2017 Train Trip #1: Los Angeles – NOLA, Sunset Limited


HOW SOCIAL MEDIA REALLY CHANGED THE TRIP, i.e., So much of the time I was looking at the scenery from the train not with my eyes, but as it looked through the lens of my smartphone (for this trip, that was the Samsung Galaxy 3, way out of date, but that’s another story). It was almost as if I didn’t post it, it wasn’t valid or wasn’t worth looking at.

Sunday April 23. The day I left. Or, the evening I left. Nice thing, the Sunset Limited leaves Los Angeles on its eastward journey at 10 p.m. This is civilized. This gives you all day, literally, to pack and get downtown to the station. And, even better, when I got there, they told me the train was already available to board. So there it was, no hassle, no lines, relaxed and likely a half hour ahead of departure time. Here’s a picture from the train while it was waiting to depart Union Station in Los Angeles.

In the Sunset Limited in LA’s Union Station, waiting for the train to leave.

So, as you can see, it was dark.

It was a dark but clean train. The photo belies that it was surprisingly full — did I say I was in coach? Well, I was, Yes I was — all the passes are for coach. If you want to upgrade to a roomette you can, but it’s not included so you have to pay for it. I did, later in the trip, so see further dispatch posts (look for the Empire Builder).

I sat next to a nervous anxious woman, close to my age, who was visiting her son in Tucson. I think she said she was going to her grandson’s graduation from high school? Seemed kind of early in the year for that, but it’s what I remember. She’s surprisingly candid to me, a total stranger. Maybe this is what comes in the dark as we are propelled hypnotically, rhythmically down the tracks toward the east. She fears there’s a family rift there, but wants to be closer to them. I’m not much help; I offer the usual bromides of “family things can be difficult, I know.” She said she lived in South Pasadena. I say I lived in the valley but nothing beyond that; I didn’t want to really engage her in conversation because she seemed a bit dizzy and who knows what could come of that.

She did not sleep well on the train either (I was a wide awake not-happy camper) and she sighed a lot. Nervous, sad and anxious! When we got to Tucson in the early morning (but late enough to be light out) she almost missed her stop because she didn’t know it was Tucson, even though the announcement said it was, multiple times, and of course there were signs at the depot if you just looked out the window. I finally reminded her: “Didn’t you say you were going to Tucson? We’re here.”

Interior of an Amtrak coach car at night, in station (not moving)

April 24, Monday. On the train roughly from Tucson to Del Rio, Texas. Author notes: I’m not a happy camper as I really can’t sleep on the train. I’m in coach, remember, with the lady that’s fretting.

At Tucson after the lady gets off, and a young guy gets on and has the seat next to me. Weird kind of Mohawk he’s got. Likely early 30s, tattoos, average-looking. I’m thinking ex-con or something but probably just not from a huge city somewhere. BUT — When I got back from the lounge car he had taken my window seat AND he was using my pillow, the pillow that I bought as a camping accessory decades ago which is inflatable. I asked for it back (the pillow that is, not the seat, I moved to an empty seat as there were lots) his excuse was he thought maybe the pillow “was something they gave out on the train.” Um, not likely, not in this universe.

Yet here I had some fun taking videos of the border wall/fence/whatever in El Paso and again as we sped through Marfa, TX, setting for such movies/tv as Giant, The Last Picture Show, and I Love Dick.

El Paso/Juarez


Tuesday, April 25

Author note: Wishing the train trip to NOLA was over. It’s a two-day train ride. My ass hurts, my back hurts, my sciatica is acting up and there’s literally no place on this train where I can stretch.

Long layover in San Antonio with no announcements as to why we’re delayed, although I did ask a conductor and got an answer right away: Tech problems with the toilets, he tells me! We certainly do want them operational.

My mind wanders to sexual realm: Has anyone on the train been fuckable in a traditional sense, like from my past sex life? Why yes — there was kind of a jock/college type on for part of the initial journey. I think he got off at Tucson, probably a U of A student. (As a matter of fact, a tremendous amount of the train pop got off at Tucson.) That day (Monday) was a week after Easter so maybe they were coming back from break? Anyway, he possessed that young manly beauty where it’s effortless, and this guy seemed self-effacing, so that he didn’t even realize how attractive (and really, stunning) he was to an older gay man like me. Or maybe he does, who knows? We had no interaction. We did not exchange looks. I have no reason to think he was either gay or straight or anything.

