So anyway, last year, I was out on that book-promotional train-tour I was telling you about, and the second city I visited on that trip was Chicago. Search back through my blog entries of you want to read more about that.
What a city, right?!
I just totally love that place. Chicago has culture and style oozing out of every historically charred red brick. Like those dirty old streets themselves are thickly paved with cold windy memories, and everywhere you look is something grandly humble to see. Another style of architecture, a quaint hidden shop or place to eat, or maybe even just a beat down old neighborhood that fully screams dense long-established humanity. Like you can totally feel and smell how many (countless) people have lived out their whole lives and even died there. And for some reason Chicago feels like home to me too, even though I will probably never live there, and never have. But maybe it’s just because so many other people do call it here home, and have. And the people are friendly there too.
No, seriously. If you watch too much TV or even enough movies, poor old Chi Town really gets a bad rap, as far as the amicability of its denizens goes. My whole life I fully figured Chicagoans would be just as tough and rude as the reputation of their city gets put forth in media, but this is definitely not the case. Every person I met there in my short little one week stay seemed helpful and warm and really made me feel good about life again, especially after two years in mean old Townor Village, Colorado.
The Chicago Folks seemed like they were all just out there doing the same thing as I was.
Living the best they could, and just trying to make something good happen.
The elevated trains were definitely my favorite part though. They made it easy to get around to all the bookstores I was trying to consign my books into, or to travel around the different neighborhoods and plant my promotional QR-code stickers all over the place. And of course I had to visit the library, and see some cool museums and outdoor giant sculptured art, but the trains were just plain fun. We don’t have many trains down here in Floriduh, so any town that does have them seems super modern and forward thinking in my brain. Like the city actually noticed there are a bunch of people living there, and that we all have to get to work on time.
My nephew lives in Chicago too, so after I visited with him and his lovely young bride for awhile, I hopped back on the elevated train to visit one last section of town, before I boarded the Amtrak for Seattle. And yes I know that’s a lot of train time I’m talking about, especially since I rode it here from Denver, but I was out there on a literary train tour, or did I not make that clear?
Chicago also has some of the best murals and street art in the entire world, and one of the coolest murals I saw on this whole trip was on that last L-train ride. It was red, white and blue, took up the whole side of a building, and was a scene of four grumpy senior citizen types on big nasty moto-cross bikes—obviously at the starting line of a race—and in the foreground was a young kid on a BMX bike—about to give them a run for their money. The old folks on motor-bikes were glaring down at the kid like “What are you doing here?”, but he wasn’t paying any attention to them at all. His eyes were glued forward to the track in front of him.
All focus. All courage. All in.
And below is a link to some pictures of that mural, since I didn’t want to step on anyone’s copyright toes. Which is also why I did not include a photo of the particular celebrity I mention in the title of this article either. Because I’m not the stupid-ass Papparazzi, and you already know how to look these things up for yourself, right?
I don’t know why exactly either, but I thought right away that the kid reminded me of Johnny Knoxville. Probably because he was about to definitely get stomped-on by the big nasty motorcycles, but most importantly, that he was gonna Go Anyway. Even if he got very hurt. And as I stared longer and picked through the details of the mural, I saw that his helmet and race jersey had the words Make Your Own Luck printed on them. I almost shed a tear.
I knew I was doing the right thing going on that tour! And now that big piece of college-sponsored street art (which everybody knows is a ready expression of what other in our population people feel and believe) was backing me up. Which, by the way, was the whole point of me going out on that tour. To test the idea that if I tried hard enough, the universe would respond. To my courage. I went on a self-sponsored (half-baked) promo tour, to find out if I could in fact…make my own luck, and thereby make my life be what I wanted it to really be: Truly Owen Free
You already know that I risked my life diving in that deeply cold-ass lake last summer—to save up all the money for that train tour. Or maybe you don’t, since I haven’t released the third book yet (ha ha). But I darn sure did, so everything I was doing out there…was on my own darn dime.
No publisher. No agent. No tour manager. Nothing.
Just me, myself, and a few thousand dollars. Plus a smart phone, credit card, a big-ass suitcase full of promotional fliers, stickers, posters and books, and of course another one full of clothes and accessories, since it was late Novem-brrrrrr…in the northern part of the country.
The music I was listening to in my headphones suddenly sounded sweeter, as the beautifully chilly city swept by outside. We had turned a bend in the tracks by then, so the mural was gone, but it was all I could see in my mind’s eye now. And I felt like my batteries were all charged up again. Like I could win any race.
The train ride west from Chicago to Seattle is definitely something everyone should see one time, and really doesn’t cost very much, but don’t forget to bring lots of healthy food along with you. The stuff on the train is expensive and just plain gross. Unless you eat in the dining car, but even that isn’t very good, unless you like overpriced woody chicken. Plus, I still had a long way to go, so I was trying to be conservative. It sure is funny how not spending money can hold its own dangers though, and I will probably die soon, from all preservatives I ingested on that tour.
