Friday, May 17, 2013

37 hours on a train. Yesssir

I’m going home.  (ON A TRAIN)

Those words make my heart flutter. I guess its because I’m a sap. It might be because I know that I can never stay, I’ll always move on. So maybe I’m preemptively already sad about the leaving part.  I grew up in a small town in the northern panhandle of West Virginia. West Liberty, population 1542, its the place my heart will Always Be. Its beauty was imprinted on me. I can never see hills without comparing them, like that one boyfriend you still keep as a standard. I grew up in town, but alas none of my family lives there anymore. My father lives just about 10 miles out on a farm and my mother lives just over two hours north in PA.  
The house of my youth. Rt. 88
I’m currently between contracts, hanging like leaf. I have been waiting for several jobs to pan out, and luckily I scored a sweet contract with PanAm, working in Arkansas for the summer. But the day I got hired I realized I had about 3 weeks before starting. So on impulse I decided to go home. This of course means making it from Hattiesburg, Mississippi to Washington, Pennsylvania somehow (I don’t have a car) without spending bagillion dollars. I looked up prices and VABAMMM! The train cost about half of a plane. Fancy that. Downside was….. it was a 37 hour trip. That is not a made up number. Google that crap.  Thus the journey began.

Listen to this while you're reading, you'll get the picture (OCMS, Lonesome Road Blues)

            I boarded the train heading to Pittsburg via DC at 9:30 am on Monday morning. The train station in Hattiesburg is actually lovely, very retro, and clean. As I was standing on the platform I was struck by how many people there were with me. I expected like 5 or 6. There were like 25 or 26. As I got on the Conductor waved me down to the right without explaining anything else, so I bumped and squeezed my way to seat 50 as fast as I could. And there lie a sleeping girl. She looked so content I really didn’t want to move her, or sit next to her at all. After forcing her upright, and getting my bags put up I settled in for the first 24 hour stretch to DC. Surprisingly there is way, I mean way more room than on a plane. One can nearly get vertical to sleep and there is so much legroom, you almost can't reach the tray from the seat in front of you if it’s up all the way. AWESOME SAUCE. The miles sped north and the sleeping girl broke my view but it wasn’t horrible. Eventually I got a window seat which improved my mood tremendously. A little Old Crow singing to me and some bagets and cheese, I seriously felt cool. Like some sort of mid century traveler.  In Birmingham, Alabama we picked up a heap load of people which happily brought the train to full capacity. Yes, Full. Then entire thing filled with people.  I was stunned really. But I was riding the Crescent Line, which goes from New Orleans to New York City. Apparently its full up most of the time. (gross)