One thing definitely different on this trip (than the last train ride, I guess) is I’m more invisible. I feel this. There is less slack given to an older person, and not just in the sexual realm but everywhere. People are just not willing to put up with older people and I can really feel a difference, although it’s not like I’m saying it’s terrible, it’s just different. Cuteness won’t get you anywhere, i.e., because you’re no longer cute and they don’t look at you the way they used to. Or maybe it’s just that I’m crabby. From lack of sleep?

Question for the blogger: When was the last time I was actually cruised, as in real life, and not on an “app?” I will have to think about that one.

But I did take some stills, so here’s a few for you.



Parting Shot, World AIDS Day 2017: Remembering


Parting shot for today, World AIDS Day. December 1. I linked to my “list” earlier (originally a Facebook post). Lists have power, showing the enormity of a thing like a plague. But on those lists are individual lives, of course. So I wanted to talk about one of them and the Basic Instinct scarf, the Hermes scarf that murderous femme fatale Catherine Trammell (Sharon Stone) uses to tie up her BF for a little kinky sex in that movie.

I have one, not an actual Hermes, but a knockoff, a gag souvenir (although it is a real scarf) which was given to video reporter Marc Berman for the press event on the VHS launch of that movie, probably sometime in 1992.

He gave it to me at a lunch we had; I think it was Farfalla on La Brea. Perhaps he’d just come from the event. He obviously thought I required a white BDSM scarf.

The job I had at the time was corporate PR for a movie studio, and we were encouraged to go out to lunch with reporters from the trades. Marc worked for Daily Variety and he was my favorite reporter to eat with. Why? Because he was my age, he was gay, he was brilliant and cute and flirty and fun. We had much more fun telling stories about this person or that person than anything substantive about video business.

He was also a playwright; also an activist. He was one of the founders of the Entertainment AIDS Alliance, and was on the Board of APLA and worked with the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). Most of all, he was that kind of a person who just lit up a room when he walked in.

So all these years since, I’ve kept the white scarf in my drawer, occasionally taking it out. Perhaps I’ll wear it someday. Perhaps I’ll tie somebody up with it one day. Perhaps I’ll just always keep it to remind myself of the gentle soul who made so many lives a little bit brighter.

From the LA Times in 1993:

Marc Berman, 39, playwright, Variety columnist and AIDS activist. A native of Ohio who was educated at Boston University, Berman began his career as an actor in regional theater and went on to write such critically acclaimed plays as “The Wolf Patrol,” “River Downs” and “The Day Andy Warhol Got Shot.” He moved to Los Angeles in 1986 as West Coast bureau chief for TWICE magazine, an acronym for This Week in Consumer Electronics. In 1990, he joined Video Business and then became a staff writer for Daily Variety, doing reviews and covering home video and film and AIDS in the entertainment industry. For the past year, he also wrote a column for the weekly Variety. In 1989, Berman co-founded the fund-raising Video Industry AIDS Action Committee. He also served on the board of AIDS Project Los Angeles and was active in the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. On Nov. 6 in Sherman Oaks of AIDS.

Blogger with “Hermes” scarf

Marc Berman


It’s been 54 years, but I still remember that day


Anyone else you can think of who might benefit from this sentiment? Reminds you what a real statesman is like, and the kinds of thing a real statesman says.

I still wonder what kind of president Kennedy would have really turned out to be, had he lived. Something we’ll never know.

From the memory archives: Third grade, Sister Monica/Mrs. Pederson’s class. One taught morning, the other afternoon, go figure. I think because Sister Monica was really ancient. Whatever. It’s about 12:45 pm, I’m rushing back to school from lunch at home, a couple of blocks away. I’m late and it’s raining and cold in Milwaukee.

Unannounced, the PA system comes on and we hear the scratchy radio reports. It’s kind of unintelligible. Teacher leaves to find out WTF. She comes back, maybe announces that the president has been shot, I don’t really remember that. Virginia, the fat kid in the class, starts crying. Kids then herded into the adjacent Catholic church for a service – was it Mass, or just a Benediction or a blessing of some kind, not sure. Mass seems a little long and drastic for preteens, but then I would not doubt it, they liked to torture children there. Sent us home. Mom and Dad on the couch, both crying. It was so awful. Then a whole long weekend of horror, over and over on the black and white television.


