Background: the Cal Poly years

I lived in SLO for seven years. This was a golden era of adventures, experiences, and friendship of a type that could only occur with the following “perfect storm” of factors:

  1. A youthful, eager, and free-spirited age range (early 20’s)
  2. A great number of exceedingly bright people (the college was tech-focused and quite selective)
  3. A small, somewhat isolated town that forced social creativity because there really was not that much to do.

Honestly, people will ask me “you lived there for seven years. What did you do?” and although I can’t honestly think of direct answers to that question, we were never bored.

A brief snapshot of my life during this time:

  • Educationwise, I started off as an Environmental Engineering major. I became dissatisfied with it; partly because the engineering was very difficult, and partly because I was disappointed to find out that there really wasn’t much “environmental” in it. So I changed my major to Ecology, and soon afterward fell in love with taxonomic/research botany.
  • Socially and activitywise, I played in marching band for two years and briefly flirted with a whole host of other clubs and organizations before finding my place in WOW– the Week of Welcome program. WOW defined my college days more than anything else and has forever shaped who I am. Most of the stories from the college era relate to WOW, either directly (such as WOW activities) or indirectly (such as adventures undertaken with WOW friends).


True story, circa 1996: The Rail Cart

So back in college, one of my group of friends’ pastimes was riding the rails. Hobo style. We had many crazy adventures… in fact, possibly the most miserable I’ve ever been IN MY ENTIRE LIFE was captured in this photograph after a particulary grueling 2-day ride:

(picture coming)

That story will have to wait for another time. This story is about something else.

We kept track of our miles– because tracks have definite starting/ending points, it’s easy to do this, unlike with freeways. By the time I stopped, I’d gone on 50+ rides, and had logged about 1500 rail miles. I finally quit riding the rails not because I didn’t want to, but because I graduated and moved, and our normal route (beautiful 11-mile loop through the hills) was therefore no longer available to me. I WILL do it again.

But here’s the meat of this blog: the RAIL CART.

During this era, my friends– creative guys that they were– built a homemade rail cart. Using bicycle wheels and iron pipes. It fit on the tracks perfectly and was gravity-powered. They’d bring it up the hill in a truck, and launch it down. It had two seats and a speedometer (the cart maxed out at 23mph), as well as a wire barbecue brush rigged to ride on the undercarriage and tell by the voltage across the tracks when a train was on the next block. (Did I mention we all went to a tech school in a small town and had few creative outlets?!?)

The main guy who built the cart put together a music video of rail cart footage, set to “Welcome to the Pleasuredome”– and although it wouldn’t be immediately obvious, the song lent itself perfectly. “We’re a long way from home…” Thanks to modern technology, this video– which I thought was lost– can be seen on YouTube.

Except for the video footage in the video below, we only rode it at night, with flashlights, because it was HIGHLY illegal. I was on the rail cart for its final ride. We ran over a possum (we rolled over it completely– high clearance, but boy was he scared). Shortly after, we derailed, and the wheel got bent sufficiently that we couldn’t ride it any more… we had to put it on the track and kick the thing uphill, then ditch it in the bushes until we could come back for it. Sadly, it perished in Meier’s garage fire soon after, along with my giant telescope.

So here’s the video. I’m not in it, but it’s still a hoot to watch– I’m so happy to see this video again! So enjoy. It’s 8:41 long; if you can’t sit through the whole thing, the best clear shots of the cart itself are at 4:30-4:45.


I was having a triumphant morning commute– sun out, moonroof thingy open, stereo turned up loud (Rick Fuckin’ Springfield, thank you)– and my mind wandered to a random thought:  of any and all compliments I’ve ever received over the course of my life, two stand out in particular. (I’ve lost count of the insults.)

So please allow me a little ego love fest here. (It IS my page, after all.)

The first one:  “He is the most unpretentious person I’ve ever met.”  –Steve Domingo (roommate), to my mom– circa 1994

The second:  “It must be fun to be you!”  –Froggy, 2002.

The best part is that neither of them knew it at the time, and neither of them probably remember it now.  But these two sentences have a permanent residence in my head. Which is something.