Friday, August 26, 2011

All Aboard

Did you ever want to hop a train and go where it goes? You could follow the rails instead of more familiar roads or path through countryside and the underbelly of towns, the shacks and fences and depots along the way. You could settle in comfortably in a seat facing backwards to see where you've been or you could face forward to keep an eye on what is coming up.

I did that yesterday, rode the train. My friend Beth and her son Dylan have come to visit for a few days so we can go to BATS, the Bay Area Tarot Symposium, an annual tarot event of delightful proportions where tarot readers, historians, collectors, designers and students converge. They tacked a little extra time onto the trip for some extra vacation fun. Dylan just had his birthday and Dylan likes trains.

Victorian Trade Card Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord
Cool, I thought. We can go to the train museum in Sacramento and see Old Town Sacramento. I remember the last time I was there you could walk through one of the old train cars.

"Instead of driving, why don't you take the train up to Sacramento," the hubs suggested. Perfect for the train lover, of course! It was also perfect for the driver who could stand not to have to drive. The traffic between Sacramento and the Bay Area on I-80 can be slow and thick which annoys many drivers who think they should be able to drive lickety-split on a freeway. Fact: There are just a lot of people in California and a lot of them have cars. It almost seems crazy to live in a place like the San Francisco area and still have the need to "get away from it all." But we all need a change of scenery sometimes.

The 6 of Swords is often thought of as the "travel" card, although I contend there are a few cards in the deck that indicate movement like travel. Yesterday, the 6 of Swords felt like the perfect card, taking your thoughts from their usual venue and scenery to a calmer different place where you can sort things out. You can figure out what's true and what isn't, what's important and what isn't, what battles are worth fighting and which ones aren't. You can at least temporarily leave behind the thoughts of your work and home life to think other thoughts, sort things out.

So even in a wonderful place like the place I live, despite the 9th worst whatever on whoever's list, it's really nice to just think about something else entirely and rest the section of your life you deal with most of the time.

It was finally something like summer, too. We haven't really had much in the way of summer here (my apologies to those who have melted into their socks this year). It's always a little hotter, sometimes a lot hotter in "the valley" in California than the coast in the summer. Sacramento is right in the middle of that. We stepped off the train into the "hot oven" that some people say California is named for, the dry heat of the uninterrupted sun feeling good, at least at first, but mixed with a breeze to keep it bearable. Unlike many places in the US, our heat is fairly well-behaved. If you are in the sun, it's hot. If you are in the shade, it's not. If you've had enough of one, step into the other. We don't usually get the 100 degrees in the shade plus choking humidity that a lot of the interior and eastern US get. We have a civilized heat.

The train museum was just a short walk away from the train depot, the first building you come to when you walk towards Old Town. And it is a world of trains. Dioramas of miners, engineers, passengers, porters, brakemen are dwarfed by the many rare and beautiful restored "iron horses" that conquered the West. The train engines and cars are well-documented and surrounded with the stories and artifacts of the Age of Trains. We saw how tracks were laid and how standard and narrow-gauge tracks were determined. We saw the luxurious decor reminiscent of James West and Artemis Gordon in The Wild, Wild West, cars furnished with elegant furniture.

The train museum has expanded since I was there last with more cars and engines that visitors can walk into. I loved the boxcar with its description of all the fruits and vegetables, the different colorful produce labels and even a description of the lithographic process of printing the labels. I showed Dylan the surveying tools used to determine how to lay the tracks and explained that my father had been an engineer. I used to help him survey lots sometimes and then, if night fell and the timing right, he would point his transit telescope towards the moon so I could see the craters and mountains there. I loved the dishes made specifically for use in the dining cars, some elegant cobalt blue with gold trim, some with the "exotic" Mimbres-style glyphs of the desert Southwest. Best of all was the mysterious and complex multi-scaled cylinder-shaped slide rule, a marvel of computation in delicate and precise ivory long before computers.

Beth and Dylan went to the second floor of the museum where the toy train exhibits are, every scale train imaginable. I headed to the museum bookstore to see if I could find a special present for Dylan's birthday.

My friend Mark Wegman wrote a book (available through the museum store, Amazon and elsewhere) American Passenger Trains and Locomotives Illustrated. It's a wonderful book full of pictures and diagrams of "people trains" with precise interior seating charts and lots of information. I've known Mark since I was in my teens in college and his wife Sally is my most enduring friend. Notice I didn't say oldest because Sally is a few months younger than I am and I'm not going to admit to anyone as young as we are being the oldest anything yet. Lucky me, among the many, many books about trains in the museum shop, Mark's book was available.

We left the museum and wandered through the dry-hot streets of Old Town, enjoying the shops and the feeling of the Old West under our feet with the shaded wooden sidewalks, the remnants of old train tracks and cobblestones in the streets. We ate the appetizer platter at a New Orleans-styled restaurant, plus delicious fried mushrooms, which ended up being an over-abundance of fried anything. We explored the mystical shop where I picked up a tarot deck I didn't have, thinking John will be so surprised that there is a deck I don't yet have. We went next door to the Ology Shop filled floor to ceiling with stones, fossils and crystals. Dylan found a precious penny dated 1902. Beth picked out a lovely pink lemurian quartz crystal and I chose a large clear lemurian crystal that fascinated me. Just looking into it, I see stories. It must be for me!

We checked out a couple more shops, did not pass up the candy and saltwater taffy but selected in moderation, stopped at the coffee shop for a cold drink, then headed back to the train. It just happened to be waiting to take us home.

Dylan played with his treasures while Beth and I talked tarot. We talked about the court cards, personalities, narrative flow, the value of sharing with a tarot community, and, very, very exciting, Beth's new deck, the Tarot Leaves, her first to be published by Schiffer. I'm thrilled for her commercial debut. Like so many "emerging stars" Beth's "overnight" success will come after years of work and self-publishing over 70 decks. The towns, egrets, barns, cows rolled by quickly and we were home before we knew it. Dylan says this is his best birthday ever. I think he might be right.

Best wishes!

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