You can look but don’t touch

Beautiful scenery, a relaxing ride. How about attendants and employees who are civil? A ride on the train is a wonderful experience not to be missed. Train travel is a great way to explore America. Bring a book, enjoy a snack, and don’t forget your rose-colored glasses. The glasses will help you ignore the sadness and hopelessness you’ll experience sitting in your deluxe accommodations sipping your complimentary coffee. You can warm your Danish right here.

If only you could choose when to look out the window, train travel would present a country worth exploring and writing about. I start my journey south at a pleasant stop with no station—just a few minutes with passengers loading safely under a highway overpass. The Camarillo stop is complete with a memorial plaque extolling the rich history of the city as well as inlaid sculptures of the white horses for which Adolfo Camarillo is famous. The planners even thought to include embedded horseshoes in the concrete walkways.

The stop is clean enough for a public place. City workers ensure the trash bins are emptied. Anything discarded accidentally is promptly picked up. Wow, living in a place with a large tax base is great. The city workers are paid with my local taxes, and the Camarillo train stop always seems to have a worker or two picking up the trash I and my fellow residents drop. Without warning, a freight train rolls by. The cars are only six feet away. Passing close enough to touch, I have the urge to reach out. Thank God my mind is not solely in charge.

What I notice most is the art. Technically, it’s called vandalism. Esthetically, it’s called graffiti. Only some of the newer locomotives are spared, for now. Every car is covered. While most of the paintings are common and of the simple defacement variety, some of the cars are adorned with letters and symbols worthy of a museum. Spray-painted to look almost three-dimensional, I can’t read the words. I don’t know the symbols. The Anasazi could have left them for all I know—seventy-five cars of rolling petroglyphs from an ancient civilization. Perhaps not ancient, but at least foreign to me. Who are these people? Where did they go? Secretly, I enjoy the art. I’m not looking to solve society’s dilemmas. Technically, it’s vandalism. But for this train ride, it’s the rolling art of an unfamiliar civilization.

Leaving Camarillo Station, you move through lemon and orange groves, horse paddies, and fields of cabbage and strawberries. You forget the millions of people living all around. Had we driven like the millions of commuters, we’d be stuck inching forward ever so slowly in the soup of I-5. Instead, we float along unhindered. We disappear when the hills between Moorpark and Simi Valley get too steep. Cell phones lose signal, and everything goes dark. Emerging from a tunnel presents a new place, like moving from Adventureland through Tomorrowland on Disney’s monorail. But we’re not traveling through a world of make-believe. Houses become shacks, and vacant lots strain to hold the trash and discarded remnants of my once proud San Fernando Valley.

A blue tarp covers a makeshift lean-to. A battered tent pitched on the side of the overpass—a handful of people milling around with no place to go. The stick and brick houses are smaller here. Broken-down cars and newspapers haphazardly cover the front yards with dirt that gave up their lawns years ago.

4 thoughts on “You can look but don’t touch”

  1. Gary- Enjoyed this post very much. Train travel, especially when it supplants the need to travel south on the 405 & 5, is great fun. I love your descriptive words about the graffiti art and brought back memories of many sprawling graffiti murals we saw in Ljubljana.


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