Back in 2008, I left Hawaii and set out on an adventure that took me across the USA by Amtrak train, I called it the Amtrek. This week, for the Vagobond Travel Museum, I bring you the collected articles and videos from that trip. The trip began in Honolulu and then went to Portland, Oregon from where I crossed the country and ended in New York City with a one way flight to Barcelona – the truth is, the trip has never ended since I’ve never gone home.
Along the way, I couch-surfed and asked my hosts the same set of questions, those videos are below and worth watching. Keep in mind, this was before couch-surfing had gone mainstream.
Here are the ten lessons I learned on that trip:
The trains through the Rocky Mountains have the most incredible viewing cars for enjoying the magnificent landscape.
Sacramento is a lot cooler than I thought it would be and the train museum is a must see..
Utah is an incredibly rugged and scenic state filled with some very cool folks in Salt Lake City.
I want to travel by train to Austin, Texas and Detroit, Nashville, and New Orleans. I’ve still never been to those cities.
I love New York and Boston – taking a train to them was the way to go. People in these cities rock.
Philly and Chicago are both incredibly cold in winter, but the people I met in them were pretty great.
It’s better not to hurry, a 14 day rail pass was too short for a true American experience.
Too many museums in too short a time can’t be appreciated – so get a longer rail pass.
Libraries are havens of free wifi and peaceful places to work – trains should always have wifi and should have libraries for passengers.
Making the wrong friend can suck out part of your enjoyment of life and destroy a train trip – the right friends can make a boring stretch very exciting.
California is known as the Golden State for a good reason – the gold rushes of California pulled an estimated $20-$40 billion dollars worth of the precious metal from the rivers, rocks, and streams of the state.
Some of the greatest fortunes in the world were built with that gold, but that wasn’t all California had to offer. Today the state is home to Google, Facebook, Oracle, Apple and many other tech giants. The aerospace and space industries laid a solid groundwork here. The golden state is also a breadbasket for fruits, vegetables, and livestock. There’s also oil in them thar hills and offshore rigs with massive reserves that are currently untapped. And let’s see – a little thing called Hollywood which generates huge profits. California – if it were a country, would have the world’s 12th largest gross domestic product at a massive $1.9 trillion. That puts it in about the same range as India, Russia, or Australia – not bad for one state out of 50!
In fact, California provides nearly 15% of the USA’s annual GDP! California is the third largest and most important wine producing region in the world (after France and Italy) and ‘California cuisine’ is now a fact of life nearly everywhere on the planet. Fast food restaurants like McDonalds, Taco Bell, and Panda Express were all founded in California – there is no mistaking the impact this region has had on the world. Perhaps instead of globalization, people should refer to Californization of the world! Our own journey is still only just beginning.
We started in San Francisco, took a quick trip North to Redding to visit my mother, and then we landed in Sacramento – home of the original gold findings at Sutter’s Mill. We’ve been house sitting for a little under two weeks and this gig is just coming to a close as our first month in the USA. From Sacramento we will head back to San Francisco and then make our way North along the Pacific Coast. If all goes according to plan we should be in Seattle and Washington State sometime during the perfect weather of summer.
Here are a few of the highlights from our explorations thus far in Sacramento: Folsom, California – while Folsom is mostly known for the prison of the same name thanks to the late, great Johnny Cash, this little suburb of Sacramento has a lot to offer with a small train musuem, an enjoyable history museum, and a cute little old town filled with reasonably priced antique shops. Nearby is Folsom lake which was created when Folsmo Dam was built in the 1950’s.
And – I forgot to mention the microchip and processor industry above – but Intel has their headquarters in Folosm.
Sacramento’s Old Town and Sac History Museum The Sacramento Farmer’s Market The California Museum of History California State Capital and Garden McKinley Park Rose Garden and Pond were also pretty incredible. One of the sad things coming back to the world of car culture is seeing the effect it has on wildlife…this raccoon, however, was obviously living the good life before he got hit by that big truck in the sky…
Once we had my wife’s green card, I made a plan. It wasn’t a great plan, but it was a plan. I bought our plane tickets – me, wife, and baby. We were flying from Morocco to Dubai then to San Francisco. Using some travel contacts, I managed to get us a three night stay in Dubai at the Atlantis Resort – we were going to do the desert safari, visit the Burj Khalifa, and many other things. However, since Dubai has apparently had a problem with Moroccan residents not going back to Morocco – they require all Moroccan residents to have a return flight to Morocco. This was ridiculous as we were flying onward to the USA – but they wouldn’t budge – my wife would not be allowed to leave the airport unless we bought her a return ticket. Emirates allowed me to change the flight to a 10-hour layover and we missed our chance to do anything in Dubai except wander through the mall-like airport and look at the night lights shining where we couldn’t visit them.