My new seat partner was a mother and 2 y/o child named Ra Ra. Of course. The next 20 hours were pretty great. She unintentionally formed a unsurpassable blockade op diaper bags, food bags, clothing bags, Ra Ra, ect. permanently pasting me against the window. 8 hours in I had to use the restroom. I could feel the pain in my eyes. There was no escaping – I had been slowly panicking since the fortress went up. After about an hour of strategic planning I finally went for it, hosting myself up and over the barricade by holding onto the luggage rack above me and vaulting over the walls with both precision and speed. It was reminiscent of the man who runs out Fort William Henry in The Last of the Mohicans really.  Once out, I moved towards the potty, which for all intents and purposes was more like a swaying crapwagon. The smell was terrifying, but I’d braved much worse in the portapotties of Kemper County.  After struggling with the lock for about 30 horrific seconds I burst out of the poop box only to realize I had no idea how to re-vault into the fortress without taking out Ra Ra’s head or breaking a hip. Onto the Lounge Car it was. See, the awesomesauce about trains is you can get up and walk around whenever you’d like. And there are places to go. The Crescent Line has a Lounge Car, Café Car, and a Dining Car. The Dining Car is like a restaurant and needs reservations. The Café Car has drinks and snacks available, and its run mostly like a cafeteria. The Lounge Car has a bunch of tables you can hang out in. As I approached the Lounge Car I had to twist through the crowds of people paying 6.50 for a beer and try not to die from inhaling their pit smells. Once there I secured a seat by sheer willpower only to find someone sitting down next to me almost instantly. Emmanuel was a 25 y/o broski heading from the Hat to NYC to start his career in Rap. You can imagine the conversations we had over the NEXT 3 HOURS. I knew it was either that or leaping the walls of Minas Tirith, so I stayed.
            I eventually stalked out the seat until she got up to use the restroom, but was then trapped in until 9:40 the next morning. Upon waking though, I realized we were in the Blue Ridges, and I got to watch the sun rise over Charlottesville, Virginia, which was breathtaking. I did truly love watching the south blur passed my window. It felt like the most appropriate way to travel through it; slow, easy, old fashioned. I loved it. I got off at Union Station in D.C. and spent my 6 hour layover walking through the station, over the The Mall, and eating at Johnny Rockets (YES! GOT A CHOCO SHAKE AND IT WAS FANTASTICAL!) I got hit on by the bag boy, a class trip of 14 y/o’s from RI, a creepy older business man, and a gorgeous lady with beautiful dreds. I left the Station feeling quite refreshed and good looking.
Harpers Ferry, WVa, from the train. 
            I boarded the Capitol Line, heading out of D.C. to Pittsburgh (the Capitols end stop is Chicago) and became even more enamored. The line was beautiful! It was sooooo clean, and gorgeous, the staff was all pressed and dressed and wonderfully friendly, the seats were even bigger, the car was more luxurious, they even had an Observation Deck! That was awesome, the entire roof and walls were glass, with chairs facing out so you could just sit back and watch the Appalachians roll by. This was prime timing because we were heading through the Cumberland Gap, and into some of the prettiest country I’ve ever seen. Plus, there was a wonderful Conductor who made me feel perfectly at home, and even woke me up in time for my stop. 
As we rolled through Harper’s Ferry, I felt the memories of hills like that come rolling in from my brain and it hit me hard. I felt my soul squeeze and had to hold in the tears. I was coming home. I’ll never get over the hills, and I’ll never be able to pass through them without feeling it stir my soul. Harper’s Ferry is breathtaking. It was augmented by the dozen or so thru-hikers that had taken the train into D.C. to visit and were no headed back to the trail and it reminded my good friend who is also hiking the trail this summer. I was very jealous of them as the got off and headed back into the wilderness to the A.T. Martinsburg flew by next, then Cumberland.
Station at Martinsburg, WVa
She's pretty. 
            The hills whizzed by and the memories rolled in. I’ll never forget my hometown. I’ll never shake the need to by deep in the hills, the Appalachians. They hold so much history, so much beauty, so much sadness. It’s the kind of place that truly is heart achingly beautiful. West Virginia deserves so much more than its gotten, and although I know the chances are slim to slimmer and none, I would love to go back forever someday. I want to stay in my little Ohio Valley. There are 3 switchbacks and 1 hairpin turn to get into West Liberty from the main roads (if you’re coming the common way).  It’s absolutely glorious. Although none of my own lives there anymore I think I’ll make the trek out. I want to see my town again, and remember all the things that formed me as a child.  This train ride through the mountains pulled back desires I hadn’t felt in years. I finally rolled into Pittsburgh about midnight Tuesday, refreshed and ready to be home.  
Right outside West Lib, heading east. This is what I grew up with.
            Maybe it was the slowness. Maybe it was the way the cars sway on the track. Maybe it was the smells; grease, engines, hot track, smells I remember from when I was little with my Pop. Maybe it was the comfort, or the history if it, the oldness of it. Maybe it was the way it lulled me back into my memories and rocked me to sleep. But I’m sold. It was the single best way I’ve ever been transported from one place to the next. The extensive hours didn’t bother me, because I enjoyed them. It wasn’t about how fast I got there, it was about enjoying the journey to get there. I spent countless hours reflecting, listening to music that moves me, watching the land roll by. It was beautiful and moving. An airplane has nothing on the old train man, nothing. 

 Train bridge over the New River Gorge, West by God Virginia

Friday, May 3, 2013

A Thank You to Archaeology Men. Aka, some of the best kinds of men.

Friday, May 3

3:00 PM

A Thank You to Archaeology Dudes Everywhere. 
The Perks of My Life – Archaeology Men ROCK!
            I was talking to my Mom today on the phone about life in general, and my life in particular. We we’re discussing my choices and I had one of those moments. You know, one of those crystalline occurrences of reflection that break through your everyday life and help you re-evaluate. I’ve known for a long time that I am lucky. Lucky in life, lucky to be so happy, so fulfilled everyday, lucky to love my career so much. But as a woman I realized I am extraordinarily blessed also.

