Friday, November 22, 2013


Every once in a while, maybe twice a month, someone writes to say he or she read one of my books and liked it. That always provides a lift to the morning.

And sometimes there is a truly special letter. This morning one came from a Dutchman:

"I just want to write you this email for thanking writing the book 'Zephyr: Tracking a Dream Across America'. I buy it earlier 1994 (Dutch version) and read it with pleasure.

"Now, almost 20 years later I am still in the possession of this book and read it several times. But what is important to me, it has become a special book. In difficult times, this book is the only book I can read. For no other book I have the patience and concentration to read it. Reading your book gives me peace and relaxation on a psychological level in difficult times. Maybe it sounds weird but it's a kind of Zen or mindfulness for me.

"At this moment, recovering from an open heart surgery, your book (again) gives me peace and relaxation.  

"So thanks’ again for writing this beautiful book."

Well. What can one say besides "You're very welcome"?


This blog has been online off and on (mostly off lately) for eight years now, and it's admittedly running out of steam. So, for that matter, is blogging in general.

The phenomenon has been largely shoved aside by social media such as Facebook and Twitter, where people can post their opinions and relay those of others far more easily and succinctly than in blog format. I've been doing the same (on Facebook) rather than sitting and laboriously composing what I hope are shapely mini-essays.

All the same, now and then the urge to write something more substantial, useful and readable overcomes me, and so I will keep this blog going in the fits-and-starts form it has reflected in the last year or two.

But it won't be in service of my books, except in an oblique way. It'll be mostly a catchall of things I have to say, or want to say, or think are worth saying.

Don't be surprised if it's heavy on travel subjects. Of late that has occupied much of my time—not actual traveling, but planning.

In December the Lady Friend and I are riding Amtrak's Capitol Limited between Chicago and Washington, D.C., where we'll spend Christmas with our elder son and his crew.

In January we're taking the railroad's Southwest Chief to Los Angeles, thence a coastal train to San Diego, where we'll embark on Holland-America's Statendam for a cruise through the Panama Canal to Fort Lauderdale.

Late in the summer we plan to board Amtrak's flagship Empire Builder for a trip to Seattle, thence head up the coast by bus to Bellingham and the Alaska Ferry to Ketchikan, Alaska. From Ketchikan we'll take a southbound ferry to Prince Rupert, B.C. After a day or two there, we'll take the VIA Rail train once called the Skeena inland to Prince George, B.C., and Jasper, Alta. After a car trip to Banff and Lake Louise, we'll return to Jasper and ride VIA's storied Canadian to Vancouver. Finally, we'll ride an Amtrak Cascades train from Vancouver to Seattle and the Empire Builder home.

Expect detailed reports of the trips, as well as photographs of them.

Notice a sameness about these plans? None involve flying, except for the relatively short hop from Fort Lauderdale to Chicago. I've got a bad back and can't sit in an airline seat for more than two, maybe three, hours without deplaning in agony. Therefore in recent years I've limited my travel to surface journeys that allow me to get up frequently and move about in ways one can't in an airliner aisle.

Yes, this cramps one's traveling style. We haven't been to Europe in many years.

But there's a solution: to take ship aboard Cunard's Queen Mary II, which plies the North Atlantic between New York and Southampton regularly.

Expensive? Not as much as you'd think, only a little more than flying. If you take the last winter crossing in January, for instance, you could book an interior stateroom for as little as $799 per person—a steal for seven days at sea.

Of course winter weather in the North Atlantic might be no bargain.

Maybe sometime in the spring of 2015 . . .