In pictures. (Jeez. And a lot of words. I just finished this post. I meant to do only pics. Oh, well.)
Taking the train, I've learned, is ridiculously beautiful this time of year on the Central Coast (the folks live near Pismo Beach, south of San Luis Obispo, and I live in Oakland, and it's the best trip in the world to make by train, I'm convinced).
The Little Mama is hardcore when it comes to having fun. If it means adding water after each stop (and it does), she will.
Tell me you don't want to spin that hair.
On the drive to Solvang, you might run into an ostrich farm. Do pull over, because for five bucks you'll get two buckets of grain, with which you can do THIS:
This is what it looks like up close:
Hold on tight, 'cause they're strong and hungry.
On to Solvang, where we're on the way to the Village Spinning and Weaving Shop. This is a lovely store, run by two lovely people who confirmed what I've suspected: Alpaca farming is a pyramid scheme. I'm sure this isn't true in ALL cases, and certainly not in YOURS, but dude, people who raise alpacas don't seem to know that the fiber is worth anything. I asked the owner of spinning shop if there were any good farms around to visit. She told me of two, but said they'd just done their shearing and most of it had been thrown away if it hadn't been sorted immediately by volunteers. Apparently the tax advisors for these farms tell people that the fiber isn't important and is just too much work. Ack!
So Mom and I head out again, fortified by a good Solvang lunch, to look for alpaca. We take back roads into Los Olivos, a trek I couldn't make again if I tried (we went down a "No Outlet - Not a Through Street" street, and found that it did indeed rejoin the highway on the other side. They lied! Maybe all those signs are lies! Just something to keep in mind, drivers). We don't find the first place we'd been told about, so we head back in the direction of home.
Enroute, we see the Firestone Winery and remember that the woman at the store had mentioned alpacas in the same breath as this place. So we pull off and explore. We find the very location of a pivotal moment in the movie Sideways, fields of grapes behind us, the valley floor in front, and we find the winery FULL of people discovering the same thing, but no alpaci. Anywhere.
We give up. We're driving out, bereft and alpaca-less, when I spy a small sign: Alpacas of West Ranch.
Alpacas! Everywhere! We ask the nice woman if we can look at them and she says yes, have at it. (I ask about fiber and she says they don't have any, that they just throw it out, but they're thinking of changing that sometime.....) So we wander.
Well, hello! You know how when you approach an alpaca field, they shy away? (You don't? You should!) One field of reacted that way but this one certainly didn't. As we approached this back pasture, they ALL crowded the fence, headed straight at us. They sniffed our hands, and I touched this gal's head several times:
She didn't like that much and HMMPHED at me when I did it. Then I was cheeky and petted her back, and she stamped her feet at me. But she didn't move away much, either.
We even saw a baby albino alpaca. It is to kvell.
After much fun, I got on the Coast Starlight (which was ON TIME, imagine) and came home. I loved, loved, loved it. It's my new favorite thing to do. This is an excerpt from ramblings I made while rolling the rails:
The happiness coming from looking INTO so many houses, so many backyard-lives, does it come from the sense that anything seems possible? A broad overview which then moves to a bird's eye view of our own lives? The feeling of safety not found in cars or buses -- being sturdily strapped to a rail, with nothing left to do, nowhere to run or turn, just able to go in one straight line. Airplanes are much the same but have a greater feeling of risk. Although we know that trains can crash and topple, we don't really think it happens with great regularity -- it's not something I worry about when I sit down on a train -- will we stay on the tracks? like I do with airplanes, worrying about whether this box with metal wings will stay up in the air when its nature is to fall. Trains just roll. Period. Adding music to it with the iPod adds instant emotion, instant back-road, blue highway pathos to it. Especially if a fiddle is involved. Then not only is every filling station passed imbued with romance, but surely that man leaning on the pump has a spark of a travel-dream in his deep blue eye -- you can see it in his wink as your flashing eyes meet through the glass.
But really, what it comes down to is this: For cheaper than it would be to rent a car and buy gas, I am on the train. There is cold beer in the lounge car along with a young fella named Aaron who takes huge and warranted pleasure in making the snack-car announcements sound like a big-budget movie trailer. He seriously made me buy the M&Ms just by the way he said "choco-laaaaaht." With my headphones in, the windows are the best movie ever. I have my feet up on my legrest, and I'm in the lower deck, with the older folk who don't run around and scream like the young-uns upstairs. We're going as fast as the traffic on the freeway where I would normally be, and it doesn't slow down, let alone stop, when I have to take a bathroom break. If I chose to have dinner and polite conversation with strangers, I'm sure it would be delightful, but I'm deliberately quiet and mysterious on this train ride. At least, that's the way I feel. In my imagination, I have smoky eyes and I'm wearing black, and you can see the smudges of ink on my hands. In reality, I'm wearing my fire department work sweatshirt and red pants that on anyone else would be capris but on me are just floods. My shoes are vintage and interesting, at least. I cling to that.
I read magazines (Runners World, Spin-Off) and the new Susan Orlean in paperback and drank a couple of beers and watched the world flash by. I claimed a seat in the Observation Car, and behind me sat three Koreans, drunk on Bud Light, who sang happy Korean songs for about two hours.
I'm home now, and I just cleaned the house. Lala and are going out to see X-Men 3 tonight, and I couldn't be happier to be home. Sure was a nice away-time, though.