It is late, and I am exhausted.
It's 2am now and we're rolling through the Nevada desert. It was 8am yesterday when we boarded an Amtrak train on the California Zephyr line in Emeryville.
Wine and travel have me loopy. I wander down to the bar car. It is still richly lit with pale yellow overhead lights while the rest of the train has settled into darkness.
I sit at the forward-moving end of the car. There is a man at the other end reading a book. I have my Moleskin and water-color pencils with me, so I follow my nature. I occasionally catch him flashing a quick smile when his story takes an exciting turn, or his lips moving as he gets lost in dialogue. He occasionally catches me drawing him. It is much easier to be inconspicuous in a shopping mall or on a city bus than it is on a cross-country train.
Dark grey mountains form a dramatic horizon against the blue black sky. They are full of the ghosts a thousand pioneers who froze to death trying to reach San Francisco. I once crossed them in a Volkswagen Jetta. There are billions and billions of stars. Some of them have planets and some of those planets might have life on them. I wonder if those planets have trains.
I look back to the man and realize that he is walking towards me. This is when I would usually skip to a page in the back of my sketchbook which I fill with simple arithmetic and pretend to be lost in some fictional accounting.
He pauses at my table and I hold up my finished piece. It's not finished because I added one last brush stroke and thought "Finit!". It is finished because the moment I was trying to capture is over, and that's ok.
"While you were translating me from reality to your page," he says "I was conjuring dragons in my imagination!" He is excited to share this insight and it excites me too. It's simple and clear and earnest and honest and I like it.
He introduces himself as Alan and tells me he's going all the way to Chicago. I am disembarking in Denver to see my best friend. I will show him this picture too, and I will try to conjure Alan as he conjures dragons.