Wednesday, August 27, 2014


When I lived in the city of Lancaster I rode the Metrolink trains a lot. The girl I was seeing at the time lived in Buena Park, and the car I had at the time wasn't cut out for road trips (or going anywhere since it didn't really run), so on weekends I'd spend gold dollars at ticket machines, ride the Antlope Valley Line to Los Angeles Union Station, then get on the 99 Line and get off at the stop in Buena Park, then walk the five or six blocks to her place. I didn't mind the interchange from train to train, nor did I really mind the sketchy solo hike through city streets at all, nor the amount of time I spent waiting and slowly moving along. Watching the view from the window go from high desert to trees to urban sprawl was fascinating. Wasting time at Olivera Street in L.A. was interesting. Not having to drive the I-5 was a dream come true. The people I met, tried to avoid, and observed on the trains and at stations were fascinating. Since I'd never been on a train before that point-- and haven't been on one since-- the act of train commuting was pretty fun for me.

Sitting in train stations is a great way to observe some of the more interesting people in a given area. People in business suits, families going on day trips, panhandlers, shady people, and the nutty folks all cohabitate on the concrete platforms before shoving themselves into a metal tube on tracks. People, some carrying briefcases, others with big packs on their backs, a few hauling matching luggage being them, make their way around the stations and stops, getting in the way of people that will eventually be in the way of someone else. The faint smell of sweat, cologne, and diesel fuel hangs in the air. The echos of footfall and voices echos off the ceiling of Union Station. The loud hiss of the locomotive's brakes sounds off, and people make their way into the cars.

My favorite thing about taking the train was watching the scenery change. The rolling hills through the Antelope Valley, without much more than Joshua trees and sagebrush dotting the landscape, can be hypnotic to watch. Staring at the tan ground set against the big blue sky, coupled with the clacking and droning of the train, was something I found really relaxing. Going through the mountains was always neat too, partly because of the change from the desert and the tunnels, partly because of being diverted off the track as to not collide with freight trains. Watching different cities and their stations pass by until getting to the end of the track, the occasional sunset over Los Angeles, the desert at dusk, all of it brought back memories of family trips where I'd stare out the window and watch the world go by.

It's been a few years since I've taken a train anywhere. I don't have a lot of reasons to go to L.A. much anymore, and I have a reliable car for when I do want to go on a trip, so I've been away from the Metrolink since 2009. Sometimes, though, when I find myself on a trip and I'm sitting in rush hour traffic on the I-5/14 interchange, I think about how nice it was to hang out on a train and walk a few miles down sketchy city streets to get where I wanted to be.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


When I was a kid I didn't get a lot of junk food. Soda wasn't ever in the house, candy was reserved for specific holidays (Halloween, Christmas, et cetera), and food like fast food burgers and pizza were reserved usually for trips away from home. Getting Rusty's Pizza when my family visited my grandparents was a blast; greasy cheese pizza, oil saturating the brown box it came in, washed down with a Pepsi. It was heaven. I knew it wouldn't be long before it'd be back to meatloaf, so I relished in the greasy glory of take-out pizza when I could.

I've grown up, and I still enjoy pizza, but working directly across the street from a pizzeria means the novelty of the pie has kind of... faded. Besides, the pizza across from where I work is made with fresh ingredients and hearty crust, fresh and wholesome (albeit kind of greasy depending on what you order). The wonderful experience of pizza that's essentially soggy cardboard covered in processed cheese and marinara before being thrown in an oven is something I rarely get. The hole-in-the-wall pizza joints make the best of the best, Little Caesar's makes the best of the worst, and the options for where to get pizza are as broad and varied as the toppings you can haphazardly order (pro tip: anchovies and sausage is too salty, FYI).

I love eating clean and healthy, and I like the feeling that comes with not toxifying my system with processed crap. Kale, spinach, and avocado make it into my mouth daily. I like lean protein and natural stuff, but I also really, really, really like shitty pizza.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

AM Radio After Dark

One problem with working until late at night is the lack of things to do after a shift is done. Most people are asleep, businesses are closed, and it's not too long that I get tired and go to bed. I veg out with YouTube and Netflix most work nights, posted on the sofa and getting my fill of The IT Crowd reruns and whatever TED Talk might be interesting to check out, but the local internet provider sometimes falls short in the whole "providing internet" aspect of their services and I'm left to branch out from beyond my laptop. Sometimes I'll sit and read Outside Magazine. Other times I grab a book off one of my shelves and listen to a record. Every so often I'll fire up my Super Nintendo and play video games that haven't been relevant in over 20 years, but one night awhile back I decided to play around with a radio.