My plan then involved landing in San Francisco where my sister had said we could stay for up to a month while we figured out housing, jobs, etc. Unfortunately, she was going through a nasty divorce and had moved into a security building with uptight rules and my brother and his family had come out to visit at the same time. We had a hotel for the first couple of nights and then tried to stay with her – but it was a small place, there were four small kids there and five adults. My plan was to find a job in a startup – to put my blogging, social media, writing, editing, and magazine publishing skills to work in the USA the same way I had in Turkey, Morocco, and Europe.
Instead, crazy culture shock, astounding jet lag, and dysfunctional family dynamics led us to Redding where not only did I not want to be, but we were very quickly made to feel not welcome at the other place we had been assured would ‘always have an open door for us’. I ran into an old high school friend that I’d always gotten along with. He told me how he and his girlfriend had been squatting in 2008 foreclosures in Sacramento for years. Honestly, my plans had not involved emigrating to America, demonstrating my dysfunctional family to my wife, and then squatting in foreclosed houses with my wife and infant child – but we didn’t really have a choice. Redding was a very unpleasant dead end. We couldn’t afford to rent in San Francisco because no one would rent to me without a job or a million in the bank. I figured we could squat in Sacramento, I could continue job hunting in San Francisco, and we would find a place to rent before we were evicted by law enforcement.
To be fair – it was a very nice house. My friends were going through a process where they were trying to legally claim the house by paying utilities, keeping the yard up, taking care of appearances etc. They were attempting to use loopholes in the legal system to take a house from the banks who had taken the house from someone else with loopholes. I helped to file some of the writs and papers. We were in the Arden Arcade neighborhood of Sacramento. It was a great neighborhood. We made friends, I looked for work, we had fun and enjoyed life there. I mowed the grass, we planted a little garden, and all in all – it was good. However, the uncertainty of the situation was hard on my little family.
I turned to how I always made money in the past – writing, buying & selling things on craigslist, through classifieds, reselling books from garage sales, and then I started to realize there was a lot of cash being left on the table at the many estate and yard sales in Sacramento. I became a professional picker and I did good at it. I educated myself on what sold and what didn’t, I learned about antiques, collectibles, furniture, gems, jewelry, watches, and art. I began buying and selling a lot. But not enough to pay the first, last, and security deposit on a house in Sacramento (let alone San Francisco) – It was going to be $8000 to move into a place – we’d moved to the USA with right around $5000 after all the flights, the expenses of the green card, and more. I just didn’t have it. I applied for multiple tech jobs in San Francisco and Sacramento but the salaries were always less than my expenses would be. I couldn’t do it.
I was making enough with Ebay, Amazon books, and garage sales – that I figured out that I could afford to move to the cheapest town on the Oregon Coast, rent a decent house, and have a pretty good life for my family without being too far from the ocean – which, for some reason, is important to me. I found a three bedroom house in Reedsport, Oregon just in time – the squat was going to have to be abandoned. The legal maneuvers had failed.
We’d accumulated a lot of stuff from estate sales and garage sales. I rented a trailer and we filled it up and headed up to our new life in Reedsport, Oregon. We squatted in Sacramento from April to August of 2013. It wasn’t part of my plan at all – but I’m grateful that we found someplace to live when my entire plan and backup plans had completely fallen apart.
Sacramento is the capital of California – which, were it not a part of the USA, would be the fifth largest economy in the world ahead of France, the UK, and India. Without California, the U.S. would fall to just about the same GDP as China – so, Sacramento is a pretty important city. Founded in 1808 by Spanish Missionaries – the city has about a half million people. It rose to importance when John Sutter found gold there in 1848 – Sutter was a Mexican-Swiss citizen and his find led to the eventual stealing of California from Mexico by the United States. It’s interesting to note that California was an independent nation “The Bear Republic” from 1846-1848 before Mexico re-established control and then the U.S. claimed it. For three months each year, Sacramento is the sunniest place on the planet – and during those months – it’s best to hide inside with air-conditioning. Old Town Sacramento is an area of the city that has preserved many of the buildings from the 1850s and 1860s. It’s a fun tourist area. Sacramento is filled with parks, universities, museums, and a growing tech scene – but the primary business in Sac is and always will be one thing – government. Sacramento is home to the Sacramento Kings basketball team and the Sacramento Republic Football Club.