe to say that, short of losing a bet, I will never eat in there again.

It’s around midnight when I get dropped off in Maricopa. Maricopa, Arizona – the absolute middle of nowhere. A few gas stations. No hotels. No motels. I’m an idiot.

I was hoping there would be SOME PLACE I could crash for a few hours before I started wandering around looking for the 5:50 AM Park and Ride bus to Phoenix. No such luck. So, it’s me and my backpack and the concrete floor of the "historic" Maricopa Train Station. 

I remember thinking, "Do you remember when you were a kid and you could fall asleep anywhere at any time?" Then I blinked and it was 4:30 AM.

Up and at ’em!

It was time to find the Park & Ride. I had been told that I should "turn on Garvey Avenue and then it’s a short walk." Sounds easy. Except Garvey Avenue has no street lights. So I’m wandering through the desert at 5 in the morning. It’s pitch black. I’m freezing and the gross vanilla cappuccino I bought is no longer warming my hands.

After about a mile of this I start to wonder if I got the directions right. I mean, there’s NOBODY around! Where the hell are all the commuters? Where is the bus? What the hell am I doing? Wait, what’s that up ahead? Tail lights on a bus? 

And so they were. And it was only when I was about 10 feet from the bus that other cars started to arrive. Thanks. Nobody could be early. Great.

AUTOMBILES

I climbed on board the commuter bus and took a seat in the front row. Normally I would not want to be seated so close to all the other people but I didn’t have exact change and needed to wait until someone got on that had change for me.

Some of the passengers were very confused when they heard of my travel plans and each kept a safe distance from me. I’m not really sure what I was doing or thinking. Maybe I was just trying to prove that I don’t have a wife and kids.

The Maricopa Express dropped me off at the state capitol and then I took a free Dash Bus around downtown to see the city briefly. At the first stop after I got on, about 20 homeless people got on the bus (it’s free) and proceeded to COMMUTE to different parts of downtown. 

I stopped at the Downtown Sheraton for breakfast and as it turns out, they have the best buttermilk pancakes on the planet. The Sheraton has a shuttle van to the airport. Perfect. I can meet up with my fellow travelers there.

Airport Shuttle Tip: Do not listen to your iPod instead of the driver. That way you will not assume he is dropping you off at your terminal, when, in fact, he has dropped you at the exact opposite end of the airport.

Travel Note: The Phoenix airport is the LONGEST AIRPORT EVER! Do not try to walk from one end to the other. Trust me on this!

The combination of three hours of sleep and miles and miles of walking leave me in agony. And it’s only 9 AM. I am so screwed.

After my trek across the airport, I meet up with two of my fellow travelers. We will call them Samwise and Boba Fett – for no particular reason. There’s one more guy coming but he’s flying in later in the afternoon.

We got our rental car and sitting in the back I notice that I smell AWFUL. Oh well. No time for a shower. We’re off to play golf. The golf course does have a dress code but it does not have a smell code. So I get in without a problem.

I have never played golf before. Miniature golf – yes. Grande golf – no. Not for any reason other than I just never really cared one way or the other.

It turns out I’m not very good. I keep telling myself that it’s because it’s my first time, but it’s no use. I can’t talk myself out of thinking that it should be a lot easier to play this game.

At around the 9th green, I feel like I’m going to collapse from lack of sleep and abundance of physical exertion. And at this point I have become a danger to myself and any grass unfortunate enough to be near my golf ball.

Samwise and Boba Fett play on as I switch to spectator mode and spend the remainder of the time making snarky comments. Now, if that was a sporting event! All in all I would say that I almost enjoyed playing golf. But I LOVED the golf carts.

Then it’s back to the airport to pick up our fourth. We’ll call him Lord Voldemort. And then we’re off to the game.

University of Phoenix Stadium. University of Phoenix does not actually have any teams, they just have their name on the stadium. Please do not try to figure this out. It will just make you feel dumb. Trust me.

We tailgated before the game started. Nerf football. Snacks. Beverages. Good times had by all. We begin our trek to the stadium which is very, very far away from where we parked. Which is fine with me because my lower limbs are numb at this point. Due to the speed at which certain beverages pass through the human body, Samwise needed to pee.

We entered the stadium just as the San Francisco Football Squadron scored a touchdown on the opening kickoff. Samwise was rooting for the San Francisco Collection of Football Players. Boba Fett and Lord Voldemort were rooting for the Assembly of Arizona Footballers. I was rooting for the end of the pain in my right knee. 

The Arizona Organization of Football won the game on a last second defensive play. Samwise missed it due to his ongoing battle with his bladder.

Then we trek ALL THE WAY back to our car. We were basically the last car let out. This place is in the middle of nowhere and they have parking problems? Not cool Glendale, Arizona. Not cool.

Next stop is the Denny’s right next door to our sleeping facility. They are swamped with people from the game – so the service was awesome.

I order the Slamburger. For those of you who don’t know what that is, I apologize but FDA regulations prohibit me from detailing the contents. For those of you who do know what it is, shame on you. 

Samwise is certain we are all getting pubic hair in our food. Boba Fett orders 2 desserts. Lord Voldemort wants a refill on his coffee.

Back at the hotel, I took a quick shower to remove the layers of filth from my skin. When I come out, it has been determined that Lord Voldemort and I are sharing a bed. Really? I might be too old to be sharing a bed. I insist on the burrito style bedding so we can’t possibly touch in our five hours of sleep.

PLANE

Admittedly, the airplane portion of my travel was uneventful. Security confiscated my brand new tube of toothpaste. I’m not an explosives expert, but how is it that 3.5 ounces is not enough to make an explosive, but somehow 3.6 ounces will do the trick?

When we all got off the plane, we said our good byes and we all agreed we should do it again. But without the train trip to nowhere, the sleep deprivation and the agonizing pain in my legs.

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