I got a nice wood paneled entertainment center thing for my birthday last year (thanks, Dad and Colleen) that has a CD player, a tape deck, a turntable, and a radio. I've played my vinyl on it quite a bit, and I've popped in a few long-lost mix CDs, but the lack of radio stations in the area makes for an unused tuner most of the time. I get my fill of country music and muzak pretty quickly, so I rely on either the music I already have or Pandora when I want to listen to tunes or have some background noise. The internet wasn't working the other night, so I opted to sift through the static on the FM waves to see if anything interesting would come up.

Gospel music. Muzak. Country. Pop through a haze of static. As expected.

I tried the AM frequencies afterward, not expecting anything to come up, but through the squelching and static came a clear voice. Curious, I listened to the DJ talk to a caller about some recent event. It sounded like they were talking about a torrential rainstorm or something, but then the DJ asked about "noises" the caller had mentioned earlier in the program before I'd tuned in, and I then realized that the rainstorm was only part of a multifaceted story about various UFO encounters throughout the US and Canada.

Apparently there's a radio show called Coast to Coast AM. Since the mid-80s, it's been a call-in show covering "UFOs, strange occurrences, life after death, and other unexplained (and often inexplicable) phenomena*" which I find really entertaining to listen to after midnight. I was a huge sucker for stories and "facts" about aliens and UFOs, ghosts, demons, and other spooky-scary crap that usually comes up on Halloween and on The X Files, so finding an AM radio show that caters to my hilarious, conspiracy-theorist, whack-job childhood interests prompted me to grab a beer, sit by the radio, and listen to loose logic from hearsay accounts of the supernatural on a radio station that I wasn't aware existed.

I've tuned in a few times since finding the mysterious radio station and the kind of spooky radio show. It's not like I believe extraterrestrials have any reason to go out of their way to shove probes up cow butts, or that little imp-like demons are possessing dogs or whatever in rural Kansas, or that the Illuminati is having game night this Friday at so-and-so's place, but sometimes it's fun to drop reality for an evening and listen to unusual accounts and cases from an AM signal at 1 in the morning.


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Onion Valley

Haze from wildfires around Yosemite mixed with white, fluffy clouds over the granite peaks and tree lined foothills. My car struggled a bit going up the steep grades of the winding mountain road, but I wasn't in a hurry; 25 miles per hour was more than fast enough to putt along, arm hanging out the window, feeling the air steadily getting cooler. It had been a long while since I'd gone up that road, with the high, steep walls to one side and high, steep drop-offs to the other, but it was where I learned to drive and where I learned about how much I love hiking around alone.

Onion Valley is a lot more appealing a place than the name suggests; there are patches of wild onions growing during the warmer months, but the waterfalls, wood groves, and trails leading to various locations make is one of my favorite places in the Eastern Sierras. It isn't too far from where I grew up, and when I started getting an interest in hiking it was the home to the trailhead of one of my favorite day hikes-- Kearsarge Pass Trail-- and generally a fun spot to walk around and explore. Even after a few years of not bothering to make it up there, Onion Valley was just as pretty as I'd left it.

I parked my car, grabbed my CamelBak, and started walking. There wasn't a destination in mind, considering I wasn't even sure where I was going to go when I'd left my house, but I was there for a leisurely stroll in the high country to beat the heat of the valley below. I'd ended up on the Robinson Lake Trail; a relatively short but pretty steep trail to-- big shock-- a place called Robinson Lake. I found what looked to be a detour in the trail, so I started following it. After about 20 minutes I realized I'd been bushwhacking for a fair bit, and that the trail was nowhere to be found. I could catch glimpses of the parking area through the trees, but the ground was steep and covered with scree and vegetation. 

I walked less than a mile and managed to get turned around thanks to an animal trail.

Would anyone expect anything less?

It didn't bother me much, though; I could hear a waterfall nearby so I made my way to it. There was a nearby rock big enough to sit on, so I sat on it and listened to the rushing water while staring at the misty mountain tops, the surrounding trees, and the rolling clouds. It didn't matter that I wasn't too far away from people, or that I didn't even hike nearly as far or as long as I'd have liked (I started late and it was getting dark). I was after a day in the woods alone, and I got some meditation in somewhere I wanted to be. It was nice to go back to a place I considered a second home and to remember why I spent so much time there in the past.

After another 20 minutes of bushwhacking I got back to my car, with fresh bruises on my legs and the sky getting darker. The valley below and my old hometown came into view after a little while. Hand still out of the window and shouting lyrics by The Avett Brothers, I drove down the windy mountain road back to Independence and thought about when I'd make my way back into the mountains again.