The Railway Notebook: San Diego to Houston

1. It doesn't feel the same. Maybe I'm dead inside, but nothing feels the same. There are no sharp emotions, no divine highs or hellish lows. I felt nothing as I took a bite of my carne asada fries and wondered why the fuck I came here in the first place.


2. California will always be a land of myths to me; mythologies I've created. There are three places in this state that are connected to memories of a woman. One of them doesn't even live in the United States. I'll never figure out California in the same way I'll never truly understand my childhood in New York City. 


3. How is it possible to be depressed in this beautiful, sunny weather? While waiting for my train to Los Angeles, all I could think about was splaying my body across the tracks and masturbating to see if I could cum before the train cuts me in half. But then I bought ice cream and felt better and happy again. 


4. In some ways, this trip marks the ending of my "former" life and the dawn of my next awakening. The future starts now.



I met a nice lady from La Jolla who was headed to L.A. to spend Passover with her family. She was kind and talkative, and gave me a local newspaper she loves to read. I remarked how the column she suggested I read made me want to go back to writing op-ed pieces. She said, "Why not? You can start now." I truly attract the best kind of strangers.

6. "I don't ever want to feel
Like I did that day
Take me to the place I love
Take me all the way
I don't ever want to feel
Like I did that day
Take me to the place I love
Take me all the way"

- Red Hot Chili Peppers, Under the Bridge


7. Where does our consciousness go when we die? Some say heaven/hell/purgatory. Some say another dimension or alternative timeline. Others opine that there are no souls and no afterlife, and that dying is similar to a dreamless total-blackout sleep, but forever. My theory is that we all end up at a shithole motel in Van Nuys with basic TV channels (and only softcore porn), 10-year old mattresses and a swimming pool littered with used condoms. That's where our souls will spend eternity.


8. One of the most talented pianists in the world plays at the Los Angeles Union Station. 


9. Whilst on the phone with Daphne at the station, an Asian man who looked older than his actual age approached me shyly. He waited for me to pause my phone call before asking me if I was Filipino-descent. I told him I was and so began another hour-long, single-serving friendship with a stranger. He told me he was trying to get back to San Diego but was not able to get his mom's money transfer in time because of the Easter holiday weekend. So he was stuck in L.A. for basically the weekend if he couldn't find another way to get the money. I told him I couldn't help him with the bus ticket, but I could buy him a meal and give him a handful of cigarettes.

We talked about Filipino gangs in L.A. (he was bangin' back in the 90s) and how he was cool with the Mexicans, but didn't like Vietnamese gangsters, even though his wife was a Vietnamese gang member herself. He told me about his stints in prison and various other topics. He was a talkative, funny guy.

We then went outside to smoke and talked to an old lady from Chattanooga. I told her that it's one of my favorite towns. We--all eight of us in the small smoking "pen" (it looked like an actual dog or pig pen with metal bars forming a square)--somehow ended up talking about our experiences with animal attacks. It was hilarious. 


10. There are three types of people who take long train rides: 

A) People who don't like to fly, because of phobia, or cannot for religious reasons (a group of Amish ladies boarded in Alpine), or due to medical conditions.

B) What I call "railway groupies." They're usually retirees who love trains and everything about them, from the history of the railroad to the unique design of each station. They also try to complete every single long-distance train route on Amtrak. 

C) Runaways, drug dealers, women trying to escape a violent relationship, or those trying to escape something in general. There are those who are trying to start a new life. 

Which category do I belong in? Maybe C. But I wasn't trying to escape the past. In a way, I was trying to do the opposite: I was trying to run towards the past. Did I find it? I can't say I did. The past was dead and gone. My attempt at time travel ended in failure.


11. I met one of the most interesting people in the world while hanging out at the lounge car at 2 in the morning. He was dressed like a 1960s Parisian writer. He described himself as a woman who metamorphosed into a man, a scoundrel, a vagabond, a lover, a world traveler who had just concluded three years of globetrotting. He asked me what I did for a living and I told him that I was a private detective. This made him more animated than he already was. He asked me why I was taking the train from Los Angeles to Houston, and why I wasn't out catching bad guys. I joked that I wanted to experience a real-life Murder on the Orient Express. We then thought of various whodunnit scenarios on the train. Each person who entered the lounge car was a suspect to us.

He told me that he was a writer and that launched a conversation about the literary craft (listen to a snippet of our conversation below). He told me that he'd give me some clementines the next time we chatted. 


12. There isn't anything new under the sun, but there are a lot of things left to discover hidden in the shadows.


13. I realized now that she loved me very much and I wish I had appreciated her love before she left my world. 


14. Another morning, another day, another revolution, another war, another lover, another death, another heartbreak, another moment of joy, another coup d'état, another conception, another bankruptcy, another divorce, another dollar made, another story finished, another story begun. 


15. Hello, world. How will you destroy every fiber of my being today? Please reconstruct me as a cloud, so that I may experience everything you have to offer, from floating above the Serengeti to raining down on Tokyo.  


16. Daphne mentioned Before Sunrise because I was on a train. Would I meet my Celine? I told her I already met her. 

Then we somehow threw in all of the movies that involve train scenes, like Train to Busan and 500 Days of Summer, and I just mashed it all up.


17. My friend actually gave me that clementine. Thank you. May you write the greatest novel of all time. I'll be the first one at the bookshop to steal your book and then PayPal you the cost so that your greedy, soulless Manhattan publisher doesn't get a percentage. 


18. I met a British solo-backpacker who was in San Diego the same time I was. He stayed at a hostel near Point Loma. It's weird I never saw him at the Old Town station or at Union. I guess I was not very observant during this trip. Anyway, we smoked cigarettes during our longer-than-usual stop in Alpine. I told him about Marfa and Big Bend National Park, trying to be a good Texan and do my part to boost tourism in the state. 

He let me take some hits from his marijuana vape, which was nice of him. He told me that he was a screenwriter. I told him that he was the second writer I met on the train. When he found out that I also did filmmaking, we launched into a discussion about the process and our ideas and the films we've made thus far. He invited me to join him in the lounge car to discuss our screenplays more, but the weed was too strong and, mixed with exhaustion, I fell asleep in my seat when I got back on board. Sorry, mate. Good luck on your year-long journey and on the script.

19. I've had many adventures in my short life thus far, but nothing will ever be as great as the time in high school when I walked home from the motel extremely high & drunk, and actually got food from Whataburger by walking through the drive-thru, and ending up in bed safe & sound asleep. 


20. I will always love America as a landmass, as a concept, as a collection of wonderful people, but I will never understand its politics and history of violence and hatred. I truly am proud and humbled to have lived in this great piece of land. America has shaped me more than the Philippines and any other nation or culture I'll adopt as my next home. America, I'm glad I had the chance to witness your splendor and experience your love.