Following Loss of Home, A Life of Rail Travel (Dispatches)

Altadena resident Alfreta Sailor has been traveling by rail and staying with friends for four months since losing her Altadena home to foreclosure.

After losing her home, her business and her marriage, Alfreta Sailor would not have been blamed for giving up all hope.

Instead, the long-time Altadena resident has found a new freedom in a life of low-budget travel: For four months Sailor has been traveling around the U.S. on Amtrak and staying with friends and family all over the country.

She has passed through about 30 states, stayed in Arizona, Texas and Atlanta, and visited Washington and Chicago.  And through it all, Alfreta has stayed positive.

"99 percent of the time I do feel that way, 1 percent of the time I have a down day," Sailor said.

Life in Altadena

For 40 years, Sailor lived near the intersection of Mountain View and Glenrose in a home that she and her husband built up over the years from a two-bedroom bungalow into a home they were able to raise their kids in.

Sailor started two local businesses--first a courier and delivery service, and then a clothes shop.  She initially sold clothing at home parties in the area and later opened a shop on Lake and Howard in Pasadena.

Opening the shop might not have been her best decision, Sailor said. As the economy began to fall apart in 2007, having her own shop and the expenses that came with it became a financial burden.

She had refinanced her home in 2006 and 2007 and was among the many who never imagined she could lose her home.  But the economic downturn that hurt her business so badly eventually made it impossible for her and her husband to make payments.  She wrote about the experience on her blog:

"I had a business, (I've always been an entrepreneur), that, at the time was doing okay. I actually had run the business from home for sometime, even traveling to other states, with plans for expansion, which were set to go. So, naturally I thought I could make the payments, (see my boutique below). I had savings, 401k, stocks, etc. so everything looked good. In one fell swoop it all went away, no one was buying new clothes, and who could blame them, they were in the midst of losing everything too."

Unfortunately, that's exactly what happened: In May her home was foreclosed upon, and she left.  By then she and her husband were split up, and her kids were grown up.  Suddenly, she realized she could do whatever she wanted.

"I'm adventurous, I'm gregarious, and I like to do things," Sailor said.  "I was tied down to a marriage and family for 40 years and now I am allowed to do what I want to do."

Life on the Rails

With her new-found freedom and no clear place to stay, Alfreta decided to start visiting friends and family across the country.  Amtrak made sense for her: It was cheaper and provided a place to stay for some overnights. 

And it also fulfilled a childhood fancy--she remembered growing up in a home across the street from train tracks and imagining would it would be like to just get on a train and travel.

She took her first trip to see her mother in Atlanta, stopping to see her son in Arizona, and friends in Texas.  She was routed through Washington, amazingly, on the way--one of four times she would stop in the nation's capital.

She's since been to Chicago, back to Atlanta, and has come back to Southern California.  Currently, she is staying with friends in San Bernardino County and will be heading back to Atlanta, this time via the northern route through Minnesota and Niagara Falls, NY.

Alfreta likes to talk to people, so when she is on the train she meets people and does interviews, sometimes talking about them on her blog. 

The hardest thing about train travel for her is attempting to sleep ... when she spoke with Altadena Patch she was recovering from her latest trip, which included four straight nights on the train, one of the few moments that have worn her down enough to wonder if she wants to continue.

The Future

For the forseeable future, Alfreta will continue to ride the rails at a surprisingly cheap price: Amtrak charges $389 for the 15 day pass, on which you can travel as far as you want.  It goes up to $579 for a 30-day pass and $749 for 45 days.  Between that, and free lodging with friends and family, Alfreta can continue to travel for a while.

Her hope is that she can find a way to earn some money while in Southern California, and she is examining a few possibilities.  She is also enrolled in a Reader's Digest contest for the best personal story, which could win her $25,000 and see her published in that magazine.  However, currently she said, voting for the best story is well underway and she is trailing behind other contenders (you can vote for her here).

Her goal though is to keep going for a year before she figures out what the next step in her life is.  However, that will require some more money: She has friends in Europe and would like to spend part of the remaining year taking the train around the continent.

Regardless of where and whether she settles down and what her financial future will be look like, for now Alfreta is content to adventure.  Though she says she did not imagine herself doing something like this, she believes that with a little drive anybody can try it.  She writes on her blog:

"You don't have to be rich, or even comfortable financially to do what I'm doing. I wouldn't even say you have to be adventurous. However, I do think you need a dream, determination, and tenacity. Perhaps you might need a little push, in the form of a mishap or two, who knows. Anyway, it's not as hard, or difficult as it might sound, as the commercial says, you just have to do it."

You can follow Alfreta's adventures on her blog.

This is one of a continuing series chronicling how we are dealing with the economic crisis. Tell us what issues and what stories in Altadena Patch go to the heart of your American Dream. Please contact editor Dan Abendschein at dan.abendschein@patch.com.


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