06 July 2017

Blue shorts

Sunset on Panther Pond.
It's now been three weeks since we left Russia. I'm starting to get recalibrated again to life in the USA. It helped a lot that we were able to spend a few days in near-seclusion and mostly offline in Maine, where the best Internet connection was off at the village library, open three days a week. My life was far more in tune with real time, not schedules.

To get back to the west coast, we found that a one-way train ticket, senior fare, was reasonably priced ... as long as we were willing to travel in coach seats rather than sleeping cars. The three-day trip, watching the geography change and enjoying three beautiful sunrises, was part of my recalibration. From Boston to Chicago, we had Wi-fi connections to the Internet, but for the rest of the trip we were mostly offline, for which I was again (mostly) grateful.

Thanks to Judy's careful selection of train food, and to our friend Susan meeting us at the St. Paul station with a wonderful bag of goodies, we were able to avoid buying the expensive food offered on the train. The travel experience was very good, but it was obvious that Amtrak suffers from neglect. The equipment, while sturdy, was old and threadbare. Russians depend on their rail system far more than we Americans do on ours, and the difference in priority shows.

In addition, long-distance east-west services such as those we used (Lakeshore Limited and the Empire Builder) may be cut entirely in the next year or two. It's hard to imagine the strain of working for a system whose existence depends on the year-to-year goodwill of politicians, especially in a season when goodwill seems in short supply!

To sum up: We can still recommend Amtrak, but if you've been spoiled by trains in Europe and elsewhere, be prepared for somewhat different standards. Even so, if you love train travel, take that trip while the services still exist. And be sure to check whether there is track work going on along your route. We had to choose our dates carefully because track work between Boston and Albany meant that, most of the time, that portion of the Lakeshore Limited is served by buses. After our last experience with an Amtrak bus substitution, we were determined to avoid a repeat.

Here in Oregon, after a few days with family in Eugene, I got on an Amtrak bus for the trip to the Portland Waterfront Blues Festival. This year I ignored the large stages entirely. I spent four days at the Oregonian Front Porch Stage, where there is a larger proportion of authentic blues (yes, I know, who am I to say!?) than the big-stage acts who bring in the audiences and make the festival viable. So I didn't hear Elvin Bishop or Sonny Landreth, or even the Stax Revue with Booker T.

The very best performer I did hear was (once again, returning after six years) Brother Yusef. How one musician can produce so much wonderful sound is a delightful mystery. For a compact presentation of my four days of blues, I present this slide show and a video from Brother Yusef....

Just a few recommended links this week:

Roll away the stone of approval-seeking.

Karl Vaters is not going to look for reasons to doubt the sincerity of your faith. (Attention Northwest Yearly Meeting Friends!)

Scot McKnight believes these five things about gender differences. Is his list helpful? What has he left out?

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