Oakland Musings

there is a "there" there

Coming up from LA headed for just about anywhere used to be something to look forward to. Southern California always seemed like it enveloped me in some outer "skin" of sensory overload. Your own private world of traffic noise, vehicle exhaust, radios blaring, airplanes landing, people talking... there was noise even if there wasn't any noise, movement if there wasn't any movement, and lights even in the darkest corner of the freightyard. The saving grace was the freightyard itself a free ticket out of that mess without a departure time or destination. Just the feeling that it was "possible" to escape was reason enough to sit around for hours in the dark... and rain... and dirt that seemed to materialize on my skin without even having to touch anything. Thank goodness I happened to like microwaved Mexican food...

view from back of piggyback

This time I just couldn't face the bus ride into downtown LA and the long walk out to the yard through Japantown and endless stucco-covered houses with sand for yards and palm trees growing where grass should be. I was headed for West Colton, where I could get just as bored and just as dirty waiting for a train, but it was a "cleaner", more organic dirt.

Elated to at least be on the fringe of the LA area, I walked a block or so from the bus stop and found a convenience store that resembled a smaller version of Ft. Knox, judging from the wrought iron-covered windows and parabolic mirrors everywhere. How much money could someone expect to get by robbing this place, anyway? In the half-hour it took me to finish a tall Green Death in the parking lot I didn't see anyone else either come out of or go into the store. The restaurant across the street must have had a dozen or more customers in that time, and each one probably spending more than what a six-pack of beer would have netted the convenience store owner.

Finally working up a healthy burp, I managed to wake up a tramp sleeping in the bushes behind me. From the looks of him it became clear just how much he must have treasured his sleeping quarters, situated behind a source of alcohol and a few minute's walk from the freightyard. We exchanged "howdys" and as I stood up to gather my gear he asked where I was heading. For some weird reason I was unable to answer right away. I felt that I wasn't so much heading "for" someplace as heading "away" from LA. Neither going or coming seemed to hold any more importance over the other. Finally, to achieve some sort of closure, and not babble on and on about all the places I'd like to be "heading" for, I gave him the short answer and just said "Oakland". Trying not to be curt with my abbreviated reply, I hesitated for a moment before turning away, and the tramp answered simply "Yeah, I know the feeling". I was stunned of all the responses he could have come up with, he chose one that exactly countered my thoughts at the time. I could have mentioned any destination... it really didn't make any difference where it was, the only thing that mattered was that it was somewhere other than where I was now. I was going somewhere... anywhere... and tomorrow I wouldn't wake up in LA again. That alone made Oakland seem like a pretty nice place to be...

rider on passing train