This is me, looking FAB. And how I look, everyday. 
            I am 24 years old, and totally at peace with how I look, how my body looks, how men see me, and how it all fluxuates. Part of that probably is a healthy dose of confidence. After dating several wonderful men for a few years at a time I’ve come to see that true attraction and true love is not based on how well I do my makeup and hair. It is my whole self that reels them in. But after a few hours of reflection I think I’ve come to the conclusion that it is also very much my choice of profession and those people I see everyday. (Photos given as examples of my everyday looks. Very Runway.)

I love those overalls. I mean, I LOVE them. 
For the past few years of my life, everyday I head to work in a sports bra, goodwill shirt, usually some version of stretchy pants or carhart overalls, and boots. I have no makeup on (it will sweat off/get in the way, and I don't like having stuff on my face) and pull my hair up in some sort of knot contortion. I sweat. I mean I SWEAT. And if its summer, or a particularly physical day I sweat A LOT. My face turns beet red, I have perpetual wacked out suntan lines (white foot, multi-strap back, and a torso of the purest snow), and I spit, a lot. Andddd we all do. All female archaeologist do this, some are a little more hesitant to cross into androgynous waters, but most of us has given up caring or trying to be ladylike. Now, I can see you thinking; how admirable they work so hard! But I’m sure it’s not great for their self asteem! They probably don’t get much done in the way of dating and attraction looking like that. HA! The more absurd thing is…. WE DO! On every site, every where, every project, everyone knows going in someone will end up dating. I mean we don’t really see many other people. Regardless, relationships of all types happen all the time within crews.

Today, that moment of clarity helped me to see that although I am a strong, independent, confident women, its certainly not all me that helps me do that. I can feel that way so easily because the men that surround me in my life appreciate all of those things. They see my female peers and I looking for all the world like construction workers every single day, they see us spitting, and shoveling, and covered in stank and it doesn’t phase them a bit. In fact, I feel like its safe to say I’ve heard numerous times they admire us for it. How can it be that we can look so gross and still be admired as women?

I am holding a machete. All my best outfits are
complimented by a deadly weapon.
Because these men are the rare ones. I’ve heard a million times it takes a special type to stick with this job, and that is so true for both men and women. But these men are the rare men who appreciate and prefer strong, independent women. They aren’t judging us based on our hair and makeup scheme. They see us in our most elemental form and find the beauty in that. How do I know? Because no matter where I go, female archaeologists are still getting love, still being pursued, still being admired by their male and female counterparts. We, as a profession live in a world apart from most. But in our little slice of it, our world is based on a different scale. The kind of scale that is based more on the natural, than the created I think.

Hence, I don’t find it necessary to try to enhance my appearance much to impress men. I don’t feel like wearing overalls makes me unattractive. I don’t feel like playing stupid or acting weak will make me more attractive. I mean I’m telling you that I went for days/near weeks at a stretch without seeing a mirror. Wearing clothing that most women my age would laugh uproariously at, and I never felt unattractive. Part of that is being confident. Part of that is truly not caring much how other people feel about it. But a part of that is also getting to be surrounded by men and women who for the most part do not base their whole judgment of a woman on ability to make her self up well. I’m not talking about myself in particular, but all women. Time and time again I’ve seen the attraction happen, heard these men expressing what they find attractive, and its not at all usual. Its quite rare I think in this world, and I just realized today how lucky I am to work in a field where that is the norm.

Classic stretchy pants/sweat shirt combo. Preferred Fall and Spring outfit. 
Who knew under all that gear lie a woman. 
Sunburn. Makes the youngest people look old.
I sometimes feel like I have to prove myself a little more, because I can’t physically be as strong/big as a guy. In archaeology that can be a problem. But I’ve never fully appreciated that I don’t have to feel self-conscious about my appearance. I don’t go to work wondering if my outfit makes me look fat/good. I don’t have to check my hair or makeup, and I don’t ever really worry about how I look to the men and women I work with. I’ve taken for granted that they aren’t judging me too harshly for not being glammed up, they aren’t finding me a less attractive person. And that, my friends I realized is rare, beautiful, and lucky. Archaeology as a rule is a rough path to follow. But everyday I realize there are more hidden perks around every corner; knowing large groups of rare men and women like this is just one of them.