Then of course Seattle was cold, wet and gray, and I don’t necessarily mean the weather. But I was out there hustling those mean old streets anyway. Putting my stickers everywhere to drive traffic to my game-site ( trulyowenfree.net ), or putting up posters, and I even passed out fliers near the libraries and tried to get an interview on the radio.
I mean it, y’all…I was trying.
And I made sure to hit the gym every day too, just to keep my spirits up in the steady human drizzle, but after five days of rude snobby people and mostly ugly weather…I was ready to go back down south! It was time to go find some sunshine and much warmer people, and if you think I’m just being mean, well, consider this: I was speaking to a fellow traveler in the train station as we boarded, and she said, “Yeah I really love this town, and I don’t actually mind the rain, but the people here are just so stinking rude…”
The funniest part is…she was from New Jersey!
Originally I had planned to ride the train down to San Fransisco next, since I had only ever been there once, and only for a few hours. But after all the chilly Fall weather in Denver, Chicago, then there in the Emerald City, I decided to go all the way down to ever-sunny L.A., since I hadn’t been there in almost twenty years. And that’s when things started to get really freaky!
First of all, the number of the train-coach we boarded was #13…which isn’t really an unlucky number now that I think about it, but it sure is a bit foreboding when you are about to board a train. Thoughts of night-time derailments flashed through my head uninvited. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, on my way up the stairs to my seat, I found a bright red and gold lapel-pin laying on one of the steps…and it was a glittering glittery likeness of Lucifer himself! With wide devilish wings spread happily above him, and a mischievous devil cock poking out jauntily in the front, while his hands seemed to beckon me towards him; inviting me to my doom.
I stuck the pin in my pocket and found my seat, then sat there day-dreaming while we waited for the train to leave. Or at least for the conductor to come around and check our tickets, so I could go camp out in the observation car like I always do. But I remember thinking:
“Wow, so I’m on my way down to the City of Angels. On the number 13 car. With the Fallen Angel himself leaving me little treasures to find. This could definitely turn out interesting…if we don’t fly off the tracks into the water. But who knows, maybe I will even get lucky and run into Fishbone (my favorite band), or Sean Penn or something. Then I can give them one of my books, and they can make it into a movie…and…and…”
I sat there musing stupidly like that, until we moved. Goof-ball fantasizing about walking down some fancy Beverly Hills street, then seeing one or more of those guys in a sidewalk cafe or something, and I was even trying to invent some clownish way ahead of time, where I could talk to them, or maybe even get them to invite me over and eat with them. Because I’ve actually met Fishbone a few times, and they are super friendly. In fact, the bass player even wore a T-shirt I made for him on stage one time, out in Boulder, Colorado. But now…traveling down to L.A….where they actually live, and all those other celebrities too…well…I’m sure I’m not the only one who has deluded himself like this. Not when they are on their way to crazy old Los Angeles. Anything can happen in a place like that!
The Coast Starlight is another epic train ride everyone should take at least once in their life. It stops in Portland, but then meanders along the Columbia River for awhile before diving back into those lush green coastal ranges for which that area is so famous. Then it follows the other rivers, valleys and highways inland. Rolling along through golden forested hills and finally out into the San Joaquin Valley and Sacremento, so we didn’t see the water again until we got down to the Bay Area. Then after Emeryville the train tracked up through the mountains again, and just above Santa Barbara we popped back out onto the coast, just as the sun was going down, and clacked along above the surf-line through Ventura, but then for some crazy reason I fell asleep right there. It must have been too much coffee again, or maybe I was resting up to deal with the city ahead, but I woke up still tired, as we pulled into Union Station.
I caught a Lyft cab to my Air-BnB vacation rental, checked in with the host and put all my things away, then went for a leg-stretching-walk around the neighborhood. That part of Santa Monica boulevard, around old Korea Town, has lots of food vendors out in the evening, so I gorged myself on a fat pile of those sweet-lovin’ street tacos, with lots of runny hot sauce and NO sour cream (you can risk it if you want to), then went to bed early. Glad to be off the train for awhile too, especially after two solid days of ever shifting motion, never being able to stretch out fully, pounds and pounds of horrible food, and constantly clack, clack, clacking along the tracks.
The next morning I went hard at-it again though: Hand-billing by the libraries, and walking down almost every side street in Hollywood, sticking my promo stickers everywhere I went. But I did so much walking that morning, that after lunch I rented one of those pay-by-the-minute Lime electric scooters, so I could cover more ground. Those silly-looking things are very very fun, by the way. If you haven’t tried them out yet, or they aren’t in your town, then you definitely have something to look forward to, and those evil (like Knievel) little scooters are all over the place in Los Angeles. Everywhere except Downtown and Hollywood has them parked on almost every corner, and sometimes even thrown carelessly into a bush or canal.
Nothing really special happened that first day, except the usual feeling that a person (usually) gets while they are there in LA. That feeling of (already) being in a movie. Surely it’s because of how many TV shows and movies have been filmed there, so the scenery just naturally looks familiar, but it’s also a certain near-tangible thing that really does hang in the air ‘out there’ in Twinkle Town. Like something really magical…really could happen…and just around the next corner. Plus, Los Angeles had grown a bunch since the last time I was there, and they even have trains now too! So I spent the whole day out exploring the city, then got ‘home’ really late, exhausted.
Then the next morning I hit the streets again. This time focusing my efforts along Melrose and heading out toward the beach through Beverly Hills. I rented another scooter right away this time too, in order to save my feet, and I was just about done stickering that part of the neighborhood, up where Santa Monica and Melrose nearly converge, and was on my way back to the train…when I saw a half-familiar face walking towards me, alone on the sidewalk. He had scruffy dark hair, regular old blue jeans on and some kind of not-too-fancy collared shirt with a striped long-sleeve one underneath…and I didn’t really think it was him at first as we passed, but then he turned up the stairs into the entry-way of a shop he had come there to patronize…so that now I could see a name…leather-stamped into the back of his old-school rodeo belt:
Holy crap it was really him! And “Knoxville…” was all I could manage to get out too. He turned around to see who I was, and was immediately cordial-but-wary towards me, but this is where I really screwed up.
It seems like sometimes my own manners get in the way.
I mean look, I know John E. Knoxville is a super-famous multi-millionaire ‘actor’ and all that, but he is still just a person. Plus he didn’t look like he was feeling so good that day; moving slowly up the stairs like it hurt…a lot. So I just simply didn’t want to be one of the thousands of people who probably mug him all the time; constantly wanting something from him, or hoping for their brush with fame…and truth is I’m no different, but I damn sure didn’t want to show it—even though I actually had a bunch of really cool stuff I needed to tell him.
I have to back up a minute here and tell you some other stuff you might not have known about me, just so you can understand what I’m saying here, but I’ve also been working on a Treasure Hunting TV Show for awhile now too. Since, if you’ve been paying attention, that’s what I really am and do for a career…Find Sunken Treasure. But the craziest part is I’ve also been talking to certain camera-man (Mark Rackley. I used to dive with his brother on a treasure boat, in the Florida Keys) friend of Knoxville’s, about said show I’m working on, and the only thing missing has been a direct connection (or even a chance to pitch) to the right and capable producer. So if I had managed to spit all that out just then, or even drop the right name…then that whole interaction could have gone very quite differently.
But I didn’t.
I totally dropped the ball, you guys. I’m sorry, but it was Johnny Freakin’ Knoxville…in the flesh…so I was just simply caught a little bit off-guard, and I admit it, I got Starstruck. But like I said, I also didn’t really want to bother him either, or be just some other fanatical pest. Plus, the TV-show fail wasn’t even the worst part of it. I had a couple copies of my books, right there in my backpack too, since I was also out that day trying to consign them into book stores, but I didn’t even manage to get one of those things into his hand either. Even though I am sure he would probably like them.
All I was able to (feebly) pull off, was to hand him one of my QR-code game stickers, and say, “I made a treasure hunt. Check it out, please.”
He took it and replied, “Thanks man!” half-snarkily, then turned around quickly to go inside, for what I think was a professional facial appointment or something, since that’s what kind of place he was going into. But, like the half-brainless-scare-dee-cat I guess I kinda am sometimes, I didn’t try and stop him either. For some reason I figured it would just be Bad Form for me to call him back, after he had already turned away (I know…stupid, right?), or it might even make him mad at me or something, since he didn’t seem like he was in the best of moods that morning anyway. But still…dammit!
I totally just blew my Big Shot!!
And all because I wasn’t ready.
So I cruised on down the street half-heartedly licking my newest mental wound, and was trying to just keep going about my business. Shambling on through life, while I recovered from such an obviously huge mistake. Dammit!
Of course right away I called up my oldest High School friend, Lenny Croom, back ‘home’ in Tarpon City, just to tell him all about it, and he said for sure not to let it bug me. “You don’t know, man. He could have just as easily thrown your book right into the trash, or maybe even thought your whole TV thing was silly and dated, ya’ know? So don’t you go and beat yourself up about it, bro. At least you got to meet him one time, in LA no less, so from where I’m standing it sounds like you are out there doing the right thing. Like you really did make your own luck! So you just keep on soldiering along out there, Mr. Truly Free, because it sounds like you are on exactly the right track…but I would also circle back around to that beauty parlor in an hour or so, and see if you can’t get another shot. You of all people know how well persistence can pay…”
And in case somehow you have No Clue:
So I did exactly as he suggested, but I never saw Johnny again that day. And I didn’t want to be Way Out West committing any actual celebrity stalking either, so after a few minutes of loitering around hopefully, I headed towards the train again. Lesson learned. And as it turns out, that you really can Make Your Own Luck in this world, or at least I know now that I sure can. But you still have to make all the right moves to have it all end up working out. And I’m also sure that any top-notch-stunt-man and professional-comedic-genius like J. Phillip Knoxville would tell you:
Timing is Everything.
….and if you are really feeling lucky now, then check out my Armchair Treasure Hunt Game. I bet you can’t crack the code…