The epic train ride from Vancouver to San Francisco – Part 1

I’m not that much into watching sports (except of course the ice hockey world championship) so the prospect of spending a weekend in Seattle during Super Bowl in which Seattle Seahawks are playing wasn’t very appealing. Especially because last time I watched Super Bowl was in the Bay area when 49’ers played and it was pretty awkward. I was on what turned out to be a date. We were sitting on a coach next to each other and the guy asked me:

 “Can I hold your hand?”

After just a very short moment of processing, did he really just said that?, I said:


That was end of that.
When I thought of not only checking plane tickets back to San Francisco, but also train tickets, I felt giddy with excitement. (Yes, I know, I’m quite easily excitable!). It is almost 24 hour ride, but there was something romantic about it. Perhaps I got this notion as a kid reading Jules Verne Around The World In 80 Days. He spent quite a bit of time traveling on trains and always got in adventures.
Before Seattle I was in Vancouver (the one in Canada) and Whistler so I decided I might as well do the Vancouver to Seattle leg via train as well. So this trip is split in two parts, the first from Vancouver to Seattle and then couple days later Seattle to San Francisco.
I arrived at the Vancouver Amtrak train station straight from Whistler at around 4 pm and had no trouble to buy a train ticket for 5:45 pm. As I was checking in (which started pretty early, as you also have to go through USA immigration) I asked which are the best seats? He was a tall, big, smiley guy in an Amtrak uniform. He responded with a bright smile,

 “Ocean view side, of course!”.

I indeed got the ocean view side. Though I didn’t really see that  much of the ocean as it was already dark.
I wanted to send a postcard. I had it already ready but I had forgotten to drop it in a mailbox. Perhaps in the past I would have said oh well, can’t do anything about it. But now I decided to try my luck. I asked the train attendant if he could put it in the mail. He said sure, as long as it has the postmark, which it did have. He took it, and explained that he is putting it next to the very important peace of paper that has his to do list for that night, which he is putting under a pretty heavy container on the table. He explained to me that after the train leaves which will be end of his shift he will clean up the table as he always does and take the peace of paper and the postcard and then will drop it off in the mailbox on the way home. He seemed genuinely nice guy, so I don’t think he was messing with me and the postcard has a chance to reach the destination.
I have tried relaying a postcard once in the past – in Istanbul. As I was leaving the hotel and heading out to the airport, I gave the hotel receptionist a postcard, money for a postmark and a hefty tip. Even with the language barrier I think he understood that I wanted him to mail it for me. Apparently though, the postcard never reached its destination.
The train had nice wide seats, like airplane 1st class seats. The food was so-so, I got a sandwich and the chicken in it still had frozen crystals in it. As for the ocean view, it was dark and I couldn’t see anything. The lights though were pretty.
In the seat across the aisle from me was sitting an Asian guy. Time to time he glanced over at my side, perhaps he wanted to start a conversation. Right after the Canada-USA border crossing he finally had a chance. He asked 

“Are you a processor?”

I thought to myself, me? a professor? I couldn’t look further than a professor. Loose pants, messy hair, NOT-color coordinated scarf and hat. I asked him back why? He said lots of professors have H1B visas. Oh, that’s right. The border crossing official asked me on what visa I’m in United States. His English was pretty OK, but communication was slow.
About 4 hours later I was in Seattle.
To be continued. The second part of the trip Seattle to San Francisco will come next week.

Musings inspired by a book: Choose Yourself by James Altucher

I did commit to myself to write about all the books I read during the trip so here it comes.

I read Choose Yourself book during beginning of my trip. Here come my musings inspired from the book. (Similarly to herehere, and here).


The main claim of Jame’s book is that in this “new era” you have to become an artist-entrepreneur.

He kind of explains how the new era looks like:

“This is about a new phase in history where art, science, business, and spirit will join together, both externally and internally, in the pursuit of true wealth. It is a phase where ideas are more important than people and everyone will have to choose themselves for happiness”. (page 23)

However, I did not see him explain why is it a new era, why is it happening right now (and not 10 years ago, or will happen in 5 years). Perhaps I missed it or I do not remember. A lot of the book felt like he is telling his opinion (which is absolutely fine, that’s why I read this book), but I personally like seeing a bit more explanation and reasoning for thoughts and opinions.

“Rejection – and the fear of rejection – is the biggest impediment we face to choosing ourselves.” (page 30)

Does he tell how to deal with it? Yes, somewhat:

“The only truly safe thing you can do is to try over and over again. To go for it, to get rejected, to repeat, to strive, to wish. Without rejection there is no frontier, there is no passion, and there is no magic.” (page 31)

I agree, but I liked better how Jia Jiang put it in his project and talk. Jia actually explains and gives examples of how he did it. Whereas I don’t remember James giving any specific examples of how he overcame fear of rejection.

Clearly I’m not the target audience:

“All of the people who are stuck or frustrated or scared or anxious or filled with regret, please try these ideas so you can see for yourself.” (page 55)

“This is how we form a better society. First we become better as individuals. You can’t help others if you look in the mirror and hate what you see. And it’s very easey to hate what is there. We live most of lives hating the mirror. Heck, I’m pretty gruesome to look at in the morning. It’s a daily challenge!” (page 55). 

I definitely don’t hate myself, neither in mornings nor any other time.

Here is another confirmation to strive to find your true self and live accordingly:

“People don’t even know they are wearing [masks and costumes]; they go through so much of their lives pretending to be someone else, someone who is liked, instead of being who they really are.” (page 95).

Good definition of entrepreneurs:

“Everyone is an entrepreneur. The only skills you need to be an entrepreneur are the ability to fail, to have ideas, to sell those ideas, to execute on them, and to be persistent.”

From my observations of myself and other people, it seems that execution is the hardest thing for people to do, perhaps because fear of failure.

I like this quote:

“The Mental Body: People have lots of ideas, but they are mostly bad ones. The way you get good ideas is to do two things: 1) Read two hours a day. 2) Write ten ideas a day. By the end of a year, you will have read for almost one thousand hours and written down 3,600 ideas. One of these ideas will be a home run.” (page 119)

I would like to get into habit of that. I’m already reading quite a lot, now onto writing down ten ideas a day!

“Luck is created by the prepared.” (page 129)

 Completely agree! There is even scientific evidence of that, see my thoughts on the book “Get Lucky”.


Overall the book is too negative for my taste. The word “hate” appeared 48 times (via kindle search).

It felt sporadic. I didn’t feel there is any organization to the book. It felt like blog articles put together. Some of the stories repeated from one chapter to another. The book was not cohesive, for example, there is a chapter about business ideas and then suddenly he starts again about daily practice.


Overall, I think I’m glad I read the book. If anything, if James can write a book that’s basically a brain dump, I can too.

My personal usefulness rating of  Choose Yourself! is 3. If you are not sure about reading this book, I think a better book to read instead would be Education of Millionaires by Michael Ellsberg. If you are very sensitive to negativity don’t read Jame’s book.

Here is my scale:
5 – a must read, absolutely everybody should read it
4 – a good, useful read
3 – an ok read, read if you are into this genre
2 – meh, there are other, better books on this topic
1 – don’t read, a waste of time