The moving truck full of Greg's life was finally ready to make the long haul to Portland. Coincidentally Greg was making the move up to Portland from the very street I grew up on, but we didn't grow up together. I had already moved away by the time he had bought the house on Douglas Street. Now, he was making the move from one city of roses to another just as I did years ago. As I was putting the truck into drive, I looked down the street towards my childhood house. I paused for a second. Juan, my co-pilot for this journey asks, "Did you forget something?" I take my hand off gear shift nob and leave the truck in park. "I think that's my grandfather's van coming down the street." It is very much like my grandfather to check on the house that had been in our family for decades, the house that he had built with his bare hands. I get out of the car just in case it is him so he can see it is me rather than an unrecognizable truck towing a U-Haul trailer. Just in case, I walk in front of the truck out into the street towards the van. The van gets closer. It's my grandfather along with my crazy Uncle Kevin. We are both shocked by the surprise. I should of been on the road already. "Hey look who decided to stop in from Russia." he jokingly says in excitement as he points to the backseat. I'm confused. The back door opens and out comes Uncle Keith, who I thought was still in Sochi for the Olympics. Any anger or frustration I had from being so behind schedule had now vanished. I was where I grew up playing on the streets getting ready to drive to Portland where I currently live when my grandfather, the man who built the house I grew up in before my family had to sell off as part of my parent's divorce settlement, was with my uncle from Portland, whose house I currently live in and take care of in Portland. We hit the road five hours later than we had planned, but I was right on time to be reminded of where I am from and where I am going.
It took us two long days to drive up to Portland, stopping in Redding for a short nights sleep from the road. Only in which I had only another two days to spend in Portland and enjoy time with my friends before catching my train back down to LA.
34 hours alone on a train can leave you exhausted from thoughts running through your mind as you sit still slowly making your way down the tracks. Sleep. The occasional rumbling sounds of the train throw you in and out of sleep. Dreams begins to mix with reality. But there is one thing that is consistent the entire way: The grey noise of the moving train that unconsciously eases you into the lucidity of your own imagination. It's the sound you are unaware of as you sit staring into a fire before you realize you were lost in thought. It's the sound of a gentle coastal breeze as you lay there on the beach. The underlying tracks on VHS, records and tapes that make you sick with nostalgia. That is the sound of the Coast Starlight at night. (Listen to this video while you read on)
After being stuck in a snowy mountain pass of Southern Oregon for two hours, we stopped in a town unknown to me while I watch the snow gently fall onto the train platform. I watched from my window as people exited the train one by one being greeted by the their loved ones who toughed out the two hour delayed arrival time. I look around at the snow covered train station the thought of getting off to take a picture of the wintery wonderland crosses my mind, but I am still half asleep. I look down at my watch to see it's 1:30 in the morning. I hear a lady fall off the train, bringing my attention back out the window. I see her belongings roll out into my view. She is too close to the train for me to see from directly up above. The next thing I hear is the most haunting screams ring out through the passenger car "My kneeeee, oh my god, my kneeee! I broke my kneeeee! Ahhhhhhhhhh..." I look around at the people sitting around me to see if anyone else cares for the shrilling sound echoing throughout the night, but everyone on the train is fast asleep. I can see people waiting to board the train looking in her direction as she screams in pain. Their looks aren't of shock but rather of realizing the exaggeration of the lady's cries as though she were an oversized baby crying out for attention. I am curious and slowly make my way down to the lower level towards the door.
I make my way past the people who have already boarded and are trying to squeeze up the narrow stairway to their seats. The train starts to move as I get near the door. "Hey!" A man cries out as he is walking along side the train. "We are leaving. Why weren't you on the train?" asks the train attendant. Walking a little faster the man replies, "I was taking a picture of the snow!" "Conductor, we have a man here that needs on" the attendant says to the conductor over the radio. "Where is he going?" asks the conductor. "Oakland, OAKLAND!" cries out the man who is now running as the train starts to pick up speed. The tension is building as I and two train attendants stare through a tiny window in the door at the man running along side the train. If the attendant doesn't open the damn door, I definitely will! There is a long pause as the attendant waits for the the conductors response. "Hey man, come on! OPEN UP!!!" cries out the heavy set man as he struggles to keep pace with the train. Silence still. "Conductor!" the attendant radios back to the front of the train. The conductors voice finally breaks through the radio waves, "No time, we are out of here!" The train accelerates. "To hell with that!" The attendant opens the door and the man leaps onto the train and falls from the difference in momentum.
Four hours behind schedule I arrived to LA in the wee hours of the night with what I like to call a "train hangover." The overwhelmingly stimulated sense of sight has left my thoughts exhausted. What I saw on the 34 hours of watching the world go by before my eyes gave me an understanding of the full spectrum of society. You can see it all on the Coast Starlight. Everything from giant mansions to the shanty towns of the homeless alongside the railroad tracks. America's industrial might, minutes away America's farms that feed the nation. Viewing the unstoppable overlooked existence of the difference in people's daily lives and having the ability to capture it within the stillness of a photo hurt my soul. Mainly from one scene I saw outside of Sacramento, the states capital.
There was a 6 foot high cement wall. On the side closest to the train was an encampment of several homeless people. On the other side of the wall, an IKEA. The only way I could escape the depressing reality of the world passing by outside the train window was to escape back into my own imagination of existence and think about my own life and how can I better it to not end up out there alongside the tracks. That must be how we all cope with the harsh realities of the rich versus the poor in the world. In our own solitude we find comfort. In our own solitude we create our own existence.