My Goodreads Review of “The Locals” by Jonathan Dee


The LocalsThe Locals by Jonathan Dee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Enjoyed – story mainly centers around the Firths, and their assorted extended family and acquaintances in the made-up town of Howland, Mass — get it, Howl Land? As in primal howl. What we’re coming to. So current, encompasses inequality, the breakdown in civility, political correctness, it’s all like a slow unraveling beginning with 9/11. I lived for awhile in a resort town (Palm Springs) so some of the townie vs. weekender dramas rang true, though the California desert is a much different animal than the Berkshires. Part of the book could also be read as an allegory to Trump – this Howl Land elects a Selectman who is rich and it’s not really a spoiler to say he gets to do what he wants as the town leader because he is rich, and there are parallels. As a writer, I really liked how Jonathan Dee handles transitions in time, as well as the transitions in the point of view of characters. Written mostly (except for the first chapter, see below) in the third person, he will often start out a paragraph in the POV of one character and by the time the paragraph is over you will be solidly in the POV of an entirely different character. Deft and enjoyable! SMALL SPOILER beyond this point, so don’t read if you don’t want to know something. . .
OK, the first chapter is written in the first person by a NYC ne’er-do-well, who the “main” character in the book meets on 9/11 in Manhattan. I kept waiting for this character to return, and he doesn’t. So Dee didn’t fulfill his Chekhovian plant in this case. Perhaps the point is that you were expecting redemption, and it wasn’t going to come from that particular interaction or direction. I did love, however, that the hope he finds in this little crucible is strongly with the next generation. I found that exhilarating.

View all my reviews

Can You Believe We’ve Had Almost a Year of This Crap?


Neither can I. And of course by that I mean Trump as president or president-elect. Anyway, he is and we haven’t forgotten or gotten used to it. The sooner it ends, the better. For all of us! In the meantime, here’s one of my favorite photos from the myriad protests and marches from the past year. I think this one was on tax day, April 15. A glorious sunny day in DTLA.








In case there was any question, the UGH and the FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK refer to 45.

Student Video from a Long Long Time Ago (well, 1978)


My nephew recently found this and had it converted from the original super 8 film to digital. The woman in the short film is my sister, Pati Arnold. The baby is my nephew, Joe Wantoch. This film was taken in the fall of 1978 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Streets were Bartlett Avenue and North Avenue and Oakland Avenue.

The film class assignment was probably something on the order of “do something with a beginning, middle and end and try to remember to cut on the action.” At least that’s what I seem to remember. The film class would have been at Marquette University.

Oh, it’s silent, so there’s nothing wrong with your speakers.

When Blogging Takes a Holiday


Sometimes, you can’t think of a thing to write. I know this happens to me.

Sometimes, you can’t think of something worthwhile for a long time, and this happened to me and this blog. Not really one thing in particular, but rather a cascading series of events in the past year or so left me exhausted and uninspired, at least as far as blog posts go.

I thought I should acknowledge that if not explain it away, because nobody wants to hear specifics.

Good news is that I’m back! I took a train trip in late spring this year; a 30 day rail pass. I have some pix and some video which I’ll share from those, so look for them. Soon! I promise.

Here’s a tease, I thought this was an arty shot:

In the Sunset Limited in LA’s Union Station, waiting for the train to leave.



























Because Silence is Sometimes Considered Assent: On Charlottesville


So, therefore, I’m not silent. August 12, 2017

In case anyone had any question:

We are not with you, torch-bearers, in Charlottesville or anywhere.
We do no consent to this.
In fact we stand against you, alongside the very beautiful diversity that you fear.
We stand with people of every color and of all faiths, people of every orientation, nationality, and native tongue.

We are not going to have this. This is not the country we’ve built together and it will not become what you intend it to become.

So you can kiss our diverse, unified, multi-colored behinds because your racism and your terrorism will not win the day.

Believe it. — John Pavlovitz

Los Angeles Gay Pride #ResistMarch 2017


I need a new phone!

I was going to bring my camera to this event but I forgot it, what with the sign and all. So, my apologies, the phone ran out of juice about halfway through. I couldn’t even call a Lyft to go back to the subway once it was over. Yes, I know, #Firstworldproblems. I have failed today.

I did love that the Pride Celebration in LA returned to its protest roots. Energizing and energetic, it was great to see the 100,000 people come out to march in the streets in resistance to the “not normal in any way” times we find ourselves in, to reaffirm our equal rights as gay, lesbian, trans, bi, queer, unsure, whatever. We’ve fought very hard for a very long time and honey, we’re not giving an inch. Not. one. inch.

Enjoy the photos and the one video I did manage to take.

And a video snippet: