Headed south from SLO County on the Amtrak Surfliner

November 30, 2023

Dell Franklin,

Editor’s Note: The following series, “Life in Radically Gentrifying Cayucos by the Sea,” to be posted biweekly includes the notes, thoughts, and opinions of an original American voice: author Dell Franklin. 

Franklin’s memoir, “The ballplayer’s Son” is currently on Amazon.

We pulled out promptly at 6:11 in the morning, and for a couple hours at least ,I had a seat with a view of the coast and nobody beside me, until we stopped in Goleta and college students began piling on like a mini stampede for the beginning of the Veteran’s Day weekend.

I was going to a huge gala wedding shindig for a close nephew in a swank venue in downtown LA. In my bag were the rolled up remnants of the only semi-respectable attire left in my closet. I wore shorts, a hoodie and sneakers. I had been taking notes as I always do on trains as I surveyed students seeming so young as to look like children.

Then a young person stashed a bag above me and, without even glancing my way, sat down and turned partially away, withdrew a book (Salem’s Lot) by Stephen King from a smaller bag and began reading.

I continued taking notes. I was not affronted. It seems young college students are not only disinterested in conversing with old people, but have grown so inept socially they wouldn’t know how. I was at first unsure whether this was a small boy or girl by the attire—baggy cargo pants, black hoodie, black shoes, dark hair cut fairly short, large rimless glasses.

But I noticed the hands were small and pale and delicate, a girl’s hands.

I continued taking notes and, since she was turned away, the notes were mostly my conjecture on her. Then I put my notebook away and we stopped in Santa Barbara and more students piled on so that there was standing room only, which meant for the rest of the trip to LA, people would be standing and awaiting vacated seats at the next stops.

Somewhere between Santa Barbara and Ventura, the gal beside me put the book back in her bag and withdrew writing material and began jotting notes.

“Are you a student?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said in a soft voice, turning to me. She was pretty, her expression pleasant, but presented no sexual edge whatsoever.

“What are you studying?” I asked.

“Theater arts,” she said.

I asked her if she acted in plays and also if she was a movie buff. She said she was. I asked her if she liked Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller and Edward Albee, and she said she did and that she had been in a play by Tennessee Williams in school, but that lately she had been captivated by the Beat Generation writers, and especially Allen Ginsburg and Jack Kerouac. I asked did she like “Howl” by Ginsburg. Yes!  She loved it. The Beat poets were her favorites. Had she read Gary Snyder? Not yet.

I said I’d noticed her jotting notes and asked if she wrote, too, and she said that writing plays and short stories and poetry was what she really wanted to do, and was doing. She then mentioned that she noticed that I was jotting notes and asked was I writer. I told her I was, and mentioned writing for CalCoastNews and having a couple books out.

Somehow we began discussing just about everything literary. Our conversation transitioned from cautious to curious to comfortable to trusting.

She had originally gone to a small prestigious theater arts college in New York City that she loved, but then the pandemic hit and she was inside for days and weeks at a time and, she has ADHD. She said ADHD made her think and do crazy things. She melted down in NYC and came home broken and desperate, saw a shrink, who put her on Prozac.

“That stuff’s horrible!” I expressed.

“I was on it two months and went crazy. I actually thought I could jump off tall buildings!”

“So what happened?”

“I went off it. My mother doesn’t believe in any drugs anyway. I went to junior college in Santa Monica, where I grew up. And lived with my mother. I did two years. I got back into the theater. They have a great program at Santa Monica JC. And now I’m at UCSB.”

“How do you like Santa Barbara?”

“I love it. It’s beautiful. I love where I live. I’ve made a lot of new friends.”

A lot was divulged, all on her part. About her mother, a divorcee, frustrated ex-hippie artist and lifelong CPA. Her father? Another ex-hippie enslaved to the establishment.

In about an hour, I heard her life story—so far. She was a thoughtful, sweet, sensitive young person, probably around 21, who had nevertheless struggled, but was doing better; yet I wondered about her future, as I know nothing of ADHD and what it does to people in the world we currently dwell in.

All this kind of stuff is new to me. Did not exist in my youth as a teenager or college student or young  soldier in the army. Looking back, it seemed all of us were somewhat “fucked up” one way or the other, but we just plowed ahead, did a lot of boozing, survived as best we could.

When we finally arrived at the magnificent Union Station in LA, we said our goodbyes and finally asked each other’s name.

“I’m Shel,” she said.

“Oh, like Shelly…?”

A shake of the head, and a firm, “No, Sheldon.”

I was not surprised. I don’t understand much of what’s taking place these days, but one couldn’t find a more pleasant and stimulating encounter on a train than this young person–whoever you are.


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Should have said Shelby, Dell.

ALWAYS a pleasure to read Dell’s thoughts and adventures.

Love it! Great read

Thematically I think this is one of your finest CCN articles.

respect and trust have to be earned mutually. I’m glad, you met another person who sees people as people and sensed your trust. train conversation here and abroad, aside from circumstantial subway dialogue and compassion, are so great, never forget discussing Friedrich Nietzsche in communist China with a seat mate; also watching 20 men see if I could urinate in a smoke filled liquor soaked stall as they watched; I did, with applause. via broken dialect and quick book and phone translations via bullet train. I wasnt openly chastised for openly reading it either. I do dislike my initial implicit bias of first impressions, especially as a male; and this young gal is genetically above that by the writing. ageism is a real bias in western society sadly, and abroad. and is as negative a bias as others. but, people so take advantage of biases as well.

thanks dell, you’re narration style for me, is enjoyable. it brings me back. If only Ginsberg wasn’t affiliated with freaks, I enjoyed Howl…who didn’t.

there are slams around here, and the audience is as diverse as Cuesta is.

OK, Dell- that was an interesting anecdote- thanks for sharing. Having taken that exact same train ride more than a hundred times over the years, I could relate to your account of that conversation.