Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Kalamazoo 2013 - 1/4

MAY 9-12, 2013


The flight to O’Hare proceeded without incident, and I had the satisfaction of riding the marvelously anachronistic Chicago Elevated Railway for 50 minutes into the city in order to transfer at Union Station (ticket =$5). Unhappily both the elevator and escalator at Clinton were out of service, compelling me to schlepp my impedimenta four flights of stairs skywards, an unwelcome challenge since I banged up my knee a couple  years ago in the SFSU parking lot and have been hobbling around with a cane ever since.

I collapsed into my seat on the Amtrak Wolverine and prepared for the two-hour journey to Kalamazoo. Compared with the California Coast Starlight, it was a remarkably fast and smooth ride, comparable almost to the better European trains. We passed through the industrial ruin that Gary, Indiana, has become—Hephaestus’ forge is apparently extinguished in these precincts forever—and, after a few tantalizing glimpses of Lake Michigan in the distant twilight, we pressed on to my complete surprise past one of the most adorable Richardsonian Romanesque railroad stations I have ever laid eyes on, in the town of Niles, MI.

Niles Michigan Station. Photo: Poul Thor Hansen. Clicking embiggens.

In a mad moment I was severely tempted to pull the emergency brake and run out to photograph it, but according to a loudspeaker announcement we had achieved our maximum speed of 110 mph—beat that California Coast Starlight!—and I feared that at this dazzling tempo the train would never be able to come to a stop before we had come half-way to Kalamazoo.

On the bus from the train station to the Western Michigan University campus I fell into conversation with a young archaeologist from Ireland named Fiona who had come a long way to present about a dig she was undertaking somewhere in an Irish county whose name was unfamiliar to me. It happened also that Fiona was not only cheerfully conversant but also drop-dead gorgeous. Crazed from the stress of travel and falling victim to a sudden attack of courtly love, I felt like throwing myself to her feet and saying: “Take me, Fiona, I am yours forever, do me with me as you will, I will serve and obey you in all things and never desert you, etc., now explain to me every little detail about your marvelous Celtic excavations.”

Figuring that given my current age group—ridiculously, I have now become 73— not much might arise from my abruptly conceived infatuation, I wearily trudged off to my assigned accommodation. This year I decided to play the disability card with my house assignment and was given what must be considered an executive suite compared to the jail cells they stash the unfortunate undergrads and the other conference visitors in at this place. The cafeteria is just downstairs, and I don’t have to share the bath with anyone, all for the same thirty clams per day they charge everyone.

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