This time tomorrow I will be on a train headed to my hometown with a personal container of wine that looks not unlike a juice box. By my side will be my girlfriend — technically my “fiancee,” although neither of us have taken to that term. It’s a weird word.
A year ago, a train trip from London to Edinburgh ended up being a true highlight of our three city tour. We were the only Americans in our train car, which was a nice change of pace. There are a lot of Americans in London. I kept wanting to have “an authentic experience,” only to have an American accent indecorously interrupt my fantasy of a place.
We were sipping gin and tonics in what seemed like an out-of-the-way restaurant near our AirBnB on our last night in London. We drank our drinks and watched London, damp with evening drizzle, pass by the restaurant’s big front window. It felt like “an authentic experience,” until the finance bro behind us opened his big mouth and filled the small space with abject Americanness.
So what a relief it was the following day to find ourselves chugging north in a train car surrounded by pleasant British accents. A couple in front of us told a friend about their daughter’s upcoming wedding. The two older ladies behind us were talking about – I don’t even remember, I was just so enchanted by the experience of having older British women chatting behind me while I sipped strong milky tea. The couple on the other side of our shared table were redecorating their old home in the most tasteful way possible (based on the samples they scrolled through on their iPad). Most of these people I eavesdropped on got off the train at York. I made a mental note to add York to my list of places I’d like to wander through one day.
With the train car now quiet, I looked out the window and watched the countryside pass. Suddenly, the sea came into view and the color palate of the whole scene was both muted and deep. It was all perfect windswept green hills and perfect blue water and perfect stone-colored villages with high church towers. Why don’t we take the train more often, I asked my girlfriend.
In the Spring we flew to Vancouver, B.C. and took the train to Portland, Oregon. It was another route along the sea, with more deep, dark grays than the UK trip, but just as sublime.
Tomorrow, we’ll again watch the Pacific Ocean out a train window. We board at Union Station and it’ll take about four hours to get to the unmanned platform in my hometown. It’s called the “Surf Station,” because it’s on Surf Beach. But when I was a kid, we called it “Sand Dollar Beach” because of how many Sand Dollars you could collect there.
It’s also a good place to get bitten by a shark, carried away by a rip tide or swallowed by dense fog. It’s not the kind of California beach you think of when you think “California beach.” Which for me, makes it all the more fun to exit the train there. It’s the kind of experience you can project your own story onto. You’re Anne Shirley arriving in Avonlea. Or a mysterious women starting a new life in a far-off Irish town. Or my girlfriend arriving in my hometown for her first major holiday with my family.
“When I think about it, the thing that makes me anxious is the WASPiness of it all,” my girlfriend told me last night. Me and my family are indeed white anglo-saxon protestants. “I was raised to be afraid of white people.”
Being an interracial couple is something we almost only think about as a pretext for punchlines. My girlfriend has started calling me her “white wife,” as in “I dunno, I’ll have to ask my *exasperated sigh* white wife.”
My girlfriend is half Mexican-American and half a federation of native people from America and Mexico. She asked if she could refer to the holiday as “Thankstaking” around my family, as a nod to her native heritage. I asked if I could refer to her as “an actual Indian” when we sit down to our Thanksgiving feast.
To the two of us, these are just jokes, but what makes the difference in our ethnic identities feel real to both of us is spending time around the other’s family. In my family, we aren’t blue bloods, but our holidays do tend toward the WASPy. There are pre-dinner cocktails and salmon mousse on crackers. There are flower arrangements, and ironed cloth napkins and post-dinner glasses of Scotch by the fire. I mean, we’re still small-town Californians, it’s not full on Ice Storm territory, but I know it’s going to be a foreign environment for my girlfriend. I hope it’s an experience she’ll enjoy or at least appreciate, but I get why she’s feeling tentative about the whole thing.
It’ll certainly be “an authentic experience.”